When Rick Rashid, Chief Research Officer at Microsoft Research, conducted the first TechFest 13 years ago, it was merely for employees and on a much smaller scale.
The interest of the outer world in the non-business entity of Microsoft Corp and how it perceives futuristic technology led to the internal event becoming a public one.
A large portion of the research will never go into products because of business feasibility issues. But the TechFest provides an opportunity for journalists, business partners and associates to get a sneak peek into the world of technology.
In 2013, the theme of the annual science and technology fair
in Redmond, Washington state, is "Connecting the Dots". The "Dots" here represent various devices.
On March 5, the fest's first day, researchers showcased about 21 demos. These included projects related to touch and sense technology, machine learning technology, use of large volume of data, and taking three-dimensional technology to the next level.
"To add value and be important to the future of the society, we constantly need to be improving the things we are doing," says Rashid.
Like its parent, Microsoft Research is based in Redmond. It was started in 1991 and has 11 labs across the world, including one in Bangalore. It employs more than 850 PhD holders and claims to publish more research papers than any university. It also generates more than a quarter of Microsoft's patents.
Many technologies that the research division works on are used in products coming out from the Microsoft stable. In the past, the unit has helped create the Bing search engine and motion sensing tool Kinect, which is used to play games on the Xbox.
One of the demos on the first day was a project that takes Kinect to another level. Called KinectFusion, it showed how the Kinect camera can be used to make a low-cost three-dimensional scanner. The scanner could prove helpful in the field of medicine, particularly for surgeons. The Kinect is connected to a computer or laptop. When the application activates, the 3D image can be seen on the screen.
Another demo showcased SketchInsight, an interactive application that makes bland drawings and diagrams on whiteboards more interesting.
"We are creating a new way for people to not only explore but also present data by leveraging more natural interfaces such as pen and touch," says Bongshin Lee, a researcher who worked on SketchInsight.
The demos showed how technologies will help in better decision-making in the future. "Every new product and service must provide great experience and excellent value," said Bill Buxton, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, at the closing of the first day of the event. "It must work and flow."(The writer is in Redmond, Washington state, at the invitation of Microsoft Research)