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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.

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Empowering the problem solvers

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    The power of computing can go a long way toward solving some of the world’s most vexing problems. This is why we are committed to fostering the next generation of technology-savvy researchers, through programs such as the Microsoft Research Asia Fellowship Program. Launched in China in 1999 and expanded to the entire Asia-Pacific region in 2002, this program recognizes exceptional Ph.D. students in computer science, electrical engineering, information science, and applied mathematics, empowering them to realize their full potential as researchers.

    The fellowship rewards doctoral students who have demonstrated exceptional research aptitude through concrete achievements at this early stage of their career—students like Yongtae Park of Korea University, whose research focuses on enabling mobile devices to communicate with the emerging Internet of Things, and Seunghoon Hong of Pohang University of Science and Technology, whose work aims to achieve semantic understanding of video content.

    The Microsoft Research Asia 2014 fellows and advisors shown with Jeannette Wing, corporate vice president of Microsoft Research; Hsiao-Wuen Hon, managing director of Microsoft Research Asia; and Tim Pan, director of Microsoft Research Asia University Relations.
    The Microsoft Research Asia 2014 fellows and advisors were honored during the Computing in the 21st Century conference in Beijing. They are shown here with Jeannette Wing, corporate vice president of Microsoft Research (tenth from the left); Hsiao-Wuen Hon, managing director of Microsoft Research Asia and Chairman of the Microsoft Asia-Pacific R&D Group (tenth from the right); and Tim Pan, director of Microsoft Research Asia University Relations (far left).

    This year, 83 outstanding doctoral candidates from 45 leading research universities were nominated for the fellowship. The nominees included students from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. Their credentials were thoroughly evaluated by a review committee, and 27 finalists were invited to Beijing for an on-site interview. The top 12 finalists received the full Microsoft Research Asia Fellowship. Each of these new fellows will have the opportunity to complete an internship at Microsoft Research Asia in Beijing, during which they will actively participate in cutting-edge research.

    The 2014 fellows and their mentors were formally introduced during the sixteenth Computing in the 21st Century conference, which took place on October 29, 2014, at Peking University. Jeannette Wing, corporate vice president of Microsoft Research, and Hsiao-Wen Hon, managing director of Microsoft Research Asia and chair of the Microsoft Asia-Pacific R&D Group, presented the fellowship awards.

    The new fellows enjoyed a roundtable discussion with 1992 Turing Award winner Butler Lampson and Tim Pan, director of Microsoft Research Asia Connections.
    The new fellows enjoyed a roundtable discussion with 1992 Turing Award winner Butler Lampson (sixth from the left) and Tim Pan, director of Microsoft Research Asia Connections (fifth from the left).

    In addition, the new fellows engaged in a roundtable discussion with Turing Award winner Butler Lampson and Tim Pan, director of Microsoft Research Asia Connections, which gave the students an opportunity to discuss their own research and, more broadly, to explore the means for attaining the highest quality research results. We’re eager to see what these talented young researchers achieve.

    —Rui Li, University Relations Manager, Microsoft Research Asia

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    New community promotes research in sign language recognition

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    Advancing research in sign-language recognition

    Sign language has long been a tool used by many of the world’s estimated 360 million people with severe hearing loss. But since the majority of hearing individuals do not understand sign language, the hearing world does not always have the capability to engage in real-time, unwritten communication with people with hearing loss. Now, technology is poised to make such interactions more feasible.

    Hoping to facilitate communication between the signing and non-signing communities, Microsoft Research in February 2012 initiated the Kinect Sign Language project in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and Beijing Union University. The Kinect Sign Language Translator enables real-time conversations between signing and non-signing participants by turning sign language into words spoken by a computer and simultaneously changing spoken words into sign language rendered by an avatar.

    Some of the attendees at the Kinect Sign Language Working Group's inaugural event.
    Some of the attendees at the Kinect Sign Language Working Group's inaugural event

    Early last month, the Kinect Sign Language Working Group, a research community that includes a website for sharing data and algorithms, was established at the Institute of Computing Technology, CAS in Beijing. P. Anandan, managing director of Microsoft Research Outreach, attended this inaugural event, as did other dignitaries representing the community’s founding members: the CAS, Beijing Union University, and Microsoft Research. We are encouraging experts from other research institutions, schools for the deaf and hard of hearing, and non-government organizations to join the Kinect Sign Language Working Group.

