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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

    LiveLabs: testing the usefulness of mobile data

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    What if a mobile game maker could determine the “who, when, and where” that lead to the most satisfying gaming experience? What if they knew precise combination of demographics, location, and recent activities—say young men, in their dorm room, after a meal—that yields the highest satisfaction with their game? Armed with such precise data, the company could push incentives and promote new games to the right people at the right time and place.  

    This level of data specificity would require granular location data, coupled with mechanisms to match demographic data with dynamic activity detection. Perfecting any one of these components would be a major research project in itself. Putting them together and making them operational in real-world environments would seem a near impossible task. But it’s exactly what researchers at the Singapore Management University’s School of Information Systems are striving for with their LiveLabs Urban Lifestyle Innovation Platform (LiveLabs, for short), a mobile experimentation test-bed deployed across the campus.

    According to Rajesh Balan, the principal investigator and co-director of LiveLabs, the goal is to allow in-situ, real-time experimentation of mobile applications and services that require context-specific triggers—all based on real participants using their personal smart phones. As of March 2015, more than 3,000 students had signed up with LiveLabs, and several hundred were active users.

    The LiveLabs closed-loop experimentation cycle The LiveLabs closed-loop experimentation cycle

    The diagram above shows the project’s overall vision. It starts with the collection of sensor and contextual data from a participant’s smart phone (with the participants’ permission, of course). This data is then fused with other data streams, such as location and activity type, to deduce the current user context: determining, for example, that the user is standing outside a store or is with a group of friends. The project team then employs an experiment-creation interface (shown below), in order to determine if the data provides sufficient contextual triggers to warrant sending an experiment, in the form of a customized notification, to the participant’s phone. The investigators then collect data on what the participant actually did after receiving the experiment, using this data to test their hypothesis and improve the system’s efficacy.

    Step 1: Participant data is processed in the experiment-creation interface.
    Step 1: Participant data is processed in the experiment-creation interface.

    Step 2: Experiment is sent to user's phone.
    Step 2: Experiment is sent to user's phone.

    Step 3: Report is compiled after experiment has been run.
    Step 3: Report is compiled after experiment has been run.

    Microsoft Research has provided support for LiveLabs, including an award from Microsoft Research Asia to collaborate on indoor location techniques. “The LiveLabs team has a close relationship and long-standing history of collaboration with Microsoft Research,” says Balan. He notes that members of the LiveLabs team regularly visit Microsoft Research labs in Redmond (Washington), Beijing, and India to present their latest research innovations and engage with Microsoft researchers on shared initiatives.

    “Many portions of LiveLabs research and deployment—including indoor location tracking, sensing technologies and algorithms, behavioral analytics, and power management—overlap with the agenda of Microsoft researchers,” Balan adds. Jacky Shen of the Wireless and Networking Group at Microsoft Research Asia agrees. “We’re seeing lots of moves in the indoor localization research area. It’s essential for mobile sensing, mobile multimedia, and more general mobile Internet.”

    Balan hopes to expand LiveLabs beyond the university campus. “The university campus gives us a good starting point,” he says, but he notes that broader public participation is necessary to adequately test the research theory and model. “We’ve started to look into a large convention center, a commercial airport, or a resort island,” he adds.

    Balan is also is looking into further integrating LiveLabs with the Internet of Things, working with Arjmand Samuel from Microsoft Research Redmond. As Balan observed during a recent talk at Microsoft Research Asia, “We can provide access to the LiveLabs experimentation capabilities to any interested Microsoft researchers. In addition, we are very open to further research and professional engagements with Microsoft Research.”

    That sentiment runs in both directions, as Microsoft Research is eager to promote collaboration with academics who share our vision of using technology to help solve global challenges.

    —Winnie Cui, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Chain reaction of collaboration

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    Over the years, Microsoft Research Asia has fostered connections among a variety of people in the computer science and technology fields, especially by bringing together Microsoft researchers, interns, and university professors to collaborate on continuing projects. Such was the case when Microsoft Research Asia researcher Xing Xie and Osaka University Associate Professor Takahiro Hara began working together on privacy problems in 2008. Yuki Arase—then a second-year PhD student (under Hara) and Microsoft intern (under Xie)—helped bring the two together. They developed a great team chemistry, which endures to this day, as they continue to work on privacy issues related to location-based services (LBS).

    Takahiro Hara, associate professor, Osaka University
    Takahiro Hara, associate professor, Osaka University

    LBS privacy protection is an important field for Microsoft Research and the broader computer science community, as we strive to safeguard the privacy of sensitive personal information on users’ electronic devices. The popularity of such LBS as Foursquare and Yelp, which link users to social networks, and Ingress, which provides an augmented-reality gaming platform, poses critical challenges to users’ private information. The security of this information is especially vulnerable as users use mobile devices to access cloud-based services.

