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The neurosurgeon hovers over the patient, preparing to excise a life-threatening brain tumor. In this delicate operation, there is no margin for error: the tumor needs to be cut out with minimal damage to the surrounding healthy tissue. By using simple hand gestures, the surgeon signals a computer to display high-resolution scans of the patient’s brain, showing the physician where to place her scalpel, detailing the boundaries between diseased and healthy tissue. No longer must the neurosurgeon stop to refer to the patient’s image data during the operation, removing her gloves and potentially compromising the sterile surgical field. The upshot for the patient: reduced time under anesthesia and a lower risk of introduced infection.
Science fiction? Far from it. This scenario and others like it are on the verge of realization thanks to ground-breaking InnerEye project being conducted by Microsoft Research and a host of collaborators, including Johns Hopkins Medical Institute, The University of Oxford, Cornell Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Washington, Kings College London, and Cambridge University Hospitals.
The analysis of medical images is essential in modern medicine. As images have achieved higher and higher resolutions, the increasing amount of patient data has presented new challenges and opportunities, from diagnosis to therapy. The InnerEye research shows how a single, underlying image-recognition algorithm can enable a multitude of clinical applications, such as semantic image navigation, multimodal image registration, quality control, content-based image search, and natural user interfaces for surgery.
InnerEye takes advantage of advances in computer-human interactions that have put computers on a path to work for us and collaborate with us. The development of a natural user interface (NUI) enables computers to adapt to you and be more integrated into your environment via speech, touch, and gesture. As NUI systems become more powerful and are imbued with more situational awareness, they can provide beneficial, real-time interactions that will be seamless and naturally suited to your context—in short, systems will understand where you are and what you’re doing.
At this year’s TechFest—the annual event that showcases the latest work from Microsoft Research’s labs around the world—InnerEye is one of several projects that show where Microsoft is headed with NUI technologies, and how “futuristic” computing experiences are quickly becoming a reality. Building on the success of Kinect—a prime example of NUI technology reaching consumer scale—Microsoft Research continues to explore technologies that will enable the coming shift in how humans will communicate with machines, and vice versa. The possibilities are seemingly endless in how we approach the integration of computing into our lives and can enable a new era of creativity, social interaction, and technological scenarios.
—Antonio Criminisi, Researcher, Microsoft Research and Kristin Tolle, Director, Natural User Interface Team, Microsoft Research Connections division of Microsoft Research
On a chilly autumn day, robots descended on Altamont Elementary School in Altamont, New York. Were the students terrified? Far from it: they were enchanted and energized, as they explored the realm of social robotics under the guidance of Jennifer Goodall and Katy DeCorah of the University at Albany-State University of New York (UAlbany). Goodall and DeCorah presented UAlbany's Social Robotics Workshop, an innovative program designed to introduce K-12 students to the roles that robots might play in the future and to excite young people about technology in general.
The brainchild of Goodall, assistant dean of the Department of Informatics, and Nick Webb, senior research scientist at the university's Institute for Informatics, Logics Security Studies, the Social Robotics Workshop introduces students to the core concepts of robotics and enables them to experiment with robots and to program simple interactive behaviors. Built around the "sense, plan, act" paradigm-an approach that dates from the earliest days of robotics-the workshop challenges the students to program robots with personalities. For example, students might program their robots to politely say "Excuse me!" when they bump into someone, or they might have their robots convey annoyance through an angry expression on the "face" screen.
"Exercises using these software platforms allow students ... to try simple social robotic experiments, such as talking, indicating primitive emotions and simple vision exercises," said Goodall. The program clicks with students in large part because they can see a real connection between their simple experiments and future robotics applications. Moreover, working with the robots inspires the students to learn more about computer science and engineering, which is the key goal of the workshop.
Funding for the Social Robotics Workshop comes from the National Center for Women & Information Technology Academic Alliance Seed Fund, which is sponsored by Microsoft Research Connections, the division of Microsoft Research that collaborates with academia to help shape the future of computing. The Seed Fund provides grants "to develop and implement initiatives for recruiting and retaining women in computer science and information technology fields of study."
The Social Robotics Workshop is one of 19 projects that have received grants since the inception of the Seed Fund in 2007. To date, grants totaling more than $315,000 have been awarded. The UAlbany initiative was one of three to receive grants in round six of the Seed Fund. In the recently completed round seven of the competition, five projects won grants of $10,000 each. The winning initiatives range from programs to encourage women undergrads to major in computer science to a two-week summer outreach program aimed at high schoolers.
Back at Altamont, the success of the Social Robotics Workshop is confirmed in the thank-you notes from the students. "Dear Jen," wrote one of the young experimenters, "Thank you for helping us program our robots. It was much easier with your help. I like the way you broke it down into steps. It made it much easier. It was exciting to work with robots. It felt like we were real scientists! When I go to collage [sic] I want to do robots. THANK YOU!"
—Jane Prey, Senior Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections
A free, interactive virtual learning environment, WorldWide Telescope enables your computer to function as a virtual telescope. Through its interactive dashboard, you can browse high-resolution imagery from the best ground and space-based telescopes, giving you a visually powerful perspective of the size, scale, and features of the universe. Curtis Wong, principal researcher for Microsoft Research eScience and co-creator of WorldWide Telescope, demonstrated some of the capabilities of this versatile technology at TEDxCaltech on January 14, 2011.
—Curtis Wong, Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research eScience