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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

    Creating Better Software for Next-Generation Computer Architectures

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    Computers are everywhere, controlling everything from phones and traffic lights to airplanes and buildings. And inside each computer is software: line after line of complex code that tells the program, and any attached hardware, what to do.

    It’s amazing how the world has come to rely on software.

    Testing is a vital step in software development, but it’s hard to test every possible path through millions of lines of code. For example, in 2003 the northeastern United States and Canada experienced a blackout that affected more than 50 million people due to an obscure problem in the energy management system software. It was admitted afterwards that even extensive testing would not have found this problem. So we need more formal methods to determine such program behavior in advance. This software verification—the science of deducing whether a program will execute correctly—is crucial for reliability in complex programs.

    Much of the existing work in software verification does not consider the processor design itself, which is a problem because new multi-core processors and more complex computer architectures are being designed for next-generation computing platforms—from mobile phones and tablet devices to cloud computing data centers. A new collaboration between Koç University in Turkey, Microsoft Research, and the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre is taking a unique multidisciplinary approach, bringing together world-leading researchers in computer architecture, formal methods, and systems to produce a coherent, end-to-end, robust methodology for computer architecture design.

    Dr. Serdar Tasiran from Koç University leads the discussion with his research team: Hassan Salehe Matar, Cansu Erdogan, Umit Can Bekar, Omer Subasi, Zeynep Su Kurultay, and Emre Gul.

    Dr. Serdar Tasiran from Koç University leads the discussion with his research team:
    Hassan Salehe Matar, Cansu Erdogan, Umit Can Bekar, Omer Subasi, Zeynep Su Kurultay, and Emre Gul.

    Research leader at Koç University, Serdar Taşıran, is excited about this new project, “After working together for many years, it is tremendous that we are beginning this formal collaboration between Microsoft Research and Barcelona Supercomputer Centre to look at the whole problem of software verification from the processor-up.” This follows a strong history of working closely with Microsoft Research in Redmond, Cambridge, and India.

    The team aims to create a holistic, robust approach to the development of novel computer architectures. This is required to simultaneously push the state-of-the-art while permitting application-driven scenarios to be taken into account at an early stage in the hardware design.

    Tim Harris, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge, explains “Modern programming languages such as F# rely on multiple layers of software for activities such as garbage collection and managing parallel work items. This collaboration will help us develop new hardware techniques to accelerate these activities, while ensuring that the correctness of programs is not compromised."

    Mateo Valero, director of Barcelona Supercomputing Center, adds, “This collaboration simultaneously targets the three requirements that modern multi-core computing faces today: processors should be fast and efficient, they should be easy to program, and they should compute in a verifiable and correct way."

    Fabrizio Gagliardi, director of Microsoft Research Connections Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), is delighted. “This is a strong partnership that brings together world experts in software verification and computer architecture to solve this hugely challenging problem,” he says. “We look forward to this project paving the way to more reliable software on tomorrow’s hardware.”

    Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect and Technical Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA

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    FIRST Adds Kinect Technology to Robotics Competition Tool Kit

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    I’m thrilled to be part of a new phase of the partnership between Dean Kamen’s FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) organization and Microsoft (including the Microsoft Research Connections group). Last week, FIRST announced that Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox 360 sensor and the Kinect for Windows SDK beta software will be included in the standard robotics Kit of Parts for the 2012 FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) season.

    Dean Kamen, an American entrepreneur, inventor, and founder of FIRST, reveals Kinect as part of the 2012 FRC competitionDean Kamen, an American entrepreneur, inventor, and founder of FIRST, reveals Kinect as part of the 2012 FRC competition

    FRC is a unique “Varsity Sport for the Mind,” which is designed to help young people discover the interesting and rewarding aspects of engineering and research, while challenging teams and their mentors to solve problems in a six-week timeframe by using a standard Kit of Parts and a common set of rules. The 2012 kit will include Kinect technology, enabling competitors to not just control the robot, but to “be the robot.”

    By combining the Kinect technology with robotics, competitors will be able to control their robots by using a natural user interface—with potentially no joystick, game controller, or other input device required. Teams will have the option of programming their robots to respond to custom gestures that their human teammates create, or by using default code and gestures. Kinect will be beta tested by using robots built by FIRST students in the coming weeks in preparation for the 2012 competition.

