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When Microsoft Research unveiled the Kinect for Windows Software Development Kit (SDK) beta in mid-June, we expected it would be popular with academic and enthusiast developer communities. But even with our high expectations for the SDK, we didn’t anticipate the level of creativity that was demonstrated by the Chinese university students who participated in the Kinect Pioneer Program. Given the opportunity to develop Windows applications that take advantage of the Kinect sensor, these students have created some truly remarkable projects.
Students collaborating and sharing demos at the China Kinect Student Summer Camp
Kinect Pioneer Program Encourages Students to Innovate
The Kinect Pioneer Program was introduced by Microsoft Research Asia in May 2011, in anticipation of the release of the non-commercial Kinect for Windows SDK beta. The program, which involved eight Chinese universities, established 25 student teams that intensely competed to create the most elegant and practical applications. By using Kinect sensor technology, the students generated applications that use depth sensing, voice and object recognition, and human motion tracking, and that are applicable to diverse topics: from education to commerce to culture and history. Six pioneer teams were selected to attend the 2011 China Kinect Student Summer Camp and shared their applications with more than 180 students from the top 30 universities in China.
Team Applications Highlight Kinect Capabilities and Student Talent
The following three applications exemplify the potential of Kinect for Windows as well as the students’ creativity and technical skills.
Finalists from the Kinect Pioneer Program
Microsoft Research Asia has been delighted with the success of the program. “Through the Kinect Pioneer Program, Chinese students have been given a chance to come into contact with the most cutting-edge technology from Microsoft. It also enables the creativity of Chinese university students to come to life,” says Lolan Song, senior director at Microsoft Research Asia. By developing applications that go beyond traditional games, Chinese students have shown where Kinect can grow and have established the groundwork for the use of Kinect technology in new areas of teaching, culture, and history.
We’re excited to see how people are inspired to create and innovate by using Kinect technologies in ways we never imagined. Learn more about what we call the Kinect Effect.
—Guobin Wu, Program Manager, Microsoft Research Asia
The challenge of DNA sequencing is central to all genomics research, and while the technology has existed since the 1970s, today’s massively-parallel sequencing instruments are capable of producing gigabytes of raw genomic data quickly and increasingly cheaply. Reconstruction of a DNA sequence from this data (for example, through de novo assembly) is a compute-intensive task, and experimentation has shown that data quantity is no substitute for quality when it comes to the accurate reconstruction of a DNA sequence. Unfortunately, not all sequencing technologies produce reliable and accurate results, and experimental data will always contain varying rates of error. Therefore, a preliminary quality control (QC) step is regularly employed to detect and counteract such sequencing errors.
The QC of sequencing results may range from simple manual filtering procedures to comprehensive automated solutions. To contribute to this area of QC tools development, we present Sequence Quality Control Studio (SeQCoS), a Microsoft .NET software suite that is designed to perform an array of QC evaluations and post-QC manipulation of sequencing data. SeQCoS generates a series of standard plots that illustrate the quality of the input data. These plots (saved in JPEG file format) provide information on commonly observed measurements, such as GC content (the proportion of guanine and cytosine nucleotide bases in a DNA sequence), and distribution of quality scores at position-specific and sequence-specific levels. In order to filter out poorly performing sequences, SeQCoS also conducts basic trimming and discarding functions to manipulate sequence files.
At Microsoft Research, the Microsoft Biology Initiative team is collaborating with academic research groups in the sequencing of various organisms. To ensure that the sequenced sample is not contaminated by other strains or sequencing vectors, SeQCoS optionally integrates NCBI BLAST for PCs running the Windows operating system to search against a BLAST-formatted database. We provide a pre-formatted database of NCBI UniVec, a repository of vector sequences, adapters, linkers and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) primers that are used in DNA sequencing; however, researchers can use a different database if they prefer.
About the Tools
SeQCoS was written in C#, using the .NET Bio (formerly the Microsoft Biology Foundation [MBF]) bioinformatics toolkit and Sho, a data analysis and visualization application. It is freely available as open-source code under the Apache 2.0 license. Further details and software downloads are available from Sequence Quality Control Studio.
.NET Bio is a library of common bioinformatics functions (file parsers, algorithms, and web service connectors) that simplify the creation of bioinformatics applications on the .NET platform and is an open-source project that is freely available for academic and commercial use under the Apache 2.0 license. While this project was initiated by Microsoft Research, it is owned by the Outercurve Foundation, a non-profit organization, and is governed by a growing community of users and contributors.
—Kevin Ha, Microsoft Research Intern
Question: What precocious five-year old is writing parallel code to make the most efficient use of multi-core processors?
Answer: The Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC)–Microsoft Research Centre in Barcelona, Spain, also known as BSCMSRC by those who enjoy trying to pronounce acronyms that contain no vowels.
From left to right: Andrew Blake, managing director, Microsoft Research Cambridge; Fabrizio Gagliardi, director, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA; Maria Ribera, dean of Barcelona School of Informatics; Rick Rashid, senior vice president of Microsoft Research; Antoni Giró, president, Rector of Technical University of Catalonia - Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya; and Mateo Valero, director, Barcelona Supercomputing Center
Okay, so it was a trick question. But the Centre, which celebrates its fifth anniversary on November 2, 2011, truly is a precocious operation, producing code that makes it easy for programmers to develop parallel-processing software. This is vital because everything—from smart phones and tablets, to PCs and supercomputers—is sprouting extra cores so users can do more. A joint venture of BSC and Microsoft Research, the BSCMSRC brings together the expertise of hardware and software researchers from BSC and software mavens from Microsoft Research.
One technology that the BSCMSRC researchers have been looking at is transactional memory (TM). TM makes it easier to write parallel programs that frequently share data, a process that otherwise requires complex and unwieldy programs. The Centre has developed sophisticated TM applications to date, QuakeTM and Atomic Quake. These applications, which are based on the open-source Quake game server, will be useful in evaluating TM-equipped chips. As part of the €4 million VELOX project funded by the European Commission, BSCMSRC has coordinated the development of a fully integrated TM system that includes hardware simulators, language runtime systems, and compiler support alongside the new TM applications.
BSCMSRC researchers have also developed a dataflow programming model called StarsS, in which data that is produced and consumed in applications automatically “flows” at program runtime. This frees the programmer from explicitly architecting data movements in his or her application and makes it much easier to develop software. BSCMSRC researchers are integrating the StarsS programming model with the Barrelfish research OS, a new message-passing, open-source operating system being developed by Microsoft Research and ETH Zurich.
“BSC’s expertise in computer architecture has been a great fit with our expertise in programming language implementation,” notes Tim Harris, senior researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge. “This cross-disciplinary approach has led to proposals for new, general-purpose hardware features to accelerate the language runtime systems that underpin modern languages such as Haskell and C#.”
In marking the BSCMSRC’s fifth anniversary, BSC Director Mateo Valero commented “I am proud of the impact of the work done by a very young team at the Centre in our five years of existence. With the multidisciplinary competences of our research personnel, the Centre is in a unique position to influence both hardware and software design. I am also very happy to see Microsoft Research being a major actor in our little Silicon Port at Barcelona in the Mediterranean.”
Fabrizio Gagliardi, Microsoft Research Connections director for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa—and Mateo’s counterpart in this adventure—adds, “Our collaboration with Mateo and his team of computer architects goes a long time back and was the foundation for this joint endeavor. I am very pleased and proud for the results of this collaboration and the resonance and the impact that this is having worldwide.”
—Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect and Technical Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA