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TechFair 2007
TechFair 2007

On May 2, 2007, in Washington, D.C., Microsoft Research hosted the 2007 TechFair. Computer scientists from Microsoft Research demonstrated groundbreaking innovations under development in the organization’s labs and gave guests an opportunity to interact with Microsoft Research executives and computer scientists to learn how they are helping to turn ideas into reality for Microsoft and for technology users around the world.

Boku: Lightweight Programming for Kids

Matthew MacLaurin, Principal Program Manager, Microsoft Research, Redmond

Boku uses a novel, high-level programming paradigm within a 3-D gaming world on the Xbox 360® to introduce children to creative use of the computer. Boku's programming model is extremely simple as it does not use a textual language or wiring diagrams. Kids use simple behavior cards to enable a small virtual robot to navigate its world and achieve specific tasks. The goal is to provide a gentle introduction to some of the foundational elements of creative programming to children who may not yet be ready for the complexity of classical computer languages. The user is exposed to behavior arbitration, generality, representation of an abstract state, real-time experimentation and feedback, simulation, sensors, physics, and message passing. The programming environment is integrated in an attractive gaming world and controlled entirely via an Xbox 360 game controller.

Mix: Search-Based Authoring

Matthew MacLaurin, Principal Program Manager, Microsoft Research, Redmond

Circuit boardSearch, aggregators, and RSS enable people to draw information from many dynamic streams of information on their desktop. People are getting used to reading dynamic content, but there are limited tools today to author and share dynamic content. Mix enables people to build and share dynamic documents with rich structure and visualizations on top of first-class query objects that draw from desktop, intranets, and Web-based search. Mix explores new user interfaces with regard to privacy and security. Sharing a query presents challenges, because the recipient of the query may not have the same access permissions as the publisher. This involves new notions of publishing and privacy control in the user interface.

Improved Podcast Authoring with Speech Recognition

Patrick Nguyen, Research Software Development Engineer, Microsoft Research, Redmond

Creation of audio/video content, podcasts in particular, presents challenges. Editing long podcasts can be tedious. The author must precisely identify the boundaries of the material he wishes to delete, move, or manipulate. This is time-consuming, because it requires marking of boundaries while listening or watching the content and then checking or modifying those boundaries by repeating the process multiple times. Automatic Speech Recognition recognizes the words and aligns them with the podcast content. The author then can manipulate the raw audio content by manipulating words in a GUI. Words can be processed further to extract keywords or summaries automatically.

Biometric Authentication via Fingerprint Hashing

Mariusz Jakubowski, Senior Researcher, Microsoft Research, Redmond

Circuits and keyboardWe present a new technique for generating biometric fingerprint hashes, or summaries of information contained in human fingerprints. Our method calculates and aggregates various key-determined metrics over fingerprint images, producing short hash strings that cannot be used to reconstruct the source fingerprints without knowledge of the key. This can be considered a randomized form of the Radon transform in which a custom metric replaces the standard, line-based metric. Resistant to minor distortions and noise, the resulting fingerprint hashes are useful for secure biometric authentication, either augmenting or replacing traditional password hashes. As shown in our hands-on demo, this approach can help increase the security and usability of Web services and other client-server systems. 

Asirra: Securing Web Services with Cute Kittens

John Douceur, Researcher, Microsoft Research, Redmond

Can you tell a dog from a cat? Perhaps you've seen Web services that require you to solve a small challenge to prove you are not an automated script. This is known as a CAPTCHA, and it commonly involves looking at distorted text and typing it into a box. Since OCR software can identify distorted characters quite well, CAPTCHAs add visual clutter to their images, but this also makes the challenges harder and more annoying for humans. We are developing a system, called Asirra, that challenges users to classify images of dogs and cats, a task difficult for software but easy and even fun for humans. Because software is of little help to us, Asirra needs a large source of classified pet images. We obtain them through an alliance with, a nationwide pet-adoption site, which benefits because every challenge implicitly advertises adoptable pets.

HDView: IE Plug-in for Viewing Very Large Images

Matt Uyttendaele, Research Software Development Engineer, Microsoft Research, Redmond

New imaging modalities range from photo collections arranged in 3-D to super-high-resolution (gigapixel) images to 360-degree panoramic video. This is revolutionizing the way that people view and interact with their photos. We will demonstrate a new viewer that can be embedded in any application or Web page. It merges traditional slide shows, super-high-resolution panoramas, high-dynamic-range imagery, and 360-degree animations to create an incredibly rich photo-viewing and -browsing experience. During TechFest, we will demonstrate these features. A version with a subset of these features will be made available both internally and externally. We also will demonstrate a prototype authoring tool that generates HDView content.

Information-Centric Browsing and Search

Silviu-Petru Cucerzan, Researcher, Microsoft Research, Redmond

WomanOur project proposes a substantial change in the way we interact with text and information. This includes instant access to relevant data on the Web, as well as contextualized bookmarks and search. The core of the system is a powerful, named-entity recognition and disambiguation technology. The system identifies and disambiguates the named entities and the most important concepts in text based on information extracted from a large, encyclopedic collection and search-query logs. It also enables a user to create context-dependent bookmarks and to share them with other users. The system then employs such data as user feedback to improve its performance. In addition, the system enables a user to perform context-aware Web searches. For this, the system disambiguates the user's queries by using the information extracted from the documents the user has been reading or editing.

Efficient Point-to-Point Shortest Paths

Andrew Goldberg, Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research, Silicon Valley
Renato Werneck, Researcher, Microsoft Research, Silicon Valley

A lot of progress recently has been made in point-to-point shortest-path algorithms. In particular, highly practical algorithms have been developed for computing driving directions. We demonstrate our recent codes for this application. These codes work well on servers, desktops, and handheld devices.

Personal Robots in Education

Bryan Barnett, Lead Program Manager, Microsoft Research, Redmond
Douglas Blank, Associate Professor of Computer Science, Bryn Mawr College

To attract more students to computer science and engineering, the first courses they take must be compelling and connect to real-world interests. Personal Robots is a partnership between Microsoft Research, Bryn Mawr College and the Georgia Institute of Technology to develop an inexpensive, highly engaging, easily programmed robotic device coupled with challenging introductory curriculum that will allow every beginning programming student to have fun and write meaningful code from their very first days in beginning computer science courses.

Tablet PCs in Engineering Education & Research

Jane Prey, Program Manager, Microsoft Research, Redmond
Joseph G. Tront, Professor, Electrical Engineering, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Tablet PCs are one of the newest innovations in the computing and communications world. These devices consist of a standard notebook PC configured with a screen (tablet/slate) which acts as both a display device as well as an input device. A stylus or pen is used to input standard mouse-type commands as well as gesture commands and electronic ink drawings. By using Tablet PCs, instructors are able to increase their effectiveness by making more dynamic presentations and by including active exercises that capture the attention and invigorate the creative thinking skills of their students. Several software packages are available to support the pedagogical needs of the engineering classroom as well as typical engineering group collaborative environments. This demo will introduce the use of OneNote, Classroom Presenter, WriteOn, ChemPad, VectorPad and Math Journal along with a rudimentary three dimensional drawing package called 3D Journal. We will provide sufficient instruction for faculty to have a basic competency with the technology. Most importantly, we will show faculty various pedagogical practices that we have found helpful in using these technology tools in the classroom over the past two years.