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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

    From flying robots to energy-efficient memory systems


    Today, February 5, 2014, marked the kickoff workshop for the Swiss Joint Research Center (Swiss JRC), a collaborative research engagement between Microsoft Research and the two universities that make up the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology: ETH Zürich (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich, which serves German-speaking students) and EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, which serves French-speaking students).

    Introducing the new Swiss Joint Research Center

    The Swiss JRC is a continuation of a collaborative engagement that began five years ago, when these same three partners embarked on ICES (Innovation Cluster for Embedded Software). In renewing our collaboration, we have broadened and deepened the computer science engagements, as we chart a course for another five years of research.

    During the two-day workshop at Microsoft Research Cambridge, we will launch seven new projects that constitute the next wave of research collaborations for the Swiss JRC. Today, we heard EPFL’s Edouard Bugnion describe the planned work of the Scale-Out NUMA project, which involves the study of the computer architectural and system software implications of aggressive scale-out, energy-efficient computing in datacenters.

    Workshop speakers, listed clockwise from upper left: Daron Green, Andrew Blake, James Larus, and Markus Püschel
    Workshop speakers, listed clockwise from upper left: Daron Green, Andrew Blake,
    James Larus (EPFL), and Markus Püschel (ETH Zürich)

    Now I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s sessions, especially the presentation by Otmar Hilliges (ETH Zürich), who will discuss the fascinating topic of human-centric flight. This proposed research seeks to create an entirely new form of interactive systems, leveraging micro-aerial vehicles (MAVs), also known as flying robots, to create novel user experiences. This project could have a profound impact on our future ability to navigate environments that are inhospitable to people or standard land-based robots.

    Attendees of the kickoff workshop for the Swiss JRC
    Attendees of the kickoff workshop for the Swiss JRC

    The following seven projects will be launched at the workshop:

    Scale-Out NUMA
    Edouard Bugnion, EPFL
    Babak Falsafi, EPFL
    Dushyanth Narayanan, Microsoft Research

    Micro-Aerial Vehicles (MAVs) for Interaction, Videography, and 3D Reconstruction
    Otmar Hilliges, ETH Zürich
    Marc Pollefeys, ETH Zürich
    Shahram Izadi, Microsoft Research

    Software-Defined Networks: Algorithms and Mechanisms
    Roger Wattenhofer, ETHZ
    Ratul Mahajan, Microsoft Research

    Investigation into fundamental issues concerning software-defined networks and how they can be tackled using a game theory approach

    Efficient Data Processing Through Massive Parallelism and FPGA-Based Acceleration
    Gustavo Alonso, ETH Zürich
    Ken Eguro, Microsoft Research

    Exploration of efficient implementation of FPGAs as co-processors in data centers and support for database querying

    Authenticated Encryption: Security Notions, Constructions, and Applications
    Serge Vaudenay, EPFL
    Ilya Mironov and Markulf Kohlweiss, Microsoft Research

    Developing enhanced security notions for authenticated encryption schemes and proving that they are secure

    Towards Resource Efficient Data Centers
    Florin Dinu, EPFL
    Sergey Legtchenko, Microsoft Research

    Researching how memory can be best utilized in homogeneous computational situations, where the operating system must handle parallel, data-intensive tasks

    Availability and Reliability as a Resource for Large-Scale in Memory Databases on Datacenter Computers
    Torsten Hoefler, ETHZ
    Miguel Castro, Microsoft Research

    Researching new approaches to building resilience and predicting resilience in systems with more economical, lower levels of redundancy

    These projects represent some of the most interesting and engaging research challenges in Microsoft Research’s broad portfolio of university partnerships. I particularly value the opportunity to share our domain expertise in these open collaborations with two of the world’s top computer-science research departments. All three organizations bring unique perspectives and great talent to the collaboration, and all focus on solving tough technical challenges in areas as diverse as human-computer interaction, machine vision, performance and energy scalability, mobile computing, and data center optimization.

    I’ll keep you up to date on this journey over the coming months and years, as the Swiss JRC works to accelerate scientific discoveries and breakthroughs that push the boundaries of our imagination.

    Daron Green, Senior Director, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Hopeful for the Future of Women in Computing


    Sitting on a plane heading back to the Pacific Northwest, I’m reflecting on the week I just spent in Minneapolis—a week of inspiration and impact at the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Women in Computing. I’m thinking about the pertinence of this year’s GHC theme, “Think Big, Drive Forward,” and how our 260-strong contingent of Microsoft employees carried that message forward. Wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the word “Innovator,” my fellow Softies and I strove to support and inspire the next generation of women computer scientists.

    Aspirations in Computing Dinner Celebration at Grace Hopper.
    Aspirations in Computing Dinner Celebration at Grace Hopper.

