What could be more natural?

Posted by Dominic Carr
Director Microsoft News Center

Earlier this week Steve Ballmer and Robbie Bach delivered the pre-show keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). If you missed it you can watch the entire keynote or view clips.

Steve and Robbie covered lots of interesting ground, but one that is generating a lot of buzz is the announcement that “Project Natal” for Xbox will be available this year. Natal will basically transform your whole body into the Xbox game controller. Seeing is believing.

Natal is part of a bigger effort around what scientists call Natural User Interface (NUI). Steve and Robbie talked about this Wednesday night, and Steve has an interesting post about NUI over on the Huffington Post today. Steve talks about progress in areas such as touch, speech, gestures, handwriting and vision — all with the goal of creating a computer that can see, listen, learn, talk and even understand our intent.

 As Steve says, this is an area where we’ve been focused for a while. Some of the fruits of this labor are already in products like Windows 7, Microsoft Surface and Fords SYNC built on Microsoft technology. Others are still a glint in the eye.

If you want to learn more about the potential for NUI, here’s a great interview with Bill Buxton, one of the principal researchers at Microsoft Research.

Bill mentions Windows 7 as a product available right now where touch really comes to life. Here’s more detail on touch in Windows 7 and on some of the hardware and applications taking advantage of these capabilities. I have to admit that I was stunned to see Betty Crocker’s Kitchen Assistant.

Voice is another area of NUI with a ton of potential. Zig Serafin, who leads the speech group here, talks about his vision for speech as an interface in some recent interviews you can watch or read.

For my money, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie showed  one of the most intriguing glimpses of the power of more natural interaction during a recent college presentation. In these demos Craig focuses not just on how NUI works, but on the impact that this kind of interaction can have by allowing scientists to manipulate data and see patterns in ways they might not have before. Think about that as you dive into the fun of Xbox and Project Natal later this year.

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