Microsoft Tuesday unveiled a prototype computer, Sphere, at the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit 2008 in Redmond, Washington. Sphere is composed of a large spherical screen atop an infrared projector. The projector projects images onto the screen, while at the same time allowing multi-touch manipulation of the images, so that it can be used by several users at once. Sphere uses a special algorithm to show images without distortion, as they would look on a flat

Microsoft envisions a future where interactive surfaces populate our surroundings. "I believe what we are seeing is the emergence of various kinds of interactive surfaces," said Sphere developer Hrvoje Benko. "This is one surface that might be serving a particular purpose, but it should probably live in an ecosystem of other surfaces. So what's really interesting to us is what kinds of interactive surfaces we can make, how well we can make them, and how people interact with them -- how they are used."
Commenting on Sphere, Dan Olds, principal analyst of the Gabriel Consulting group, said, "[t]his type of experimentation and exploration is important because it advances the industry mindset past the static idea that computers are boxy things, monitors are rectangles, and you always use a keyboard and mouse to work it."
Benko said the project was developed to “explore collaborative actions, with multiple people around it.” Sphere’s shape, while unorthodox, could definitely facilitate group work, as several people can manipulate the same computer simultaneously.
With many companies developing interactive surfaces, and the insane popularity of the iPhone, we should see many more interactive surfaces soon. Microsoft predicts that it will have surface-touch technology in PCs, cell phones, desks, kitchen counters and walls in the next five to ten years. An early example of this kind of technology in use, the interactive floor at San Francisco’s Westfield Mall, is already a huge hit with kids.

By Mark Alvarez