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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

    Functional Lens Promises to Improve the Quality of Life for Diabetics and Others


    Functional Lens Promises to Improve the Quality of Life for Diabetics and Others

    Millions of people worldwide live with type 1 diabetes, a potentially devastating disease with no known cure. People who have type 1 diabetes do not produce insulin in their pancreas, so they must constantly monitor their blood sugar levels while balancing food intake against insulin intake. It’s a mentally taxing, painful process that must be repeated throughout the day.

    A collaboration between Associate Professor Babak Parviz at the University of Washington (UW) and Microsoft Senior Researcher Desney Tan is focused on developing a non-invasive, technological solution that promises to improve both the health and overall quality of life for people with diabetes: a contact lens that monitors blood glucose levels. The functional lens technology is representative of a trend in technology known as Natural User Interface (NUI).

    NUI technology has the potential to provide user benefits without being obvious to others or intrusive to the user. We believe it has tremendous potential in the healthcare industry, where technology is a necessary, but not always pleasant, part of a patient’s diagnosis or care. The functional contact lens is an excellent example of how NUI can change patient monitoring from “snapshots” of information to continuous health monitoring that could potentially improve the wearer’s overall health—especially for those with a chronic disease, such as diabetes.

    Today, people with type 1 diabetes use needles to draw blood from their fingers multiple times throughout the day—every day, including meal times—to check their blood glucose levels. By monitoring their glucose levels, they can more easily ensure that they maintain an acceptable glucose level, which is critical to optimal health and longevity for diabetes patients.

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    The Daily Impact of Diabetes

    Daily, repeated blood draws are a painful necessity for people with diabetes. This process has limitations because the monitoring is only periodic. Diabetics may experience glucose fluctuations that require correction—for example, by increasing insulin intake or eating a piece of candy to raise their blood sugar level—anytime of the day. Regular glucose monitoring, in addition to sensible dietary choices, are part of daily life for Kevin McFeely, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 30 years ago, and his two young children, who also have diabetes.

    “If I don’t check my blood sugar, or my children don’t check their blood sugar daily, there are some different things that could potentially happen,” he explained. “If my blood sugar gets too high, I have noticed that my vision begins to blur, I begin feeling nauseous, very, very tired, and just almost physically sick. And potentially, if I let that go, I could pass out from having high blood glucose.”

    Low blood sugar also presents a danger to people with diabetes. If glucose falls too low, a diabetic may begin to sweat, suffer an elevated heart rate, and potentially lose consciousness. So it is critical that diabetics monitor their blood glucose on a regular basis throughout the day. McFeely’s children, who are ages seven and ten, are responsible for managing their disease and monitoring themselves at school throughout the day.

    “I’m used to testing myself six to eight times per day. I’ve been doing it for 30 years,” McFeely says. “But boy, when I think about my children… I mean, you have a spring-loaded needle that’s coming into your finger, and it hurts them. I can see their faces [when they test], and I can see them cringe.”

    A New Approach to Monitoring Health

    As envisioned, the lens would be worn daily, just like regular contact lenses. But instead of, or in addition to, correcting vision, the lens would monitor the wearer’s glucose level through their tears. Much of the information that can be obtained through blood testing is also accessible on the surface of the eye. The functional lens is being designed to sample eye fluid, analyze it, and transmit the information to a reporting machine. A tiny radio transmitter embedded in the lens will handle the information transfer.

    Parviz’s team at UW has built a variety of contact lenses with small radios and antennas built in, enabling them to draw power as well as send and receive information through radio frequencies. Also, the UW team has been able to place a glucose sensor on the contact lens and demonstrate that it can detect glucose at levels that are found in the tear film. The goal is to unite these elements to develop a contact lens that constantly monitors the blood glucose level and records information that can be accessed later by the patient’s doctor.

    McFeely is hopeful that technology, like the functional contact lens, can improve the monitoring and care options available to his children. “Thinking about the functional contact lens for my children who are both type 1 diabetic—I think that would be incredible,” he said. “Given that my children are diagnosed at such a young age, it does have the potential to help them live a longer, healthier life.”

    Visualizing Future Applications

    Ideally, the lens will do more than just record information. The UW team envisions a way to automatically display important information—including abnormal glucose or insulin alerts—in the lens wearer’s view. It could alert the wearer when they should stop eating due to glucose levels, or remind them when it’s time to get a snack. This real-time feedback would empower the user to react quickly, avoiding health-threatening or uncomfortable episodes. The visual information would be dormant the rest of the time, adhering to the NUI idea of being unobtrusive until needed.

