One of the things I find most fascinating about technology is old-school, military-industrial complex style R&D. Research and Development differs from even the coolest and most innovative products that tech companies come out with because their commercial products are expected to turn a profit, R&D products don’t have that expectation though they’re supposed to have potential in the long-term. R&D in the tech industry seems to take some of the best and brightest minds and sets them loose on their passions with all the creative energy they can muster. That’s why R&D is the thing to watch in my opinion and has the most interesting products. Microsoft Research is one of those organizations that is more than just a think-tank and comes out with cool new products all the time.
Some of the coolest products you’ve heard about around the web, you wouldn’t know Microsoft Research had a hand in. Here are some of the projects and products they’ve been apart of in the last year:
- The World Wide Telescope
The World Wide Telescope is a Silverlight-driven web application that allows anybody to explore the solar system or the Earth. You really have to see it to believe it.
- Project Natal for X-Box 360
Certainly you’ve seen the videos of people playing games on the X-Box 360 without a controller, just using their body through the Project Natal system. Jamie Shotton, a researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge in England, devised a machine learning algorithm to recognize gestures in real time instead of trying to preprogram body motions. You can learn more about Project Natal and its evolution through this article at Scientific American.
- Solving Network Problems
Microsoft Research Redmond expanded and filled in the gaps of enterprise-level network tools to be able to work in smaller, wider variety home and small business networks. Their product, NetMedic, and research reached its goal of being able to provide useful information by pinpointing the source of network problems. You can read about the team’s work in this Microsoft Research news article and where it’s headed next.
- Fighting Child Pornography
Coming up with something called PhotoDNA, Microsoft Research in collaboration with a digital image expert was able to give a signature to images that would persist beyond small changes. This identifier allows police, ISPs, and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to scan for images of child pornography and abuse. They currently scan 250,000 images a week and with the underlying PhotoDNA technology that Microsoft Research developed, this growing problem may not continue growing for long.
- Microsoft Tag
Microsoft Tag is a High Capacity Color Barcode currently in Beta that Microsoft Research has been working on. Currently, regular 2-d barcodes like a UPC is considered quite limited because it is not able to store much information in the precious real estate it takes up. Microsoft Tag is smaller and is able to store more information like names and URLs for products. All you would have to do is scan the Microsoft Tag with your phone through the MS Tag app and it would tell you the rest of the information. Microsoft Tag also, according to them, beats out QR codes in consistent readability even through poorly focused photos.
- Contributions to Windows 7
Microsoft Research team members were active contributors to Windows 7 making it one of the most cutting-edge operating systems to ever be released.
- Bing Translator
Microsoft Research was also involved in the Bing Translator, a service that is capable of auto-detecting a language used in a text and translating it into your selected language.
- Project Tuva
Project Tuva is a very interesting system that Microsoft Research is working on. Project Tuva takes some classic Physics lectures from Dr. Richard Feynman at Cornell University in 1964 and uses an enhanced video player with searchable video, transcripts, notes and other interactive features to make the knowledge more accessible to everyone. It’s interesting to see the lectures through Project Tuva, but it’s exciting to think about the potential of the video player, synchronized transcripts, and searchable video for modern lectures, tv news, and other videos.
From All Over the Globe
Microsoft Research has world-wide locations from Asia, India, England, and the USA to many more locations. All of these locations allow brilliant minds from around the world to collaborate and bring their different cultural offerings to the table.
Along with being spread throughout the world, Microsoft Research also reaches outside of its walls through its external research programs. It has a number of grants and fellowships that results in collaboration with other brilliant minds at Universities and companies.
Stay Tuned In
With all of the cool things that Microsoft Research collaborates on and produces, I highly recommend visiting their website, subscribing to the RSS feed, or following them on Twitter. You never can tell when or what the next cool thing they’re working on will break the surface, but this will let you be one of the first to know!