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September, 2010

Microsoft Research Connections Blog

The Microsoft Research Connections 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.

September, 2010

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Microsoft Makes Its Presence Felt at GHC

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    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

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Surface + Robotics = Life-Saving Possibilities

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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

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    The Cloud, to go: Project Hawaii

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    Mobile devices, of all shapes and forms, are the fastest-growing computing segment. While mobile devices are ubiquitous, they offer limited computation, storage, and power. Cloud computing promises to fill this gap by providing computation and storage to mobile devices connected to the network. Project Hawaii enhances the mobile and cloud environments with web services to enable interesting application scenarios possible only with this combination, specially tailored for teaching at university level. Developed by Microsoft Research, Project Hawaii offers tools and resources tailored to the needs of today's computer science students and instructors.

    A key component of this project is engaging with universities around the world. This enables professors and students to work on projects reflective of the increasingly interconnected relationship between mobile devices and the cloud. To make project-based teaching and learning easier, Microsoft Research is providing instructors with access to an array of resources, including sample code, extra training materials, web services not generally available, Visual Studio, the mobile phones on which the applications are run (Windows Phone), and Microsoft's cloud-computing platform, Windows Azure.

    To date, three professors at major universities have completed semesters using Project Hawaii, and seven more are active this semester-more information is at the project website above. To further share information about the project, we're hosting an invitational event in conjunction with ACM MobiCom 2010, the 16th annual international Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking, being held September 20-24 in Chicago, IL. To learn more about participating in Project Hawaii as an instructor yourself, please contact us.  

    -Victor Bahl, principal researcher and manager, Networking Research Group, Microsoft Research Redmond

    -Arjmand Samuel, research program manager, External Research, a division of Microsoft Research

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