Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says smart sensors, an Orlando strength, emerging quick

When you think Microsoft, the first thought is often of legacy software programs such as Word, Excel or PowerPoint.

But a keynote speech in Orlando by CEO Satya Nadella pushed the company into more high-tech arenas like artificial intelligence, sensor-based research and mixed reality.

It caught at least one Central Florida tech expert — who said the speech was more like those given by leaders of companies like as Apple, Google and Amazon — by surprise.

“Microsoft is such an operating system and software-dependent company, for them to recognize that their future depends on sensors, that’s pretty amazing,” said UCF assistant professor Swami Rajaraman of the school’s NanoScience Technology Center.

There has been a local push in one area Nadella emphasized in his keynote: smart cities that use sensors to make life easier for citizens.

That arena will be a focus for Microsoft, he said.

“We are increasing the level of digitization that is impacting every walk of life and industry,” he said.

The City of Orlando has used sensors to help its waste-management operation be more efficient. In addition, the city recently hosted a hackathon that asked programmers to use public data and information to help create helpful products.

Sensors gather information and then use artificial intelligence-like programming to develop potential uses.

“AI is going to be a part of what we do and what we expect,” said Nadella, noting that the company has emphasized what it calls “digital transformation.”

“The mission is to empower every person, every organization,” Nadella said.

Microsoft showed off a mixed-reality demo that automaker Ford has adopted.

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In it, an engineer can put on mixed-reality glasses and drop a note in the virtual environment that will be accessible to anyone else who jumps into that world.

Microsoft Ignite, a four-day conference that focuses on business-to-business products, drew an overflow crowd to Orange County Convention Center as the gathering overtook the facility’s two major buildings.

Rajaraman said he was impressed by Nadella’s upfront mention of sensors.

Other tech giants have been far more blatant about that work, he said.

“Sensors and hardware were always hidden in the background (for Microsoft),” he said. “With it being on the forefront of everybody’s thinking, people like Google and Uber working on driverless cars and companies like Microsoft on board, it’ll put the focus back on sensors, for sure.”

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