Science

NUIverse: The killer app of an $8,000 tablet?

NUIverse: The killer app of an...
Microsoft Surface researcher David Brown is working on a marvelous space app that shows of not only the multi-touch power of Microsoft Surface, but also the computational grunt of the Samsung SUR40 on which it runs (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
Microsoft Surface researcher David Brown is working on a marvelous space app that shows of not only the multi-touch power of Microsoft Surface, but also the computational grunt of the Samsung SUR40 on which it runs (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
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Microsoft Surface researcher David Brown is working on a marvelous space app that shows of not only the multi-touch power of Microsoft Surface, but also the computational grunt of the Samsung SUR40 on which it runs (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
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Microsoft Surface researcher David Brown is working on a marvelous space app that shows of not only the multi-touch power of Microsoft Surface, but also the computational grunt of the Samsung SUR40 on which it runs (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
A NUIverse view of Saturn, with constellations enabled beyond (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
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A NUIverse view of Saturn, with constellations enabled beyond (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
NUIverse renders the planet's surfaces (not only Earth's) in impressive detail (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
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NUIverse renders the planet's surfaces (not only Earth's) in impressive detail (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
Transparent disks placed on the surface can be moved to call up identifying details of the objects it covers (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
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Transparent disks placed on the surface can be moved to call up identifying details of the objects it covers (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
A NUIverse view of the Earth at night (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
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A NUIverse view of the Earth at night (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
A NUIverse view of Europe by night (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
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A NUIverse view of Europe by night (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
The orbital paths of Jupiter's satellites (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
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The orbital paths of Jupiter's satellites (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
The orbital paths of Jupiter's satellites (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
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The orbital paths of Jupiter's satellites (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
Familiar multi-touch gestures work pretty much as one would expect (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
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Familiar multi-touch gestures work pretty much as one would expect (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
The power of the SUR40 is put to great use, rendering thousands of on-screen objects (all the data in the app is supplied by NASA) at a time (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
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The power of the SUR40 is put to great use, rendering thousands of on-screen objects (all the data in the app is supplied by NASA) at a time (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
The app has more advanced controls that can be tweaked with on-screen dials (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
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The app has more advanced controls that can be tweaked with on-screen dials (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
Fine control of a NUIverse dial, thanks to simple physics (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
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Fine control of a NUIverse dial, thanks to simple physics (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
Combining dial-controls and multi-touch gestures results in all manner of subtle effects (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
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Combining dial-controls and multi-touch gestures results in all manner of subtle effects (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
Earth-rise from the moon, reminiscent of the famous photo taken from Apollo 8 (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
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Earth-rise from the moon, reminiscent of the famous photo taken from Apollo 8 (Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
(Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
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(Image: David Brown/Microsoft)
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Could this be the killer app for ultra-spec tablets? Microsoft Surface researcher David Brown is working on a marvelous space app that shows off not only the multi-touch power of Microsoft Surface, but also the computational grunt of the Samsung SUR40 on which it runs - not to mention the majesty of the solar system we live in and the Universe beyond.

Of course, we're all well-acquainted with multi-touch demos by now, but the nuanced gestures in Brown's app, NUIverse, are something else. The name NUIverse is of course an anagram and play on the word universe, with the acronym for natural user interface incorporated. Clever: but nowhere near as clever as the app itself, which does indeed use the sort of familiar NUI gestures smartphone owners everywhere will be used to: grabs, twists, swipes and prods all work much as you'd expect.

But in fact not all the gestures could be considered natural - with some requiring the summoning of elaborate on-screen dials that can be used to control effects ranging from the very subtle - including the field of view of the camera, to the more fundamental - such as the passage of time. But writing about NUIs is like angling about acupuncture (if that's the expression). Probably the thing to do at this point is take a look at Brown demonstrating the app himself:

As coffee tables go, this makes for rather a good one (if also expensive, at US$9,049 including the stand). But one has to wonder if this app will ever see a consumer release. Some of the effects (and the presence of Battlestar Galactica models) hint at heavier-duty applications such as video game development or perhaps even (one day) film special effects.

But we hope the app will see some sort of educational application. The power of the SUR40 is put to great use, rendering thousands of on-screen objects (all the data in the app is supplied by NASA) at a time - and turning on labels for them doesn't appear to appreciably slow it down. And the ability to set the solar system into motion with the speeding slowing and reversing of time means NUIverse is a wonderfully detailed and dynamic clockwork model of our corner of the cosmos. Observing an Earth-rise from the moon's dark side or watching from geosynchronous orbit the ballet of light and shadow play out on the Earth's surface (or at least digital recreations of these things) is compelling enough without need of spaceships.

Another video showing only the on-screen action of the app in use, can be seen below. There. Something the iPad doesn't do. Yet.

Source: Dr Dave via TNW

NUIverse

View gallery - 15 images
8 comments
Hanover Fist
Hard to believe Isaac Asimov envisioned this exact (almost scary exact) interface - half a century ago!
Mark Van Tilburg
Uh, does anyone else think that this looks AMAZINGLY like Celestia, an open source application that runs on practically EVERYTHING... the only difference is the the little disks, and the pinching and the swiping... oy, it looks nice though...
Jan-Erik O'Moore
The part in the first video where he's got time sped to 100x and fixes his position in space as you see the earth fly by is jaw dropping.
VoiceofReason
@ Hanover....Not really. Look at how much H.G. Wells got right. Including the rocket that got us to the moon. Nukes, lasers, and so much more....in fact, he foresaw Flat panel display and joysticks with remote monitors long ago.
Chuck Flounder
teensy bit of difference, however, between envisioning something and spending hundreds of hours coding and debugging it.
ralph.dratman
Looks like Apple is in good shape for quite a few more years. And Steve Jobs is out there somewhere, chuckling.
Matfink
If you like that you'll love this free space sim> http://en.spaceengine.org/ This one encourages you to fly between galaxies and makes you feel very very small in the process! Tip: See the readme file in the download for all the key presses to activate orbits, goto named places, lock views etc.
Kai McKenna
this just looks like any number of space based video games, but with less features and sub par graphics.