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Today’s world is more interconnected than ever. The digital revolution has made it possible to collaborate with colleagues worldwide—which is good news not just for businesses, but also for all fields of scientific research. We’ve also witnessed a tremendous rise in big data analytics—which is making a big impact on how research is conducted.
These changes have been particularly rapid and powerful in Asia. Today, researchers in Asia are awash in the data deluge, as they, like their counterparts in other parts of the world, strive to organize, analyze, and utilize big data in genetics, urban planning, ecology, and economics, just to name a few areas.
The computing resources required to handle big data can be enormous, often stretching beyond what is available in even a large standalone data center. This is where the computational power and scalability of cloud computing really shines. To help scientific researchers learn how to take advantage of cloud computing, Microsoft Research developed the Microsoft Azure for Research program, which helps researchers harness the power of Microsoft Azure, Microsoft’s cloud-computing platform.
For Microsoft Research Asia, it has been an exciting and inspiring journey to promote Microsoft Azure in the Asia-Pacific region during the past year. One of the most compelling components of the Microsoft Azure for Research program is a series of free training events that are being offered at sites throughout the world. These classes, which are open to researchers and students from universities and nonprofit research laboratories, provide hands-on training on how to use Microsoft Azure to conduct data-intensive science. Participants access Microsoft Azure through a browser on their own laptop (regardless of operating system), as experts guide them through the ins and outs of performing data-intensive research in the cloud. The training content starts with the basics of cloud computing and progresses to advanced topics on the use of Microsoft Azure for research.
To date, we have held nine of these two-day events in Asia: two in Beijing, two in Taiwan, and one each in Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Nanjing. Attendees have included more than 420 of faculty members and graduate students representing a spectrum of scientific disciplines, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. One of the participants, Dr. Guangjun Zhang of Peking University, observed, “the Azure for Research training guided us in becoming familiar with web sites, virtual machines, cloud services, and related topics. It also gave us the opportunity to get answers and advice from experts from Microsoft Research. The training imparted a lot of positive inspiration.” Yohan Chon, a PhD candidate from Yonsei University who attended the training in Korea, commented that the training “was very practical and useful.”
We plan to hold more Microsoft Azure for Research training events in additional locations in the future. Meanwhile, we are working on the Microsoft Azure for Research Award program, which offers sizable grants of Microsoft Azure resources for worthy proposals. As of now, 34 research proposals from Asia have been selected by the Microsoft Azure global team. We anticipate positive outcomes from these proposals and look forward to continuing to help researchers in the Asia-Pacific region use Microsoft Azure for their research. The deadline for the current round of proposals for Microsoft Azure for Research Awards is Tuesday, April 15; the next submission deadline will be June 15.
Microsoft Azure is a powerful and highly reliable tool for data-intensive scientific research, and we are extremely pleased to be offering these training events and grants to help researchers tap into the power and efficiency of cloud computing.
—Tim Pan, UR Director, Microsoft Research Asia
When world-class research organizations work together on a long-term basis, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. That premise underlies Microsoft Research’s collaborative projects and joint ventures around the globe, including our recently renewed joint research center with Inria (the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation).
Since its founding in 2006, the Microsoft Research – Inria Joint Centre has innovatively applied computer science and mathematics to a host of scientific challenges, from formal methods for mathematics to distributed systems and security, computer vision and medical imaging, machine learning and big data, and social networks and privacy.
Microsoft Research – Inria includes 100 researchers overall: 40 permanent researchers from Inria, 30 permanent researchers from Microsoft Research, and 30 non-permanent researchers (interns and postdoctoral and PhD students, representing some 23 nationalities). Today, May 19, the Joint Centre continued its quest to use computing to help solve big problems, hosting an event that reported on the ambitious projects currently underway (see the list later in this blog). The event also featured the following keynotes from some of the world’s foremost computing experts, including Jeanette Wing, corporate vice president of Microsoft Research, who gave an inspiring presentation on how the joint research center is important to science, technology and society.
Jeanette Wing, corporate vice president of Microsoft Research
Georges Gonthier, principal researcher and team leader at Inria
Bertrand Thirion, director of research at the Joint Centre
The Joint Centre is currently focusing on the following projects:
Projects on formal methods and their applications
Projects on machine learning and big data
Projects on computer vision and medical imaging
Projects on social networks and privacy
All told, this one-day event captured the essence of the valuable research taking place at the Microsoft Research – Inria Joint Research Centre, and it points out the value of our long-term investments in collaborative ventures.
—Scarlet Schwiderski-Grosche, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA
—Pierre-Louis Xech, Microsoft Research-Inria Joint Centre Deputy Director, Microsoft France
Back in February at TechForum, Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer, and Don Mattrick, president of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business (IEB), announced that Microsoft Research and IEB would release a non-commercial Kinect for Windows software development kit this spring. Addressing a growing body of academic researchers and enthusiasts who are anxious to build applications employing Kinect's natural user interface, Mundie and Mattrick offered tantalizing promises of access to Kinect's system capabilities, including audio, system APIs, and direct control of the Kinect sensor.
Today at the MIX developer conference in Las Vegas, Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of the Microsoft .NET Developer Platform, unveiled three key features of the upcoming Kinect for Windows SDK: robust skeletal tracking, advanced audio capabilities, and XYZ depth camera. He also announced the launch of a new website for the SDK, where you can subscribe to a newsfeed and be notified as soon as the SDK is available for download.
Our hope is that this "starter kit" for application developers will make it easier for the academic research and enthusiast communities to create even richer experiences by using Kinect technology. Here are a few details on each of the SDK's ground-breaking NUI features:
As is often the case, the sum of these features is greater than the parts. By combining the audio, depth, and image data, developers will have great opportunities to build deeper NUI experiences. And just to give his audience a taste of what these features will enable, Guthrie demoed a version of the WorldWide Telescope that you can interact with by using gestures—a feature built on the SDK platform.
MIX was an ideal setting for announcing the new SDK features, as this annual gathering brings together developers, designers, UX experts, and business professionals who are creating some of the most innovative consumer sites on the web and beyond. The SDK feature announcements will be highlighted to the academic research community this week at the Microsoft Research Software Summit in Paris.
So, it's onward and upward with the Kinect for Windows SDK. We're confident that this non-commercial SDK will fuse the work of Microsoft Research with the creativity of the academic research and enthusiast communities to deliver NUI applications that will revolutionize our relationship with computers.
—Tony Hey, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Research Connections