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June, 2011

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.

June, 2011

  • Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

    Natural User Interface Leaps Forward with Release of Kinect for Windows SDK Beta


    Be part of the movement. Download the Kinect for Windows SDK beta.

    As astute readers of this blog will recall, back in April we reported on the progress of the non-commercial Kinect for Windows Software Development Kit (SDK), offering tantalizing descriptions of its capabilities and inviting you to follow its progress on a dedicated website. Well, I’m pleased to announce that the wait is over: the Kinect for Windows SDK beta was released on June 16, 2011, enabling the next phase of bringing natural user interfaces (NUI) to the PC.

    Designed to empower developers, academic researchers, and enthusiasts to explore new ideas and create rich applications, the Kinect for Windows SDK beta, which works with Windows 7, enables human motion tracking, voice recognition, and depth sensing on PCs. The SDK includes drivers, rich APIs for raw sensor streams and natural user interfaces, installation documents, and resource materials. It provides Kinect capabilities to developers who build applications with C++, C#, or Visual Basic by using Microsoft Visual Studio 2010. SDK features include:

    • Raw Sensor Streams: Access to raw data streams from the depth sensor, color camera sensor, and four-element microphone array allows developers to build upon the low-level streams that are generated by the Kinect sensor.
    • Skeletal Tracking: The capability to track the skeleton image of one or two people moving within the Kinect field of view makes it easy to create gesture-driven applications.
    • Advanced Audio Capabilities: Audio processing capabilities include sophisticated acoustic noise suppression and echo cancellation, beam formation to identify the current sound source, and integration with the Windows speech recognition API.
    • Sample Code and Documentation: The SDK contains more than 100 pages of technical documentation. In addition to built-in help files, the documentation includes detailed walkthroughs for most samples provided with the SDK.
    • Easy Installation: The SDK quickly installs in a standard way for Windows, requires no complex configuration, and the complete installer size is smaller than 100 MB. Developers can get up and running in just a few minutes with a standard standalone Kinect sensor unit (widely available at retail outlets).

    Just prior to this general release, we hosted a select group of researchers and enthusiasts at a 24-hour coding marathon here on our Redmond, Washington, campus. These developers were encouraged to build applications in areas of interest to them, including everything from gaming and entertainment to healthcare, science, and education. Their projects are being broadcast on Channel 9 Live on June 16, and can be viewed on demand after the fact. Highlights can be found on Microsoft News Center.

     As Anoop Gupta, a distinguished scientist at Microsoft Research stated, “The Kinect for Windows SDK beta from Microsoft Research opens up a world of possibilities for developers to unleash the power of Kinect technology on PCs. We are just at the beginning of Microsoft’s long-term vision for how people will interact with technology more naturally and intuitively.”

    All I can add is a question: What are you waiting for? Click on over to the SDK download site, and start building those NUI applications. The SDK is free for development of non-commercial applications, and the only boundaries are those set by your own imagination!

    Tony Hey, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Women in Computing Workshop Explores Gender Diversity Issues


    The Women in Computing workshop took place at the recent 2011 Latin American Faculty Summit. Amidst Faculty Summit topics such as open data, the role of basic research, and cluster and cloud computing, the Women in Computing workshop explored the underrepresentation of women in technology in Latin America. The participants examined various ideas for fostering discussion about gender imbalance within their communities.

    Workshop attendees had the opportunity to benefit from the experience and resources of the U.S. National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), which develops research-based materials to raise awareness and implement practices and programs that increase women’s involvement in computing. Resources that were available to attendees include talking points to present computer-science careers to families and teachers; data sheets that easily summarize the status of women in the field; kits that can serve a variety of purposes, such as talking to high-school girls about careers in technology; and descriptions of curriculum and teaching techniques that attract female students.

    2011 Women in Computing Workshop participants

    The meeting participants came away brimming with ideas for addressing the gender issue. Here’s a sample of their observations.

    From Juan Lalinde, Universidad EAFIT – Abierta al Mundo: 

    “A simple analysis of these facts shows that promoting the enrollment of women in computing programs is not only possible but a good way to provide the qualified professionals the industry needs. The conversation is not about how to balance the proportion of men and women but how to encourage women to enroll in these programs. I believe we have to identify and then discard the social and cultural factors that discourage women from pursuing a degree in computing. The question is not how to motivate them but how not to discourage them.