    Once fully developed, the technology could be used to replace virtually any screening or diagnostics that currently depend upon blood draws. Additionally, the researchers who are involved in the project envision a future in which contact lenses deliver medicine directly into the bloodstream through the cornea.

    Kristin Tolle, Director, Natural User Interface, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    What if coding were a game?


    Well, now it is. Today, we are pleased to announce the launch of Code Hunt, a browser-based game for anyone who is interested in coding. We built Code Hunt to take advantage of the fact that any task can be more effective and sustainable when it’s fun. And Code Hunt is fun! It uses puzzles, which players explore by means of clues presented as test cases. Players iteratively modify their code to match the functional behavior of secret solutions. Once their code matches, lights flash and sounds play, letting players know that they have “captured” the code. Players then get a score, which depends on how elegant their solution is, and are encouraged to move on to the next puzzle or level.

    Code Hunt is a browser-based game for anyone who is interested in coding.

    When we demoed Code Hunt a few months ago, we were amazed at the interest it elicited across groups at Microsoft, from those involved with K-12 education to those focused on college recruiting. However, today we want to talk about how Microsoft Research Asia used Code Hunt during their annual Beauty of Programming (BOP) event, a competition that attracts thousands of students in the Greater China Region (GCR).

    In the past, the BOP competition gave students specifications for problems and then checked their solutions automatically using a test suite. This is the traditional approach: students pit their wits against each other—and against the clock—to create a solution to a defined problem. While this kind of coding is similar to what they will encounter in courses or later in their careers, it isn’t necessarily fun.

    Code Hunt is different. Instead of giving students a problem and comparing their solutions to a set of fixed test cases, Code Hunt does the opposite: it presents an empty slate to the user and a set of constantly changing test cases. It thus teaches coding as a by-product of solving a problem that is presented as pattern matching inputs and outputs. The fun is in finding the pattern. Fun is seen as a vital ingredient in accelerating learning and retaining interest during what might be a long and sometimes boring journey towards obtaining a necessary skill—or in this case, winning a competition. The GCR team recognized that Code Hunt would not only make the BOP competition more fun, but it would also enable them to check the solutions more quickly and accurately.

    Once their code matches, lights flash and sounds play, letting players know that they have “captured” the code. With considerable optimism, we opened Code Hunt to BOP competitors in April. In three rounds, 2,353 students scored in the game, and the contestants solved an average of 55.7% of the puzzles. Since Code Hunt runs on Microsoft Azure, we have all the statistics. We could see that, on average, it took players 41 tries to capture the code for puzzles. However, we were really interested in the 350 top students who solved all of the puzzles—even the most difficult ones. These students needed only 7.6 tries on average to solve a puzzle, showing that Code Hunt can reliably surface the better coders. From these students, 13 were selected to proceed to the finals, and we wish them luck.

    Code Hunt was developed by a team in Microsoft Research led by Principal Development Lead Nikolai Tillmann and Principal Research Software Engineer Peli de Halleux. It is based on Pex, Microsoft Research’s state-of-the-art implementation of dynamic symbolic execution (analyzing a program to determine what inputs cause each part of a program to execute), which is available as a Power Tool in Microsoft Visual Studio.

    We look forward to Code Hunt’s further application and would be happy to receive inquiries regarding competitions or courses. But remember, anyone can play Code Hunt—for fun or to hone their coding skills. Just go to and start coding!

    Judith Bishop, Director of Computer Science, Microsoft Research, and Guobin Wu, Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Asia

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Windows Azure for Research Award winners


    Microsoft Research is pleased to announce the successful applicants in our first round of Windows Azure for Research awards. You didn’t make it easy for us—we received many good quality proposals. Our selection committee evaluated each submission in terms of its potential to accelerate research and its suitability for deployment on the Windows Azure cloud platform. There were far more outstanding proposals than we could accommodate during this first round of awards.

    Windows Azure for Research awardees came from all over the world.

    Difficult though it was, we selected 35 proposals for the initial set of awards. The award recipients come from 15 countries/regions and represent a variety of research domains, including scholarly communication and collaboration, big data and machine learning, urban informatics, genomics and related health science, geo and environmental science, and computer science. Each selected project will receive a substantial allocation of Windows Azure compute and storage resources to support the research over the next 12 months. 

    The deadline for the next round of proposals is December 15, 2013. Applicants are also encouraged to attend one of our cloud computing for research training events, which are being held at locations around the world.

