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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

    Summit Illuminates Computer Science Research in Latin America

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    I’m back home after an exciting and inspiring Microsoft Research Latin American Faculty Summit, which took place in the Riviera Maya, Mexico, from May 23 to 25. The 2012 Latin American Faculty Summit marked the eighth edition of a research event that started as my “brainchild” in 2005. That first summit was held in Embu, a small town near the city of São Paulo, with a modest gathering of researchers mainly from Brazil. This fascinating journey continued with a sequence of annual events, each one raising the bar over the last. Over the years, the summits have taken full advantage of the beauty and variety of Latin America, being held in such fantastic locations as Guadalajara, Mexico; Gamboa, Panama; Cardales, Argentina; Guaruja, Brazil; Cartagena, Colombia; and finally the stunning Riviera Maya in Mexico.

    Piramid of Kukulkan, Chichén Itzá (Ernesto Nava); Riviera Maya in Mexico

    Piramid of Kukulkan, Chichén Itzá (Ernesto Nava); Riviera Maya in Mexico

    More than that, however, the summits have taken advantage of the outstanding intellectual resources of Latin America. In the process, what began as a simple academic gathering has evolved into a premier research event that brings together representatives from academia, government, and industry. The summits are abuzz with high-powered participants, all eager to apply computer science to global challenges in disciplines as diverse as healthcare, energy, the environment, education, and sociology. Government participation has been solidified through formal partnerships with national research funding agencies, including SENACYT from Panama, FAPESP from Brazil, COLCIENCIAS from Colombia, and CONACYT from Mexico. Several summits were even inaugurated by the president of the host country, including the events in Panama, Argentina, and Colombia.

    As I look back over the just-concluded event, three highlights stand out. First, we were extremely honored that CONACYT agreed to partner with Microsoft Research in hosting this summit. This partnership ensured the participation of many prominent Mexican researchers, who presented their projects in the CONACYT Thematic Networks research track. Moreover, this partnership has generated several opportunities for collaboration between Microsoft Research and Mexican researchers.

    The second highlight was the presence of graduate students from Mexico, who in addition to attending the main event, also participated in three pre-event software engineering workshops. They greatly impressed the researchers from Microsoft with very cool demos that were created by using TouchDevelop technology. One of these students, Alisa Zhila from the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (IPN), recently was honored as a Microsoft Research PhD Fellow. We were ecstatic that the summit could contribute to shaping a new generation of computer scientists in Mexico.

    The third highlight has to be the location. While summit attendees certainly enjoyed the scenic and tranquil beauty of the magnificent Riviera Maya, the local community also benefitted from the summit:  through invitations to participate in the event and also through their active involvement in projects that may help preserve the local cultural legacy. Summit discussions explored opportunities to involve local researchers and students in the preservation of their cultural heritage, the Mayan language, through Microsoft Translator Hub technology. And yet another important link to the region’s cultural legacy was forged at the summit with the plan to include historical milestones of the Mayan culture in ChronoZoom.

    This summit featured a variety of stimulating keynotes, talks, panels, workshops, and project demonstrations, but most importantly, it gathered people eager to work together to make this world a better place with the help of science and technology. In a very real sense, the event didn’t conclude last week. It will continue on through the substantial number of meetings, projects, collaborations, and agreements that it generated, all of which makes us very proud to say: What a successful and rewarding event!

    Jaime Puente, Director, Latin America and the Caribbean, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Lab of Things enables research and teaching

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    Lab of ThingsSince its introduction in 2013, the Lab of Things (LoT) has captured the imagination of researchers, who are using this flexible, platform for experimental research that uses connected devices. During the past six months, we’ve updated and added features to the LoT. We’ve also seen LoT adopted in the classroom and used for some interesting research projects. We would like to share a few of these projects with you, and hope that they will inspire you to try using the Lab of Things for your own research.


    Bringing auditory messages to people who are deaf or hard of hearing

    The oven timer beeps, the doorbell rings, the smoke alarm blares: our homes are full of devices that deliver important messages via sound. But to people who cannot hear them, those acoustic messages remain undelivered. The Sound Choice team, whose members are students at the University of Washington, set out to solve this predicament. Using LoT, the student researchers integrated auditory data from a network of home sensors and processed the information in real time. The system then relayed the information to a wearable smartwatch that translated the message into tactile and visual output.

    Monitoring elderly community residents

    Many older people prefer to “age in place,” remaining in their own home as long as possible. But this poses serious problems for elderly folks living on their own. What happens if they fall or suffer a stroke? Who would know? While attending the University of Washington as a visiting scholar, Christian Bock, a student at Germany’s Heidelberg University, developed an experimental system for monitoring elderly people who live alone. His prototype (see the video below) uses three sensors—one in the kitchen, one on the refrigerator door, and one on the front door—to monitor the movements of the elderly resident. LoT links the devices together and stores the data in the Microsoft Azure cloud, where it is analyzed for signs of inactivity that could indicate an injury or illness. The data could be shared with family or community caregivers, who could then intervene in the event of an apparent medical problem.

