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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
Mobile devices, of all shapes and forms, are the fastest-growing computing segment. While mobile devices are ubiquitous, they offer limited computation, storage, and power. Cloud computing promises to fill this gap by providing computation and storage to mobile devices connected to the network. Project Hawaii enhances the mobile and cloud environments with web services to enable interesting application scenarios possible only with this combination, specially tailored for teaching at university level. Developed by Microsoft Research, Project Hawaii offers tools and resources tailored to the needs of today's computer science students and instructors.
A key component of this project is engaging with universities around the world. This enables professors and students to work on projects reflective of the increasingly interconnected relationship between mobile devices and the cloud. To make project-based teaching and learning easier, Microsoft Research is providing instructors with access to an array of resources, including sample code, extra training materials, web services not generally available, Visual Studio, the mobile phones on which the applications are run (Windows Phone), and Microsoft's cloud-computing platform, Windows Azure.
To date, three professors at major universities have completed semesters using Project Hawaii, and seven more are active this semester-more information is at the project website above. To further share information about the project, we're hosting an invitational event in conjunction with ACM MobiCom 2010, the 16th annual international Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking, being held September 20-24 in Chicago, IL. To learn more about participating in Project Hawaii as an instructor yourself, please contact us.
-Victor Bahl, principal researcher and manager, Networking Research Group, Microsoft Research Redmond
-Arjmand Samuel, research program manager, External Research, a division of Microsoft Research
A global perspective is informed by knowledge gathered from around the world, and Sept. 16 in Rome, Microsoft Research had an opportunity to exchange information about the scientific foundations of the most recent computer-science technologies from an Italian point of view.
One in a series of similar events, the Italian Faculty Days gathering was attended by leading researchers, faculty, and other IT professionals from Microsoft Research, academia, and private industry. The event was held in the historical heart of the Roman capital, at Palazzo Valentini, headquarters of provincia di Roma since 1873.
The goal of this event was to leverage breakthroughs in scientific computing to advance research. Presentations delved into research in the ever-evolving areas of cloud computing, high-performance computing (HPC), and technical computing. Broad themes addressed included research directions presented by Microsoft Research, novel research results, academic curricula for faculty, and current industry investments.
Sessions on cloud computing covered cloud computing at Microsoft and VENUS-C, using the power of the cloud to do science on the web, teaching cloud computing and Windows Azure, reducing energy consumption in cloud systems, and the opportunities and challenges of sharing information in the cloud. Sessions focused on HPC included developing biochemistry applications in the Microsoft HPC 2008 environment and real-time reconstruction on an HPC cluster for 3-D Computed Tomography applied to large cultural-heritage objects. Other presentations included F# for scientists and how algorithmic-systems biology propels nutrigenomics.
In talking to the attendees, Judith Bishop, director of Computer Science for the External Research division of Microsoft Research Redmond, found they were keen to have the opportunity to meet during such a broad forum. Her visit to the Centro per le Applicazioni della Televisione e delle Tecniche di Istruzione a Distanza (Center for the Applications of Television and Distance Learning Techniques; CATTID) at Sapienza University of Rome revealed a wide range of applications directed between the cloud and human interfaces. CATTID is directed by Ugo Ceipidor, and its six laboratories are coordinated by Carlo Medaglia, who holds a Ph.D. in atmospheric physics from University of Washington. Apart from projects on the Internet of Things, Near Field Communication, and a mapping project with Microsoft using Windows Azure, Professor Medaglia is working on new models for weather prediction that eventually will migrate from clusters to the cloud.
Shown in the picture are (L to R) Francesco Visconti and Prof Carlo Medaglia (CATTID) and Mauro Minella (DPE Microsoft Italy) who organized the Academic Days
In addition to thanking all attendees and presenters, I'd like to thank Paul Watson, who co-chaired the conference with me. In addition to being a professor of computer science at Newcastle University, Watson is the director of both the North East Regional e-Science Centre and the Informatics Research Institute.
-Fabrizio Gagliardi, director, External Research EMEA, a division of Microsoft Research