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Web browsing is one of the core applications on smartphones. After all, who hasn’t checked Facebook or watched the latest news—or amusing cat videos—on their mobile phone? However, mobile browsers on smartphones are primarily optimized for performance, not energy efficiency, so web browsing—especially the loading of web pages—tends to drain batteries and frustrate users.
Recognizing this problem, Yunxin Liu, a researcher at Microsoft Research Asia, and a team from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have collaborated to reduce the energy needed to load web pages without increasing page load time or compromising the user experience. In a recent research paper, they present three techniques to reduce the energy consumption of web page loading on smartphones. Two of these, network-aware resource processing and adaptive content painting, address energy inefficiencies in smartphones’ content processing and graphic processing pipelines. The third, application assisted scheduling, takes advantage of ARM’s big.LITTLE architecture to save energy.
The researchers have implemented the proposed techniques on Chromium and Firefox mobile browsers and have conducted comprehensive evaluations using real-world websites and the latest-generation smartphones. Experimental results and user studies indicate that the techniques significantly reduce the energy cost of web page loading while introducing only barely perceivable increases in page load time. When tested for browsing with Chromium on a latest-generation big.LITTLE smartphone, the techniques achieved a 24.4% average system energy saving using Wi-Fi and a 22.5% saving when using 3G, with no discernable impact on average page load time.
The collaboration between Liu and the team at KAIST resulted from one of those fortuitous encounters that happen at scientific conferences. During the annual International Conference on Mobile Systems, Applications, and Services, Liu struck up an acquaintanceship with Duc Hoang Bui, a Vietnamese PhD student from KAIST. They had a good conversation, which resulted in Bui becoming an intern at Microsoft Research Asia and joining Liu’s project.
After the first period of research, Bui returned to KAIST to continue his doctoral studies, under the supervision of Prof. Insik Shin. Liu and Shin knew one another already, and, now, with Bui as the link, they readily saw the advantages of working together on the second stage of the research. Focusing on their strengths, Shin’s team contributed largely to the big.LITTLE technique, while Liu focused on the energy-saving work.
“Prof. Shin was very supportive during the research. We had a very nice cooperation together,” said Liu.
The research paper was presented at MobiCom 2015. One of the top international conferences on mobile computing and networking, MobiCom is an annual event sponsored ACM SIGMOBILE (the Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Mobility of Systems, Users, Data, and Computing).
“I’m really flattered to publish the paper at this top conference,” said Liu. “It’s big news for our project and the whole research team.” The researchers now plan to apply their application, which is still a prototype, in additional browsers. Their ultimate goal, of course, is to get it into real-world use, where it just might save your battery long enough for one final download of cat videos for the day.
—Miran Lee, Principal Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research
Many people living in the People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong have a new habit: they check the air pollution index before venturing outside. Air quality has deteriorated rapidly in China, with nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter levels frequently exceeding safety guidelines set by the World Health Organization.
While poor air quality clearly impacts public health, many cities have a dearth of air-quality monitoring stations: there are just 35 in Beijing and 15 in Hong Kong, for example. This lack of monitoring stations hinders evidence-based decision-making and leads to harsh criticisms of the transparency and public relevance of China’s official air pollution index.
Researchers proposed that they could estimate air quality at locations not covered by monitoring stations by analyzing the relationship between urban dynamics data.
Since air pollution is highly location-dependent, a citywide air-quality monitoring system would require building many additional monitoring stations, a solution that is prohibitively expensive. And so there is a grim reality: people may diligently check the air pollution index, but they cannot really know the air quality in their specific locale.
“Do we have sufficient data to produce reliable air-quality metrics by using urban computing?” Professor Victor Li, chairman of information engineering and head of the department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Hong Kong, posed this question to his research team. As luck would have it, while Li was challenging his researchers in Hong Kong, Microsoft Research Asia was launching a Call for Research Proposals dealing with urban computing. (Urban computing is a process of acquisition, integration, and analysis of big and heterogeneous data generated by a diversity of sources in urban spaces to address issues that major cities face, such as air pollution, excessive energy consumption, and traffic congestion.) Li promptly submitted a proposal, which came to the attention of Microsoft researcher Yu Zheng, who has conducted extensive research on urban computing and was also looking into the issues surrounding urban air quality.
As Li and his researchers were detailing the correlations between air pollution and various urban dynamics—noting, for instance, that air quality and temperature are spatially correlated—Yu and his team had concluded that a variety of urban big data could be used compensate for the lack of monitoring stations. Li and Yu decided to collaborate and drive more in-depth research.
The joint team proposed that by analyzing the relationship between urban dynamics data, such as vehicular traffic and measured air quality, they could estimate air quality at locations not covered by monitoring stations. “We can infer real-time, fine-grained air quality information throughout a city based on the historical and real-time air quality data reported by existing monitoring stations, combined with a variety of data sources we observe in the city,” predicted Yu.
However, the researchers now grappled with the challenge of processing the massive volume of human dynamics data. A challenge initially imposed by a lack of data had become a problem of having too much data—a 180-degree swing from one extreme to the other!
But a solution to the problem of crunching the big data soon arrived, when Li’s project received a Microsoft Azure for Research Award. As Julie Zhu, a doctoral student on the project team noted, “The program arrived at exactly the right time. We were just looking into building multi-node clusters.”