    It was invigorating to hear from Microsoft leaders Julie Larson-Green and Jacky Wright, as they, along with Maria Klawe, a Microsoft board member and president of Harvey Mudd College, informed conference attendees about career paths, technical leadership, and the future of women at Microsoft. Seeing young professionals’ eyes light up upon hearing that women comprise 29 percent of our senior leadership team, I could sense a renewed interest in careers at Microsoft.

    Microsoft’s senior technical women and executives also held closed-door sessions for the company’s GHC attendees, encouraging them to drive their careers forward and be the new spirit of our company. This message took on even greater resonance, among both the Microsoft and general attendees, when it was announced that Microsoft had just been named the most inspiring American company by Forbes magazine

    While such accolades are great, we know that for our company to continue to lead technological innovations and succeed in our transformative vision of “One Microsoft,” we will need more gender diversity on our research teams. Moreover, we can build those diverse teams only if the female talent is available, which means that we need to increase the number of women who are pursuing advanced degrees in computer science. We need to take direct action, like that of my fellow researchers—A. J. Brush, Jaeyeon Jung, Jaime Teevan, and Kathryn McKinley—who spent the conference helping PhD attendees prepare their poster presentations, find their dream jobs, publish their research, and pursue career opportunities.  

    But attracting more women to computing is an enormous task, one that is beyond the capabilities of any one company alone. Fortunately, the country’s top computer science institutions have banned together in the National Center for Women & Information Technology Academic Alliance (NCWIT AA), a broad partnership that includes academic, nonprofit, government, and industry members. These institutions will help us truly grow the pipeline of women innovators, which is why Microsoft Research is pleased to offer them project start-up assistance through the MSR NCWIT AA Seed Fund. The seed funds are designated for initiatives that recruit and retain women in computing and IT.

    My favorite part of the conference is spending time with the winners of the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Award. This award recognizes female high school students who have the potential to become amazing computer scientists. These young women run summer camps to excite middle school girls about computer science through Aspire IT. We were excited to support this year’s camp leaders with Surface devices and Kodu Touch, which exposed young women to game development. On Wednesday we hosted a special session with past winners and Microsoft executives, and on Friday night we honored 60 winners across the United States at meet-up sessions in 12 of our Microsoft retail stores.

    Pictured from left to right: Kinect aspiration winner Rochelle Willard from USC, Rane Johnson and Rico Malvar from Microsoft Research.Pictured from left to right: Kinect aspiration winner Rochelle Willard from USC with Rane Johnson-Stempson and Rico Malvar from Microsoft Research.

    On Saturday, we ended the conference by challenging attendees to “think big and drive forward” change in disaster response during the Grace Hopper Open Source Day. Free and open source software (FOSS) usage is becoming widespread, but learning how to contribute to an existing FOSS project or to release a new open source application can be daunting. Open Source Day enabled participants to spend time coding for an existing FOSS project or to get help starting their own community-developed software project. Our Microsoft Disaster Response Team led a group of young women working to create open source applications for disaster response.

    This year’s GHC inspired not only me, but 4,600 other attendees, exciting us all to change the future of technology and women in computing. If every attendee would encourage and mentor just one budding female computer scientist, we could almost double the number women studying computer science today at US universities. I am extremely optimistic we will make a difference, and I can’t wait to see the technology innovations that women will drive.

    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Initiative Celebrates Industry-Academia Collaboration


    Snow fell across the United Kingdom on January 18, 2013, but it was not about to deter some of Microsoft Research’s leading visionaries from making their way from the brand new Cambridge lab down to University College London (UCL). They headed to UCL for a special day that would commemorate the deep and long lasting intellectual ties between the two organizations by unveiling a new initiative: beginning this year, Microsoft Research Connections will annually co-sponsor four PhD scholarships at UCL.

    UCL students and Microsoft Research visitors at DemoFest
    UCL students and Microsoft Research visitors at DemoFest

    These new scholarships will promote collaborative projects between UCL and Microsoft Research—and build on a history of collaboration in computer and computational sciences, including such major joint projects as 2020 Science, with Professor Peter Coveney, and Resource Reasoning, led by Professor Peter O’Hearn. Although UCL is one of England’s oldest universities, it is also one of the most forward-looking, as is evident in the innovative work of its students, researchers, and faculty.

    University College LondonThe scholarships form part of Microsoft Research Connections’ PhD Scholarship Programme in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), which has supported more than 200 doctoral students since its inception in 2004. The highly competitive program supports PhD scholars at research institutions across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa in research areas ranging from core computing to biological and social sciences. Recipients receive half of their funding from Microsoft with matching funds from the university. As with all scholarships provided by the PhD Scholarship Programme, the UCL recipients will receive a three-year bursary and invitations to the Microsoft Research annual PhD Summer School in Cambridge, where they will 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 “champion.” In addition, some students may also be offered an internship at Microsoft Research.