    Learning about the Internet of Things

    Home sensors connected via LoT are just part of the much broader Internet of Things (IoT), that vast array of sensors in our houses, cars, stores, offices, and public spaces. It’s vital that researchers understand how to use the IoT as they design new systems. And what better place to start than by mastering the LoT? That was the conclusion of the faculty at Korea’s Kookmin University, whose Smart Embedded System Lab has been equipped with a comprehensive IoT curriculum based on the LoT platform. Students will use this curriculum to complete final projects across many different departments.

    Evaluating smart home apps

    At another Korean university, the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology, project lead Minsu Jo and his classmates are using LoT to understand the nature of people’s everyday activities in a home setting. To do so, they’re evaluating several smart home scenarios in their lab, which has been equipped with a variety of homelike sets and sensors, and they’re employing a home dashboard that lets users review and control the various apps. If you understand Korean, you’ll want to check out their video, which provides a high-level introduction to LoT and shows off some of their research.

    Using LoT for teaching

    As the foregoing examples show, people are using LoT as a teaching and research tool at universities around the world, and many of the student projects have been highly creative and potentially useful. See more LoT-based student projects and teaching materials, including university-level class curricula.

    Integrating with Microsoft Azure services

    Recently, we have added two samples to CodePlex that demonstrate how you can send LoT sensor data to the cloud via some powerful, but easy-to-use Azure services. The first sample shows how to use the Azure Mobile Services SDK to write data to a SQL Azure database from a LoT application. The second sample demonstrates how to integrate LoT with (1) Azure Event Hubs, which enables your app to process massive amounts of sensor data, and (2) Azure Stream Analytics, which lets you process complex event data in a low-latency, readily available, and highly scalable cloud environment.

    Now that you've learned about just a few of the creative and noteworthy ways that students and researchers are using the LoT platform, we hope that you’ll download the latest version and start deploying your research studies.

    Arjmand Samuel, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research

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    Hopping to Minneapolis to celebrate women in computing

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    Innovate to impact the world.Going to a major conference is always fun. It’s an opportunity to see old friends and make new ones, to network with experts, and to be exposed to fresh ideas and trends. All those benefits hold true for the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) for Women in Computing, the Anita Borg Institute’s annual conference on women’s roles in computing. But for me, GHC is meaningful for another reason: it’s an opportunity for Microsoft in general—and Microsoft Research in particular—to focus on growing and retaining women in computer science and engineering. That’s why I am so pleased that more than 260 of my fellow “Softies”—including 9 executives and 22 women who will speak or lead at conference events—are joining me at GHC. This strong presence enables us to reach out to women at every stage of their technology career development, from students through established professionals, and to demonstrate Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and innovation in computing.

    And make no mistake: such commitment is sorely needed. Women's share of US computer occupations declined to 27 percent in 2011 after reaching a high of 34 percent in 1990. The US Department of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2018 there will be 1.4 million open technology jobs in the United States. At the current rate of students graduating with degrees in computer science, only 61 percent of those openings will be filled—and only 29 percent of applicants will be women. 

    The need is all the more critical when you consider that the latest advances in improving healthcare, protecting the environment, and upgrading manufacturing have come from technological innovations. At Microsoft Research, we recognize that such technology breakthroughs require teams that are sufficiently diverse to anticipate, respond to, and serve the needs of a changing world.
     
    To bolster women’s participation in computing, we believe in a multipronged approach based on broad industry and academic partnerships. This approach builds exposure to computer science at an early age and supports women during undergraduate and graduate studies in computer science. Equally important, it promotes collaborations with the top women researchers and rising stars, such as the work I’m presently doing with Constance Steinkuehler of the University Wisconsin-Madison. We are researching the impact of exposing female middle school and high school students to computer science through an online community that teaches computational thinking via game design. Or, with Tiffany Barnes of North Carolina State University where we are working in conjunction with Rising Stars Alliance - a community of practice for student-led regional engagement as a means to broaden participation in computing. In addition, Microsoft Research collaborates closely with Ruthe Farmer at the National Center for Women in Technology in the Aspirations in Computing and the Aspire IT programs. Constance, Tiffany, and Ruthe will speak in greater detail about these projects during my session on Innovative Solutions in Attracting More Women in Computing at GHC.

    As part of our industry sponsorship, Microsoft is supporting 35 GHC scholarships. In addition, Julie Larson-Green, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Devices and Studios division, will be a mentor at the Senior Women’s Networking Lunch, and Jacky Wright, vice president of Microsoft Strategic Enterprise Services, will be speaking at and sponsoring the Women of Color Luncheon.

    At the Microsoft Research booth—an Airstream trailer—GHC participants can check out the latest devices and learn about opportunities at Microsoft.If you’re attending Grace Hopper, whatever your professional affiliation or career stage, please stop by our booth (an Airstream trailer decked out with the latest devices) to learn about opportunities at Microsoft. Be sure to take part in our scavenger hunt—which offers Xbox and Kinect prizes—and the Dance-Off Challenge at the closing party we co-sponsor with Google each year. Through partnerships with businesses, organizations, and individuals, we hope to grow the next generation of women in computing. Let’s bridge the gap to future innovation together, through diversity and creativity!

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

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