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February, 2014

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, 2014

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    From flying robots to energy-efficient memory systems

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    Today, February 5, 2014, marked the kickoff workshop for the Swiss Joint Research Center (Swiss JRC), a collaborative research engagement between Microsoft Research and the two universities that make up the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology: ETH Zürich (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich, which serves German-speaking students) and EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, which serves French-speaking students).

    Introducing the new Swiss Joint Research Center

    The Swiss JRC is a continuation of a collaborative engagement that began five years ago, when these same three partners embarked on ICES (Innovation Cluster for Embedded Software). In renewing our collaboration, we have broadened and deepened the computer science engagements, as we chart a course for another five years of research.

    During the two-day workshop at Microsoft Research Cambridge, we will launch seven new projects that constitute the next wave of research collaborations for the Swiss JRC. Today, we heard EPFL’s Edouard Bugnion describe the planned work of the Scale-Out NUMA project, which involves the study of the computer architectural and system software implications of aggressive scale-out, energy-efficient computing in datacenters.

    Workshop speakers, listed clockwise from upper left: Daron Green, Andrew Blake, James Larus, and Markus Püschel
    Workshop speakers, listed clockwise from upper left: Daron Green, Andrew Blake,
    James Larus (EPFL), and Markus Püschel (ETH Zürich)

    Now I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s sessions, especially the presentation by Otmar Hilliges (ETH Zürich), who will discuss the fascinating topic of human-centric flight. This proposed research seeks to create an entirely new form of interactive systems, leveraging micro-aerial vehicles (MAVs), also known as flying robots, to create novel user experiences. This project could have a profound impact on our future ability to navigate environments that are inhospitable to people or standard land-based robots.

    Attendees of the kickoff workshop for the Swiss JRC
    Attendees of the kickoff workshop for the Swiss JRC

    The following seven projects will be launched at the workshop:

    Scale-Out NUMA
    Edouard Bugnion, EPFL
    Babak Falsafi, EPFL
    Dushyanth Narayanan, Microsoft Research

    Micro-Aerial Vehicles (MAVs) for Interaction, Videography, and 3D Reconstruction
    Otmar Hilliges, ETH Zürich
    Marc Pollefeys, ETH Zürich
    Shahram Izadi, Microsoft Research

    Software-Defined Networks: Algorithms and Mechanisms
    Roger Wattenhofer, ETHZ
    Ratul Mahajan, Microsoft Research

    Investigation into fundamental issues concerning software-defined networks and how they can be tackled using a game theory approach

    Efficient Data Processing Through Massive Parallelism and FPGA-Based Acceleration
    Gustavo Alonso, ETH Zürich
    Ken Eguro, Microsoft Research

    Exploration of efficient implementation of FPGAs as co-processors in data centers and support for database querying

    Authenticated Encryption: Security Notions, Constructions, and Applications
    Serge Vaudenay, EPFL
    Ilya Mironov and Markulf Kohlweiss, Microsoft Research

    Developing enhanced security notions for authenticated encryption schemes and proving that they are secure

    Towards Resource Efficient Data Centers
    Florin Dinu, EPFL
    Sergey Legtchenko, Microsoft Research

    Researching how memory can be best utilized in homogeneous computational situations, where the operating system must handle parallel, data-intensive tasks

    Availability and Reliability as a Resource for Large-Scale in Memory Databases on Datacenter Computers
    Torsten Hoefler, ETHZ
    Miguel Castro, Microsoft Research

    Researching new approaches to building resilience and predicting resilience in systems with more economical, lower levels of redundancy

    These projects represent some of the most interesting and engaging research challenges in Microsoft Research’s broad portfolio of university partnerships. I particularly value the opportunity to share our domain expertise in these open collaborations with two of the world’s top computer-science research departments. All three organizations bring unique perspectives and great talent to the collaboration, and all focus on solving tough technical challenges in areas as diverse as human-computer interaction, machine vision, performance and energy scalability, mobile computing, and data center optimization.

    I’ll keep you up to date on this journey over the coming months and years, as the Swiss JRC works to accelerate scientific discoveries and breakthroughs that push the boundaries of our imagination.

    Daron Green, Senior Director, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Lab of Things keeps growing

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    Lab of Things adds features and deploymentsIn my previous blogs, I talked about the Lab of Things (LoT), which is a flexible platform for conducting experimental research using connected devices in homes and beyond. Since LoT’s beta release in July 2013, we have made a lot of progress on two fronts. First, we’ve been busily extending and perfecting various features of LoT; second, we’ve been working closely with academic partners to help them adopt and deploy LoT for their research.

    Right from the inception of the project, we have been working closely with our academic collaborators to understand better the needs of such a platform. One of the key requirements was to be able to support both off-the-shelf and custom devices. Today, LoT supports a host of off-the-shelf devices, including Z-Wave switches and multisensors, the Philips Hue light bridge, the Kinect for Windows sensor, and the Envi energy sensor. The driver model is extensible and adding a new device involves learning design patterns from the existing drivers (which are released in source form) and writing new ones. For developing custom devices and sensors, LoT now supports robust drivers for .NET Gadgeteer.

    We have made significant progress toward making HomeOS (the client-side component of LoT) more robust and extensible. Meanwhile, on the cloud-services side, LoT now includes a management portal that allows near real-time monitoring of the status of home hubs and enables researchers to monitor deployments separately for each study. The user interface of applications running in each home hub are now available securely from anywhere by using any device with a modern web browser.

    As part of the Lab of Things, we have a system for the efficient storage and sharing of data across applications running on LoT. This storage system offers the abstraction of a stream of time-tag-value records, with arbitrary, application-defined tags, and it supports efficient querying based on time or tags. The Lab of Things file system uses cloud storage as a seamless extension of local storage. It builds an index on the data stream and organizes the data into chunks of multiple records, which enables efficient compression, encryption, storage, and transfer of data.

    In the following video, Ratul Mahajan, a Microsoft researcher working on the project, talks about the motivation of the project and current capabilities. Subsequently, AJ Brush, another Microsoft researcher working on this project, gives a demo of the LoT client-side set up using various devices.

    In addition, we have been working with a number of academic researchers and students to enable them to adopt the Lab of Things and use it to deploy their experiments. A case in point is the ongoing work at University College London, where a dedicated team of students developed an analytics engine for the Lab of Things. The source code of the analytics engine is available on CodePlex to use and extend.

    Professor Affan Syed and his students at FAST-NUCES, Pakistan, are using the Lab of Things to develop a system to optimize and control the use of electrical power in homes to help address the acute shortage of energy in that country. The team is busy scaling up the project to deploy in a large number of homes with the goal to understand energy usage and optimization goals in a wider cross section of society. This video demonstrates the system.

    Not only for research projects, the Lab of Things is also being used for teaching. Professor Nilanjan Banerjee from University of Maryland at Baltimore County is offering a Lab of Things-based graduate-level course on Systems for Smart Home Automation, in which students will study the challenges in smart home automation systems and use the Lab of Things to build software systems for smart home automation.

    The Lab of Things website lists additional LoT projects that the academic community is implementing. See the academic projects page.

    Arjmand Samuel, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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