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5/15/2008
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Bill Gates Demonstrates 'TouchWall' Multi-Touch Screen

Microsoft's "intelligent whiteboard" could potentially show up in corporate meeting rooms, board rooms or classrooms if and when it ever gets productized.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates showed off a new vision of multi-touch computing Wednesday at the company's annual CEO Summit, extending the touch- and object-sensitive computing paradigm Microsoft introduced with last year's Surface announcement via a touch-sensitive screen.

The new computer, called TouchWall, uses a large vertical screen people can navigate with hand gestures recognized by a series of lasers. It's much like a digitized chalkboard, or as Gates put it, an "intelligent whiteboard."

TouchWall's interface allows users to do things like draw on the digital surface, re-order documents laid out on a screen, zoom in on presentations, and flip through a series of photos or documents, all with hand gestures.

It's the kind of thing that could potentially show up in corporate meeting rooms, board rooms or classrooms if and when it ever gets productized. "It's a natural extension of Office," Gates said in his keynote address. "We can take spreadsheet, word processing, presentation data, and get it into here."

Multi-touch has come in vogue of late, especially as iPhone sales have taken off. Microsoft recently began shipping its first Surface table-top multi-touch computers, which use cameras to recognize gestures and specialized tags on objects.

"All the surfaces, horizontal surfaces, vertical surfaces, will eventually have an inexpensive screen display capability and software that sees what you're doing there so that it's completely interactive," Gates said.

TouchWall isn't even the first multi-touch whiteboard-style screen out there. Perceptive Pixel sells its Interactive Media Wall for $100,000 and up through Nieman Marcus. CNN uses one for political maps, among other purposes.

However, Microsoft hopes to get the price way down for TouchWall. "This kind of whiteboard, with a little bit of hardware advancement over the next couple of years, will not be an expensive thing, and that's why we're saying it will be absolutely pervasive," Gates said.

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