Microsoft might be on the verge of its best office invention yet: a self-charging robot slave that goes to meetings in your place.

Imagine the hooky-playing possibilities that Robie the Robot could create. You can control the robot from a personal computer, using its two-way audio and video technology to participate by proxy. You also could send Robie out to the water cooler to talk shop with co-workers’ Robies.

Robie isn’t even close to being sold at stores, but it was one of dozens of inventions on display yesterday at a research fair Microsoft hosted for hundreds of university faculty visiting the company this week.

Some of the inventions came out of Microsoft’s advanced-research division, a group of 700 employees that spend a lot of time thinking about the future. Or, more precisely, how Microsoft can make money in the future.

Microsoft’s university partners also exhibited projects. Brad Myers, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, has been working to replace the remote controls lying around the home with one device, such as a cellphone or a personal digital assistant. Eventually, he said, appliances could be equipped with technology to receive the commands.

People waiting to take an elevator could enter their destination floor into a cellphone instead of pushing the elevator button, Myers said. Copy machines could be programmed to sort and staple from a Pocket PC.

Microsoft researcher Johannes Helander is working on a glove that could translate sign language into digitized letters. A person wearing the glove could spell out a word using sign language, and the word would appear on a computer screen.
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