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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

    The Cloud, to go: Project Hawaii


    Mobile devices, of all shapes and forms, are the fastest-growing computing segment. While mobile devices are ubiquitous, they offer limited computation, storage, and power. Cloud computing promises to fill this gap by providing computation and storage to mobile devices connected to the network. Project Hawaii enhances the mobile and cloud environments with web services to enable interesting application scenarios possible only with this combination, specially tailored for teaching at university level. Developed by Microsoft Research, Project Hawaii offers tools and resources tailored to the needs of today's computer science students and instructors.

    A key component of this project is engaging with universities around the world. This enables professors and students to work on projects reflective of the increasingly interconnected relationship between mobile devices and the cloud. To make project-based teaching and learning easier, Microsoft Research is providing instructors with access to an array of resources, including sample code, extra training materials, web services not generally available, Visual Studio, the mobile phones on which the applications are run (Windows Phone), and Microsoft's cloud-computing platform, Windows Azure.

    To date, three professors at major universities have completed semesters using Project Hawaii, and seven more are active this semester-more information is at the project website above. To further share information about the project, we're hosting an invitational event in conjunction with ACM MobiCom 2010, the 16th annual international Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking, being held September 20-24 in Chicago, IL. To learn more about participating in Project Hawaii as an instructor yourself, please contact us.  

    -Victor Bahl, principal researcher and manager, Networking Research Group, Microsoft Research Redmond

    -Arjmand Samuel, research program manager, External Research, a division of Microsoft Research

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    New community promotes research in sign language recognition


    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

    Getting back to first principles with eScience in the Cloud workshop


    As I prepare for the upcoming eScience in the Cloud workshop, I keeping coming back to what might sound like an obvious statement—even in these times when we’re trying to tackle hugely complex issues, like understanding climate change, and we are coping with heterogeneous data in volumes not previously encountered: as with life, science always finds a way. Okay, I’m paraphrasing from Jurassic Park, but you take my meaning.

    Facing these complex issues will involve working together—multiple research disciplines collaborating across multiple institutions, across multiple sectors of business, nonprofit, and government. A tall order? Certainly—but, with cooperation and communication, one that is tractable (notice I did not say easy). I hope to see that conversation continue at this workshop.

    Further your data-intensive research

    Yes, we are coping with massive data sets and have the means to collect and share them. Processing big data takes massive compute power; fortunately, compute power grows and becomes increasingly accessible every day. Visualizing data for exploration is critical—and never have I seen more tools to visualize and explore data than of late.

    The reason I call this blog “Getting back to first principles” is that many of the topics we will discuss at the eScience in the Cloud 2014 workshop were topics also discussed at Microsoft SciData 2004, our original eScience event, held some 10 years ago.

    Sure, the stakes and the availability of tools and compute resources seem higher (don’t they always?), yet the topics and goals are much the same: how we can use technology (in this case, the cloud) to expedite scientific discoveries. This is why, when my co-chair and colleague, Dennis Gannon (formerly an academic attendee) pulled the event together, he and I reviewed feedback from previous eScience events and focused on answering these fundamental questions: how is Microsoft going to help? and what resources can we make available?

    Like SciData 2004, the upcoming event will feature not only academics discussing their solutions to compute problems in science, but also Microsoft researchers from a variety of disciplines talking about how you can use their tools to reach your objectives. Even the product teams are becoming involved. They will demonstrate how some of their new offerings—many freely available—can help researchers achieve their goals.

    I hope you will join us April 29–30, at the Microsoft Research Lab in Redmond, Washington, to find out how to further your research in the cloud-computing age. Learn more about the event and register.

    If you can arrive a day earlier, we’re holding a one-day training event that teaches how to use Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud-computing platform, for research. This April 28 event is part of the Windows Azure for Research program.

    Kristin Tolle, Director of Environmental Science Infrastructure Development, Microsoft Research Connections

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