    Many past studies on location privacy preservation were based on unrealistic expectations about the user's movement pattern, such as assuming it is known in advance or that it will follow a very simple model. Professor Hara and his collaborators have taken a more advanced approach, in which they design and deploy a protocol based on the movements of “dummy” protocol applications that follow more realistic user mobility patterns.

    This method can be readily deployed on any LBS that accepts multiple requests from users, eliminating the need for a third party to preserve privacy. Nor does it require changing server programs, because they are expected to run on LBS client-side applications. And since this approach assumes a more realistic model of mobility, it can be deployed in a wider variety of LBS types.

    Currently, the collaborators are working to optimize their approach in two ways. The first step is to make reactive, real-time changes in the dummy’s movements, so that they mimic the user’s mobility pattern. The second step is to generate a dummy that takes into account the user’s preferences for visiting various points of interest.

    The collaborative approach works not only in research but also in education. So, for example, undergraduates at Osaka University are producing dummy protocols in collaboration with Microsoft Research. The class has workshops of three or four students who team up and log their GPS locations from smart phones when walking though campus. Students feed this logged data into the LBS-privacy application and verify the difficulty of discerning the original user’s movements from the dummy locations produced by the protocol. Students praise how this real-life application has helped them understand the concept of privacy preservation.

    Screen shot of dummy-protocol application
    Screen shot of dummy-protocol application

    Through the efforts of students, post-graduate interns, researchers, and professors, Microsoft Research and its academic partners help advance computer science and technology, and help supply society with much-needed, talented engineers. For example, over the past seven years, five PhD students from Professor Hara’s labs have participated in Microsoft Research internships in web mining, multimedia, and information retrieval systems. These interns spent three to ten months in Microsoft Research Asia, conducting intensive research projects under the supervision and mentorship of various Microsoft researchers, all while experiencing a different culture and forging international friendships After graduation, Microsoft interns have joined respected companies, such as Fujitsu and KDDI, as engineers and researchers, putting their collaborative training to work for society.

    The professional and personal relationships created during Microsoft Research’s collaborative endeavors often influence the participants well beyond the timespan of the specific project. As Professor Shojiro Nishio, a former Osaka University vice president and director of the university’s Cybermedia Center observers, “Our long-time collaboration with Microsoft Research has made significant contributions for not only research outcomes in top-ranked journals and conferences, but also in the education of young students, many of whom are now internationally leading researchers.”

    This brings us back to Yuki Arase, the student who instigated the collaborative LBS-privacy project. After working for four years as a researcher in the Natural Language Computing Group at Microsoft Research Asia, she is now an associate professor at Osaka University’s Graduate School of Information Science and Technology and is co-leading a lab on big data engineering, educating the next generation of ambitious graduate students.

     Professor Arase presenting at Microsoft Research Korea • Japan Academic Day
    Professor Arase presenting at Microsoft Research Korea • Japan Academic Day

    Professor Arase is thus a prime example of the fruitful chain reaction of collaboration. Her growing experience and expertise have produced continued achievements, which is precisely what we hope for from every Microsoft Research intern. As we strive to broaden the interaction between academia and Microsoft Research, we anticipate an exponential growth of such positive chain reactions resulting from our academic collaborations.

    —Sean Kuno, Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research

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    Celebrating the first Microsoft Research Korea • Japan Academic Day

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    Looking out the windows of Microsoft Korea’s headquarters, I enjoy a magnificent sight: Gyeongbok Palace, Seoul’s most recognizable landmark, which spreads below me in its centuries-old splendor. Another inspiring sight adorns the office walls around me: posters describing research projects from Korea and Japan, each project a result of the researchers’ collaboration with Microsoft Research. These posters are tangible reminders that we are celebrating the first Microsoft Research Korea • Japan Academic Day.

    View from Microsoft Korea's headquarters, showing the Gyeongbok Palace and capturing a sliver of a banner announcing the first-ever Microsoft Research Korea • Japan Academic Day.
    View from Microsoft Korea's headquarters, showing the Gyeongbok Palace and capturing a sliver of a banner announcing the first-ever Microsoft Research Korea • Japan Academic Day.

    For the past decade, Microsoft Research has funded select research proposals from universities throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Each year, we’ve celebrated our collaborative efforts by hosting separate Korean and Japanese Days, events that shared the fruits of our joint research and solidified connections with and among Asian academics. These events strengthened our relationships in both countries, and this year, wanting to embrace a more open and international atmosphere in research and academia, we’ve combined the two. Thus on May 7, 2015, 120 academic researchers and distinguished guests—93 from Korea and 27 from Japan—joined with 22 computer scientists from Microsoft Research to share, learn, and get inspired by recent findings in advanced research.

