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Microsoft Research’s Windows Azure for Research program, which features a continuing series of Windows Azure cloud training events and a program of Windows Azure research grants, has been going strong since its launch in September 2013. As the December 15, 2013, deadline for the second round of grant proposals approached, we braced ourselves for a barrage of creative ideas. We weren’t disappointed, receiving proposals from every continent (well, except Antarctica). The response was particularly strong from such countries as Brazil and China, where our recent training events gave researchers an excellent, hands-on view of the capabilities of Windows Azure.
Several strong research themes that had emerged in the first round of proposals continued in the second round. Specifically, the life sciences and the emerging field of urban science were abundantly represented. Both themes can be thought of as big data topics, but they are really part of what we call the fourth paradigm of science, which is about discovering new scientific principles through deep analysis of massive amounts of data.Urban science, which can be described as an interdisciplinary mash-up of computer science and social science, is becoming an important tool for city planners. By using the real-time data that a typical modern city generates, they can gain a better understanding how to improve life for the city’s inhabitants. The cloud is ideally suited to collecting, filtering, analyzing, and sharing these data. A set of related topics that came on strong in the second-round proposals involved environmental science, ecology, and geosciences. Again, the common theme is using Windows Azure on the Microsoft cloud for data collection, analysis, and dissemination. In addition to such fourth-paradigm ideas, we received a large number of excellent computer science proposals that rely on the scale of the cloud to experiment with new algorithms and database topics. Selecting the winning proposals was extremely difficult, as we can fund only a fraction of the submissions. Nonetheless, we persevered and winnowed the proposals down to the grant recipients listed, by lead author and project title, at the bottom of this blog. The order might appear random, but trust me, there’s a logic to it (hint: take a look at the alphabetical order of the country names). You can review abstracts for these proposals at Windows Azure for Research. As a reminder, the next deadline for proposals is February 15, 2014. We encourage potential applicants to attend one of our training events or, if that’s not possible, to study the training material we’ve posted online. You can find a schedule of upcoming training events and the aforementioned training materials at Cloud Research Projects. —Dennis Gannon, Director of Cloud Research Strategy, Microsoft Research Connections
Second-round Windows Azure for Research Award recipients:
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The aftermath of a stroke can be overwhelming for any patient—from the physical and emotional toll to the cost of stroke-related treatment. Recent evidence1 points to the advantages of task-specific training as effective rehabilitation, but in practice, this requires simple, repetitive movements, which may bore patients, lowering their motivation to continue the training. However, new hope for stroke patients has arrived in the form of Stroke Recovery with Kinect, a research project to build a cost-effective, interactive, home-rehabilitation system for motor recovery after a stroke—based on Microsoft Kinect technology.
Stroke Recovery with Kinect is a collaborative project between Microsoft Research Asia and Seoul National University—with funding from the Korean Government Collaboration Program—that provides a virtual reality system to help stroke survivors improve their upper-limb motor functioning in the comfort of their own home. “Most people who suffer a stroke experience paralysis in their arms and legs,” states Professor Nam-Jong Paik of Seoul National University, who is principal investigator of the project. “They can do the therapy at home by using Microsoft’s Kinect—without coming to the hospital—and we can measure their recovery level. Since it’s like a game, patients also have fun while rehabilitating at home.”The prototype Stroke Recovery with Kinect system was built by using the Microsoft Kinect for Windows software development kit (SDK). It uses the Kinect sensor’s three-dimensional camera to capture the movements of 48 skeletal points on the patient while he or she performs the therapy. Stroke Recovery with Kinect interprets the movement data, enabling the system to measure and evaluate the patient’s movements and assess their rehabilitation progress. The system uses the patient's scores from previous sessions to adjust the level of difficulty for subsequent therapy sessions. One of the three programs in the Stroke Recovery with Kinect system is the classic box-and-block test (BBT). This program application evaluates patients’ coordination, gross manual dexterity, and motor skills as they (virtually) attempt to pick up blocks one-by-one and put them into a box in a set amount of time. Similar to a computer game, Stroke Recovery with Kinect displays patients’ scores as soon as they finish a session, providing immediate reinforcement when scores improve from session to session.
The box-and-block test in Stroke Recovery with Kinect evaluates a patient’s coordination, manual dexterity, and motor skills.
