Microsoft’s Full-Court Innovation Press: TechFest User Interfaces, IT for Hospitals, Ballmer at UW

Please excuse the March Madness sports metaphor, but Microsoft is picking up the intensity around its innovative new products (and earlier-stage projects) this week. Between its TechFest research showcase, healthcare software product announcements, and a special local appearance by CEO Steve Ballmer, the Redmond, WA-based company is on a serious PR roll, getting the word out about its technology across a wide range of sectors. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. All of this takes place in the afterglow of Microsoft’s introduction of Windows 7 last fall, and its new mobile operating system, Windows Phone 7 Series. Here’s a quick wrap-up:

—CEO Steve Ballmer is giving a talk on the future of cloud computing at the University of Washington tomorrow morning. It will be at 10 am in the Microsoft Atrium of the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering. And for the hands-on techies out there, you can take a tour of a portable Microsoft data center (housed in a cargo container), which demonstrates part of the company’s plan to “modularize” this crucial piece of equipment.

TechFest, the annual showcase of Microsoft Research demos, was in full swing this week. A few projects to improve user interfaces grabbed me the most. One is “Body Computing,” whereby a person could use finger gestures or could tap on his or her own arm to control a computer; the system tracks electrical muscle activity and/or mechanical vibrations using sensors embedded in an armband. Another project is “Mobile Surface,” whereby you can interact with a screen projected on a table (which might show pictures or documents, say) using a mobile phone connected to a camera and projector system. The technology behind it is a bit similar to Project Natal, the Xbox add-on interface slated for release later this year.

—Health-IT software has become a major effort within Microsoft. Its Health Solutions Group numbers about 700 staff (800 if you count the new Sentillion team in Andover, MA). This week, the company announced HealthVault Community Connect, a unified software platform that allows hospitals to gather patients’ electronic medical information and make it available to patients and their referring doctors. It’s a big step in Microsoft’s plan to reach consumers through their physicians and drive mainstream adoption of electronic health records (and the HealthVault platform). The new software for hospitals will be widely available in the third quarter of 2010.

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