Der deutsche Education Blog

February, 2012

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.

February, 2012

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    .NET Gadgeteer Stirs Excitement in British Schools

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    Youngsters love gadgets. So wouldn’t it be great if they could build their own, and at school? This is exactly what more than 70 British students, ages 13 to 16, are doing by using .NET Gadgeteer. On January 30, they gathered at the Microsoft Research Cambridge Lab to present their final projects and celebrate the end of the first .NET Gadgeteer school pilot project in the United Kingdom (UK).

    Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer is a platform that allows you to rapidly create prototypes of small electronic gadgets and embedded hardware devices. It combines the advantages of object-oriented programming, solderless assembly of electronics using a kit of hardware modules, and the quick fabrication of a physical enclosure using computer-aided design. The fact that .NET Gadgeteer covers a variety of sophisticated computer science and engineering skills, but requires minimal prior knowledge, makes it especially suitable for school education.

    The UK school pilot involved eight secondary schools from the counties of Cambridgeshire and Essex. It was launched with an initial training workshop for teachers on October 6, 2011. After initial training, the schools used .NET Gadgeteer GHI FEZ Spider Starter Kits and worked through eight lesson plans created by Dr. Sue Sentance of Anglia Ruskin University. Lessons included construction of a digital camera, a stopwatch, and a game. The course was taught during lunch or after school over a 10-week period. The final weeks of the course were spent on individual and group .NET Gadgeteer projects that were then presented at the celebratory January 30 event at Microsoft Research.

    Some of the student inventions from the .NET Gadgeteer pilot projectSome of the student inventions from the .NET Gadgeteer pilot project

    The celebration included talks by Christopher Bishop on “Secrets of the Web” and Andrew Fitzgibbon on “Kinect: Solving an Impossible Problem.” It also featured a lunchtime demo session, consisting of .NET Gadgeteer school and research demos as well as demos of cutting-edge Microsoft Research technologies such as KinectFusion, HoloDesk and SecondLight, and a show-and-tell of each school’s projects.

    Students from Comberton Village College present their group project.Students from Comberton Village College present their group project.

    Also attending the celebration was a team of students from The Greneway School, the winners of The Think Computer Science Great Gadgimagining! competition. Their winning entry, the Greneway Super Walking Stick, a cane “designed with elderly people in mind, helping them to keep their independence,” is intended to sense when the user may have fallen and notify an emergency contact. The walking stick was prototyped during the event by Greneway students, together with .NET Gadgeteer inventor Nicolas Villar, and presented at the end of the celebration.

    The Greneway School team celebrates their winning entry, the Greneway Super Walking Stick.The Greneway School team celebrates their winning entry,
    the Greneway Super Walking Stick.

    The enthusiasm and dedication shown by the youngsters and teachers during the school pilot demonstrate the hunger for hands-on computer science in schools. The high level of student engagement is perhaps best captured in this message posted by one of the teachers in the pilot’s Edmodo group:

    “First day back at school, the building is cold and miserable but 7 kids have turned up after school to start designing and making their own gadgets ready for 30th Jan! The atmosphere is amazing—two groups, one either side of a mobile whiteboard, planning and drawing their gadgets and code on either side. One group using polystyrene (and hair slides!) to construct the physical object ready for their code. Loving it!”

    The .NET Gadgeteer pilot project aligns with the UK’s commitment to prioritize computer science education in schools, as spelled out by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, in his speech at the BETT Show (see School ICT to be replaced by computer science programme).

    We look forward to more schools, colleges, and universities utilizing .NET Gadgeteer to unleash their students’ creativity and enthusiasm in technology—in the UK, and beyond.

    Scarlet Schwiderski-Grosche, Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA, and Steve Hodges, Principal Hardware Engineer, Microsoft Research Cambridge

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    Workshop Bolsters Chinese Research Uses of Kinect for Windows

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    Kinect for Windows Workshop 2011 - December 2, 2011, Beijing, China

    On December 2, 2011, Microsoft Research Asia held the Kinect for Windows Workshop 2011 in Beijing, China. The event, which drew more than 100 participants, including faculty and students from Chinese universities, provided a forum for exploring research that utilizes Kinect for Windows. It not only offered a great opportunity for faculty members and students to showcase their Kinect-based research and exchange creative ideas, it also fostered enhanced cooperation between Chinese academic institutions and Microsoft Research Asia.

    The workshop kicked off with a welcome speech from Baining Guo, assistant managing director of Microsoft Research Asia. He highlighted Microsoft Research Asia’s contributions in research fields that use Kinect. His speech was followed by a keynote speech from Stewart Tansley, director at Microsoft Research Connections. Tansley shared the latest strategies for and status of Kinect for Windows on a global level.

