January 07, 2012, 7:43 AM — Technology firms wowed us in 2011, delivering tablets, ultrathin laptops, innovative cloud services, and voice command digital assistants. Not so long ago, the technology underlying these products was nothing more than research and development projects. So, in an effort to peek into our not-so-distant tech future, here's a glimpse at ten promising projects percolating in tech research labs.
I'll take you behind the scenes at Microsoft, IBM, and university labs where researchers are experimenting with a range of fascinating technology that may appear in future consumer products. Look forward to 3D images you can "touch," touchscreens that get sticky, robotic astronauts, and -- yes -- even flying cars.
Scientists at Microsoft Research, a global R&D arm of Microsoft with 300 researchers and engineers, are working on a project called HoloDesk that lets your hands interact with three-dimensional virtual objects.
The device uses an overhanging screen to project a 2D image through a beam splitter into the viewing area. A user's hands and face are tracked via Microsoft's Xbox Kinect technology and a webcam, to help keep the holographic illusion in sync with the user's physical spatial relationship to the viewing area.
Named after the fictional simulated reality facility on the TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation, Microsoft's version of the HoloDesk is designed to deliver holographic-based board games, remote collaboration tools, and advances in telepresence.
Another Microsoft Research project called PocketTouch is being developed with the goal of enabling users to manipulate a touch device through clothing and other materials. The idea with PockTouch is that you could use finger gestures to control the cell phone in your pants pocket. With a flick of a finger, you could send a call to voice mail, skip a song playing on the phone, or send canned text replies to inbound messages.