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In the realm of applied research, perhaps nothing is more satisfying than working on projects that can help save lives. Such is the case with a unique project at the University of Massachusetts Lowell that combines Microsoft Surface and Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio in a Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) application to create novel remote controls for rescue robots. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time these two technologies have been used together—tell us if you know of others! Once perfected, this approach could enable emergency responders to safely maneuver rescue robots through buildings damaged by earthquakes, fire, or even terrorist attacks.
The groundbreaking work was dramatically presented on the Web in August, when doctoral candidate Mark Micire posted a live video of his PhD defense showing how to control swarms of robots using the Surface table as a touch controller. A new, higher quality video of the thesis defense and an overview video have recently been posted online. The overview shows how a team of rescue robots could be controlled remotely by using the Surface table and a device known as the DREAM Controller (a lovely acronym for Dynamically, Resizing, Ergonomic, And Multi-touch Controller).
The system could be a tremendous boon for emergency responders, who now must often wait 12 to 24 hours to obtain geo-referenced data that combine notes from rescue workers in the field with paper maps and building plans. During Hurricane Katrina, for example, many response groups were still using hand-drawn paper maps. Additionally, robot cameras sent video only to the site operators—not immediately to the command staff.
The proposed system would obviate these problems by creating a common computing platform that would bring all this information to the command staff, enabling them to more effectively utilize rescue robots. As Micire describes in his presentation, "A single-robot operator control unit and a multi-robot command and control interface [can be] used to monitor and interact with all of the robots deployed at a disaster response. Users can tap and drag commands for individual or multiple robots through a gesture set designed to maximize ease of learning."
An example of the burgeoning research field of NUI—or Natural User Interaction—this work "illustrates just one of the many exciting new directions enabled by advanced technologies in the human-computer interface," says ER's NUI Theme Director, Kristin Tolle. The project, which was supervised by UMass Lowell's renowned robotics expert, Professor Holly Yanco, also demonstrates the great synergy that can arise from collaborations between Microsoft Research and leading academic institutions. By empowering Yanco and Micire's research with cutting-edge tools, a potentially life-saving technology is in the offing.
This work was partly supported by a grant from Microsoft Research under our Human-Robot Interaction RFP (Request For Proposals).
—Stewart Tansley, senior research program manager, External Research, a division of Microsoft Research
This week, technology-minded women from the across the United States have descend on Atlanta for the annual Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Women in Computing, an annual conference that spotlights women’s contributions in computer science, information technology, research, and engineering. Named for the legendary computer scientist, U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, past GHCs have drawn 1,500 or more participants and dozens of corporate sponsors. The 2010 GHC runs from September 28 through October 2.
I’m happy to report that Microsoft has a major presence at this year’s event, sending a total of 80 participants, including four VPs, among them Rick Rashid, senior vice president and head of Microsoft Research (MSR) worldwide. The other veep attendees are Roz Ho, corporate vice president for Premium Mobile Experiences; Bill Laing, corporate vice president of the Server and Cloud Division; and Ted Kummert, senior vice president of the Business Platform Division. Other senior executives attending include Rico Malvar, chief scientist and distinguished engineer for Microsoft Research.
GHC always attracts a large number of students, offering fertile ground for corporate recruiters. So it’s no wonder that the Microsoft contingent boasts 23 recruiters, representing such diverse areas of the company as MSR, the Business Marketing Organization (BMO), and HR College Recruiting. Microsoft recruiters discovered the power of GHC last year, when they met many talented undergraduate and graduate women, and there’s no reason to believe that this year’s attendees will be any different. A bonus for recruiters and job seekers this year is the addition of the GHC Career Fair and Resume Clinic, on September 28.
In addition to VPs and recruiters, Microsoft will be well represented by developers, many of whom are actively participating in scheduled workshops and presentations. These range from “Cloud Computing—Turning the World into One Supercomputer,” by Linda Apsley; to “Use Your Facebook Addiction for Good: How Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media Can Help You Find a Job, Improve Your Business, and Collaborate Across Boundaries,” with Jennifer Marsman; and “10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started My Career,” with Kate Kelly. All in all, “softies” have a role in 20 talks and presentations, reminding attendees that Microsoft remains one of the most exciting, vibrant employers in the tech world. In addition, Microsoft Research is the sponsor of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Student Research Competition (SRC), which takes place on Wednesday, September 29, and recognizes the research accomplishments of women undergrads and grads. This provides yet one more example of the company’s overwhelming support of GHC and its mission to attract the best and brightest women to computing. —Jane Prey, senior research program manager for Microsoft External Research
Regardless of how much content is available to today's researchers, it loses value if it cannot be properly managed and shared. At this week's 14th European Conference on Research and Advanced Technology for Digital Libraries (ECDL) at Glasgow University in Scotland, Microsoft Research will present the prototype of ScholarLynk, a desktop solution designed to help researchers more effectively manage, organize, and share ideas and information.
One of the main goals of ScholarLynk is to make scholarly data as easy to access and manage as one's personal music collection. Unlike other offerings, ScholarLynk doesn't lock the user into a particular tool or service. Instead, it bridges data silos by enabling the user to manage information across repositories and applications.
ScholarLynk builds on research that was conducted as part of the Research Desktop project at Microsoft Research Cambridge. It leverages the infrastructure that was built as part of the Digital Repository Infrastructure Vision for European Research (DRIVER), a two-phase project funded by the European Union to provide access to over two and a half million publications in 250 repositories located in 33 countries. Over the last year, DRIVER has also spawned the formation of the Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR). Microsoft Research is a sponsor of COAR; Tony Hey, corporate vice president of the External Research Division of Microsoft Research, serves on the organization's advisory board.
By providing a unified interface for managing desktop and web data sources, ScholarLynk allows researchers to access the content of the DRIVER repositories from within their own computing environment. It also supports a highly collaborative environment, essential for projects being undertaken by more than one researcher. Currently, the prototype offers the ability to create reading lists by tagging the desired resources, seamlessly incorporating remote resources onto the desktop, and to communicate contextually by sharing readings lists and collaborating with other users of ScholarLynk. Efforts are underway to include additional communication tools that will provide automatic subscription notifications, conversational capabilities, and routine updates when a user's work is edited or cited by others. Such tools will further connect ScholarLynk users with relevant content.
In addition to connecting to the DRIVER repositories, the long-term vision for ScholarLynk is for it to evolve into a platform that can provide federated access to multiple repositories and portals, such as Microsoft Academic Search, Google Scholar, and CiteULike. Currently in prototype form, ScholarLynk will be available for download by the end of 2010.
Alex Wade, director for Scholarly Communication, External Research, a division of Microsoft Research