    “In the future, I think it would be nice to invite women who have significant achievements in academia or industry, to share their views and experiences. As mentioned above, I believe the challenge is how to remove social and cultural factors that discourage women from pursuing a degree on computing, and sometimes they are difficult to identify. Learning from the experience of somebody who has overcome these factors can help us in that process.”

    From Professor Alfred Sanchez, Universidad de las Américas Puebla:

    “The workshop initiative is very pertinent, as evidenced by the excellent turnout and the diversity of participants. It provided a good opportunity to learn about the situation of women's enrollment in engineering programs throughout Latin America, as well as about perspectives from other regions. In particular, it seems the experience of NCWIT can serve as a model for developing strategies and addressing related issues. Maybe we could think of a similar association at the Latin American level.”

     From Flavio Soares Correa da Silva, University of São Paulo:

     “During the past four Latin American Faculty Summits, Drs. Jane Prey and Juliana Salles have organized Women in Computing workshops, which have been devoted to gender issues in IT-related higher education and professional environments. These workshops have been attended by representatives from most countries in Latin America. The discussions have progressed from raising awareness of the importance of gender balance in those environments; to data collection and organization in order to properly found arguments and points to be made about the issue; to the design of concrete actions to be taken to move from our present status—in which women are underrepresented in IT—to a more balanced scenario, which shall be more rewarding to society and economies as a whole. It is all too natural to expect (and hope) that in future workshops the discussion will be about the results of the initiatives which are now being designed.”

     That is our hope, too.

     —Juliana Salles, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections
    —Jane Prey, Senior Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Treasured Chinese Painting Comes to Life Through Technology


    Explore how a treasured Chinese painting comes to life through technology

    As Chinese citizens celebrate Chinese Cultural Heritage Day, an annual event that takes place on the second Saturday in June, thousands will likely take a virtual walk along a river and a stroll through time, as they digitally explore one of their country’s most famous paintings. Courtesy of a collaborative effort among Microsoft Research Asia, the Beijing Palace Museum, and Peking University, visitors to the museum can experience a detailed, interactive digital representation of Along the River during the Qing-Ming Festival, one of China’s most treasured scroll paintings.

    The centuries-old, original ink-on-silk painting is only rarely displayed publicly; most of the time it’s safely stored for preservation. A scroll that measures more than 5 meters long and approximately 25 centimeters high when completely unfurled, it depicts a variety of panoramas of daily life in the Northern Song Dynasty (960 to 1127): from farmers in their fields, to boatmen and shopkeepers plying their trades, to government officials collecting taxes. Unlike traditional Western paintings, which have a single focus, Along the River during the Qing-Ming Festival employs the “moving focus” technique of Chinese scroll painting, which presents multiple focal points as the viewer works his or her way down the scroll.

    The three-dimensional (3-D) digital representation of the painting allows viewers to pan, zoom, and pause as they explore the richly detailed artwork by using a multi-touch screen. As viewers navigate the digital painting, the software uses their actions to calculate their viewpoint. Enhancing the experience, stereophonic audio has been added, with hundreds of voices creating dialogues that track to the actions in the painting. The scripts were created by experts from the Beijing Palace Museum, and the dialogue uses a dialect of Mandarin that reflects the speech of the Northern Song Dynasty. The audio also includes ambient sounds of nature and city life, linked to the corresponding place in the painting.

    This tour-de-force of software development and 3-D modeling was the work of Ying-Qing Xu, a lead researcher with Microsoft Research Asia in Beijing, who developed the detailed, interactive, and multi-layered digital rendition of the painting by using annotated gigapixel images and HD View on a Microsoft Silverlight platform. This work is part of Microsoft Research’s eHeritage project, which facilitates collaborative initiatives between Microsoft Research and academia that use technology to preserve and display the cultural heritage of the Asia-Pacific region.

    The digital exhibition is open daily to the public for free, allowing visitors to experience a period of China in a way that can help them better understand ancient Chinese culture and heritage. “This is having a profound effect on museums globally and putting Beijing firmly on the map of cutting-edge development,” said Chui Hu, former director of information center at the Palace Museum in Beijing.

    —Xin Ma, University Relations Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections Asia


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