Multitouch Pong? Microsoft's Sphere could head for gaming

Sending images to "the dark side" and creating "omnidirectional views" of city streets are a couple of capabilities already created for Microsoft's Sphere, a new technology that might ultimately bring as yet unforeseen commercial applications in gaming, office collaboration, and other areas of human endeavor.

Expected to be shown this week at Microsoft's annual Faculty Summit, Sphere has already served as the platform for a novel twist on the Pong game that lets you "create virtual barriers with your hands" and bounce images to other players, said Hrvoje Benko, a Microsoft researcher, during an earlier demo in Seattle. If you bounce the image up and over the sphere, rather than across it, you're said to be "sending it to the dark side."

Sphere literally brings new dimensions to user interface design concepts developed by Microsoft earlier with Surface, a table-sized horizontal display already seeing some commercial applications, and Touch Wall, a large vertical display surface demoed by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates at the company's CEO Forum in May of this year.

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In Sphere, Microsoft has leveraged a hardware product from a Global Dimensions, and then written its own software which "adds the ability to sense multiple touch contacts across the globe," Benko said, in video recently captured by Todd Bishop, a reporter for the Seattle Intelligencer, and now posted to YouTube.

The Microsft researcher also demoed how Sphere has enabled "multidimensional views" of a walk around Seattle, using photos "coming in from multiple directions."

Outside of gaming, and maybe mapping, Microsoft's Benko suggested potential uses of Sphere at informational kiosks in hotel lobbies and in collaborative work applications.

Benko acknowledged there might be "potential problems here if multiple people try to use it" at the same time. But he added that Microsoft believes these issues could be "socially mitigated."

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