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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

    Workshop Bolsters Chinese Research Uses of Kinect for Windows

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    Kinect for Windows Workshop 2011 - December 2, 2011, Beijing, China

    On December 2, 2011, Microsoft Research Asia held the Kinect for Windows Workshop 2011 in Beijing, China. The event, which drew more than 100 participants, including faculty and students from Chinese universities, provided a forum for exploring research that utilizes Kinect for Windows. It not only offered a great opportunity for faculty members and students to showcase their Kinect-based research and exchange creative ideas, it also fostered enhanced cooperation between Chinese academic institutions and Microsoft Research Asia.

    The workshop kicked off with a welcome speech from Baining Guo, assistant managing director of Microsoft Research Asia. He highlighted Microsoft Research Asia’s contributions in research fields that use Kinect. His speech was followed by a keynote speech from Stewart Tansley, director at Microsoft Research Connections. Tansley shared the latest strategies for and status of Kinect for Windows on a global level.

    Baining Guo and Stewart Tansley present at the Kinect for Windows Workshop 2011 in Beijing, China

    After opening addresses, the university participants divided into faculty and student groups. The faculty participants heard lectures on Kinect-based research and development from four Microsoft Research Asia researchers: Yichen Wei (Visual Computing Group), Xin Tong (Internet Graphics Group), Sergio Paolantonio (HCI Group), and Frank Soong (Speech Group). These lectures introduced the audience to such research prototypes as the Kinect Identity Project and Kinect-based Object Digitization Project.

    In addition, a number of professors shared their own projects, which captured the depth of the innovative research surrounding Kinect. Highlights included presentations by:

    Professor Xilin Chen, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who introduced his project, Sign Language Recognition and Translation Based on Kinect, which uses multinational input data for sign recognition. The resulting technology could make it easier for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing to communicate, thereby helping them function more effectively in their daily life.

    Professor Lianwen Jin, of the South China University of Technology, who demonstrated his project, Writing in the Air by Hand—Recognition of Virtual Handwritten Characters Using Kinect, which aims to develop a Chinese character recognition system for Kinect. The project addresses the broader problem of providing a way for Kinect users to input text, enabling them to do so simply by using hand gestures.

    Professor Ligang Liu, of Zhejiang University, who showcased his project, Capturing Human Models Using Multiple Kinects, which uses multiple Kinect units to set up a novel scanning system for capturing three-dimensional (3-D) models of the human body. This research takes advantage of the Kinect sensors—which are designed to facilitate computer-human interaction—to obtain in-depth 3-D data on the entire body, even when the body is in motion. A first possible application could be personal avatars that help users get a good fit for clothing they purchase online.

    Researchers from Microsoft Research Asia were actively involved in all three of these projects, demonstrating the robust state of collaboration between Microsoft Research Asia and Chinese academic institutions. Commenting on the importance of such interactive projects, Professor Chen stated, “In the future, when realizing our ideas, we hope to increase our cooperation with Microsoft Research Asia.”

    The student group attended a number of sessions tailored specifically for them, including a speech on computer art, delivered by Tsinghua University Professor Yingqing Xu, and an explanation of the operating principles of Kinect, presented by DJ Lan of Microsoft Asia R&D. Two Microsoft Research Asia interns also shared their Kinect application development experience with the student participants and joined them in hands-on projects.

    The demo session generated the most excitement, and featured 15 booths of posters, videos, and demo programs for Kinect projects. The booths were organized by professors and students who delivered detailed demonstrations of their projects. The demos attracted many attendees, including Microsoft Research Asia staff members who participated in discussions with professors and students, and were inspired by their innovative ideas. 
     
    Demo sessions at the Kinect for Windows Workshop

    The workshop also inspired faculty and students, who left with a better understanding of the possibilities for Kinect-based research. In addition, the workshop bolstered opportunities for future collaboration between Microsoft Research Asia and the Chinese academic community. As Lolan Song, the senior director of Microsoft Research Asia observed, “It’s a great opportunity for Microsoft Research Asia to strengthen communication and collaboration with faculty and students. Microsoft Research Asia is committed to exploring more qualified research projects with Chinese universities and academic institutions, as we believe such collaboration will have long-term social benefits.”

