Posted by Rob Knies

Seattle Science Festival 2013 logo

The changes wrought by technology in recent years is nothing short of astounding. First, music became digitized. Now, it’s video, in all its forms. That data can be stored, comfortably and effectively, in the cloud. And many of us walk around each day with little computers in our pockets.

On these miniature marvels—known commonly, if not completely accurately, as “mobile phones”—we can achieve something humans have dreamed of for decades: the ability to call a loved one and actually see that person as we chat.

That’s fantastic, right? Well, as the saying goes, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

On June 8, during the Science EXPO Day being held at Seattle Center as part of the Seattle Science Festival, Microsoft Research will be showing a half-dozen technology demonstrations designed to fire the imaginations of youths attending the event. And among them will be one that not only lets you see somebody as you hold a conversation, but also experience their presence in 3-D—while you talk.

Called Digitizing 3-D Humans in Real Time, the demo, like the others from Microsoft Research, is an effort to celebrate the life-changing, future-shaping contributions made by those who choose to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

The Seattle Science Festival is all about supporting STEM studies. A festive, 11-day event held in the heart of Seattle from June 6-16 to showcase the science and technology pursuits happening in the community, it features big names from the science world, a variety of programs from around the region, and the Science EXPO Day, a free event running from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. and featuring 150 booths, hands-on activities, and performances throughout the day.

“We at Microsoft feel so privileged to be a part of the Seattle Science Festival,” says Peter Lee, Microsoft corporate vice president and head of Microsoft Research USA. “The opportunity to engage with individuals and families throughout our region gives us great insights into the potential impact of the technologies we work on—and it’s a lot of fun, too!”

Ellen Lettvin, vice president of scienced and education at Pacific Science Center and director of the Seattle Science Festival, welcomes the support.

“Microsoft is a fantastic community partner,” she says. “They are not only involved in pursuing cutting-edge research, some of which is on display at Science EXPO Day, but they also are active in supporting STEM education in our region and nationwide. Their participation in the Science Festival provides an important opportunity for us to show children and youth from our region, firsthand, some of the amazing applications of the science and math they are learning in school.“

Microsoft Research will have a robust presence during the Science EXPO Day. Among its technologies on display will be:

  • Kinect Fusion: A system that takes live depth data from a moving Kinect camera and in real time creates high-quality, geometrically accurate 3-D models.
  • TouchDevelop—Creating Apps on the Go: A radical, new software-development environment that enables you to write code for your Windows Phone on your Windows Phone.
  • SketchInsight: An interactive whiteboard system for storytelling with data by using real-time sketching.
  • SandDance: A web-based visualization system that uses 3-D hardware acceleration to explore the relationships between hundreds of thousands of items.
  • Actuated 3-D Display with Haptic Feedback: A device that enables the natural visual and haptic exploration of a 3-D data set.

All are fascinating in their own ways, but the ability to digitize 3-D humans is sure to capture its share of attention during the event. Charles Loop, a senior researcher in the Multimedia, Interaction, and Communication group at Microsoft Research Redmond, explains what the project is all about.

“We will demonstrate one of the technologies needed to achieve the goal of immersive telepresence,” Loop explains. “Using an eight-camera rig, we capture live images of a human subject and reconstruct a 3-D model of the person in real time.”

That 3-D imagery can be recorded or transmitted for remote viewing, in scenarios such as teleconferencing, capturing performances, and augmented reality. During the Science EXPO Day, though, the technology will serve another, more alluring purpose.

“We are showing this demo,” Loop says, “because it gives participants a kind of ‘out-of-the-body experience.’ They will be able to see and rotate their virtual selves by 360 degrees in real time.”

Sounds like fun, but those who attend the Science EXPO Day won’t be the only ones enjoying the experience.

“I am looking forward to engaging with kids about science and technology,” Loop confirms, “and showing them some of the cool things that can be done using math and computers.”