Zhu and her colleagues attended Microsoft Azure training and quickly set up the new computing environment. Citing the enormous amounts of data provided by just one city, Shenzhen, Zhu described the value of Azure. “We need to collect and process about 1 terabyte per month of urban data on air quality, meteorological data, and traffic information, and so on,” she said. “What’s great about Microsoft Azure is that it goes way beyond the data storage. It integrates all the functionalities we need for data crawling, indexing, training, and visualization. Microsoft Azure truly enables us to do the real-time and scalable data processing.”
Professor Li presenting the project at the 2014 Microsoft Research Asia Faculty Summit.
Within months, the team had arrived at their initial results for Shenzhen. When Li and Yu presented their work at the 2014 Microsoft Research Asia Faculty Summit in Beijing, their novel approach generated great excitement, not only for how it processed the massive volumes of data, but also for finding the data sources in the first place. As Li commented, “All the data we used are from public channels. There are tons of data out there.” Li and Yu are now working together to build a predictive model, which would address the initial dilemma of the paucity of air-quality monitoring stations.
Yu mused on how the challenge had morphed from insufficient data into a surplus of data. “We now know that the lack of data and big data do not conflict with each other. They co-exist in the same problem. What’s important is to identify the dataset from various channels that are key contributors,” Yu explained. To which Zhu, now a Microsoft Research intern, added, “You just need a good platform and tools to handle them.”
—Winnie Cui, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research
Twenty years ago, the film Hackers gave that term a shady, illicit meaning. Now, geeks around the world are taking back the term “hacker,” restoring its original connotations of creativity and intellectual curiosity. Nowhere was that restoration more apparent than at the Microsoft Student Summer Camp 2015, held August 17–20 at Xi’an Jiaotong University (in the Shaanxi province of China), where the theme was “Set sail, geeks!”
Microsoft Summer Camp 2015 marked the start of Microsoft Student Club 2.0.
The camp, which marked the fifteenth anniversary of the Microsoft Student Club in China, brought together 132 students from 34 universities across the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. In addition to embracing the hacker ethos, the camp opened a new chapter in the history of the club—including a new name: Microsoft Student Club 2.0. The designation 2.0 reflects some big changes, many of which were introduced at this year's Summer Camp.
Tim Pan, director of University Relations at Microsoft Research Asia, opened the Summer Camp with a keynote that exhorted the campers to adopt the hacker spirit. He then invited two students on stage to talk about their experiences with hacking and creating student projects.
Tim Pan, director of University Relations at Microsoft Research Asia, chats with a camper about his student project.
The students then took part in technical salons, where Microsoft employees introduced them to the latest Microsoft technologies, including Windows 10, Cortana, XiaoIce, Project Oxford, Minecraft, and HoloLens—the very technologies that have fueled some of Microsoft's own most recent hacking-inspired projects. Xiaowu Hu, an engineer from the Windows team, even taught students how to use the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) to develop apps that work across multiple devices.
Coinciding with Microsoft’s annual hackathon for employees, the Summer Camp hosted its own vibrant hackathon, challenging the students to create a project proposal to address some “pain point” of everyday life. The students rose to the occasion, coming up with projects that took on problems in advertising, art, social gaming, photography, and health, to name just a few of the themes.
For example, the bAd (Best Advertisement) project, created by students from Taiwan University, proposed using facial and speech recognition, along with artificial intelligence, to build an advertising platform that targets its messages to specific viewers. In the final presentations, bAd’s Wu Sheng and Hou Haiqi shared their passion and described the challenges in designing their idea. After working on one concept for nearly an entire day, they discovered it already existed. They had to start over, and in the end they came up with a creative and exciting project.
Students from Hong Kong and Taiwan celebrate the hacker spirit.
The hacker spirit was likewise embodied by a team of students from three Chinese universities, who decided to address what’s become an all-too-common experience these days: people so engaged with their mobile phones that they ignore the friends they’re with in the real world. To address this issue, they designed “Together,” a cooperative game to enhance communication and social interaction, thereby promoting an active, enthusiastic experience with the people in your actual physical location.
A member of the Together project explains the team’s innovative concept for promoting real-world social interactions. The team was composed of students from South China University of Technology, Northeast University, and Sun Yat-Sen University.
Members of Student Club 2.0 won't just have access to new, flexible, open technology, they'll also have opportunities to interact with Microsoft employees, who will be engaging more directly with students in advisory and mentoring capacities. In addition, each club chapter will have access to a redesigned website that features robust resources for members. The Product Experience section, for example, will let students beta test new Microsoft products and features and provide feedback to the engineers behind the technology. The relaunched website also includes an Offline Activities section, where individual chapters can plan and share their events and news, and an Online Course section, which provides members access to webinars on a range of topics.
Finally, Student Club 2.0 chapters and their members can now earn special opportunities and prizes. The most active chapters and members will receive awards each year. Moreover, every chapter will be encouraged to develop an annual project to submit to the Imagine Cup or other competitions. At the end of the year, the top 10 Student Club projects will be hand-selected for review and recognition by a team of Microsoft leaders.
Since its inception in 2000, the club has aimed to inspire students to pursue innovative and entrepreneurial futures. The 2.0 incarnation preserves these aims and adds the goal of providing students with a clear understanding of the new, ever-changing tech field, enabling them to enter the workforce informed, experienced, and with a network of likeminded peers and mentors to support them. We look forward to the next 15 years, as today’s 2.0 students apply their hacker spirit to create tomorrow’s transformations.
Students and Microsoft employees salute the end of a very successful Summer Camp 2015.
—Guobin Wu, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research