    Guobin Wu, Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Asia

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    Addressing the Need for More Women in Computer Science Programs

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    Last year, women accounted for only 14 percent of computer science college graduates in the United States, according to the Computing Research Association. That’s down from 35 percent in 1985, despite U.S. Labor Department statistics that show computing to be among the fastest-growing, most in-demand fields, with too few qualified candidates to fill the available openings. In addition, studies reveal that executives value the variety of perspectives that comes with team diversity, yet another reason for needing greater female participation in computing careers.

    Last year, women accounted for only 14 percent of computer science college graduates in the United States.

    As a technology company and innovation leader, Microsoft is passionate about increasing the participation of women in computing, which means attracting more female students to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs. CEO Steve Ballmer has acknowledged this need, observing that “…we need to keep more women interested longer in their lives in STEM subjects.” We know this will require a concerted effort across private companies, NGOs, IGOs, government, and academia. We recognize that it’s vital for young women to get support during their undergraduate and graduate studies and to be exposed to opportunities in computer science, which is why Microsoft Research is proud to support the NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund and to fund the Microsoft Research Graduate Women’s Scholarship.

    I remember my first year of college engineering studies: I took Computer Science 101, studying PASCAL. I found it extremely boring, and I had no idea what careers were available in computer science, even though I was working at the school’s computer center where I supported students in computer labs, installed network cards into student computers, and helped the IT staff build the university’s firewall. At the time, I had no idea these duties, which I really enjoyed, were potential careers in computer science. After being approached by one of the professors to conduct research on building an animatronic bison for the engineering department, I decided to focus my energies on mechanical engineering and robotics. I didn’t realize that robotics could be part of the computer science world. A future in computer science engineering seemed out of the question—so there I was: one less woman in computer science.

    Today, I want to do everything possible so that young women don’t make the same mistakes as I did. It is critical for us at Microsoft Research to familiarize young women with the amazing career opportunities in computing. In furtherance of that goal, I would like to highlight the programs and recipients of this year’s NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund and the Microsoft Research Graduate Women’s Scholarship.

    NCWIT is a national coalition of more than 200 prominent corporations, academic institutions, government agencies, and nonprofits working to strengthen the technology workforce and cultivate innovation by increasing the participation of women. Its Academic Alliance brings together more than 250 distinguished representatives from the computer science and IT departments of colleges across the country, spanning research universities, community colleges, women’s colleges, and minority-serving institutions. In 2007, Microsoft Research initiated the Seed Fund in partnership with NCWIT Academic Alliance. The NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund provides U.S. academic institutions with funds (up to US$15,000 per project) to develop and implement initiatives for recruiting and retaining women in computer science and information technology fields of study. To date, the Seed Fund has awarded US$315,450. In partnership with NCWIT Academic Alliance, we would like to announce the 2012 winners:

    • Claremont Graduate University will team with Scripps College Academy to provide workshops that provide high school, undergraduate, and graduate students with mentoring and support to pursue careers in technology and computing. Project Principal Investigator: Gondy Leroy.
    • Fisk University will integrate software engineering into its GUSTO (Girls Using Scientific Tools for Opportunities) project, which introduces, encourages, and prepares low-income and minority girls for STEM careers. Project Principal Investigator: Ray Bullock.
    • Union College will pilot a successful Seed Fund project from another institution: a social robotics outreach workshop in which women computing undergraduates serve as mentors and educators for middle- and high-school girls. Project Principal Investigator: Nick Webb.
    • The University of Central Arkansas will build a female-friendly environment for computing majors by recruiting a first-year cohort of women and retaining them with opportunities for learning, research, service, and leadership. Project Principal Investigators: Chenyi Hu, Yu Sun, and Karen Thessing.
    • The University of Virginia will focus on actively recruiting computing graduate students from traditionally underrepresented groups by providing enhanced exposure to graduate programs, facilities, faculty, and graduate student life. Project Principal Investigator: Gwen Busby.

