Microsoft files patents for augmented reality smart glasses.

  • Work on digital glasses that overlay information on top of the user’s view of the world has been carried out by Microsoft.

patent applied for by the US tech firm describes how the eyewear could be used to bring up statistics over a wearer’s view of a baseball game or details of characters in a play.

The newly-released document was filed in May 2011 and is highly detailed.

If a product comes to market it could challenge Google’s Project Glass.

Google is planning to deliver its augmented reality glasses to developers early next year and then follow with a release to consumers in 2014.

Smaller firms – such as Vuzix, TTP and Explore Engage – are also working on rival systems.

Although some have questioned how many people would want to wear such devices, a recent report by Juniper Research indicated that the market for smart glasses and other next-generation wearable tech could be worth $1.5bn (£940m) by 2014 and would multiply over following years.

No missed moments

Microsoft’s patent was filed by Kathryn Stone Perez, executive producer of the Xbox Incubation unit which earlier developed the Kinect sensor; and John Tardiff, an audio-video engineer who previously worked at Apple.

It notes that entertainment organisers often provide screens showing information to enhance audience’s enjoyment of their events. But looking at these displays forces the user to turn their head away from the action – for example looking at the scoreboard at a baseball game, or translated lyrics at the side of the stage at an opera.

Microsoft suggests augmented reality headwear would avoid the risk of missing a key moment and also make it possible to see effects otherwise reserved for people watching on TV – for example a computer-drawn line superimposed over an American Football pitch showing the minimum 10-yard distance a team needs to advance the ball.

The patent suggests the key to making this work would be to vary the transparency of the glasses lens.

“[It would be] capable of generating display elements on various portions of a user’s display while remaining portions of the head mounted display are transparent to allow the user to continue to view events or occurrences within the live event,” it says.

“Other alternatives allow the display to become completely opaque, in order for the display to provide, for example, a display of a video such as an instant replay of the live event.”

Anticipated events

Microsoft suggests a wrist-worn computer could be used to operate the device, or alternatively the user might control it through voice-commands and flicking their eyes to a certain spot.

It indicates that most of the processing work – identifying people and other objects in view, and deciding what information to show about them – would likely be carried out by remote computer servers in order to keep the equipment slimline.

The firm adds that many entertainment events follow a set course – such as a character always appearing at the same point in a play – and this could be used to ready information in advance to ensure it is brought up quickly.

Microsoft suggests a wide range of sensors would need to be built into the eyewear – including a microphone, video camera, gyroscope, eye gaze-trackers, infra-red detector and magnetometer as well as wi-fi and/or bluetooth connectivity – to provide the functionality it describes.

The document also describes some of the technologies it could license that have been developed by other firms, suggesting Microsoft has explored the possibility of putting its ideas into practice.

Nitin Bhas, senior analyst at Juniper research said he would not be surprised to see the the Windows-maker release a device over the coming years.

“We think smart glasses and other head-worn displays will be the next major form-factor for computing with adoption by consumers beginning around late-2014 to 2017,” he told the BBC.

“The devices will help integrate technology into human life, making things like augmented reality more seamless than it is on smartphones at present.

“Compared to other devices we think the adoption rate will be low and price points high in the medium-term, but they will catch on eventually.”


‘Fat’ drug could treat epilepsy.

A substance made by the body when it uses fat as fuel could provide a new way of treating epilepsy, experts hope.

Researchers in London who have been carrying out preliminary tests of the fatty acid treatment, report their findings in Neuropharmacology journal.

They came up with the idea because of a special diet used by some children with severe, drug resistant epilepsy to help manage their condition.

The ketogenic diet is high in fat and low in carbohydrate.

The high fat, low carbohydrate diet is thought to mimic aspects of starvation by forcing the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates.

 “Start Quote

The identification of these fatty acids is an exciting breakthrough”

Simon WigglesworthEpilepsy Action

Although often effective, the diet has attracted criticism, as side-effects can be significant and potentially lead to constipation, hypoglycaemia, retarded growth and bone fractures.

By pinpointing fatty acids in the ketogenic diet that are effective in controlling epilepsy, researchers hope they can develop a pill for children and adults that could provide similar epilepsy control without the side-effects.

In early trials, the scientists, from Royal Holloway and University College London, say they have identified fatty acids that look like good candidates for the job.

They found that not only did some of the fatty acids outperform a regular epilepsy medication called valproate in controlling seizures in animals, they also had fewer side-effects.

But many more tests are needed to determine if the treatment would be safe and effective in humans.

Prof Matthew Walker, from the Institute of Neurology, University College London, said: “Epilepsy affects over 50 million people worldwide and approximately a third of these people have epilepsy that is not adequately controlled by our present treatments.