    The first-round selected projects are:

    • Adam Farquhar, The British Library, United Kingdom, British Library Labs in the Cloud
    • Animashree Anandkumar, University of California, Irvine, United States, Large-scale Unsupervised Learning via Tensor Methods: Applications in Social Networks and Text & Image Analysis
    • Anna Izabel J. Tostes, Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil, A Collaborative Cloud—based Business Intelligence Platform for Transportation Networks
    • Aoying Zhou, East China Normal University, China, COBA: Sensing Urban Lifestyle based on Collective Online Behavior Analysis with Windows Azure
    • Chu Hong Steven Hoi, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Cloud-Based Mobile Recommender Systems by Online Collaborative Filtering Techniques
    • Elisabetta Di Nitto, Politecnico di Milano, Italy, sAfe CitiEs through clouD and Internet-of-Things (ACED-IoT)
    • Evgeny Rogaev, Vavilov Institute of General Genetics, Russian Academy of Science, Russia, Alzheimer Bio Project
    • Frank Hutter, Freiburg University, Germany, CloudEval: Towards Community-Based Performance Testing and Optimization
    • Gabriel Antoniu, INRIA, France, Z-CloudFlow: Advanced Data Storage and Processing for Multi-site Cloud Workflows
    • Guangzhong Sun, University of Science and Technology, China, Smart Campus Construction Based On Rich Campus Datasets
    • Hansol Lee, Korea Military Academy, Korea, Employing a Customized Web-Based Corpus Program For Language Learning
    • Hojung Cha, Yonsei University, Korea, Development of a Crowd Sensing Framework for Inducing User Participation in Urban Environments
    • Hugo Andres Neyem, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile, Improving the Preservation of Latin America’s Wildlife through a Cloud Shared Workspace
    • Ian Gent, University of St Andrews, United Kingdom, Recomputation of Scientific Experiments
    • Jaime Ruiz, Colorado State University, United States, EQStratus: On-Demand Genome Assembly using Cloud Infrastructure
    • James M Hogan, Queensland University of Technology, Australia, Bing for Genomes – Information Retrieval Approaches to Genomic Search and Comparison
    • Jim Nelson, Brigham Young University, United States, Flood Early Warning System in the Cloud
    • Ka Yee Yeung-Rhee, University of Washington, United States, Inference of Gene Networks Studying Human Cancers On The Cloud
    • Kenneth H. Buetow, Arizona State University, United States, Using Data Science Approaches To Map Biologic Processes To Clinical Phenotype And Outcome
    • Matthew Bawn, University of San Martin de Porres, Peru, The Use of the Cloud as a Computational Platform for Genomic Analysis
    • Paolo Missier, Newcastle University, United Kingdom, Analysis and Interpretation of Human Exome Sequencing for Clinical Diagnosis and EHR Integration in the Cloud
    • Patrick Hénaff, Université Paris 1, France, Euclide Quant Network
    • Peng Gong, Tsinghua University, China, Satellite Remote Sensing for Urban Computing—40 Year Dynamic Information on Land Use for Beijing City from Time Series Landsat Data and Computer Simulation
    • Peter Coveney, University College London, United Kingdom, Collaborative Computational Project in Systems Medicine
    • Philip Kershaw, STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, United Kingdom, JASMIN
    • Philippe Desjardins-Proulx, Université du Quebec, Canada, Growing Intelligence with Cloud Markov Logic Networks
    • Richard P. Hooper, Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc. (CUAHSI), United States, Transforming Water Science with Featured-Based Data Access
    • Romain Rouvoy, University Lille 1, France, ApiSwarm
    • Soeren Balko, Queensland University of Technology, Australia, relocate.js
    • Tomasz Bednarz, CSIRO, Australia, Image Analysis in Azure Clouds
    • Victor O.K. Li, The University of Hong Kong, China, A Big Data Stream Processing Solution for Hidden Causality Detection of Urban Dynamics
    • Wenjun Wu, Beihang University, China, Cloud based MOOC Platform for Self-organized Learning  
    • Yanmin Zhu, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China, NoiseSense: Crowdsourcing-based Urban Noise Mapping with Smartphones
    • Yuguo Li, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, SmartComfort - Use of Smartphone and Cloud Technologies for Building Thermal Comfort, and Ventilation and Health Studies in Megacities
    • Yung-Hsiang Lu, Purdue University, United States, Cloud-Based System for Continuous Analysis of Many Cameras

    We are thrilled to be off and running with the Windows Azure for Research awards, and we look forward to being amazed by the next batch of proposals.    

    Dennis Gannon, Director of Cloud Research Strategy, Microsoft Research

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