When you hear ‘Microsoft’, most people think of their computer, but aside from everything Windows, the tech giant has its hands dipped in many projects for a long time.
At this year's annual Future Decoded event held in London, it revealed some of the other exciting ways its helping people to adopt to change – or as Microsoft’s own head of devices Panos Panay puts it, “opening up the benefits of technology to more people”. So let’s take a look at some…
Counteracting Parkinson’s tremors
Sadly there’s no known cure for Parkinson’s but Microsoft researchers have been working on a project that could at least make sufferers' lives a little easier.
Haiyan Zhang, innovation director at Microsoft Research Cambridge, developed a watch which counters the tremors sufferers experience which would usually make it impossible to write or draw.
The wearable – called Emma, after a 33-year-old with the neurological condition who first tested the device – reduces the tremors using vibrating motors to distract the brain into focusing on something else instead of controlling the patient’s limbs.
Find out more about Emma in the video below:
Collaborative working on a white board
Whether working on school projects or important work assignments, the whiteboard has long required everyone to be in the same room, but Microsoft hopes to set the smart whiteboard free with its latest app.
Using Office 365, users can work together on Surface Hubs anywhere in real time.
Online customer service with bots and real people
Artificial intelligence is something just about everyone is looking into at the moment and Microsoft is no exception.
Using its cloud computing service Azure, Microsoft is enabling all sorts of AI. At the Future Decoded event it showed how AI could be used to make ever more intelligent bots, so your questions about an order could be answered by a machine but their responses appear human for example. But as soon as the query requires human intervention, a person from the company can take over the chat.
The example Microsoft gave shows how AI offers up an insurance quote but as soon as you say you’re not happy with that price a human takes over to offer you a better rate.
Showing how new furniture will look in your home
Hololens, Microsoft’s mixed reality viewer, is somewhere the company is continuously looking to expand.
One area is with potential purchases you make, especially furniture so that you can visualise how a new sofa might look in your living room. The company has already started testing mixed reality in such a way with luxury interior designers 161 London.
Support for first-line workers
First-line workers who use their hands primarily in their jobs have long had less technology to help them out – mainly because their hands are too occupied to be holding technology as well. But Hololens could revolutionise the way they operate.
An example Microsoft showcases is if an engineer needs help from someone else to figure out some repair work. Instead of calling that person and trying to understand their advice on the phone – or worse, having to wait for that person to come out and join them – they can see the problem remotely with Hololens and even draw to indicate what and where the person on the scene should repair.
Helping motivate children with cystic fibrosis
Another health project Microsoft is involved in is a partnership with physiotherapists at University College London to find a way to encourage children with cystic fibrosis.
It can be hard to motivate kids to keep up with their daily airway clearance device but ‘Fizzyo’ turns it into a fun game that children will want to play. A wireless chipped sensor in the mouthpiece sends signals to a tablet, enabling them to control the game.