May 20, 2011 12:01 AM PT
(Translated from the Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo.)
A user draws two circles in the search window of a smartphone. In a moment, a bicycle and a bundle of apples appear on the screen, among other things with round shapes. This is Microsoft’s next-generation search technology called “gesture,” which enables automatic search of relevant information by drawing only; no word entry on a keyboard is necessary.
Hsiao-Wuen Hon, managing director of Microsoft Research Asia and developer of the technology, recently visited Korea. Born in Taiwan, Hon is one of Microsoft’s 20 distinguished scientists. After receiving his Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University, he joined Microsoft in 1995, founded the Search Technology Center, and participated in the development of the Bing search engine.
“The technological development of gesture search is almost complete,” he explained. “We are discussing the specific timing of its commercialization, and it will soon be available on both mobile and PCs.”
Located in Beijing, Microsoft Research Asia is one of ten Microsoft Research facilities worldwide and employs 220 researchers. Since it was established in 1998, the facility has published more than 3,000 theses, garnering recognition for its outstanding technological capability.
Microsoft Research Asia developed a user-recognition function that became a key technology in Kinect, a motion-sensing game platform launched by Microsoft in late 2010. When a user approaches a Kinect device, it recalls the user’s information by sensing the lengths of arms, legs, facial features, and even clothing. Kinect is used for and through a connection to the Xbox video-game platform, the product has received a sensational response from the marketplace, with 10 million units sold worldwide in the first four months after launch.
“Going forward, the motion-sensing function applied in Kinect will be used in TV, smartphones and tablet PCs, as well as game platforms,” Hon said. “The issue is to improve the precision of motion sensing beyond finding satisfaction in the amazing function. That is our mission.”
Gesture search is the expanded application of the function.
“We are now intensively studying the next-generation search technology,” Hon said. “The search method has evolved from word input to voice input, and the search tool has expanded from PCs to mobile devices. The next search technology will be gesture search, which finds all relevant information related to an image in a user’s head in a drawing. Users sometimes feel frustrated with the current method of entering search words using a keyboard. By appropriately combining letter entering and gesture, the accuracy of search could be greatly improved.
“There are no development deadlines at our research center. Even if an idea is crazy, the company fully supports it as long as it is deemed innovative and has commercial value. That is the research philosophy of Microsoft.”