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March, 2013

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.

March, 2013

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    ChronoZoom Named Top Educational Resource at 2013 SXSW Interactive

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    When Microsoft Research teamed up with the University of California Berkeley to create a digital tool for exploring the history of everything, we knew we had the potential to build a killer educational app. After all, a tool that can reveal the cross-currents of history, revealing the interdependencies that cut across disciplines, geographies, and cultures, would offer a major advance in the understanding of Big History—the history of not just humanity, but of life, Earth and, ultimately, the cosmos. Moreover, it would provide researchers with a tool to derive unique insights based on multidisciplinary connections between vastly disparate data sets.

    ChronoZoom wins the 2013 SXSW Interactive Award for Education

    On March 12, the resulting tool, ChronoZoom—a dynamic, zoomable timeline that starts with Big Bang and ends with modern history—won first prize in the Educational Resources category of the 2013 SXSW Interactive Awards. As described on the SXSW website, the SXSW Interactive Awards competition “uncovers the best new digital work, from mobile and tablet apps to websites and installations, while celebrating those who are building tomorrow's interactive trends.”

    ChronoZoom was developed to make time relationships between different studies of history clear and vivid. In the process, it provides a framework for exploring related electronic resources. It thus serves as a “master timeline,” tying together all kinds of specialized timelines and electronic resources, and aspires to bridge the gap between humanities and the sciences and to bring together and unify all knowledge of the past. With the planned addition of in-browser content and authoring tools, we hope to enable educators and researchers to build timelines; explore rich, multidisciplinary contextual spaces; and to tell and share stories based on authoritative data.

    Donald Brinkman, Roland Saekow, and Michael Zyskowski accept the 2013 SXSW Interactive Award for Education
    Donald Brinkman, Roland Saekow, and Michael Zyskowski accept the 2013 SXSW Interactive Award for Education 

    The prestigious SXSW Interactive Award for Education recognizes the educational value of this amazing open-source product. Moreover, it honors the multidisciplinary team that came together to make ChronoZoom a reality: software engineers, program managers, and project leaders at Microsoft Research Connections in Redmond, Washington, and students and professors at Moscow State University in Russia and at UC Berkeley and University of Washington in the United States. This distributed team developed cutting-edge HTML5 and JavaScript code and implemented services on Windows Azure to create a rich, visual database full of historical events and timelines.

    The ChronoZoom project is part of the Outercurve Foundation’s Research Accelerators Gallery. The Outercurve Foundation, a non-profit, open-source foundation, provides software IP management and project development governance to 22 open-source projects.  Developers can get involved by visiting the source code project on GitHub.

    In his acceptance speech, Michael Zyskowski dedicated the award to Lee Dirks, who strongly believed in and supported the ChronoZoom project.

    I encourage you to experience the power of ChronoZoom for yourself. But be forewarned—it can be addictive!

    Donald Brinkman, Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections


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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Kinect Fusion Boosts Kinect for Windows SDK Update

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    On Monday, March 18, 2013, Microsoft rolled out the latest release of the Kinect for Windows software development kit (SDK). This represents the largest update to the technology since the SDK was first commercially released in February last year, and it includes the Kinect Fusion technology that originated in Microsoft Research.

    Kinect Fusion, an implementation of Microsoft Research’s 3-D surface reconstruction technology, can create highly accurate 3-D renderings of people and objects in real time.
    Kinect Fusion, an implementation of Microsoft Research’s 3-D surface reconstruction technology, can create highly accurate 3-D renderings of people and objects in real time.

    The new release has a number of features that will benefit the academic and research community:

    • Kinect Interactions – A built-in gesture recognizer, Kinect Interactions provides tools that enable the creation of intuitive, smooth, and polished applications that are based on the way people naturally move and gesture. These new tools should spur even more rapid development of Kinect for Windows-based natural user interface (NUI) applications that enable people to interact with their computers and devices through gestures and speech.
    • Kinect Fusion – A commercially-supported implementation of Microsoft Research’s 3-D surface reconstruction technology, Kinect Fusion merges multiple snapshots from the Kinect for Windows sensor to create accurate, full, 3-D renderings of people and objects affordably and in real time. Developers and researchers have been eagerly anticipating the availability of this technology since it was first shown at the ACM SIGGRAPH research conference in August 2011.
    • New OpenCV and MATLAB samples – These graphics and math tools, frequently used in academic research and advanced application development, should be a welcome addition and useful resource for those getting started with Kinect for Windows.

