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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.

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    Bringing the Cloud to a Smartphone Near You

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    Bringing the Cloud to a Smartphone Near YouOne of the coolest things about working in Microsoft Research is the opportunity to see what bright students can do with cutting-edge technology. Project Hawaii is a perfect example. This project, which began in January 2010, offers students the opportunity to explore how the cloud can enhance our mobile devices, especially the increasingly ubiquitous smartphone. In Project Hawaii, we’ve provided students with tools, services, and equipment for creating their own cloud-enabled mobile applications. The current Project Hawaii platform consists of a Windows Phone 7 smartphone and several cloud services, including Relay, Rendezvous, Optical Character Recognition, Speech to Text, and Windows Azure for computation and data storage.  

    Some 300 students at 21 universities (see the list of schools) participated in the project earlier this year, building approximately 80 cloud-enhanced apps for the Windows Phone 7. Past Project Hawaii apps have ranged from MobiSafe, which alerts drivers when they have entered an area with a high risk of traffic accidents, to ReceiptManager, which provides one convenient location to consolidate and view all the digital receipts that are generated by the user’s mobile payment applications. Then there’s Flagged Down, an app that lets users search for and hail cabs in their vicinity.

    Just imagine a scenario where MobiSafe alerts you—via a hands-free smartphone, of course—that you’re driving into an accident danger zone. You decide to park your car and, by using Flagged Down, you easily hail a nearby taxi, which takes you safely to your destination. You pay the driver with your debit card, and the amount is automatically added to your (unfortunately) growing stack of payments in the ReceiptManager.

    Sound far-fetched? Well, so did GPS and robotic vacuum cleaners not too long ago. Really, there is no limit to the possible applications that these talented, motivated students can conceive.

    Another Project Hawaii application has the potential to save lives by recording a heart patient’s EKG (electrocardiogram) and location and relaying these data to healthcare professionals via a web-based portal. Or maybe you’re a lonely zombie, pining away for another brain-chomping buddy. Fear not: a Project Hawaii game app will enable you to infect other players when they’re in physical proximity to you. Just think of the possibilities for a zombie mob-flash—or more seriously, the options for a variety of location-based games.

    Professor Nilanjan Banerjee, whose programming paradigms class at the University of Arkansas developed the above-mentioned remote EKG monitoring app, exudes a level of enthusiasm that is characteristic of faculty members who are involved in Project Hawaii. “Hawaii is a platform that helps rapid development of fairly complex applications. With the help of cloud services that can be accessed through simple intuitive APIs, the time to developing a sophisticated application is reduced considerably,” he says. “This is especially important in a project-oriented course, where the system needs to be built and adequately tested within a two-three month time frame.”

    “There are two ingredients that the Hawaii initiative provides that are key to the success of a mobile system or programming class,” continues Professor Banerjee. “First, for the instructor, it provides access to functional cloud services (and example source code) that he can use to demo cloud-enabled applications in class. Personally, I have found it very fruitful to demo services like the relay and speech-to-text in class and run my students through the client-side source code. Second, Hawaii provides us access to actual Windows Phones that students can play with—I have found that the interest of students is spiked when they work with real devices.”

    Another of Professor Banerjee’s classes, “Hot Topics in Mobile and Pervasive Computing,” developed Traveltant (shorthand for travel consultant), a Windows Phone 7 application that combines data from Facebook, Bing, and Yelp to provide personalized planning and recommendation to users while traveling.

    Several 2011 Project Hawaii apps will be demonstrated at the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit, which is in progress in Redmond, Washington, from July 18 to 20. One that we expect to generate great interest comes from Stanford University and was developed by a group of students in Professor Jay Borenstein’s Computer Science Innovation class who collaborated with Microsoft Research to create myscience, a platform that enables scientists to launch citizen-science projects instantly. By using this Windows Phone 7 experience, citizens can capture data through sensors on the phone and submit the data to various scientific studies.

    According to Professor Borenstein, “Project Hawaii was a key piece in enabling the sensor data from the phone to reach the Azure cloud in a reliable and efficient manner. In this case, Project Hawaii aided the development of software for creating substantial scientific data sets that would otherwise have been impractical to assemble. The tools made it possible for a team of students to create a full-featured application serving two audiences—scientists and ordinary citizens with Windows phones—in less than five months.”

    Like I said, one of the coolest things about working at Microsoft Research is seeing what creative young people can do with technology. Oh, and the free soda—that’s pretty cool, too.

