Microsoft outlined the specific projects to which it's looking to universities for research contributions on July 16, the opening day of its 2007 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit.
(The Research Faculty Summit has been an annual event. Starting next year, it will become an every-two-year event, with a new Microsoft graduate-student-focused research event occuring in the "off" years in between, company officials said.)
Microsoft officials made public the six research areas for which the company has published requests for proposal (RFPs) and the amount of funding the company is putting aside for each. Microsoft is offering academic researchers $3.7 million worth of research funding in the following areas:
• Cell phones as a platform for healthcare ($1 million). "Encourages the development of new prototypes and tools that utilize cell phones to enable better healthcare services in rural and urban communities."
• Biomedical computing for genome wide association studies ($700,000). "Encourages researchers to develop tools that can facilitate better data usage and analysis for genomewide association studies to provide a stronger framework for enabling personalized treatment methods."
• Intelligent Web 3.0 ($500,000). "Encourages research to help find, discover, extract, publish, and share information, at a desk or on the go, safely, making the Web meaningful (from string manipulation to meaning computation) and enabling a human-centric, context-aware model of information access."
• Mechanisms for safe and scalable multicore computing ($500,000). "Encourages research in how operating systems and runtimes can evolve to enable safe and scalable concurrent programs."
• Sustainable computing ($500,000). "Encourages research in innovative approaches toward power-optimized system architectures, and adaptive power management solutions for maximizing the energy efficiency of computing infrastructure."
• Human-robot interaction ($500,000). "Encourages research to take human-robot interaction to the next level through development of tools and methods that lead to practical applications with realistic commercial potential within five to 10 years."
Microsoft showed off a demo at the Windows Hardware Engineering conference (WinHEC) a few months back some of the ways it is anticipating cell phones being a key component of healthcare , especially outside of the U.S. (And it's no secret Microsoft has some big designs on healthcare.) In explaining Microsoft's overlapping interests in cell phones and healthcare, Mundie told WinHEC attendees:
In the developing world, "we might expect that a lot of these people are going to live in an environment, maybe a rural village. The one thing that we do know today is that those people, they're buying computers. They happen to call them cell phones. Cell phones today and in the next few years will have microprocessors that rival the performance capabilities of the things that we all designed for and used as desktops not that many years ago. And the ability to use these not just for the traditional telephony activity but for other applications is going to become increasingly important.
"One of the things we've been doing at Microsoft Research is looking for ways to use these types of screen and voice-based systems to be able to allow people to interact with computer activities even if they're illiterate. And so, we've been learning that by using speech and voice and video and symbology we're able to get people who have no previous training in computer-based systems, and, in fact, can't read or write to any significant degree to be able to perform some significant tasks."
Microsoft also has been making noise about its growing interest in green computing and robotics. Given how much of this year's Research Summit is focused on multi-core computing, I'm surprised that wasn't a bigger focus in the RFPs.