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It’s not nearly as big as the Holodeck, but a Microsoft Research project called “HoloDesk” will look very familiar to Star Trek fans. Except this is a real-life, working prototype that uses a Kinect sensor to let people interact with 3D virtual images as if they were physical objects.

The project is out of the Sensors and Devices Group at Microsoft Research Cambridge. Writing about the project today, Microsoft blogger Steve Clayton points out that it’s not the only experiment in digital 3D interaction, but he notes that the use of beam splitters and a specialized graphics processing systems sets this Microsoft project apart.

It’s the latest in a long series of Microsoft Research projects exploring the area of natural and alternative user interfaces. Earlier this week, the company showed a prototype called PocketTouch for interacting with device through fabric, such as a pocket or bag.

For more detail on the HoloDesk, here’s the description from Microsoft Research …

HoloDesk is a novel interactive system combining an optical see through display and Kinect camera to create the illusion that users are directly interacting with 3D graphics. A virtual image of a 3D scene is rendered through a half silvered mirror and spatially aligned with the real-world for the viewer. Users easily reach into an interaction volume displaying the virtual image. This allows the user to literally get their hands into the virtual display. A novel real-time algorithm for representing hands and other physical objects, which are sensed by the Kinect inside this volume, allows physically realistic interaction between real and virtual 3D objects.

But it may be a while before you get to try something like this yourself. As with most Microsoft Research projects, this is only a prototype for now, but Microsoft’s product teams often look to the company’s researchers for technologies to incorporate into their products.

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