    Andrew Blake, the laboratory director of Microsoft Research Cambridge, described PhD students as essential to research. He praised their willingness to try out new research projects and observed that “Working with them increases our ability to explore new ideas and contributes to the sustainability of the research lab.”

    Rick Rashid, the chief research officer of Microsoft Research, began the day with an inspiring talk on “Microsoft Research and the Evolution of Computing,” during which he described the growth of Microsoft Research over the past 20 years, regaling the audience with stories of how he has worked with product teams on all manner of projects—some of which have had a huge impact on users across the world. He then fielded questions from students and staff on topics ranging from Microsoft’s strategies on open source, to which developments in the pipeline at Microsoft are the most exciting, to how to manage research successfully.

    UCL scholarship winners—from left to right: Jan Kautz, Sebastian Riedel, Rick Rashid, Jade Alglave, and UCL Vice-Provost of Research David Price. (One recipient, Benny Chain, was missing.)From left to right: UCL scholarship winners Jan Kautz and Sebastian Riedel, Microsoft Research Chief Research Officer Rick Rashid, UCL scholarship winner Jade Alglave, and UCL Vice-Provost of Research David Price (UCL scholarship winner Benny Chain not pictured)

    At the end of his talk, Rick announced the four recipients of PhD scholarship funding and their selected projects:

    • Jade Alglave, Lecturer in the Programming Principles, Logic and Verification Group
      Weakness as a virtue
      (Microsoft Research Cambridge co-supervisor: Byron Cook)
    • Benny Chain, Professor of Immunology
      Experimental and computational studies on the human antigen-specific T-cell repertoire
      (Microsoft Research Cambridge co-supervisors: Neil Dalchau and Andrew Phillips)
    • Jan Kautz, Professor in the Virtual Environments and Computer Graphics Group
      3D Reconstruction of live scenes using multiple heterogeneous mobile depth cameras
      (Microsoft Research Cambridge supervisors: Shahram Izadi, Pushmeet Kohli, and Otmar Hilliges)
    • Sebastian Riedel, Lecturer in the Intelligent Systems Group
      Probabilistic databases of multimodal and universal schema
      (Microsoft Research Cambridge supervisor: Thore Graepel)

    The "Auto-Icon" memorializes Jeremy Bentham, UCL FounderA “DemoFest” was held after lunch under the watchful eye of “inspirational or spiritual” founder of UCL, Jeremy Bentham, whose preserved skeleton and wax head likeness, known as the “Auto-Icon,” sit in a glass case in the Cloisters. Among the living UCL luminaries in attendance were Vice Provost of Research David Price, Dean of Engineering Anthony Finkelstein, Dean of Mathematical and Physical Sciences Richard Catlow, and several faculty members.

    The atmosphere was buzzing with excitement as researchers in computer and computational sciences showcased their latest work to Rick Rashid and Jeanette Wing, the new head of Microsoft Research International. A spectrum of demos showed the breadth and depth of work at UCL across domains, from distributed multi-scale computing, resilient and fast networking in data centers, and interactive images on the computer science side, to behavior-change technologies for enhancing health, diffusion MRI of the brain, and patient blood-flow simulation for surgical planning on the health and wellness front.

    Alongside the research were teams of proud computer science students, who reveal their inventive spirit through their use of cutting-edge Microsoft technologies—from Windows Azure and Windows 8 Embedded to Windows Phone and F#. They demonstrated some truly inspirational projects, including apps and devices to tackle real-world problems, such as using .NET Gadgeteer and Windows Azure to create a keyhole surgery instructional tool for trainees in pediatric surgery. The brand new Try F# website was presented, with tutorials in financial computing provided by UCL, just a few days ahead of its launch at POPL 2013.

    Collaboration between academia and industry can run deep, and UCL’s research excellence has attracted a number of Microsoft Research’s senior researchers to faculty positions at UCL, including Byron Cook, professor of Computer Science; Stephen Emmott, visiting professor of Intelligent Systems; Shahram Izadi, visiting professor of Virtual Environments and Computer Graphics; and, of course, Andrew Herbert, former head of Microsoft Research Cambridge, who is a visiting professor in Computer Science at UCL.

    The enthusiasm, deep discussion, and display of innovative collaboration between UCL and Microsoft Research on this snowy day in January exemplify the best of how academia and industry can work together to change the world.

    Scarlet Schwiderski-Grosche, Senior Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA
    Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect and Technical Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA
    Nour Shublaq, Strategic Program Manager, UCL Computational Life and Medical Sciences Network

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