    Nearly 150 research scientists attended the Microsoft Research Korea • Japan Academic Day.
    Nearly 150 research scientists attended the Korea • Japan Academic Day.

    The event kicked off with a warm welcome from Microsoft Korea General Manager James Kim, after which Hsiao-Wuen Hon, chairman of Microsoft Asia-Pacific Research and Development (ARD) Group and managing director of Microsoft Research Asia, shared Microsoft’s views on innovation and the company’s ultimate goal of empowering everyone to do more and achieve more. Next, P. Anandan, managing director of Microsoft Research Outreach, discussed how his group works with the academic community to foster research collaboration, talent development, academic exchange, and curriculum innovation, drawing examples from the notable research that is conducted in Korea and Japan. The welcoming ceremony concluded with Tim Pan, director of Microsoft Research Outreach Asia, introducing the Call for Proposal program, an initiative that empowers academics to collaborate with researchers beyond Microsoft Research, and expressing his optimism about such collaboration opportunities around the globe.

    Following the opening, six computer scientists from Microsoft Research—Qiang Huo, Steve Lin, Masaaki Fukumoto, Tao Mei, Chin-Yew Lin, and Ming Zhou—described their recent work in optical character recognition and image recognition. They presented captivating demos of research prototypes and displayed some of the most popular recent Microsoft Research products, giving attendees a sense of the creativity that takes place at in the Microsoft labs.

    At noon, while enjoying a light lunch, we had an interesting two-hour poster and demo session that featured 25 projects from Korea and 10 from Japan, each project presented by its justifiably proud owners. The session featured a competitive element, as the Korean projects vied for three prizes and the Japanese projects competed for four.

    Lunchtime was all the more enjoyable thanks to the poster and demo presentations.
    Lunchtime was all the more enjoyable thanks to the poster and demo presentations.

    In the afternoon, the guests broke into eight topical groups: Search Mining; Graphics, Vision, and Interactions; Speech; Security; Wireless and Networks; Human-Computer Interaction; Systems; and Social Impact. Personnel from Microsoft Research hosted each group, while professors from Korea and Japan delivered talks related to their work. Thanks to the joint nature of the event, the sessions had a global perspective and provided guests with a bounty of research and provocative academic debate.

    Thought-provoking breakout groups let researchers explore topics in depth.
    Thought-provoking breakout groups let researchers explore topics in depth.

    After a full day of academic rigor, guests relaxed at a banquet, which culminated in the awards for the poster and demo session. The three Korean prizes went to:

    • Seong-Whan Lee of Korea University, for Development of Brain Signal Processing Algorithms based on Deep Learning for Decoding User Intentions to Control a Lower Limb Exoskeleton
    • Jin Bae Park of Yonsei University, for Interactive Flight Experience Simulator Using Head-Mounted Display, Multicopter, and Kinect
    • Uichin Lee of KAIST, for Swim Train

    The four Japanese prizes were awarded to:

    • Yoshihiro Kawahara of the University of Tokyo, for Using Inkjet Printers for the Fabrication of Electrical Circuit Boards for Rapid Prototyping
    • Graham Neubig of Nara Institute of Science and Technology, for Semantic Parsing for Ambiguous Input through Paraphrasing and Verification
    • Hideyuki Sawada of Kagawa University, for A Study of Displaying Tactile/Haptic Sensations Using the Micro-Vibrations Generated by SMA wires
    • Toshihiko Yamasaki of the University of Tokyo, for A Navigation System for Media Generation by Consumers

    Leading a toast to the guests and a successful event: Microsoft Korea General Manager James Kim, Microsoft ARD Group Chairman & Managing Director of Microsoft Research Asia Hsiao-Wuen Hon, and Managing Director of Microsoft Research Outreach P. Anandan
    Leading a toast to the guests and a successful event, from the left: Microsoft Korea General Manager James Kim, Microsoft ARD Group Chairman & Managing Director of Microsoft Research Asia Hsiao-Wuen Hon, and Managing Director of Microsoft Research Outreach
    P. Anandan

    Throughout dinner, guests shared casual and meaningful chats, strengthening the relationships that foster cooperative innovation and discovery. Seated among seasoned professors who boast long-term collaborations with Microsoft Research were many young researchers—some of them former interns who now work full-time for Microsoft, others rising stars in academia who can look forward to upcoming internships with Microsoft Research. Whatever their age and wherever their careers take them, we look forward to their continued collaboration with us, as we continue to drive the research and talent ecosystem that connects Asian academia and Microsoft Research.

    Miran Lee, Principle Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research

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