Gizmos You Don't Yet Know You Need

Lyndsay Williams, a researcher at Microsoft Corp.'s Cambridge, England research center, holds a prototype model of the "SenseCam," Wednesday, March 3, 2004, at the company's annual TechFest in Redmond, Wash. The SenseCam is a digital camera with a fisheye lens that can be worn around the neck that uses various sensors to make a visual record of everything a person sees does during a day.
AP
As Lyndsay Williams trudged along snow-covered paths and passed by shop windows one recent day in Cambridge, England, so too did her SenseCam — automatically snapping hundreds of photos along the way.

Later that day, Williams could have used those pictures to figure out where she'd left her car keys, or to show a friend the sweater she saw in a window.

Perhaps weeks or months later, she might have zipped through them to figure out when she last saw a particular colleague or what bottle of wine she had been drinking that night.

SenseCam, touted as a visual diary of sorts by Microsoft Corp., is designed to be worn around the neck. The prototype responds to changes such as bright lights and sudden movements and can take up to 2,000 images in a 12-hour day without the wearer doing a thing.

One day, SenseCam might even respond to other stimuli such as heart rate or skin temperature — to track medical problems as easily as to record a Hawaiian vacation. And it could eventually link with other technology, such as face recognition to remind wearers when they've seen someone before.

Williams and other Microsoft researchers are showcasing dozens of futuristic gadgets and projects to company employees and journalists. The annual TechFest is hosted by Microsoft Research, a unit that delves into everything from super-technical programming applications to tools for developing HIV vaccines.

Though Microsoft Research works on security and other issues deemed important today, its head, Rick Rashid, said researchers also try to anticipate what Microsoft developers will want in several years. Some projects never make it into a for-profit product.

But many do, including the TabletPC and a smart watch that gets news and other information from a service called MSN Direct.

Other technologies could soon be available to the public.

Microsoft is looking to license technology for identification cards touted as forge-proof because they combine a regular picture ID with a box that includes a compressed facial image.

Another project converts a regular webcam image into low-resolution animation — stripped of everything but the eyes, lips, nose and eyebrows. It's easier to transmit than full video and can be used with instant messaging to convey emotion and nuance.

Rashid, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University before joining Microsoft, is already thinking ahead. One item he has in mind: an alarm clock that figures out when to wake you based on current traffic conditions.

By Allison Linn