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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

    FIRST Adds Kinect Technology to Robotics Competition Tool Kit


    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


    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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    Sound the Bagpipes: Joint Initiative in Informatics Announced


    On October 5, 2011, on the stately campus of the University of Edinburgh, Sir Tim O’Shea, principal of the University of Edinburgh, and Rick Rashid, chief research officer of Microsoft Research, officially inaugurated a significant joint initiative in informatics. It was standing room only in a crowded lecture hall as Rick delivered a Distinguished Lecture on the topic, “It’s a Data Driven World—Get Over It.”

    From left to right: Stratis Viglas, Charles Sutton, Guido Sanguinetti, Rick Rashid, Amos Storkey, Jane Hillston, Andy Gordon

    Rick Rashid and Andy Gordon with the supervisors of the first group of PhD students in the joint initiative. From left to right: Stratis Viglas, Charles Sutton, Guido Sanguinetti, Rick Rashid, Amos Storkey, Jane Hillston, Andy Gordon

    The new initiative brings together researchers from two of Europe’s leading centers in informatics: the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics (the UK’s largest and foremost university research center in informatics), and Microsoft Research Cambridge. It builds on the deep intellectual ties between the two institutions—ties that include research into programming languages and semantics, bioinformatics, machine learning, computer vision, natural-language processing, and security. Microsoft Research Cambridge’s Managing Director Andrew Blake, Distinguished Scientist Christopher Bishop, and Principal Researcher Andy Gordon all hold part-time professorships. University of Edinburgh faculty members—including Paul Anderson, David Aspinall, Gordon Plotkin, David Robertson, Sethu Vijayakumar, and Bonnie Webber—have received funding for PhD scholarships and senior fellowships from Microsoft Research in the past.

    To celebrate and consolidate these relationships, we are delighted to announce that Microsoft Research Connections is co-sponsoring four studentships (PhD scholarships) to be awarded to students at the University of Edinburgh. As Rick Rashid said at the launch, “PhD students are the glue that binds together collaborations between Microsoft Research and the university.” The studentships, which are offered through the Microsoft Research Connections PhD Scholarship Programme, receive half of their funding from Microsoft, and half from matching funds obtained by the university. As with all studentships provided by the PhD Scholarship Programme, the recipients will receive a three-year bursary and invitations to the Microsoft Research annual PhD Summer School in Cambridge, where they learn about Microsoft Research Cambridge research projects, acquire key transferable skills, and share ideas with Microsoft researchers. All students are supervised by a university faculty member and co-supervised by a Microsoft researcher. In addition, some of the University of Edinburgh studentship recipients may also be offered an internship at Microsoft Research.

    Applications for the first round of scholarships closed in September 2011. University of Edinburgh faculty members submitted proposals for twelve research projects for the studentships and the following four projects were selected:

    • Machine Learning Markets (supervisor: Amos Storkey, School of Informatics; co-supervisors: Peter Key and Thore Graepel, Microsoft Research Cambridge)
    • Statistical Language Processing for Programming Language Text (supervisor: Charles Sutton, School of Informatics; co-supervisor: Andy Gordon, Microsoft Research Cambridge)
    • Holistic Evaluation in LINQ (supervisor: Stratis Viglas, School of Informatics; co-supervisor: Gavin Bierman, Microsoft Research Cambridge)
    • Machine Learning Methods for Formal Dynamical Systems: a Systems Biology Case Study (supervisors: Jane Hillston and Guido Sanguinetti, School of Informatics; co-supervisors: Luca Cardelli and Andrew Phillips, Microsoft Research Cambridge)

    The students who are selected to participate in these research projects will begin their studies in September 2012.

    Microsoft products have previously benefited from Edinburgh research—for example, the technology behind the Microsoft Visual F# programming language was derived from research at the University of Edinburgh. As reported in The Scotsman, it’s hoped that the new initiative will encourage a new generation of innovators in Scotland. So strike up the bagpipes—here’s to more Edinburgh innovations!

    Andy Gordon, Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research Cambridge, and Scarlet Schwiderski-Grosche, Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA

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