Enabling Innovation Through Research


Innovation is a pretty loaded word in the technology world so for now I’m not going to dive in to debating it. Something I hear far too often though is “Microsoft is not innovative”. I can sort of see where people come to that conclusion though as you may expect, it’s not something I agree with :) Innovation comes in many forms and we need to do a better job of showing some of the work that goes on across the company…it’s something I have said for some time and harks back to the genesis of the Blue Monster. More on that soon…


Meantime, Microsoft Research Cambridge today hosted their second annual Enabling Innovation Through Research (EITR) event. The event focused on cloud computing, natural user interfaces (NUI) and the transfer for technology from MSR in to Microsoft products. Our teams there had 22 demos on show including one from the European Microsoft Innovation Center; one from the BSC-Microsoft Research Centre, a collaborative effort by the Barcelona Supercomputing Center and Microsoft Research Cambridge; another from the lab’s partnership with Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique (INRIA), the French national institute for research in computer science and control; and a fourth from Microsoft Research’s eXtreme Computing Group.

Some of the demos listed really caught my eye…not least one titled “Making Data Centres Power-Proportional: Clearing the Storage Hurdle”. Evidently the team in Cambridge has been working on a new data centre storage layer called Sierra that handles the migration of storage when machines are powered down for energy conservation. Okay so that’s not one the average dude in street is going to say “oooh, innovative Microsoft” so here are a few others that may catch the eye a little more…

Telltable - builds on Microsoft Surface to provide an interactive storytelling experience, similar to how children tell stories using physical toys. Children can create any digital characters and scenarios they think of, by taking photos of real world objects, people, and environments, or by finger painting. Using multi-touch gestures to manipulate these, children can act, narrate, and record imaginative stories together, and replay the stories later to share with their friends. The system was deployed in a primary school, and received overwhelmingly positive feedback. Teachers were particularly enthusiastic about its potential as an educational tool; to help children develop communication skills and create interactive tutorials for teaching foreign languages.

Peppermill - is an exploration into the design space of user interface devices that are able to source their power from the physical effort involved in interacting with them. In the prototype Peppermill device, a geared DC motor and a simple electronic circuit are used to enable interaction-powered rotary input. When turned, the circuit provides a temporary power source for an embedded device, and doubles as a sensor that provides information about the direction and rate of input. To illustrate the capabilities of the Peppermill device, we have developed a remote controlled multimedia-browsing application.

The Path Of Go - The popular board game Go originated in China 4000 years ago. It only takes minutes to learn, but a lifetime to master. Although computers have surpassed human skills at Chess, creating a competitive Go program remains a research challenge. The Path of Go is powered by three technologies developed at Microsoft Research Cambridge: a state-of-the-art Go engine; the F# language; and TrueSkill ranking and matchmaking. The entire game is written in managed code using XNA Game Studio. The game is due to be released as an Xbox 360 Live Arcade game in Summer 2010.


I need to get over to Cambridge more as they just have some great people over there doing amazing things. What amazes me almost as much on previous visits is the quiet and humble way they go about their work. Success is not measured in the same way as the mainstream Microsoft business so they don’t feel the need to talk about their work so much. It’s too good to hider under a bushel though so I’ll be doing my best to shine a light on their work from now on!

check out EITR 2010 for more info