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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

    Microsoft open sources WorldWide Telescope

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    We are incredibly pleased to announce that the WorldWide Telescope is now open source under the MIT license and has become an independent project as part of the .NET Foundation.

    WorldWide Telescope began in 2007 as a Microsoft Research project, with early partners including astronomers and educators from Caltech, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, the University of Chicago and several NASA facilities. Over the past eight years, millions of people have downloaded and used WorldWide Telescope, coming to rely on its unified astronomical image and data environment for exploratory research, teaching and public outreach.

    WorldWide Telescope was designed with rich interactivity in mind. Guided Tours, which are especially popular among educators and astronomy enthusiasts, offer scripted paths through the 3D environment, enabling users to view and create media-rich interactive stories about anything from star formation to the discovery of the large-scale structure of the universe.

    Microsoft open sources WorldWide Telescope

    This year, we decided to make the WorldWide Telescope available under an open source license to allow any individual or organization to adapt and extend the functionality to meet any research or educational need.

    We believe that extensions and improvements to the software will continuously enhance formal and informal learning and astronomical research. Making the code available will also help ensure that the data, protocols and techniques used are also available for others to inspect, use, adapt and improve upon in their own applications. Ultimately, open sourcing WorldWide Telescope will also allow the wider community to guide and participate future in future development efforts such that it evolves to meet the needs of future users.

    “As a long-term collaborator, user and proponent of WorldWide Telescope, releasing it as open source is a natural and significant next step for the project. Educators, students and researchers now have the ability to directly influence and contribute to the future development and potential of this unique tool.”

    Alyssa Goodman, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

    WorldWide Telescope is written in .NET and the code is available now at https://github.com/WorldWideTelescope. This release brings a deep and complex open source .NET project to the astronomical community, while representing a substantial extension of the projects within the .NET Foundation.

    Many, many people dedicated themselves to making this release happen—too many to list here, but to all those who helped, we thank you!

    We encourage you to follow future conversations and developments regarding WorldWide Telescope on Twitter and Facebook.

    Jonathan Fay, Principal Software Development Engineer, Microsoft Research
    Michael Zyskowski, Engineer Manager, Microsoft Research
    Jim Pinkelman, Senior Director, Microsoft Research

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    Kinect for Windows SDK Beta Refresh Available

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    Kinect for Windows SDK beta refresh available for download

    Interest in the Kinect for Windows Software Development Kit (SDK) beta, released on June 16, 2011, has been strong, and we’re delighted to learn that so many developers and innovators who are experimenting with natural user interface (NUI) applications have taken advantage of the SDK to explore the potential of the Kinect sensor.

    In support of our commitment to encourage researchers and enthusiasts in their exploration of the exciting possibilities of the Kinect sensor, we have now released a refreshed version of the SDK. The community has provided us with a lot of good feedback, and this release addresses some of the top items you’ve told us about.

    Before summarizing the updates, let’s quickly recap the key features of the Kinect for Windows SDK beta. This non-commercial SDK beta enables human motion tracking, voice recognition, and depth sensing on PCs, enabling developers to create innovative natural user interface applications. The SDK includes drivers and rich APIs for raw sensor streams and natural user interfaces, as well as installation documents and resource materials.

    So, what’s in the refresh?

    • Driver enhancements: stability fixes to prevent crashes, including those that appear when a PC goes into sleep mode
    • Runtime enhancements: refinements to a number of APIs, improvements in time-stamping, and the removal of non-functional APIs to alleviate confusion (they will be reinserted if and when the functionality becomes available in future releases)

    The refresh also includes many improvements to the documentation, including clarifications and the deletion of information pertaining to non-functional components. Also, the SDK samples have been enhanced.

    If you’re an academic researcher or an enthusiast who wants to take advantage of the latest developments in natural user interface experimentation, we encourage you to learn more about and download the Kinect for Windows SDK beta refresh. We plan on releasing the next refresh of the Kinect for Windows SDK beta later this year (still with a non-commercial license).

    Let us know what you think—as this refresh demonstrates, we’re committed to using your feedback to make the best possible SDK!

    Tony Hey, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Research Connections

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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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