Friday, September 26, 2008

Microsoft's 'Spatial Web'

At EmTech '08 yesterday, I heard Microsoft's research and strategy chief talk about the company's cutting-edge technologies. Craig Mundie spent a fair amount of time discussing cloud computing and advances in programming, but I was particularly interested in his discussions of 3D-related technologies. For years, I have been writing about virtual worlds and 3D tools, and observing how companies both big and small have been developing products and trying different business models. Google, Intel, Sony, Linden Lab, and Sun Microsystems have been very visible in this sector, but Microsoft has been a bit of an enigma ... until yesterday.

Mundie basically said that the user-generated virtual worlds which are popular now -- Second Life and the like -- are not scalable in the sense that lots of people will be interested in creating avatars and virtual objects. Rather, he thinks killer apps will be centered around the "Spatial Web," a virtual representation of the real world that uses the Internet, cloud computing, and new interfaces. Key to the creation of the Spatial Web will be Photosynth, a really neat modeling tool that I have covered here on my blog. Photosynth figured heavily in Mundie's demonstration at MIT yesterday. Here's what he showed in his demo:
In one brief demo he showed how a small, camera-equipped robot could be used to model a large room. In another, he showed a 3D model of a commercial district in Seattle that had been created with Photosynth, and demonstrated how a virtual visitor could come to the district using the Internet, enter an art shop in the area, and examine and buy a virtual sculpture that had also been "photosynthed" by the shop clerks or the artist.
You can read the rest of my Industry Standard article here, and I have a brief video from Mundie's demo below, showing how his staff created a 3D model of a real place (a room at MIT) using a camera-equipped robot.

A few other quotes from Mundie's presentation, which I did not include in the TIS article:

How does Microsoft view the future?
"What is the killer application and what is the user engagement model that drives adoption?"
On cloud computing:
"More and more, computing will be model based, rather than discrete applications."
On user interfaces:
Microsoft is looking for the "NUI to replace the GUI"

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