    The community’s vision is to advance research in sign-language recognition.
    The community’s vision is to advance research in sign-language recognition.

    The community’s vision is to advance research in sign-language recognition. As a first step, we are opening to academia the DEVISIGN, Chinese Sign Language Database. Compiled by the Visual Information Processing and Learning (VIPL) group of the Institute of Computing Technology, under the sponsorship of Microsoft Research Asia, the DEVISIGN covers about 4,400 standard Chinese Sign Language words based on 331,050 pieces of vocabulary data from 30 signers (13 males and 17 females). The vocabulary data comprises RGB video (in AVI format), and depth and skeleton information (in BIN format). The DEVISIGN thus provides sign-language researchers with a rich store of data for training and evaluating their algorithms and for creating state-of-the-art practical applications, such as solutions for training the system to adapt to an unknown signer.

    In the near future, we hope to expand the sign-language database with contributions from new community members, which will help advance the research and development progress for this and potentially other sign language translations. In addition, we intend to organize workshops and to post sign-language-recognition algorithms from researchers worldwide.

    Signer demonstrating the Kinect Sign Language Translator
    Microsoft Research Asia Director Tim Pan expects the Kinect Sign Language project to provide cost-effective and reliable communication between deaf and hearing users.

    No single field of expertise can fulfill such an expansive mission. Doing so requires “the collaboration of experts in such diverse fields as machine learning, sign language, social science, and more,” noted Microsoft Research Asia Director Tim Pan during the community’s inaugural event. “In the long run,” he added, “the community will work together to turn ideas into reality, and we fully expect the Kinect Sign Language project to provide cost-effective, easy, and reliable communication between deaf and hearing users.”

    Guobin Wu, Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Asia

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Third International Women’s Hackathon continues into December

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    The Third International Women’s Hackathon is now in full swing, having launched on October 11, 2014. A unique crowdsourcing event designed to empower young women leaders in computer science, the hackathon provides a fun and safe environment in which participants explore computing as a means of solving real-world problems. This year’s hackathon should draw more participants than ever, because, in response to requests from several universities, worldwide local events can participate through December 12, 2014. This means that groups who couldn’t join the virtual event on October 11 can still get in on the action.

    This year, hackers are devising solutions for two worthy challenges—the Climate Data Challenge (PDF, 291 KB) and the Disaster Response Challenge (PDF, 291 KB)—sponsored, respectively, by the nonprofit organizations The Nature Conservancy and Direct Relief.

    At the hackathon kickoff (which took place in Phoenix, Arizona, during the 2014 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing), participants around the world worked on these challenges, connecting virtually with one another. Those of us in Arizona were excited to link up with female hackers in India, Japan, Nepal, England, South Africa, Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Kenya, and Trinidad & Tobago. (You can see the conversations on our Facebook page.)

    I was extremely impressed by the solutions produced by our local winners in Phoenix—Team Recovery and Team Cosmos.

    • In response to the Disaster Response Challenge, Team Recovery created a quiz to help disaster-relief volunteers understand such roles as fundraising and coordinating with government and nonprofit agencies. The team intends to develop this solution into an interactive game for their final entry in December.
    • In response to the Climate Data Challenge, Team Cosmos built a story game that walked users through the climate data wizard from Nature Conservancy, helping users understand what the data really means. Their goal is to help users make sense of climate change and to recognize what they can do to help preserve planet Earth for future generations.

    Other teams around the world came up with equally impressive solutions, and now, with the extended deadline, we look forward to even more innovative ideas from women hackers worldwide. We encourage you to find an event near you or start an event of your own. As an added benefit, hackathon participants can now submit their finished solutions to the Imagine Cup World Citizenship or Gaming challenges. If you have any questions, feel free to contact Microsoft Research diversity.

    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research

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