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Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

The Microsoft Research Outreach 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 Outreach Blog

    Low-Energy GPS Sensing Looms Large


    Location sensing has become ubiquitous—it’s present every time you turn on your smartphone or engage your car’s navigation system. It’s also become critical to a variety of outdoors and remote research applications, such as wildlife tracking, participatory environmental sensing, and personal health and wellness monitoring.

    The Global Positioning System (GPS) is commonly used for tagging the location of data samples. But traditional GPS location fixing is a power hog; in fact, the typical smartphone battery will drain in about six hours if the phone’s GPS is constantly running, which is particularly problematic in remote locations. Moreover, a smartphone is fairly bulky—not exactly the kind of sensor you can, for example, attach to fruit bats to monitor their nocturnal flights.

    Cloud-offloaded GPS may provide researchers with an energy-efficient solution for location sensing.
    Cloud-offloaded GPS may provide researchers with an energy-efficient solution for
    location sensing.

    In a paper titled, “Energy Efficient GPS Sensing with Cloud Offloading” (PDF file, 6.13 MB), we propose a potential solution to this battery power and size dilemma. This paper describes cloud-offloaded GPS (CO-GPS), an innovative way to perform location sensing by using tiny embedded devices and the cloud to share the work of GPS signal acquisition and processing. By logging only a few milliseconds of raw GPS signals, the device can store enough information for resolving GPS-based location, and it consumes two to three orders of magnitude less energy than stand-alone or mobile phone GPS sensors. The signals are then sent to the cloud with sensor data to reconstruct the location and time that the samples are taken. In delay-tolerant, data acquisition applications—such as animal tracking, float sensor networks, participatory environmental sensing, and long-range time synchronization—CO-GPS is ideal for extending the battery life of mobile devices.

    The paper received the Best Paper Award at ACM SenSys 2012—the premier conference on networked embedded sensing systems and a top forum for the sensor network research community. Many attendees consider the work to be a breakthrough in pushing continuous location sensing to extremely low power devices that can be carried by humans, animals, or recreational equipment.

    We anticipate that CO-GPS will be a boon to citizen-science efforts, particularly those that rely on participatory sensing from embedded devices. For example, the CO-GPS approach is a key enabling technology in Microsoft Research Project CLEO, a participatory environmental sensing system that we are showcasing at the 2012 AGU Fall Meeting this week.

    Jie Liu, Principal Researcher and Research Manager, Microsoft Research, Sensing and Energy Research Group

    Yan Xu, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

    EPA Cooperative R&D: Technology for Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration


    “Despite its size, Puget Sound is ecologically delicate; and while its symptoms of trouble are not easily visible, they are undeniable and getting worse.”
    —The Puget Sound Partnership

    Tony Hey, vice president, Microsoft Research Connections, and Dennis McLerran, regional administrator, EPA Region 10 sign the agreement.We at Microsoft Research Connections have begun work on a cooperative research and development (R&D) project with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that centers on the restoration of large aquatic ecosystems, particularly Puget Sound. On Friday, November 30, we got together and put our respective imprimaturs on the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), the formal agreement for this partnership. Now all that remains is to do the actual work! Here are some details about the project, which was created under the auspices of the Federal Technology Transfer Act, and why it is so exciting for us.

    As you may know, we have a history—under the leadership of Vice President Tony Hey—of collaborating with researchers outside of Microsoft. Often, we collaborate with academicians doing research in computer science or—in my case—using technology to cope with environmental and geoscience data. We’re also very interested in how science registers in the public domain. For example: land-use policy can benefit from scientific insight, and we think that if technology can help scientists do data-intensive research, it should also help us manage resources, find better ways to preserve habitat, and better share this information with farmers, tribes, municipalities, and the general public. Taking an active role in the stewardship of our shared environment is what the EPA is about, so we began talking with them about working together.

