Rooms immersed in SurroundWeb
May 12, 2014
by Mark Ollig

Why surf the Web using just a smart device, tablet, or computer screen, when you can bring it into an entire room?

SurroundWeb is described by Microsoft as being a “3D Browser,” allowing two-dimensional web page information to be projected and displayed across, and on, multiple surfaces (such as tables, counters, cabinets, and walls) found inside a room.

We can think of it as a greatly enhanced, interactive, Web presentation medium.

The SurroundWeb UI (User Interface) interacts with the objects, surfaces, and people within a room.

A person uses natural hand gestures and their voice when interacting with SurroundWeb.

Kinect Fusion, Microsoft’s 3D object scanning and model creation tool, is one of the programs used for these Web\user\room\object interactions.

The projected images, video, and text content are “conditioned” (via SurroundWeb) to use flat surfaces in a room which are visually suitable for presenting content from the Web.

The Web content is beamed from multiple overhead-mounted projectors, which overlay the content onto physical surfaces.

In the Microsoft Research video yours truly watched, I observed a living room and a kitchen using SurroundWeb.

“SurroundWeb is a way to bring immersive room experiences to everyone’s home, without compromising privacy,” said David Molnar, a researcher with Microsoft Research.

He explained how the physical surfaces in a home can become a setting for interaction with the Web.

In one example, Molnar pointed to a living room’s wall, where he noted its left, middle, and right segments (panels) being divided into virtual screens, and how these would present multiple web pages.

These web pages were dedicated to car racing.

A large display monitor sitting on a table, showed live video of the actual car race.

The left wall panel had three separate picture-in-a-picture screens showing other video content he was watching.

The middle portion of the wall displayed Wikipedia car racing information obtained from the Web.

The right wall panel screen displayed the live, scrolling, chat-content taking place from his social network about the car race.

Molar noted SurroundWeb wasn’t limited to screen projectors.

For instance, SurroundWeb will interface with his Microsoft Surface tablet and smartphone for displaying visual and textual content.

A table became another display screen for information originating from a webpage; it was shown via a projector’s beam.

SurroundWeb will provide multiple screens for displaying relevant information to a user, from the resources it obtains from the Web.

Each area or frame section of the projected display screens shown in the video, were logical-elements deployed using current web technologies.

Eyal Ofek, a senior researcher with Microsoft Research, commented how in addition to the screen projections being displayed on the wall or table, SurroundWeb also had the ability to respond to events occurring in the room.

For example, he placed a can of soda pop on a table. The can was scanned, and text information about it was seen on the surface of the table, along with dietary suggestions from the Web.

Another example I viewed was in the kitchen, showing SurroundWeb’s interaction while a recipe was being used from a website.

SurroundWeb was monitoring the progress of the food in a pot cooking on the stove, and displayed, in an orderly fashion, the sequential steps to be taken in its preparation. It did this by displaying (projecting) information onto the kitchen counter, next to the stove, which was easily viewable by the person preparing the food.

To the left of the stove’s hood vent, SurroundWeb projected a display panel onto the face of a wooden kitchen cabinet door, of a live-streaming video program.

Under the video stream’s panel, five separate video selection buttons were also projected.

The video selection controls were not physical and looked very holographic-like.

The video display and controls could have been projected onto any flat surface in the kitchen.

I took a screen capture from this segment of the video and uploaded it to my Photobucket page; you can see it here: http://tinyurl.com/bits-sur1.

Microsoft Research ended its video presentation by reinforcing how the web server out on the Internet retains no individual information about the user during a SurroundWeb session.

The user’s personal information, according to both researchers, is not sent back to the website.

No information about the user’s room, surroundings, or the events which took place is recorded.

The Microsoft researchers stressed the assurance of the user’s privacy while using SurroundWeb.

SurroundWeb will have the potential to utilize the resources from any webpage, stream them into the real world, and mediate their interaction with the physical objects and people, found inside a “Web room.”

Folks will benefit by being able to more fully utilize the resources available on the Web.

Microsoft Research’s detailed, 16-page publication: “SurroundWeb: Least Privilege for Immersive \Web Rooms,” which Molnar and Ofek contributed to, can be read here: http://tinyurl.com/bits-sur2.

So, when will we be able to use SurroundWeb in our own Web room?

The prototype is still in the research and development stage, as testing continues using an experimental Internet Explorer Web Browser, with specially embedded software application controls.

Stay tuned.

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