    Kinect for Windows SDK beta
    “This is an awesome capability to incorporate into a robot,” said Bill Miller, director of FIRST Robotics Competition. “By working with Microsoft, we are able to provide FRC students with an additional high-level sensor capability, adding to the options for our students’ strategy on the field as well as delivering a unique robotics experience. This experience will take the competition to a new level, while also helping equip students with the skills and tools to innovate in the twenty-first century.”

    During the 2011 season, 2,072 FRC teams, totaling 51,800 students, competed at 59 events in the United States, Canada, and Israel. Participants are eligible to apply for nearly US$15 million in scholarships at more than 140 colleges and universities. An estimated 60,000 competitors will have access to Kinect technology in the 2012 competition.

    “By putting the amazing capabilities of the Kinect sensor in students’ hands, FIRST is able to provide a compelling and powerful new technology for the teams,” said Tony Hey, corporate vice president, Microsoft Research Connections. “With so many students already familiar with Kinect for Xbox 360 at home, in school, and lately even on their PCs via the Kinect for Windows SDK beta, I’m sure it will be a popular choice.”

    We are honored to partner with the amazing FIRST organization and their thousands of student, educator, and parent participants. It is exciting to see so many young people inspired by these technologies and we look forward to being amazed by their creativity during the upcoming competition!

    Stewart Tansley, Director of Natural User Interface, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Kinect for Windows SDK Beta Makes It Big in the Big Apple

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    The Kinect for Windows SDK beta was honored as one of the “10 Most Innovative Tech Products of 2011” earlier this week at the 2011 Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Awards ceremony held at the Hearst Tower in New York City. Gavin Jancke, general manager of Engineering for Microsoft Research, who led the engineering and release for the Microsoft Research release of the Kinect for Windows SDK beta, accepted the award on behalf of Microsoft.

    Award recipients were invited to demonstrate their technologies at a reception following the seventh annual ceremony. Gavin presented the SDK (software development kit) from a developer perspective discussing, among other things, skeletal tracking and raw sensor data. Jacob Vanderplas, an astronomer at the University of Washington, further illustrated the potential applications of the SDK in natural user interface (NUI) technologies with a presentation of the Kinect-controlled WorldWide Telescope concept demonstrator.

    From left to right: Jim Meigs, editor in chief of Popular Mechanics; Gavin Jancke, general manager, Engineering, Microsoft Research;  Bill Congdon, publisher of Popular Mechanics, pictured at the Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Awards ceremony

    From left to right: Jim Meigs, editor in chief of Popular Mechanics; Gavin Jancke, general manager of Engineering for Microsoft Research; and Bill Congdon, publisher of Popular Mechanics, pictured at the Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Awards ceremony

    The ceremony was our second visit to New York City in as many months. Previously, we were pleased to present the SDK at the World Maker Faire 2011, which was held at the New York Hall of Science in late September. Maker Faire is an inspiring showcase of creativity and cool technology that celebrates technology enthusiasts of all ages. This year’s event attracted 35,000 attendees, up 40 percent from the previous year.

    Presenting at Maker Faire 2011

    We were joined at this year’s Maker Faire by our colleagues from Microsoft Robotics and Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer. Our teams jointly exhibited in a combined tent. We offered attendees just a taste of our technologies that are available for hobbyists, enthusiasts, and educators. The showpieces in our tent were the newly launched Robotics Developer Studio 4 beta and a new reference design robot, EDDIE, available from Parallax, Inc. We also presented two Kinect SDK beta demos: on-board robot sensing and NUI robot control—including a roving “party photographer” robot that proved very popular with young and old alike.

    In addition to demonstrating our technologies, we were also honored with two awards at the Maker Faire: an inaugural “Makey” award for Kinect, and an “Editor’s Choice” blue ribbon for our combined booth. It was fantastic to see so many people inspired by technology, including our own. We continue to look forward to seeing your inventions and ideas come to fruition.

    Stewart Tansley, Director of Natural User Interface, Microsoft Research Connections

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