    Tony Hey, vice president, Microsoft Research Connections, and Dennis McLerran, regional administrator, EPA Region 10, shake on the agreement.
    Tony Hey, vice president, Microsoft Research Connections, and Dennis McLerran, regional administrator, EPA Region 10, shake on the agreement.

    It can be difficult to comprehend how big our environment is and yet how tiny its essential elements are. Viewing Puget Sound from 40,000 feet above, it is a vast, beautiful expanse of waterways, inlets, islands, and peninsulas that are crisscrossed with the indelible stamp of cities, roads, and ferry boats supporting the lives of a few million people. Drop your perspective to the shoreline of Fir Island (Washington), and you find green strands of eelgrass washed up on the beach; under a microscope, these strands explode into millions of nodules of chlorophyll, the stuff that converts sunlight into sugar and powers the entire food web all the way up through the salmon. My point is that we inhabit the land and we depend on the health of our natural environment: from the great waterways we use for shipping to the smallest microbes and molecules. As the Puget Sound Partnership has stated, we have work to do to restore and protect the ecological health of Puget Sound, but where to begin?

    The idea of this new cooperative R&D project with the EPA is to explore how available data and technology might be fused to help us better understand and meet the needs of the restoration community, including the kinds of cooperative relationships the community members want to build between the public, the land-holders, the decision makers at the county and city level, and so on. From this learning perspective, we are confident that we can imagine and build proof-of-concept solutions that would be openly available for further development and adoption. For example, we imagine (from preliminary work) applying PhotoSynth technology to the challenge of creating a more robust depiction of the shoreline. Human-built structures like sea walls are distributed throughout Puget Sound and can impact habitat, particularly for grazing fish that spawn in shallow water. More broadly, we see similar efforts at organizations like the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems (NANOOS) that aim to assemble and disseminate data about sea conditions, tides, and weather to help commercial fishing operations become more efficient.

    What more can be done? The opportunities are boundless! What is really exciting is that our colleagues at EPA and in the broader Puget Sound community share a passion for this work; we feel very fortunate to be a part of it and are enthusiastic about the opportunity to contribute.

    Rob Fatland, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

    TouchDevelop in Your Browser


    TouchDevelopAre you looking for a little extra cash for the upcoming holidays? Then you might be interested in creating some cool apps to sell in the Windows Store. Or maybe you’re simply curious and want to try your hand at developing for Windows 8 and Windows Phone. In either case, the newly released TouchDevelop Web App is for you.

    TouchDevelop Web App is a development environment to create apps on your tablet or smartphone, without requiring a separate PC. Scripts written by using TouchDevelop can access data, media, and sensors on the phone, tablet, and PC. The script can interact with cloud services, including storage, computing, and social networks. TouchDevelop lets you quickly create fun games and useful tools, turning your scripts into true Windows Phone and Windows 8 apps.
    A year ago, Microsoft Research released TouchDevelop for Windows Phone, which is being used by enthusiasts, students, and researchers to program their phones in fun, inventive, and interesting ways. These scripts are available at TouchDevelop for anyone to download and use.

    Ever since we released TouchDevelop, we’ve been eyeing the tablet form factor and working on a version for the browser. Now, with the release of TouchDevelop Web App, the wait is over: the tablet version is ready, so go play around with it.

    Get Microsoft Silverlight

    All TouchDevelop scripts that are developed on the smartphone can be downloaded to the tablet and run (if hardware allows). Any script that is developed on the tablet can also be accessed on the phone. And scripts can be converted to Windows Phone or Windows 8 apps and submitted to the Windows Phone Store or Windows Store, respectively.

    TouchDevelop Web App’s editor and programming language have been designed for tablet devices with touchscreens, but you can also use a keyboard and a mouse. So grab your web-enabled device and give the TouchDevelop Web App a try. It’s fun and easy, and could even put a little cash in your holiday-depleted wallet. Or at least give you bragging rights at family get-togethers.

    Arjmand Samuel, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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