This story is from the category Pure Research
Date posted: 23/10/2011
For decades, we controlled computers with a mouse and keyboard. The plastic mouse became a prosthetic for our hand, and the keyboard an extension of our fingers.
Microsoft researchers are searching for the next breakthrough that will bring the real and machine worlds even closer together.
Blurring the line between those worlds is a mission for Stevie Bathiche, a bioengineer who leads the Applied Sciences group at Microsoft. "A lot of what we do now is making the interface between man and machine seamless," Bathiche said he wrote in a personal mission statement 10 years ago. More specifically, he wanted to make the machine feel less like a machine. "Be a part of the person's life instead of the other way around."
For the past few years, Bathiche has been building 3-D screens and cameras that make people on opposite sides of the globe seem as if they're in the same room.
"I view him as one of the major people on a global basis" in 3-D displays and optics, said Jaron Lanier, a Microsoft researcher who pioneered virtual reality and recently wrote the book "You Are Not a Gadget." "He's the most creative and productive engineer in that particular field working in the world today."
Bathiche has been working on blending worlds for a while. In college, he built a car driven by a cockroach, his first experiment connecting the machine to the living world. He came up with the idea while studying to become an electrical engineer. He didn't know much about bugs, so he knocked on the door of an entomology professor who studied insect nervous systems.
The professor, Jeffrey Bloomquist, told him how much work it would take. Bathiche disappeared.
"I was like, 'Whatever,' " Bloomquist said. "That's often true for undergraduates, because they find out how much work it requires, and they have to stay sober for the weekend."
Six weeks later, knock, knock.
It was Bathiche, with a prototype toy car in his hands. Bathiche and his professor then connected electrodes from a roach's wing plates to the car, put the car on the floor, and blew on the roach. The car took off.
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