“This discovery offers a whole new approach to the treatment of drug-resistant epilepsies in children and adults.”

Simon Wigglesworth, deputy chief executive at Epilepsy Action, said: “We know the ketogenic diet can be a highly effective treatment for children with difficult to control epilepsy and it is starting to be used for adults.

“The diet is high in fats and low in carbohydrates and the balance of the diet needs to be carefully worked out for each child. Although some children manage the diet very well, others find the diet unpleasant and difficult to follow. Children can also experience side-effects including constipation and weight loss.

“The identification of these fatty acids is an exciting breakthrough. The research means that children and adults with epilepsy could potentially benefit from the science behind the ketogenic diet without dramatically altering their eating habits or experiencing unpleasant side-effects.

“We look forward to seeing how this research progresses.”


Japan’s ninjas heading for extinction.

Japan’s era of shoguns and samurai is long over, but the country does have one, or maybe two, surviving ninjas. Experts in the dark arts of espionage and silent assassination, ninjas passed skills from father to son – but today’s say they will be the last.

Japan’s ninjas were all about mystery. Hired by noble samurai warriors to spy, sabotage and kill, their dark outfits usually covered everything but their eyes, leaving them virtually invisible in shadow – until they struck.

Using weapons such as shuriken, a sharpened star-shaped projectile, and the fukiya blowpipe, they were silent but deadly.

Ninjas were also famed swordsmen. They used their weapons not just to kill but to help them climb stone walls, to sneak into a castle or observe their enemies.

Most of their missions were secret so there are very few official documents detailing their activities. Their tools and methods were passed down for generations by word of mouth.

This has allowed filmmakers, novelists and comic artists to use their wild imagination.

Hollywood movies such as Enter the Ninja and American Ninja portray them as superhumans who could run on water or disappear in the blink of an eye.

“That is impossible because no matter how much you train, ninjas were people,” laughs Jinichi Kawakami, Japan’s last ninja grandmaster, according to the Iga-ryu ninja museum.

Five nearly-true ninja myths


  • Ninjutsu is a martial art: In fact, fighting was a last resort – ninjas were skilled in espionage and defeating foes using intelligence, while swinging a sword was deemed a lower art
  • Ninjas could disappear: They couldn’t vanish as they do in the movies, but being skilled with explosives, they could make smoke bombs to momentarily misdirect the gaze, then flit away
  • They wore black: Ninja clothing was made to be light and hard to see in the dark – but jet-black would cause the form to stand out in moonlight, so a dark navy blue dye was usually used
  • Ninjas could fly: They moved quietly and swiftly, thanks to breathing techniques which increased oxygen intake, but kept their feet on the ground
  • And walk on water: CIA intelligence says they used “water shoes” – circular wooden boards or buckets – and a bamboo paddle for propulsion, but doubt remains over their effectiveness

However, ninjas did apparently have floats that enabled them move across water in a standing position.

Kawakami is the 21st head of the Ban family, one of 53 that made up the Koka ninja clan. He started learning ninjutsu (ninja techniques) when he was six, from his master, Masazo Ishida.

“I thought we were just playing and didn’t think I was learning ninjutsu,” he says.

“I even wondered if he was training me to be a thief because he taught me how to walk quietly and how to break into a house.”

Other skills that he mastered include making explosives and mixing medicines.

“I can still mix some herbs to create poison which doesn’t necessarily kill but can make one believe that they have a contagious disease,” he says.

Kawakami inherited the clan’s ancient scrolls when he was 18.

While it was common for these skills to be passed down from father to son, many young men were also adopted into the ninja clans.

There were at least 49 of these but Mr Kawakami’s Koka clan and the neighbouring Iga clan remain two of the most famous thanks to their work for powerful feudal lords such as Ieyasu Tokugawa – who united Japan after centuries of civil wars when he won the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600.

It is during the Tokugawa era – known as Edo – when official documents make brief references to ninjas’ activities.

“They weren’t just killers like some people believe from the movies,” says Kawakami.

In fact, they had day jobs. “Because you cannot make a living being a ninja,” he laughs.

There are many theories about these day jobs. Some ninjas are believed to have been farmers, and others pedlars who used their day jobs to spy.

“We believe some became samurai during the Edo period,” says Kawakami. “They had to be categorised under the four caste classes set by the Tokugawa government: warrior, farmers, artisan and merchants.”

As for the 21st Century ninja, Kawakami is a trained engineer. In his suit, he looks like any other Japanese businessman.

