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(Pocket-lint) - IllumiShare is a new Microsoft research project that allows anyone to remotely share a physical or digital object on any surface, be it a handwritten note or a digital photo.

The project was announced at the end of February, and Pocket-lint was invited into Building 99 - the home of Microsoft Research on the Microsoft campus in Redmond - for a behind-the-scenes look and a chance to try it out for ourselves.

According to Steve Clayton, chief storyteller at Microsoft, the "IllumiShare is a low-cost, peripheral device that looks like a desk lamp, and just like a lamp lights up a surface at which it is pointed and turns it in to a shared space."

It's a lot more complicated and clever than that of course.

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IllumiShare uses a camera-projector pair where the camera captures video of the local workspace and sends it to the remote space and the projector projects video of the remote workspace on to the local space.

In other words, what you write or place within the space in front of you is shown on the space at other end and vice versa, as we found out in our demo, playing noughts and crosses with someone on the other side of the room.

microsoft illumishare to let you share physical things digitally video  image 3

A lot of what looks like it is in the space isn't. We aren't sure why the image is green either, it isn't in real life

"With IllumiShare people can sketch together using real ink and paper, remote meeting attendees can interact with conference room whiteboards, and children can have remote play dates in which they interact with real toys," explains Clayton.

Sasa Junuzovic, one of the researchers behind the project and a senior researcher at Microsoft Research, explained to Pocket-lint how he and his team had turned a simple projector, camera and Ikea desk lamp into something so much more.

But it's not just about sharing a physical space with a physical space. Microsoft has also added the ability for users of the project to share information between a physical and digital space. In one example shown to Pocket-lint, Junuzovic used a tablet computer to "draw" on a whiteboard in the room. The idea is that someone who wasn't able to get to a meeting could still interact with the whiteboard (space) in the meeting via their computer, for example, even though they weren't in the room.

One of the drawbacks at the moment - it's still very early days for the project - is that the work can't be saved afterwards, something that Junuzovic acknowledges.

Where the system is clever - and this is a trick other Microsoft Research projects we've seen also use - is dealing with video echo. At no point does the projection capture what you’re projecting from your surface and re-project it back.

In our demo we were able to play a simple game of noughts and crosses before going on to share a joke and draw a picture together with another person at the other end of the system.

It is easy to see how in many work environments the ability to work collaboratively on a project simply by drawing or sharing something physical could work very well indeed and could have huge impact on the need to travel to work or to see people half way around the world for your next business trip.

Writing by Stuart Miles.