MIT project shows new interface technologies

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are working on a project that could, for example, make fingertip...

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are working on a project that could, for example, make fingertip control of your computer a reality.

The Project Oxygen Alliance has as many as 200 to 300 researchers in the school's Lab for Computer Science (LCS) and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory working on a variety of projects, according to Stephen Garland, principal research scientist at the LCS.

The goal of the work is "to make it easier to interact with computers in natural, human terms", he said.

The alliance is working on a number of projects, including those listed above, and demonstrated a handful at its second annual meeting, held last week in Cambridge.

Other projects under way include a natural language, multilingual conversation system that can understand and respond to normal speech; a computer-aided design tool that can translate images from a whiteboard into design applications; a self-configuring, decentralised wireless network, and a system that intelligently allocates resources for streaming media.

Though Garland was unsure whether all of the products using the technology developed by Project Oxygen might see the light of day, he believed that some of the developments are ready to be taken up now.

"We try to push good ideas out the door [not market the products]", he said. He added that it was a question of gauging the market.

Though the project is funded in part by the US federal government agency DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and works closely with a number of private-sector companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Nokia and Philips, much of the work will be released into the public domain, according to Garland. Some of it, however, may be patented eventually, he added.

Garland hopes that the technology developed by the alliance will, in some way, change the way people interact with computers.

"Our hope is that people will get more useful benefits from technology, but be less aware that they're surrounded by it," he said. "One would like to think that this technology would increase leisure as well as productivity."

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