    Baining Guo and Stewart Tansley present at the Kinect for Windows Workshop 2011 in Beijing, China

    After opening addresses, the university participants divided into faculty and student groups. The faculty participants heard lectures on Kinect-based research and development from four Microsoft Research Asia researchers: Yichen Wei (Visual Computing Group), Xin Tong (Internet Graphics Group), Sergio Paolantonio (HCI Group), and Frank Soong (Speech Group). These lectures introduced the audience to such research prototypes as the Kinect Identity Project and Kinect-based Object Digitization Project.

    In addition, a number of professors shared their own projects, which captured the depth of the innovative research surrounding Kinect. Highlights included presentations by:

    Professor Xilin Chen, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who introduced his project, Sign Language Recognition and Translation Based on Kinect, which uses multinational input data for sign recognition. The resulting technology could make it easier for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing to communicate, thereby helping them function more effectively in their daily life.

    Professor Lianwen Jin, of the South China University of Technology, who demonstrated his project, Writing in the Air by Hand—Recognition of Virtual Handwritten Characters Using Kinect, which aims to develop a Chinese character recognition system for Kinect. The project addresses the broader problem of providing a way for Kinect users to input text, enabling them to do so simply by using hand gestures.

    Professor Ligang Liu, of Zhejiang University, who showcased his project, Capturing Human Models Using Multiple Kinects, which uses multiple Kinect units to set up a novel scanning system for capturing three-dimensional (3-D) models of the human body. This research takes advantage of the Kinect sensors—which are designed to facilitate computer-human interaction—to obtain in-depth 3-D data on the entire body, even when the body is in motion. A first possible application could be personal avatars that help users get a good fit for clothing they purchase online.

    Researchers from Microsoft Research Asia were actively involved in all three of these projects, demonstrating the robust state of collaboration between Microsoft Research Asia and Chinese academic institutions. Commenting on the importance of such interactive projects, Professor Chen stated, “In the future, when realizing our ideas, we hope to increase our cooperation with Microsoft Research Asia.”

    The student group attended a number of sessions tailored specifically for them, including a speech on computer art, delivered by Tsinghua University Professor Yingqing Xu, and an explanation of the operating principles of Kinect, presented by DJ Lan of Microsoft Asia R&D. Two Microsoft Research Asia interns also shared their Kinect application development experience with the student participants and joined them in hands-on projects.

    The demo session generated the most excitement, and featured 15 booths of posters, videos, and demo programs for Kinect projects. The booths were organized by professors and students who delivered detailed demonstrations of their projects. The demos attracted many attendees, including Microsoft Research Asia staff members who participated in discussions with professors and students, and were inspired by their innovative ideas. 
     
    Demo sessions at the Kinect for Windows Workshop

    The workshop also inspired faculty and students, who left with a better understanding of the possibilities for Kinect-based research. In addition, the workshop bolstered opportunities for future collaboration between Microsoft Research Asia and the Chinese academic community. As Lolan Song, the senior director of Microsoft Research Asia observed, “It’s a great opportunity for Microsoft Research Asia to strengthen communication and collaboration with faculty and students. Microsoft Research Asia is committed to exploring more qualified research projects with Chinese universities and academic institutions, as we believe such collaboration will have long-term social benefits.”

    Guobin Wu, Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Asia

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    Microsoft Research Plays Matchmaker this February

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    social search

    Two major computing conferences take place this month in the Seattle area: the ACM International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining (WSDM 2012), which runs February 8–12 in Seattle and focuses on how to improve web search algorithms, and the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW 2012), which runs February 11–15 in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue and centers on how collaboration can be better supported through technological and design advances. These overlapping symposia mean that the Puget Sound region will be home to even more computer brain power than normal in mid-February.

    Recognizing the unique opportunity afforded by these simultaneous conferences, Microsoft Research is sponsoring a Social Search Social, an event that will zero in on the common research interests of these two communities. On February 11, approximately 100 researchers and thought leaders from both conferences will meet at Microsoft Research, where their combined expertise in algorithms, interfaces, information retrieval, and collaborative systems design will, we are certain, establish a network from which the next generation of innovations can arise. Participants will include Microsoft employees, professors, and students from the United States and abroad, and researchers from other corporations.

    Researchers will have ample opportunity to mingle and share ideas by participating in several structured and unstructured networking events. Participants can present a single slide about their current research in a fast-paced “madness” session. And with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, who can resist a “research speed dating” event, which will pair up attendees of the CSCW and WSDM conferences for brief conversations. There will also be plenty of free time for conversation while enjoying a bite to eat—always an excellent way to ignite ideas and collaborations.

    This upcoming event has inspired us to create an email distribution list that will allow us to collect and share information for possible collaborations in social search. We invite you to contribute by submitting your research interests and suggestions for collaborative projects. To participate, send an empty email message to Join Social Search to subscribe to the distribution list. Once you have subscribed, you can start sending your ideas to the Social Search Distribution List. It is our hope that this distribution list will provide the start of a framework for community interactions across social search research efforts.

    Meredith Ringel Morris, Microsoft Research, Researcher, Natural Interaction group; and Evelyne Viegas, Microsoft Research Connections, Director of Semantic Computing

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