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Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

The Microsoft Research Outreach blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

  • Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

    Project Catapult servers available to academic researchers


    In collaboration with the University of Texas and Altera, Project Catapult servers are open to academic researchers

    At this year’s Supercomputing 2015 Conference in Austin, Texas, Microsoft is announcing the availability of Project Catapult clusters to academic researchers through the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at The University of Texas at Austin. Project Catapult, a Microsoft research venture, offers a groundbreaking way to vastly improve the performance and energy efficiency of datacenter workloads.

    Project Catapult uses standard Microsoft datacenter servers—each augmented with field-programmable gate array (FPGA). While standard chips have their gates permanently etched onto the silicon, FPGA gates are implemented in such a way that their functionality can be changed on the fly. Therefore, FPGAs provide programmable logic that can be tailored to individual applications.

    Catapult board with Altera FPGA
    Catapult board with Altera FPGA

    Using FPGAs in the datacenter can dramatically accelerate performance and reduce power consumption, while holding the line on cost. For example, in work described in our ISCA 2014 paper, Catapult doubled the throughput of Bing’s search-result ranking with a less than 30 percent increase in cost—thus delivering substantial savings. Project Catapult ushers in a new datacenter architecture that marries programmable software with efficient and low-power programmable hardware at scale.

    In the video below, Microsoft Researcher Doug Burger discusses the technology and potential of Catapult.

    Project Catapult uses Altera FPGAs, many of which have been donated by Altera to the academic program. Mario Maccariello, business development manager in Altera’s computer and storage unit, echoes our excitement about the project. “The FPGA-based servers will demonstrate to students, scientists, and the industry in general how datacenters can provide increased performance, while being greener and reducing power consumption compared with traditional architectures.”

    TACC will be giving tours of their massive facility during Supercomputing 2015, allowing attendees to view the Project Catapult servers on site. In addition, we will demo Project Catapult in the Microsoft booth throughout the week, so stop by to see how this reconfigurable fabric can bring improved performance and efficiency to the datacenter.

    Derek Chiou, Partner Architect, Microsoft

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  • Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

    Ideas blossom for using Microsoft HoloLens


    What would you create with a Microsoft HoloLens? Ask a group of gamers and you’ll likely get some cutting-edge suggestions for virtual reality shootouts, but beyond gaming there are many other ways to use Microsoft HoloLens to connect, create, collaborate, and explore. 

    Microsoft HoloLens award recipients announced

    Many people responded to our invitation for proposals last July as an opportunity for dreaming big on how they might help society by using the world’s first fully untethered holographic computer. Our goal was to encourage researchers to share novel ways to use Microsoft HoloLens—in teaching, art, medicine, data visualization and analysis, and anywhere else their imagination might take them.

    The submissions were inspiring. We received more than 500 proposals to push the boundaries of mixed reality and holographic computing. This was possible with the support from the Microsoft HoloLens team for awards of $100,000 to the top five award recipients.

    Now you might expect that there would be one top award recipient from each of the five categories—art, medical, visualization, education, and other—but that was not the case. Rather than lock themselves into a formulaic outcome, the review board looked for the five proposals that best utilized the capabilities of Microsoft HoloLens and showed the most potential impact. The quality of the proposals was so good that the review board decided to award five additional “runner-up” projects with two Microsoft HoloLens development kits each (also provided with support from the Microsoft HoloLens team). 

    Here are some of the research areas that the award recipients will explore.

    SEARCH AND RESCUE: One California team wants to use Microsoft HoloLens to help develop better ways for pilots to “drive” autonomous aerial vehicles. They imagine that one of the first applications of this project would be used to search for survivors after some sort of calamity. The pilot would use Microsoft HoloLens to control multiple vehicles in a collaboration that includes the augmented reality possible with the lens. One of the goals of this project is to provide people who don’t have much drone-flying experience the opportunity to pilot the fleet via a human-robot interface.

    MEDICINE: Some people have eyesight that wavers, goes fuzzy at certain margins, or exists in narrow tunnels. A group at Dartmouth University wants to develop a Microsoft HoloLens project that use graphics and computer vision to augment these patients’ biologic vision and help them escape limitations. Another group among our awardees wants to give people the ability to perceive ultraviolet light and ultrasound as additional sense offerings.

    TEACHING: Learning to be a plumber, welder, or electrician takes a lot of hands-on training. At one Oregon community college, a team will design Microsoft HoloLens aids that deliver curricula in multiple dimensions. In Georgia, another awardee is going to design physics-based games that will help educate engineers.

    ART: Might people someday “doodle” or write inside of an interactive artwork? At Carnegie-Mellon, they want to create working prototypes of interactive art experiences with Microsoft HoloLens. They are imagining that the visitor to an art gallery might do some “scribbling, sculpting, or drawing” inside of a three-dimensional work originally designed by an artist.

    DATA: At Virginia Tech, a team will explore the usability and interaction questions posed by multiple users—perhaps in a museum setting—who are all using Microsoft HoloLens tool at the same time. The team will try to gain insight into user interaction issues and then look broadly across many disciplines to explore the eventual commercial use of the devices. 

    One day soon, we know these edge-pushing projects will provide us new ways to see our world and new quests to pursue.

    Learn more about the award recipients.

    We congratulate these 10 teams, and also all of the researchers who offered their ideas on how to “push the envelope” on mixed reality and holographic computing.

    Dan Fay, Senior Director, Microsoft Research

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  • Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

    Swimming in a deluge of user generated content


    The Internet is awash in user generated content (UGC)—from blogs, reviews, and Q&As, to wikis, tweets, and Facebook posts. And let’s not forget photo- and video-sharing sites: every second, one hour of video is uploaded to YouTube, and an average of more than 80 million photos get added to Instagram every day. It seems we can’t get enough of posting our own content and reading or viewing other people’s. With technological advances making it ever easier to create UGC, the phenomenon is only getting bigger. Also getting bigger is the task of navigating all that UGC. With so much content to sift through, how can people find quality UCG? Conversely, how can UCG creators attract more eyeballs to their content?

    Toshihiko Yamasaki, an associate professor of information and communication engineering at the University of Tokyo, has been researching the challenges posed by the UGC deluge and how people can generate better, more popular content.

    Professor Toshihiko Yamasaki
    Professor Toshihiko Yamasaki

    Working in collaboration with Microsoft Research, Yamasaki has focused on the text tags that are commonly used to classify and identify a given UGC item. His research project, named CORE 10, is unique in that it uses algorithms to quantify which tags—such as Facebook “likes”—contribute to the popularity of the content. His algorithms address two challenging problems: (1) estimating the numbers of views, comments, and favorite ratings of images and videos on content sharing services, using only the text tags associated with the content, and (2) recommending the addition (or, in some cases, the deletion) of tags to bolster the popularity of the associated content.

    Flowchart of social popularity prediction by using tags
    Flowchart of social popularity prediction by using tags

    The lead researcher from the Microsoft side, Tao Mei of Microsoft Research Asia, praises the spirit of cooperation and collegiality that has characterized the project. “I enjoy the collaboration and hope Professor Yamasaki can make a bigger impact through the collaboration with Microsoft Research Asia,” Tao says.

    That “bigger impact” seems all but ensured, as Yamasaki’s algorithms are now being applied to analyze the popularity of spoken presentations, such as TED video talks. His research group has proposed a method to predict, accurately, the impact of multiple impression tags for a given video talk. The validity of the proposed method is currently being evaluated against a collection of TED talks, measuring 14 different impression types. In tests using 1,646 TED presentations, the proposed method provided accurate predictions 93.3% of the time, outperforming conventional methods.

    Yamasaki’s spoken presentation analysis is the product of collaboration with Danushka Bollegala, a senior lecturer in the Department of Computer Science at University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom. An expert on artificial intelligence and computational linguistics, Bollegala formerly worked at the University of Tokyo and has collaborated on natural language processing studies with Microsoft Research Asia. Commenting on his work with Yamasaki, Bollegala explains, “I have been mainly involved in the machine learning and text processing side of this project. Our collaboration has been fruitful, and we have written a paper together which has been accepted [for presentation at] a workshop during [the] ACM Multimedia [Conference].”

    One of the most promising and innovative applications of the research is an automatic feedback system for personal presentation talks and MOOC (massive open online course) lecture videos. The method predicts multiple impression categories such as “inspiring,” “informative,” “unconvincing,” and so on for a single presentation. The predicted impression categories can be used for content analysis as well as for content recommendation or retrieval purposes. The predicted impressions can also provide the presenters with useful feedback to help them improve the quality of their talks.

    So, what’s next for Yamasaki and CORE 10? E-commerce and the TV industry. Yamasaki is currently using his algorithms to analyze product descriptions, identifying those words that drive likeability and thus potentially increase product sales. He is also conducting preliminary work to forecast TV ratings based on the cast, popularity, and synopsis of a program before it airs—essential information for producers and sponsors.

    Yamasaki has been elated by the collaboration with Microsoft Research. “They not only give us financial support, but they also provide us opportunities to collaborate with great researchers in Microsoft Research Asia. Their events are also good opportunities to get to know Japanese researchers in different disciplines. Thanks to the attractive collaborations with Tao Mei, Danushka Bollegala, and other researchers, our projects are more fruitful than I first expected. Our collaborations are still expanding to other research topics.”

    —Sean Kuno, Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research

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