    In addition, we know that a woman’s first two years of computer science graduate study are the most critical. During this time, she must determine her area of focus, increase her confidence in the field, enhance her capabilities in publishing and research, and build her network. This is why Microsoft Research created the Women’s Graduate Scholarship, which provides a US$15,000 stipend plus a US$2,000 travel and conference allowance to women in their second year of graduate study (at a U.S. or Canadian university), helping them gain visibility in their departments, acquire mentorship, and cover the burgeoning cost of graduate programs. Winners of the 2012 Microsoft Research Graduate Scholarship are:

    Recipient University
    Danielle Bragg Princeton University
    Elizabeth Murnane Cornell University
    Emily Sergel University of California, San Diego
    Jennifer Townsend Georgia Institute of Technology
    Joanna Drummond University of Toronto
    Kaitlin Speer Northwestern University
    Valkyrie Savage University of California, Berkeley
    Vanessa Sochat Stanford University
    Veronica Catete University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    Yubin Kim Carnegie Mellon University


    Congratulations to all the winning programs and students. We look forward to great things from 2012’s women in computing.

    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Education and Scholarly Communication Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Managing the Scientific Data Explosion: a Response to the OSTP Digital Data RFI

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    Scientists can agree that there’s a lot of data out there, and that we could be using it more efficiently. Now the White House has asked for input on how to do just that.

    Data intensive researchData from scientific research is important to a diverse array of user communities from researchers, governments, and companies to wildlife managers, transportation managers, hospitals, and teachers. As the quantity of data in individual and community collections grows, its potential value also increases but, unfortunately, so do the associated challenges of data access, privacy, storage, and archiving. These challenges are social, economic, and technical, and the solutions will require collaborative contributions from universities, federal agencies, companies, scientific societies, and other organizations.

    Effective approaches to realizing the benefits of scientific data are likely to require many elements, including:

    • Providing incentives and rewards for sharing data
    • Creating and disseminating software tools and online services that enable users to find and analyze data of interest
    • Developing and using standard metadata schemas, well-documented data formats, and access protocols to enable data re-use and cross-domain fusing of data
    • Facilitating systems by which funding agencies and users can contribute to the costs of data storage, sharing, and analysis
    • Developing systems and metrics to determine when and how data is worth preserving and sharing

    Microsoft believes that these are challenges worth tackling, and that coordinated efforts are urgently needed to advance our ability to curate, preserve, and use digital scientific data to maximize the societal and economic impact of research. Therefore, on January 12, 2012, Microsoft submitted our input in response to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) request for information (RFI) on Public Access to Digital Data Resulting From Federally Funded Scientific Research.

    The Microsoft response emphasizes two areas: Economic Models and Software Tools and Online Services. We discuss that nations, to facilitate research and realize societal benefits of that research, should create environments in which innovation can occur around the critical elements that enable data sharing, retention, and use, and the costs should be shared among the various groups that receive benefits from the data and associated discoveries. In some cases, dissemination and use of specific data sets are necessary to meet high priority scientific, policy, economic, or societal goals, and thus should be supported by relevant government agencies. In other cases, there are opportunities to create a tool or service infrastructure that enhances the value of data and allows the provider to monetize access at a level sufficient to cover the investment made in creating or maintaining the data archive. We emphasize that in determining which data to share and how, it is important to recognize that consumers of a particular data set may be outside of the research community that created it (for example, in another scientific field or at a commercial enterprise). These consumers should still help define the value of the data and drive the creation of tools to facilitate its cross-domain use. They must also share in paying for its maintenance costs. Overall, we stress the value that innovations in information technology, including emerging cloud services, can bring to facilitating data sharing and analysis and enabling collaborative, multi-disciplinary, and international science.

    While the Microsoft response to the OSTP RFI on access to digital scientific data focuses on a few specific areas, it builds on collaborative work already done by the research community and Federal agencies in this area. Experts from Microsoft participate regularly in and support such efforts. In particular, we remain committed to the conclusions of the National Science Foundation’s Advisory Committee for Cyberinfrastructure’s Task Force on Data and Visualization and the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access. We also agree with many of the challenges described and conclusions reached in the National Science Board's draft Data Policies Report released on January 5, 2012.

    The above reports and activities focus on the policy side of realizing the value of scientific data. Microsoft is also working to create, demonstrate, and implement the technical side of these challenges. In the book The Fourth Paradigm, the authors identify a range of opportunities where access to data is fundamentally changing the way science is conducted. Microsoft, in partnership with the academic community, is working to put these ideas into practice. Examples include WorldWide Telescope; the new earth-science data explorer, Layerscape; the Eye on Earth network for environmental maps; and data analytics tools such as Daytona and Excel DataScope.

    Elizabeth Grossman, Technology Policy Group, Microsoft Corporation

    January 31, 2012, update: The White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) has publicly posted all of the responses to the RFI.

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