• Digital Assistance for Sign-Language Users

    Posted by Rob Knies

    Stakeholders in the sign-language-recognition project

    Sign language is the primary language for many deaf and hard-of-hearing people. But it currently is not possible for these people to interact with computers using their native language.

    Because of this, researchers in recent years have spent lots of time studying the challenges of sign-language recognition, because not everyone understands sign language, and human sign-language translators are not always available. The researchers have examined the potential of input sensors such as data gloves or special cameras. The former, though, while providing good recognition performance, are inconvenient to wear and have proven too expensive for mass use. And web cameras or stereo cameras, while accurate and fast at hand tracking, struggle to cope with issues such as tricky real-world backgrounds or illumination when not under controlled conditions.

    Then along came a device called the Kinect. Researchers from Microsoft Research Asia have collaborated with colleagues from the Institute of Computing Technology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) to explore how Kinect’s body-tracking abilities can be applied to the problem of sign-language recognition. Results have been encouraging in enabling people whose primary language is sign language to interact more naturally with their computers, in much the same way that speech recognition does.

  • Providing Short Videos with Dynamic Looping—Automatically

    Posted by Rob Knies

    Video-looping parameters

    With today’s mobile devices, users can find shooting high-definition video as easy as snapping a photograph. That should mean, before long, that preserving and sharing bursts of video might become as commonplace as the current practice of exchanging still images.

    That’s the backdrop for a research project from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Microsoft Research Redmond that captures a spectrum of looping videos with varying levels of dynamism, ranging from a static image to a highly animated loop.

    The research is detailed in a technical paper, written by Zicheng Liao of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Neel Joshi and Hugues Hoppe of Microsoft Research Redmond, titled Automated Video Looping with Progressive Dynamism. The paper is among the 19 authored all or in part by Microsoft Research that have been accepted for presentation during the 40th International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques (SIGGRAPH 2013), being held July 21 to 25 in Anaheim, Calif.

  • Gates: The Golden Age for Computer Science Is Now

    Posted by Rob Knies

    Bill Gates during Faculty Summit 2013

    Imagine that you got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ask a question to Bill Gates. What would that be? Would you ask about health care? Software? Education? Philanthropy?

    For several people, that’s exactly what happened July 15 in the opening keynotes of Microsoft Research’s 14th annual Faculty Summit, and all those topics were addressed—and more.

    More than 400 academic researchers from around the world got a rare opportunity to hear Gates, chairman of Microsoft, discuss a wide variety of topics, including all of the above, during a freewheeling session lasting more than an hour, most of which was spent answering questions from the assembled academics. He kept the audience enthralled, fielding the inquiries with thoughtful responses both illuminating and intriguing.

  • Indian Researcher Helps Prove Math Conjecture from the 1950s

    Posted by Rob Knies

    Nikhil Srivastava

    On June 18, Adam Marcus and Daniel A. Spielman of Yale University, along with Nikhil Srivastava of Microsoft Research India, announced a proof of the Kadison-Singer conjecture, a question about the mathematical foundations of quantum mechanics. Ten days later, they posted, on Cornell University’s arXiv open-access e-prints site, a manuscript titled Interlacing Families II: Mixed Characteristic Polynomials and The Kadison-Singer Problem.

    Thousands of academic papers are published every year, and this one’s title wouldn’t necessarily earn it much attention beyond a niche audience … except for the fact that the text divulged a proof of a mathematical conjecture more than half a century old—and the ramifications could be broad and significant.

    The Kadison-Singer conjecture was first offered in 1959 by mathematicians Richard Kadison and Isadore Singer. In a summary of the achievement, the website Soul Physics says, “… this conjecture is equivalent to a remarkable number of open problems in other fields … [and] has important consequences for the foundations of physics!”

  • Digital Hair Manipulation Gets Dynamic

    Posted by Rob Knies

    A few strokes on an image puts the hair-manipulation process in place

    Had your hair cut lately? Most of us probably can answer that one affirmatively. Use a brush or comb? Well, yeah, of course. Does your hair blow in the wind? Only when it’s windy.

    Such simplistic questions might have you scratching your head. In real life, the appearance of human hair is edited regularly, either by the elements or by ourselves. It’s something so natural, so normal, that we don’t even think about it.

    Lvdi Wang does, though. That’s because Wang, an associate researcher in the Internet Graphics Group at Microsoft Research Asia, has been working for the past year and a half on improving the appearance of hair in digital images, an enormously challenging task in technical terms.