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April, 2011

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.

April, 2011

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Microsoft Biology Foundation 2.0 Beta 1 Release and Coding Contest

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    I am pleased to announce the release of Microsoft Biology Foundation (MBF) 2.0 beta 1, an open-source Microsoft .NET library and application programming interface for bioinformatics research. This beta provides the first significant update since MBF 1.0. Notable improvements include:

    • Increased capacity for de novo assembly of larger and more complex species than V1
    • New comparative assembly functions for characteristic genetic diversity within or between species
    • Core object model improvements for a smaller memory footprint and increased parallel processing

     

    MBF 2.0 beta 1 has parity with all MBF 1.0 tools and features plus updated documentation.

    Microsoft Biology Foundation toolYour feedback on MBF 1.0 was extremely supportive and is helping us develop MBF 2.0. We are asking you once again to download the beta and send us your feedback. Just download and try the MBF 2.0 beta 1. Send us your feedback or report bugs through our discussion forum or issue tracker.

    To make it a little more interesting, we're giving away an Xbox 360 4GB console with Kinect bundle to one talented developer in our Microsoft Biology Foundation Coding Contest.

    To Enter the Contest

    • Visit the MBF Coding Contest site and read the complete rules.
    • Use our MBF object model, parsers, algorithms, and web connectors to build an application that helps researchers solve problems in the fields of bioinformatics and genomics.
    • Submit your MBF 2.0 beta 1-based application to us between today and July 15, 2011, and you’ll be entered to win!

    The winning entry will be selected by a panel of judges.

    Learn More

    —Rick Benge, Community Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Celebrating an Out-of-This-World Earth Day

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    Earth Day - How will you celebrate your environment?

    It may seem like an unlikely way to celebrate Earth Day, but this year, students at the University of Washington (UW) can mark the occasion with an exhilarating virtual trip away from our small blue planet, thanks to a unique collaboration between Microsoft Research Redmond and the UW Planetarium 

    By incorporating digital images streamed from Microsoft's Worldwide Telescope (WWT), a computer program that brings together imagery from the world's best ground- and space-based telescopes, the UW Planetarium has gone beyond the typical static display of the heavens. WWT provides students with detailed views of the night sky through an incredible 3-D experience.

    In the past, the UW Planetarium used a star-ball to project an image of the night sky on the building's domed ceiling. This is the tried-and-true method of showing the constellations and brighter stars, but it lacks the ability of zooming into details of objects like nebulae and seeing the birth of new stars. Couple that with the excitement of 3-D—a feeling that you're actually flying through the solar system—and you take student engagement to a whole new level.

    The new projection system was a result of a two-year collaboration and cost approximately US$30,000—a bargain compared to equipping a planetarium with standard digital technology, which involves the installation of dedicated digital projection systems and can run half a million dollars or more. This low-cost system—created jointly by the UW Department of Astronomy and Microsoft researchers (especially WWT developer Jonathan Fay)—uses six modified home-theater projectors, each of which projects a portion of the digital image onto the dome. Software enables the perfect alignment of the six images and a resolution of 8 million pixels.

    The UW planetarium also allows attendees to see the Terapixel image—the largest and clearest image of the night sky ever produced—in all its glory. Not only is the UW's digital planetarium a boon to students, it also serves as a model for inexpensive digitization of planetariums around the world. While you're waiting for digital projection to reach an institution near you, you can fire up your PC and go to the WorldWide Telescope site. There you can zoom among the stars, albeit on a much smaller (and flatter) screen. Or, if you happen to be in Seattle, check out the UW Planetarium shows that are open to the general public and get lost in the stars.

    Dan Fay, Director of Earth, Energy, and Environment at Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    MIXing It Up: the Kinect for Windows SDK

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    Kinect for Windows SDK betaBack in February at TechForum, Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer, and Don Mattrick, president of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business (IEB), announced that Microsoft Research and IEB would release a non-commercial Kinect for Windows software development kit this spring. Addressing a growing body of academic researchers and enthusiasts who are anxious to build applications employing Kinect's natural user interface, Mundie and Mattrick offered tantalizing promises of access to Kinect's system capabilities, including audio, system APIs, and direct control of the Kinect sensor.

    Today at the MIX developer conference in Las Vegas, Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of the Microsoft .NET Developer Platform, unveiled three key features of the upcoming Kinect for Windows SDK: robust skeletal tracking, advanced audio capabilities, and XYZ depth camera. He also announced the launch of a new website for the SDK, where you can subscribe to a newsfeed and be notified as soon as the SDK is available for download.

    Our hope is that this "starter kit" for application developers will make it easier for the academic research and enthusiast communities to create even richer experiences by using Kinect technology. Here are a few details on each of the SDK's ground-breaking NUI features:

    • Robust skeletal tracking will provide high-performance capabilities for tracking the skeletal image of one or two people moving within the Kinect field of view.
    • Advanced audio will enable great sound capabilities by using a four-element microphone array with sophisticated acoustic noise and echo cancellation. The advanced audio will also include beam formation to identify the sound source and integration with the Windows speech recognition API.
    • XYZ depth camera will provide a standard color camera stream along with depth data indicating the distance of the object from the Kinect camera. This will give developers access to the raw data and enable the creation of novel interfaces by using the unaltered data.

    As is often the case, the sum of these features is greater than the parts. By combining the audio, depth, and image data, developers will have great opportunities to build deeper NUI experiences. And just to give his audience a taste of what these features will enable, Guthrie demoed a version of the WorldWide Telescope that you can interact with by using gestures—a feature built on the SDK platform.

    MIX was an ideal setting for announcing the new SDK features, as this annual gathering brings together developers, designers, UX experts, and business professionals who are creating some of the most innovative consumer sites on the web and beyond. The SDK feature announcements will be highlighted to the academic research community this week at the Microsoft Research Software Summit in Paris.

    So, it's onward and upward with the Kinect for Windows SDK. We're confident that this non-commercial SDK will fuse the work of Microsoft Research with the creativity of the academic research and enthusiast communities to deliver NUI applications that will revolutionize our relationship with computers.

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    Tony Hey, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Research Connections

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