Thursday, 15 July 2010 16:41

Home of the future still evolving at Microsoft


The latest remodelling of Microsoft's home of the future gives some insight to the way some of us may be living in the second half of this decade.

The Microsoft Home is a demonstration facility set up under the leadership of Craig Mundie (now Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer) in 1994 to present scenarios and demonstrations of the potential uses of IT in a domestic context.

Products that have originated at, or been influenced by the Home include Microsoft's Tablet PC and Windows Media Center. The company also believes that the world's first digital photo frame was created 12 years ago for the Home.

Housed in the Executive Briefing Center on Microsoft's Redmond campus, it has been regularly updated over the years and currently reflects the merging of the digital and physical worlds, the way sensors are shrinking in size and cost, and the way information can be assembled from multiple sources.

Demonstrations in the Home straddle what is currently possible and what is a few years away from a cost, adoption or technology perspective. For example, ringing the doorbell triggers a camera to take a photo of the caller, which is automatically sent to the supposed resident's mobile phone. That's easy enough to do in real life.

But things like room lighting that adjusts to suit the piece of media that's currently being played, a kitchen bench that can identify the different medications among mixture of tablets, or a multi-panel digital photo frame that can identify items (eg souvenirs) placed on a shelf and the display related photos aren't things we're all likely to have by Christmas.

Like a good butler, a good home shouldn't be intrusive - see page 2.

One of the central concepts is that the home shouldn't be intrusive. For example, it makes more sense to be reminded to take your tablets after you put a cake in the oven rather than while you're in the middle of mixing the ingredients.

Another scenario presented is that the system might report that an elderly relative living alone elsewhere is having a normal day based on being able to detect that they have, for example, made coffee and turned the TV on.

Or maybe someone sends you a party invitation containing a digital tag that links to an online version of the information. The Home could read that data, check your calendar, book whichever of your preferred babysitters is available, order taxis, and so on.

And how about using projectors and cameras to turn the dining table into a giant Surface-style device? It could project virtual placemats and other table decorations - some of them interactive - for a children's party. And it could be great for homework, especially for assembling material assembled from the school reading list plus other items you've located.

On the subject of school, why not put a camera behind a kid's mirror for an automatic check that the selected outfit complies with the school dress code? Or maybe you could hold up one garment to receive suggestions about which other items from the wardrobe would be a good match.

Another use for projectors is to instantly redecorate a room to suit the occupant. Neutral paint can be quickly overlaid with coloured lighting, photos, posters, maybe the online status of the occupant's buddy list. When daughter is away at a friend's house and Aunt Jean is staying, the décor can be changed to something more appropriate in an instant.

Want to see what the Home looks like? Please read on.

There are some very interesting ideas on display at the Microsoft Home, but don't expect them to be delivered by the company - it's more about Microsoft's expectations of what the industry will offer us in the years ahead.

A photo gallery and video of the current configuration of the Microsoft Home is available here.

Stephen Withers travelled to Seattle as the guest of Microsoft.


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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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