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As I listened to U.S. President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address in January, I was struck by the emphasis he placed on addressing global climate change and the need for clean energy. “The path toward sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult,” the president said, but he also noted that it will spawn technology that “will power new jobs and new industries.”
Data-intensive analysis plays a key role in the design of energy-efficient buildings.© Starp Estudi
Those statements had special resonance for me, as I had recently sat in on discussions of one such new technology: a set of next-generation architectural design tools that will use cloud computing to simulate a future building’s energy consumption. Researchers at Microsoft Research Connections and the Royal Danish Academy are collaborating with Green Prefab, a small startup in northern Italy, to develop these eco-friendly civil engineering tools.
The technology to perform energy-use simulations—parametric building performance simulations, to use the precise terminology—has been around for a while. But despite its potential for optimizing building designs, these energy studies are rarely performed, because complex parametric analysis models require simulation on a scale that is nowadays only attainable in research laboratories that are equipped with enormous computing power. After all, architectural design firms, most of which are small or medium-sized companies, cannot afford the supercomputers that would reduce the simulation time to a manageable level. Happily, cloud computing has the potential to change this.
Green Prefab is developing a library of prefabricated green building components that can be used to design eco-friendly buildings. During the design phase, architects will be able to access civil engineering services in the cloud to produce energy efficiency reports, conduct in-depth structural analysis, and view photo-realistic images of the building—long before the actual groundbreaking. Green Prefab is collaborating with Microsoft Research Connections to develop some of the first tools in the Windows Azure cloud computing environment. And the Institute of Architectural Technology of the Royal Danish Academy has conducted an experiment that proves the potential of this approach.
The Academy’s experiment used Green Prefab’s prototype web-based tools and cloud computing to execute parametric energy simulations, enabling an experienced architect to use 220,184 variable combinations for creating an energy optimization of a hypothetical office building. The objective was to show how architects could use cloud computing to do what heretofore had required extremely large-scale computation clusters. In a parallel experiment, the same architect used the business-as-usual approach on the same building, conceiving and testing 50 design options with a standard dual-core PC.
In the end, the cloud-based approach achieved about twice the potential energy savings: 33 percent, compared to only 17 percent for the conventional method. And using the cloud reduced the computing time to a manageable level: running the 220,184 parametric simulations on a standard dual-core PC would have taken 122 days; running those same energy simulations in the cloud took only three days.
Microsoft Research’s collaboration with Green Prefab leaves little doubt that new cloud-based tools have the potential to aid in the design of buildings that consume substantially less energy than most buildings today. Scientific breakthroughs like these are helping researchers make great strides worldwide in achieving the overall goals of green building—and puts us one step further down that path toward sustainable energy that President Obama envisioned.
—Dennis Gannon, Director of Cloud Research Strategy, Microsoft Research Connections
On Monday, March 18, 2013, Microsoft rolled out the latest release of the Kinect for Windows software development kit (SDK). This represents the largest update to the technology since the SDK was first commercially released in February last year, and it includes the Kinect Fusion technology that originated in Microsoft Research.
Kinect Fusion, an implementation of Microsoft Research’s 3-D surface reconstruction technology, can create highly accurate 3-D renderings of people and objects in real time.
The new release has a number of features that will benefit the academic and research community:
Another helpful development: earlier this month, Kinect for Windows announced broader availability of academic pricing through Microsoft Authorized Educational Resellers (AERs). Most of these resellers can now offer academic pricing directly to educational institutions; academic researchers; and students, faculty, and staff of public or private K-12 schools, vocational schools, junior colleges, colleges, universities, and scientific or technical institutions. Academic pricing on the Kinect for Windows sensor is currently available through AERs in the United States, Taiwan, and Hong Kong SAR. We eagerly look forward to a seeing what the academic community does with the new features!
—Stewart Tansley, Director, Microsoft Research Connections—Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect and Technical Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA
Today is a proud day for Microsoft Research Connections and our academic collaborators, as two of our research efforts have been named 2013 IDG's Computerworld Honors Program Laureates. The Computerworld Honors program, founded in 1988, recognizes organizations and individuals who have used information technology to promote positive social, economic, and educational change. The program judges reviewed more than 700 nominations this year to select 269 Laureates from 29 countries. Microsoft Research is being honored for our collaborative work on combatting scourges that affect millions around the world: pneumonia and HIV infection.
Working in collaboration with the University of Oxford, our research strives to make pneumonia vaccine more effective.
Pneumonia persists as a leading cause of death in children worldwide, despite the availability of a vaccine. To be properly vaccinated against the disease, children must receive a series of three shots over a period of several months. The research for which we’re being honored, “Adjusting Pneumonia Vaccination Periods to Save Lives,” strives to make vaccination more effective by changing the timing of the shots. In collaboration with the University of Oxford, we have developed software that can be used to create and deploy clinical trial support infrastructure in a fraction of the time, at a fraction of the cost, of conventional methods. The system can collect well-defined and standardized data from multiple sources; however, the greater benefit is its ability to combine data simply and efficiently, enabling large-scale data analysis. Such analysis is now being used by the Oxford Vaccine Group to evaluate the effectiveness of revised schedules of immunization.
Our HIV program involves support of the efforts of the Ragon Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital to create an effective HIV immunization agent.
HIV infection remains another prolific killer, taking the lives of approximately 5,000 people a day—despite the emergence of antiviral therapies that can control, but not cure, the disease. Until a cure is found, the best hope in controlling HIV infection lies in creating an effective vaccine. This is why our second honored program, “Uncovering New Ways the Human Immune System Fights HIV,” involves support for the efforts of the Ragon Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital to create an effective HIV immunization agent. In collaboration with South African healthcare workers, the Ragon Institute has recruited large numbers of South African HIV-positive patients, whose blood samples enable studies of the body’s defense mechanisms in the laboratory. Joining the Ragon Institute in this effort are the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) and the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH). Microsoft Research is working with the Ragon Institute to quantify how the immune system attacks various fragments of HIV—data that we hope will, one day, lead to a vaccine.
These two global research programs not only capture the very essence of our mission at Microsoft Research Connections: to collaborate with the world’s top academic researchers and institutions to develop technologies that fuel data-intensive scientific, but also help Microsoft Research improve “Big Data” algorithms to further advance Microsoft products. We look forward to the presentation at The Computerworld Honors Laureate Ceremony and Awards Gala at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C., on June 3, 2013.
—Tony Hey, Vice President of Microsoft Research Connections