Lonely Planet in Australia has become the first local company to harness Microsoft's radical new Surface coffee table computer that responds to natural hand gestures and real-world objects.

The travel publishing company, which is opening up its first brick-and-mortar store in Sydney Airport next month, gave Microsoft license to develop a proof-of-concept application for Surface with a view to installing the state-of-the-art computers in its stores in future.

First unveiled last year, the $US12,500 ($15,400) machines have already been introduced into some US restaurants and hotels - such as the Sheraton, Starwood and Harrah's chains - letting customers order food directly, book entertainment and play music and games.

The computers, which feature a 30-inch touchscreen panel, are controlled by hand gestures similar to those found in the science fiction movie Minority Report. They can also interact with non-digital objects placed on top of them.....

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