    Arjmand Samuel, Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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    The Imagine Cup 2011 Winners Are…

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    The Imagine Cup 2011 winners are revealed!The Imagine Cup 2011 winners are revealed! The winning projects hail from Bangladesh, Brazil, Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, Korea, Poland, Romania, and Taiwan. At the awards ceremony, Microsoft announced a new US$3 million grant program to help recipients realize their vision.

    Congratulations to all the winners and every participant in this amazing competition! For more information, read the Research at Imagine Cup 2011 blog.

    —Stewart Tansley, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections, and Jim Pinkelman, Senior Director, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Research at Imagine Cup 2011

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    In nine years, the Imagine Cup has become one of the pre-eminent youth technology competitions in the world. This year, more than 350,000 young people from 183 countries and regions around the globe signed up to compete.

    Beginning last Friday evening and running through to Wednesday this week, more than 400 of the brightest young minds from more than 70 countries will be competing in the finals hosted in New York City, United States. These are the winners from all of the local, national, and regional competitions around the world over this past year.

    The students develop solutions for an enormous range of socially-relevant applications, including environmental issues, medical diagnosis, disaster relief, and technology access for the disabled. They mix and match Microsoft and other technologies to reach those solutions.

    More than 350,000 young people from 183 countries and regions around the globe signed up to compete in Imagine Cup 2011.

    Imagine Cup 2011 Video: Students Create a Better World Video 

    Microsoft Research has long been a collaborator with the event and this year is no exception. Notable this year has been the prominence of the Kinect for Windows Software Development Kit (SDK) beta, released less than a month ago. In common with so many enthusiasts around the world, the amazing Microsoft Kinect sensor and its powerful software, now officially available to developers on Windows 7 PCs with the SDK, has captured the imaginations of many of the student teams, some of which have already been using the SDK in their projects—an extraordinary effort in so short a time.

    In response to this enormous interest, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who opened the event with a keynote presentation, announced that all of the student finalists would receive Kinects as gifts to help inspire further innovation in natural user interfaces and beyond!

    To further help the students understand the capabilities of the device and its SDK, including access to the raw data streams, and the audio and visual processing (which includes skeletal tracking), Stewart Tansley presented a training class with Clint Rutkas from Channel 9’s Coding4Fun. The class generated a lot of interest from the students—who were eager to learn more about the Kinect for Windows SDK beta.

    Representing the culmination of decades of computer science research in audio and vision processing, the prominence of Kinect and the SDK at the event has been an inspiring testament to the practical influence of research on today’s emerging computer scientists.

    Furthering this message, Microsoft Research Connections corporate vice president Tony Hey presented a special session to the students entitled, “What it takes to be a researcher.”

    Tony recalled that Albert Einstein once said, “If we knew what we were doing it wouldn’t be research.” Tony addressed specifically those students who are considering graduate school and the potential rewards of a research career, but are unsure about the specific paths and options that are available to them. He shared from his extensive experience as a researcher and academic both in the United Kingdom and United States.

    Panel at the Women Innovators

    Panel at the Women Innovators (not in order): Jane Prey, senior program manager,
    Microsoft Research Connections; Earl Newsome, vice president Global Shared
    Services, Estée Lauder; Her Excellency, Meryl Frank, former ambassador and
    deputy U.S. representative to the Commission on the Status of Women (appointed
    by Barack Obama); Zainab Al-Suwaij, president of the American Islamic Congress;
    and Dr. Mary Fernandez, executive director of Dependable Distributed Computing
    Research at AT&T Labs.

    Last but not least, Jane Prey represented Microsoft Research on a stellar panel at the Women Innovators dinner. The other panelists included: Earl Newsome, vice president Global Shared Services, Estée Lauder; Her Excellency, Meryl Frank, former ambassador and deputy U.S. representative to the Commission on the Status of Women (appointed by Barack Obama); Zainab Al-Suwaij, president of the American Islamic Congress; and Dr. Mary Fernandez, executive director of Dependable Distributed Computing Research at AT&T Labs. The panel focused on how to help get more women involved in technology and encouraging the student women innovators attending to continue on their technical initiatives. Learn more about this special highlight.

    As we write this blog the day before the final winners of Imagine Cup 2011 are to be announced, we wish all competitors the best of luck for the competition and in their future careers, whether as researchers, entrepreneurs, or other champions of computer science!

    —Stewart Tansley, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections, and Jim Pinkelman, Senior Director, Microsoft Research Connections

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