July 18, 2006 9:00 PM PDT

Image navigation, with a sci-fi touch

Taking a page out of a science-fiction novel, Microsoft's research labs have come up with a way for people to navigate computer images using their hands to change their point of view.

However, borrowing in equal measure from its business handbook, Microsoft is not going to develop the technology itself, but is instead licensing the technology, known as TouchLight, to a start-up.

Click here to Play

Video: Hands-on 3D
Microsoft's TouchLight technology lets you manipulate three-dimensional images.

Microsoft is licensing the idea to Eon Reality, an Irvine, Calif.-based company that will use it in its existing interactive products for commercial, auto, aerospace and defense industries. Eon's current products offer 3D displays, but don't let a person interact via touch.

With TouchLight people can use their hands to, among other things, tilt and pan an image, such a refrigerator or airplane. The technology is similar to one that has long been captured in fantasy novels and on the big screen, including "Minority Report," in which Tom Cruise's character is able to prevent crime by pulling up information on a glass screen using just a wave of his hands.

Unlike in that film, people using TouchLight don't have to use special gloves, glasses or headsets.

Eon said that it plans to use the technology as part of in-store displays during the next two years and hopes that in two to three years the technology will be affordable enough for use on desktop computers.

Microsoft's move to license TouchLight is the latest in a series of moves since the company announced in spring 2005 that it would start licensing its research technology to start-ups. This April, it licensed a social-networking technology code-named Wallop to a company by the same name.

Microsoft is not taking an equity stake in Eon and will get licensing payments only when Eon has sales from a product using TouchLight. Other financial details were not disclosed.

The company will demonstrate TouchLight at an event Wednesday at its Silicon Valley offices in Mountain View, Calif., as part of an event discussing intellectual property issues and the software industry.

CNET News.com's Neha Tiwari contributed to this report.

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5 comments

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A fight with Apple in the making?
This video:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPwaUp4gepU" target="_newWindow">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPwaUp4gepU</a>

has been linked with Apple patents which, in turn, have been linked
to the 6th Gen iPod. Looks similar to what you're describing.
Posted by Nick Blakey (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Indeed Microsoft technology
See the link below for Microsoft Intellectual Property licensing site featuring Touchlight as well as many other technologies available for 3rd party licensing.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.microsoft.com/about/legal/intellectualproperty/search/details.mspx?ip_id=IDAEIWKE&#38;techType=Any&#38;ipCat=Any&#38;feeStructure=Any&#38;keywords=touch&#38;ipVenture=false" target="_newWindow">http://www.microsoft.com/about/legal/intellectualproperty/search/details.mspx?ip_id=IDAEIWKE&#38;techType=Any&#38;ipCat=Any&#38;feeStructure=Any&#38;keywords=touch&#38;ipVenture=false</a>

The link provides more details on Touchlight including a video.
To address your question on why Microsoft would license a technology rather than commercialize it. This a a very common practice by large tech companies with large R&#38;D orgs. Many technologies developed out of the lab are made available through licensing to 3rd party companies including startups who may be able to quickly commercialize/productize the technology with Microsoft getting a license fee in exchange. IBM started this practice and turned it into a $1B/year licensing business, HP and other big techs have been doing this for years. See the CNet article dated April 11, 2005 outlining Microsoft's Research strategy to license to 3rd parties.
Have a nice day.
Posted by Shakingmy head (48 comments )
Link Flag
Not Microsoft Technology
This was not developed by Microsoft, or for that matter, Apple. It
was developed in university labs.

What is interesting here is that Microsoft seems to be staking a
claim to the development of the technology but not keeping the
commercialization of it in house. Doesn't that seem backward?

Apple saw the university technology and will probably be the
company that brings it mainstream. They already have their
"gestures" patent, very similar to the Multi-Touch display in the
first poster's video. They have another patent where an LCD
display has built-in image sensors, unlike the Multi-Touch
which I believe is rear projection with sensors behind the screen.
Thus they have been quietly putting into place the bits and
pieces of their own implementation. They will license the parts
that have already been patented, but not from Microsoft.

Have a nice day!
Posted by lesfilip (496 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This has been around for a few years now...
As usual, Microsoft joins the fray late, and tries to take credit where none is due. See this link and you will understand:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.io2technology.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.io2technology.com/</a>
Posted by flyerj24 (6 comments )
Link Flag
 

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