Another program in Stroke Recovery with Kinect challenges the patient to assume a target pose displayed on the computer monitor and then duplicate the target’s position as it moves. The patient then receives what is known as a Fugl-Meyer Assessment (FMA) score, based on his or her success. Because Stroke Recovery with Kinect enables patients to face these challenges within the privacy of their own homes, they may be more relaxed and likely to persevere.The third program in Stroke Recovery with Kinect is an outer-space game that enables patients to exercise their reflex and reaction abilities as they guide a spaceship through space while attempting to avoid oncoming asteroids. Stroke Recovery with Kinect tracks the stroke patient’s hand trajectory—relative to and in conjunction with the movement of the elbow and/or shoulder. The stroke patient experiences a fun and enjoyable therapy session that a traditional rehabilitative setting usually cannot provide.
Long-term plans for Stroke Recovery with Kinect include integrating social networking into the system so that stroke patients can connect with one another and participate jointly in the rehabilitative programs, building a sense of camaraderie that could offer emotional and psychological support and motivation. Within the community, patients will have the opportunity to communicate about their condition and receive encouragement as they advance toward recovery. Future updates will make it possible for doctors to monitor the patient’s rehabilitation from the hospital or their office, and to communicate with the patient regarding their treatment and progress. Additionally, as the system becomes more widely used, we anticipate incorporating machine learning into the system. Finally, this home-based rehabilitation system also has potential cost benefits. The expense of ongoing stroke-related office visits for rehabilitation burdens healthcare systems and patients worldwide. I look forward to future collaborative efforts between Microsoft Research Asia and Seoul National University on the Stroke Recovery with Kinect project. We expect Stroke Recovery with Kinect to pave the way for stroke patients to save both time and money through a convenient, effective, and enjoyable rehabilitation program. —Miran Lee, Senior Manager, Microsoft Research ConnectionsLearn more
_______________1Kleim JA, Jones TA: "Principles of experience-dependent neural plasticity: implication for rehabilitation after brain damage," J Speech Lang Hear Res 2008, 51:225-39.
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In keeping with the January ritual of reflecting on the past year’s accomplishments, we’re eager to tell you about a very special event that Microsoft Research Cambridge hosted in November: the Body Tracking in Healthcare workshop. This occasion celebrated the completion of a two-year collaboration between Microsoft Research Cambridge and Lancaster University, during which we explored the use of touchless interactions in surgical settings, allowing images to be viewed, controlled, and manipulated without physical contact via the Kinect for Windows sensor.
Surgeons use Kinect for Windows-based system to view and manipulate X-rays and scans without physical contact.
The Kinect for Windows-based system, which has been widely covered in the popular press, enables surgeons to navigate through and manipulate X-rays and scans during operations, literally with a wave of the hands, without touching the non-sterile surface of a mouse or keyboard. It’s a prime example of the burgeoning field of natural user interface (NUI), which promises to change our relationship with today’s ubiquitous devices. The workshop brought together experts from academia and industry to discuss the use of Kinect for Windows in medicine—in applications that extend well beyond the operating room. Kinect’s body tracking abilities are already being harnessed for clinical assessments of, for example, children with motor disabilities. One talk at the workshop demonstrated a system in which youngsters with cerebral palsy play simple computer games while Kinect for Windows monitors their movements, providing data that physicians can use to assess the state of the disease. Other researchers are exploring ways to use Kinect for Windows to evaluate the damage caused by strokes and to create and monitor game-based rehabilitation exercises, many of which can be performed by stroke patients in their own homes. Still other presentations showed how Kinect can assist in diagnosing disorders of the brain and nervous system, including Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis. We even saw how the Kinect camera and motion sensors can be utilized to compensate for patient movement during medical imaging—a boon to anyone who’s had to undergo repeat X-rays because he or she breathed during the first imaging.We hope to publish a comprehensive report on the projects shown at the workshop, either via a special issue of a journal or in a book. Meanwhile, a cover story in the January 2014 issue of Communications of the ACM features some of this work.—Scarlet Schwiderski-Grosche, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA; Stewart Tansley, Director, Microsoft Research Connections; Abigail Sellen, Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research Cambridge; and Kenton O’Hara, Researcher, Microsoft Research CambridgeLearn more