The title of “Japan’s last ninja”, however, may not be his alone. Eighty-year-old Masaaki Hatsumi says he is the leader of another surviving ninja clan – the Togakure clan.

Hatsumi is the founder of an international martial arts organisation called Bujinkan, with more than 300,000 trainees worldwide.

“They include military and police personnel abroad,” he tells me at one of his training halls, known as dojo, in the town of Noda in Chiba prefecture.

It is a small town and not a place you would expect to see many foreigners. But the dojo, big enough for 48 tatami mats, is full of trainees who are glued to every move that Hatsumi makes. His actions are not big, occasionally with some weapons, but mainly barehanded.

Hatsumi explains to his pupils how those small moves can be used to take enemies out.

Western ninja-inspired nonsense


  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: This comic-book sewer-dwelling quartet evolved into talking, pizza-eating humanoids named after Italian artists – they inspired a toy craze, film and video game
  • American Ninja: 1985 film with Michael Dudikoff as GI Joe Armstrong, whose platoon is killed by ninjas in the Philippines – when they kidnap the colonel’s daughter he saves her thanks to his own extraordinary ninjutsu skills
  • Mortal Kombat: Arcade and console series so gory it prompted the US to adopt age-ratings for games – characters had “special moves”, like Sub-Zero’s ability to generate ice to freeze opponents.

Paul Harper from the UK is one of many dedicated followers. For a quarter of a century, he has been coming to Hatsumi for a few weeks of lessons every year.

“Back in the early 80s, there were various martial art magazines and I was studying Karate at the time and I came across some articles about Bujinkan,” he says.

“This looked much more complex and a complete form of martial arts where all facets were covered so I wanted to expand my experience.”

Harper says his master’s ninja heritage interested him at the start but “when you come to understand how the training and techniques of Bujinkan work, the ninja heritage became much less important”.

Hatsumi’s reputation doesn’t stop there. He has contributed to countless films as a martial arts adviser, including the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, and continues to practise ninja techniques.

Both Kawakami and Hatsumi are united on one point. Neither will appoint anyone to take over as the next ninja grandmaster.

“In the age of civil wars or during the Edo period, ninjas’ abilities to spy and kill, or mix medicine may have been useful,” Kawakami says.

“But we now have guns, the internet and much better medicines, so the art of ninjutsu has no place in the modern age.”

As a result, he has decided not to take a protege. He simply teaches ninja history part-time at Mie University.

Despite having so many pupils, Mr Hatsumi, too, has decided not to select an heir.

My students will continue to practice some of the techniques that were used by ninjas, but [a person] must be destined to succeed the clan.” There is no such person, he says.

The ninjas will not be forgotten. But the once-feared secret assassins are now remembered chiefly through fictional characters in cartoons, movies and computer games, or as a tourist attractions.

The museum in the city of Iga welcomes visitors from across the world where a trained group, called Ashura, entertains them with an hourly performance of ninja tricks.

Unlike the silent art of ninjutsu, the shows that school children and foreign visitors watch today are loud and exciting. The mystery has gone even before the last ninja has died.






Time-lapse code wins Raspberry Pi contest .

Software that turns a Raspberry Pi computer into a time-lapse camera has won a contest for teenage programmers.

PySnap was written by 12-year-old Aaron Hill and took first prize in the 13 and under category of the Raspberry Pi summer coding contest.

The software allows Pi owners to connect a USB camera to the device and fine-tune the interval at which it takes pictures.

For his coding prowess Aaron wins a cash prize of $1,000 (£627).

The Raspberry Pi is about the size of a credit card but is a fully working computer created to help young people get started with programming.

The two-month long competition was run by the foundation behind the Raspberry Pi and intended to find the best young programmers working with the bare-bones computer. Entries were sought in two categories: 13 and under and 14-18.

Writing about the competition entries on the Raspberry Pi blog,community manager Liz Upton said PySnap was “well thought out and designed”. Runners up prizes of $200 (£125) went to two other programs; SerPint, by Louis Goessling (aged 12) made it easier to control more devices via the Pi and The Matrix by Conner Foxley (also 12) was a text-based world simulator.

Ashley Newton (aged 17) took the top prize in the 14-18 category for SmartSim which is a digital circuit and simulation package for the Pi. The four runners up in this category included a game called Neutron Craft by Bradley Pollard (18), a web server called Pancake by Yussuf Khalil (15), a file synchroniser built by Hannes Westermann (17) called BerryBox and a music player called RasPod from 17-year old Aneesh Dogra.

“We had entries from all over the world which really delighted us,” Ms Upton told the BBC.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation plans to run regular competitions to recognise and reward young programmers.


Modern Warfare. The future of war.