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Microsoft Research's 7th annual eScience Workshop is in full swing this week in lovely Berkeley, California. This event has brought together over 200 scientists from diverse fields (and diverse geographies), all united around their interest in using data-intensive science to advance their research. The theme of this year's workshop is "Scaling the Science," which is all about understanding processes at the molecular level and then scaling them up to larger systems-say, the human body or worldwide evaporation patterns.
New technologies in the physical and biological sciences play a huge role in this scaling effort, and this year's eScience workshop showcases several. In particular, we are excited to be highlighting the Microsoft Biology Foundation (MBF) and environmental research collaboration between Microsoft Research and UC Berkeley that leverages MODISAzure.
MBF is a prime example of the power of using enormous datasets to advance research. It provides researchers with advanced tools to detect connections among a vast store of bioinformatics functions-such as finding a correlation between a particular human gene sequence and the likelihood of developing a certain disease. Researchers at Johnson & Johnson are already using MBF to build and mine advanced biological and chemical databases, helping them to make discoveries more rapidly. By taking advantage of MBF's store of pre-existing functions, the Johnson & Johnson scientists don't have to reinvent the wheel as they search for meaningful linkages among bioinformatics data. This is a huge timesaver-and a potential lifesaver.
MBF is part of the Microsoft Biology Initiative, and is available under an open source license. It is freely downloadable at http://research.microsoft.com/bio/.
Another technology for data-intensive research leverages MODISAzure. The new technology takes images from MODIS, a NASA satellite that takes pictures of patches of the Earth, and then runs them through an image processing pipeline on the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud-computing platform. Records from ground-based sensors are layered in, and then the mammoth dataset is combined via biophysical modeling. This research allows scientists from diverse disciplines to share data and algorithms, which enables them to better visualize and understand how ecosystems behave as climate change occurs. By so doing, it takes earth science a giant step toward having systems that are present everywhere and running all the time. Using this research, scientists will be able to mine a vast array of data to better understand such environmental issues as the impact of specific sources of CO2 emissions on climate change in a given ecosystem. The project was created by Dennis Baldocchi, biometeorologist at U.C. Berkeley, Youngryel Ryu, biometerologist at Harvard University, and Catharine van Ingen, Microsoft eScience researcher. Tony Hey - corporate vice president of the External Research Division of Microsoft Research
This week, technology-minded women from the across the United States have descend on Atlanta for the annual Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Women in Computing, an annual conference that spotlights women’s contributions in computer science, information technology, research, and engineering. Named for the legendary computer scientist, U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, past GHCs have drawn 1,500 or more participants and dozens of corporate sponsors. The 2010 GHC runs from September 28 through October 2.
I’m happy to report that Microsoft has a major presence at this year’s event, sending a total of 80 participants, including four VPs, among them Rick Rashid, senior vice president and head of Microsoft Research (MSR) worldwide. The other veep attendees are Roz Ho, corporate vice president for Premium Mobile Experiences; Bill Laing, corporate vice president of the Server and Cloud Division; and Ted Kummert, senior vice president of the Business Platform Division. Other senior executives attending include Rico Malvar, chief scientist and distinguished engineer for Microsoft Research.
GHC always attracts a large number of students, offering fertile ground for corporate recruiters. So it’s no wonder that the Microsoft contingent boasts 23 recruiters, representing such diverse areas of the company as MSR, the Business Marketing Organization (BMO), and HR College Recruiting. Microsoft recruiters discovered the power of GHC last year, when they met many talented undergraduate and graduate women, and there’s no reason to believe that this year’s attendees will be any different. A bonus for recruiters and job seekers this year is the addition of the GHC Career Fair and Resume Clinic, on September 28.
In addition to VPs and recruiters, Microsoft will be well represented by developers, many of whom are actively participating in scheduled workshops and presentations. These range from “Cloud Computing—Turning the World into One Supercomputer,” by Linda Apsley; to “Use Your Facebook Addiction for Good: How Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media Can Help You Find a Job, Improve Your Business, and Collaborate Across Boundaries,” with Jennifer Marsman; and “10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started My Career,” with Kate Kelly. All in all, “softies” have a role in 20 talks and presentations, reminding attendees that Microsoft remains one of the most exciting, vibrant employers in the tech world. In addition, Microsoft Research is the sponsor of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Student Research Competition (SRC), which takes place on Wednesday, September 29, and recognizes the research accomplishments of women undergrads and grads. This provides yet one more example of the company’s overwhelming support of GHC and its mission to attract the best and brightest women to computing. —Jane Prey, senior research program manager for Microsoft External Research
In the realm of applied research, perhaps nothing is more satisfying than working on projects that can help save lives. Such is the case with a unique project at the University of Massachusetts Lowell that combines Microsoft Surface and Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio in a Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) application to create novel remote controls for rescue robots. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time these two technologies have been used together—tell us if you know of others! Once perfected, this approach could enable emergency responders to safely maneuver rescue robots through buildings damaged by earthquakes, fire, or even terrorist attacks.
The groundbreaking work was dramatically presented on the Web in August, when doctoral candidate Mark Micire posted a live video of his PhD defense showing how to control swarms of robots using the Surface table as a touch controller. A new, higher quality video of the thesis defense and an overview video have recently been posted online. The overview shows how a team of rescue robots could be controlled remotely by using the Surface table and a device known as the DREAM Controller (a lovely acronym for Dynamically, Resizing, Ergonomic, And Multi-touch Controller).
The system could be a tremendous boon for emergency responders, who now must often wait 12 to 24 hours to obtain geo-referenced data that combine notes from rescue workers in the field with paper maps and building plans. During Hurricane Katrina, for example, many response groups were still using hand-drawn paper maps. Additionally, robot cameras sent video only to the site operators—not immediately to the command staff.
The proposed system would obviate these problems by creating a common computing platform that would bring all this information to the command staff, enabling them to more effectively utilize rescue robots. As Micire describes in his presentation, "A single-robot operator control unit and a multi-robot command and control interface [can be] used to monitor and interact with all of the robots deployed at a disaster response. Users can tap and drag commands for individual or multiple robots through a gesture set designed to maximize ease of learning."
An example of the burgeoning research field of NUI—or Natural User Interaction—this work "illustrates just one of the many exciting new directions enabled by advanced technologies in the human-computer interface," says ER's NUI Theme Director, Kristin Tolle. The project, which was supervised by UMass Lowell's renowned robotics expert, Professor Holly Yanco, also demonstrates the great synergy that can arise from collaborations between Microsoft Research and leading academic institutions. By empowering Yanco and Micire's research with cutting-edge tools, a potentially life-saving technology is in the offing.
This work was partly supported by a grant from Microsoft Research under our Human-Robot Interaction RFP (Request For Proposals).
—Stewart Tansley, senior research program manager, External Research, a division of Microsoft Research