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October, 2013

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.

October, 2013

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Students develop analytics engine for the Lab of Things

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    Lab of Things (LoT)The Lab of Things (LoT) may sound like something you’d find in a sci-fi movie, but it is a lot more practical than that: it’s a research platform that makes it easy to deploy interconnected devices in multiple homes, then share your individual research data with other investigators, turning it all into a large-scale study. The LoT thus enhances field studies in such diverse disciplines as healthcare, energy management, and home automation. It not only makes deployment and monitoring easier—it also simplifies the analysis of experimental data and promotes sharing of data, code, and study participants, further lowering the barrier to evaluating ideas in a diverse set of environments where people live, work, or play.

    One key to the success of the LoT is the involvement of the academic research community in developing extensions to the LoT infrastructure. These extensions can be in the form of drivers, applications, and cloud components such as analytics.

    Shortly after we released the LoT in July of this year, a group of students from University College London (UCL) started poking around the code and got inspired: they’ve developed an analytics engine to scrutinize data collected from experiments and research applications running on the LoT. And this is no slouch of an engine, either. Among other things, it:

    • Permits easy integration of different platforms beyond the LoT, including HomeOS and the Internet of Things, allowing them to easily send device data to the engine.
    • Provides analytics for data collected from various field studies and for a wide range of use-case scenarios.
    • Offers HTTP-based APIs, which makes it connect to an internal/external client—a Windows 8 application, for example.
    • Employs a simple interface, enabling users to easily query and analyze data.


    Watch the video: Students develop analytics engine for the Lab of Things

    The analytical models provided by the UCL Lab of Things Analytics Engine allow the user to evaluate usage patterns of devices, compare data sets, and find anomalies. The engine also has the capability to run custom R scripts, thereby enabling users to employ statistical models beyond those directly implemented in the engine.

    If you are interested in the LoT and running data analytics using the analytics engine, visit the Lab of Things site and the analytics engine CodePlex site

    Arjmand Samuel, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Bringing the heavens into the schoolhouse

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    In the five years since Microsoft Research initially launched the WorldWide Telescope (WWT), the product’s many features have been put to a variety of uses. Today in Chongqing, China, we saw yet another first for WorldWide Telescope: the unveiling of the first WWT-driven planetarium in China. The 8-meter dome installation is at the Shixinlu primary school and is powered by six high-resolution projectors. This installation enables students not only to see and study the stars and the universe in an immersive planetarium setting, but it also allows them to create their own tours of the heavens and have them displayed on the dome.

    The first WWT-driven planetarium in China was unveiled at the Shixinlu primary school in Chongqing.
    The first WWT-driven planetarium in China was unveiled at the Shixinlu primary school in Chongqing on October 23.

    I represented the WorldWide Telescope team at the grand unveiling of the dome, and as I did so, I was struck by the impact our small research project has had around the world. Even more so, I was in awe of the vision of Dr. Chenzhou Cui from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who saw the potential of teaching and inspiring students via a planetarium placed directly in the school and who collaborated with Microsoft Research Asia to implement this vision via WorldWide Telescope. Dr. Cui and Mrs. Kailiang Song, the director of the school, worked tirelessly to get the installation built and running in six months and to provide a great environment for WWT. And above all, it is great to see the potential for many more students to gain a better understanding of astronomy by being immersed in the stars.

    Dan Fay represented the WorldWide Telescope team at the dome's unveiling.
    Representing the WorldWide Telescope team at the dome's unveiling, Fay was awed by the vision of Dr. Chenzhou Cui from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who recognized the educational potential of WorldWide Telescope.

    The ability to use WorldWide Telescope in a multi-machine and multi-projector setup to display on planetarium domes is one of the features included in the Windows desktop client. The WWT client is freely available at www.worldwidetelescope.org.

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

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    eScience and Cloud Computing in Beijing

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    I'm in Beijing for the tenth annual Microsoft eScience Workshop, which runs from October 22 to 25. As in the past, the workshop takes place at the same time and in the same location as the IEEE International Conference on eScience. No coincidence, of course—why not take advantage of all that collected eScience brain power?

    Explore the latest challenges in research and the benefits powered by Windows Azure

    This year’s workshop is future-looking. With as many as 100 college students in attendance, the workshop will feature special introductory sessions led by top researchers, giving the students the opportunity to learn about the latest results and challenges in broad areas of scientific investigation. Among the topics the workshop will cover are environmental studies, bioinformatics, climate change, and new results in data modeling. I am particularly excited to see that the burgeoning field of urban computing is on the agenda of this year’s program.

    The workshop is future-looking in another way. Cloud capabilities have matured to the extent that they offer, in some instances, the most effective way for scientists to scale out their computations and collaborate on data and discovery. To better understand these in the context of Microsoft’s cloud, Windows Azure, we have been collecting cloud-based tools to support scientific research and are now prepared to share what we have learned. Following the Microsoft eScience Workshop, we will hold a Windows Azure for Research training class—the first in China—on October 25 and 26.

    This two-day course, presented by specially trained Windows Azure experts, is designed to help researchers learn the skills they need to apply cloud computing in their current and future investigations. Attendees will be able to access Windows Azure on their own laptop during this hands-on training, regardless of what operating system that laptop is running, because Windows Azure will be accessed through the Internet browser.

    The class is part of the broader Windows Azure for Research Initiative, which is a program designed to help the research community leverage cloud computing to handle the challenges of data-intensive science. As my colleague Dennis Gannon, director of cloud research strategy at Microsoft Research Connections, said just last month:

    Science is at an inflection point where the challenges of dealing with massive amounts of data and the growing requirements of distributed multidisciplinary collaborations make moving to the Windows Azure cloud extremely attractive. This is true for the individual researcher who does not want to manage local physical infrastructure and for large teams that need to share their discovery resources and services with the larger research community.

    You can find details about the Windows Azure for Research initiative in Dennis’s blog. As Dennis explains, in addition to the training classes, the initiative includes the Windows Azure for Research Awards Program, which offers sizable grants of Windows Azure resources for individual projects or for community efforts to host scientific data and services. We will be accepting proposals continuously and making awards six times a year. By the way, lest there be any confusion, the Awards Program is open globally, not just in China.

    I’m convinced that cloud computing can help resolve the computational and data challenges of today’s research, and I invite you to experiment with “cloud power” at Windows Azure for Research.

    Tony Hey, Vice President, Microsoft Research Connections

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