We're not sure what this mechanical butterfly does, but it's awesome

@CNNMoneyTech August 3, 2012: 4:06 PM ET

REDMOND, Wash. (CNNMoney) -- This is part 5 of CNNMoney's series looking inside Microsoft's research lab.

At Microsoft's Research Laboratory in its Redmond, Wash. headquarters, there's a lot of fiddling around going on with really cool technologies that don't serve a clear purpose.

Not yet, anyway.

A perfect example is a tiny electro-luminescent butterfly being worked on by one of Microsoft's engineers. Patrick Therien got instructions from one of the software lab workers to build a butterfly that could change colors depending on someone's mood.

When the gizmo is finished, it'll be the highest-tech mood ring ever made.

The butterfly's wings flap and change colors, but they're actually non-mechanical -- they curl up and down when they're given a little heat. Right now, a small current heats up the demo unit, but soon it could be the heat from your rage.

The device will eventually measure its wearer's heart rate and blood pressure, among other biometric readings.

What's it for? Therien didn't really know, and it's likely that the engineer who gave him the assignment isn't totally sure either. That's kind of the point at Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) Research, where engineers are given the freedom to explore without having to meet a deadline to ship a product.

"Microsoft Research is separate from any product group," says Kevin Schofield, chief operating officer of the research unit. "It's designed to make sure our researchers see as little bureaucracy as possible."

Next up for the butterfly: The researchers want to make it fly away.

As skilled as Therien is, he said that may have to wait for version 2.0. To top of page

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