    Another helpful development: earlier this month, Kinect for Windows announced broader availability of academic pricing through Microsoft Authorized Educational Resellers (AERs). Most of these resellers can now offer academic pricing directly to educational institutions; academic researchers; and students, faculty, and staff of public or private K-12 schools, vocational schools, junior colleges, colleges, universities, and scientific or technical institutions. Academic pricing on the Kinect for Windows sensor is currently available through AERs in the United States, Taiwan, and Hong Kong SAR.
     
    We eagerly look forward to a seeing what the academic community does with the new features!

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

     

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    Confronting Global Grand Challenges

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    Microsoft Research Connections Vice President Tony HeyOn March 12 and 13, I had the privilege of joining with more than 450 leading thinkers drawn from around the world and across disciplines at the inaugural Global Grand Challenges Summit in London. Organized by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering in partnership with the US National Academy of Engineering and the Chinese Academy of Engineering, the summit brought together engineers, artists, economists, designers, philosophers, scientists, politicians, industry leaders, educators, and policymakers, all striving to achieve the cross-discipline and international cooperation needed to solve global problems.

    The Grand Challenges were organized around six themes: sustainability, health, education, enriching life, technology, and growth and resilience. The summit also included plenary addresses from Craig Venter, founder of J. Craig Venter Institute, who spoke about the promises and problems of creating synthetic life, and Bill Gates, co-founder and trustee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who discussed challenges in global health. Among the other luminaries present were IET President and tech entrepreneur Andy Hopper, who addressed the technology and growth theme, and Dame Ann Dowling, who spoke on directions in education. The presence of David Willetts, the UK minister for universities and sciences, underscored the significance of the summit as a vehicle for innovations and learning. An additional highlight was the surprise address from will.i.am—singer in the band, the Black Eyed Peas—who made a passionate plea for the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education for underprivileged children. Acknowledging that many of these youngsters aspire to a successful music career like his, he wants these children to realize that a much wider range of career opportunities is open to them.

    I served on the joint organizing committee for the event, representing the Royal Academy of Engineering. My best contribution was organizing the Student Day, which took place on the Monday before the beginning of the summit. Microsoft Research Connections sponsored this event that brought together 60 undergraduate and post-graduate students to collectively tackle the following six grand challenges:

    • Provide access to clean water
    • Restore and improve urban infrastructure
    • Advance health informatics
    • Secure cyberspace
    • Enhance virtual reality
    • Advance personalized learning

    Representatives from each student team presented their business innovation to a panel of angel investors that selected the winning idea.
    Representatives from each student team presented their business innovation to a panel of angel investors that selected the winning idea.

    This event bore a resemblance to the popular US and UK television shows, The Apprentice, or The Dragon’s Den/Shark Tank. The 60 participants divided up into teams based on which challenges they wished to tackle, ultimately combining two challenges: “securing cyberspace” and “enhancing virtual reality,” resulting in five teams. The teams went away and engaged in a variety of exercises to demonstrate the creativity and collaborative nature of their ideas. After debating their ideas with their peers, they worked the best into business proposals. At the end of the day, representatives from each of the five teams presented their business innovation, based on their team’s challenge, to a panel of angel investors that selected the winning idea. The team on health informatics won, earning the opportunity to present their innovation as a part of the main summit program. I was extremely pleased to introduce the winning team as they addressed more than 400 distinguished invitees.

    The team on health informatics won the Student Day grand challenge, earning the opportunity to present their innovation as a part of the main summit program.
    The team on health informatics won the Student Day grand challenge, earning the opportunity to present their innovation as a part of the main summit program. (L to R): Nikhila Ravi (University of Cambridge), Elizabeth Choe (MIT), Andrew Whyte (University of Bath),  Julie Shi (University of Washington), Michael Morley (IIT), Alison Gerren (University of Toledo) and Carolyn Damo (University of Toledo).

    Grappling with grand global challenges and encouraging the development of the next generation of problem solvers—it doesn’t get much better than that!

    Tony Hey, Vice President, Microsoft Research Connections

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