Microsoft Research Special Projects group tipped to take on Google X

Microsoft Research Special Projects group tipped to take on Google X

Summary: Microsoft is building a Special Projects team expected to be headed by former DARPA innovation boss Norman Whitaker, which will focus on 'disruptive next-generation technologies.'


There's a new Special Projects Group in Microsoft Research (MSR) that is tasked with working on "disruptive technologies that could benefit the company and society."


That unit sounds a lot like Google X from its description. And from what one contact of mine says, that similarity is intentional.

I'm hearing from my sources that the new MSR Special Projects team boss is Norman Whitaker, who most recently was the Deputy Director of the Information Innovation Office at DARPA, the U.S. Department of Defense's research arm. Whitaker previously was the Program Manager for the DARPA Urban Challenge program, which encompasses self-driving vehicles, as well as other kind of automated bots.

While the rest of Microsoft Research is focused on advancing "the state of the art in computing through a combination of basic and applied research" (according to the Microsoft Careers job site), the MSR Special Projects Group is more of a startup wthat is focused specifically on "disruptive next-generation technologies."

The general areas that the new Special Projects team will address include "hard and interesting problems" in the areas of systems, networking, distributed computing, UX design, devices, cloud, mobility, machine learning/artifical intelligence, big data and datacenter technologies, according to a recent job posting. In short -- the same focus areas of Microsoft as a whole and Microsoft Research, in particular.

Google X is Google's not-so-secret lab that is working on "moonshot" projects in the areas of Internet of Things -- like self-driving cars -- machine-learning and other leading-edge areas. Google Glass, Project Loon (Internet service via hot-air balloons) are/were also GoogleX projects.

I've asked Microsoft officials when the new Special Projects team was formed and who is heading it up. Microsoft officials declined to comment.

Update (April 29): Microsoft has acknowledged publicly that it hired Norman Whitaker to head up MSR Special Projects

From the Microsoft Research site:

Norman A. Whitaker is a Microsoft distinguished scientist and managing director of Microsoft Research Special Projects. As head of that group, he provides a structure for projects with focused objectives aimed at altering and expanding what people imagine is possible with technology.

Previously, Whitaker served as deputy director of the Information Innovation Office at DARPA, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Topics: Emerging Tech, Microsoft, Tapping M2M: The Internet of Things


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Copying again...

    But just might be successful.
    • Copying? Really, based on that logic....

      Google has copied Windows, Windows Mobile, Windows Office, Windows IE browser, Windows Hotmail ...the list goes on and on.
      $crewgle owes it's existence to Windows and running it's ad based income generator on Windows machines world wide, stealing your data as it sees fit. $crewgle would not exist w/o Microsoft and Windows, the host to it's non revenue generating series of flops.
      Only advertising has worked so far, and people like you used to Whig out and go ballistic over anyone coming near your personal data, but now....well you are showing your true colors.
      • Did you even read the title?

        MS is now trying do what the Google X projects organization has been doing.

        That is a "look I'm doing it too"...
        • I read the title and also your "Title"

          It just takes someone of your ABM standing to even make that "Look, I'm doing it too" comment after all the times Google has done the "Look, I'm doing it too".
          $crewgle is built on "look, I'm doing it too". Everything Microsoft and Apple and Facebook and many other tech companies has ever done is in $crewgle's "Look, we are doing it too!!" playbook.
          Don't you hate $crewgle for stealing your data w/o permission? You used to be against that like it was black plague and if msft even so much as accessed your machine via WU to let you know the updates you need you were crying foul and screaming bloody murder.
          Now you have a company that even if you Pay for their "look we are doing office apps Too!!" offering, such as it is, they tell you in small print that all of your personal data is their's to keep and use as they see fit forever. I would think you'd be running in the opposite direction from that company. But from your posts it's clear you are just another $crewgle sheeple.
          • You seem to be incoherent.

            Calm down. Put your fingers on the right row....

            I give very little data to anyone. No Google accounts, no Microsoft accounts...

            Does that mean they have NO data on me? Nope. They have lots. Both MS and Google, Facebook...

            All I said was that Microsoft is copying an organization structure that Google had. Thats all the article said.

            And if you were paying attention, what I said was in favor of the action.
          • I saw.

            But after your many years of seeming like a long lost SJVN love child, one comment is not much.
      • Hmmm

        Microsoft ripped off Pen Computing for tablets..
        Microsoft ripped off IBM with the smartphone (As did the rest of the silicon valley thieves)
        Microsoft and Apple ripped of Xerox for the desktop OS
        Microsoft ripped off WorldWideWeb (later renamed to Nexus) with their terrible IE
        Microsoft bought hotmail in 1996 which was ripped off from Remy Wetzels' "WebMail"

        The list goes on...they have invented jack shit
        • Hmmmmm

          Sounds like you and MSFT should be great partners then.
        • No one has been inventing from nothing

          We all start somewhere. Pretty much everything you list is something Apple and Google have also done.
    • I think it's only fair since Google copies MS, and others, all the time

      MS had a phone OS, Google buys Android. MS had connected house software, Google buys Nest. MS has an OS, Google creates ChromeOS

      The list continues on.

      All Google does is copy. Even self driving cars were created long before Google put their foot into it. Search and advertising? Google copied that.

      Google+? Nope, just a Facebook wannabe.

      I'm sure you're wondering, as we are, if Google will ever come up with an original idea one day...
      • LMAO

        William.Farrel, you are absolutely hilarious. Just some scared little troll taking any factual observation as an attack against your beloved M$. Why do you even get on this board if you're this sensitive? Just go hide in your little cave and read nothing except the baloney M$ wants you to digest.

        And, BTW, android didn't start life as a phone OS, it was an OS developed for cameras. If you can't learn anything else, at least learn to Google.
        • It would seem I touched a raw nerve in you, FrankInKy

          I guess when you G$$gle apologists get backed into a corner, when the fact goes against everything you want people to believe, when people don't agree with your anti-MS rhetoric, you fire up your spin machines, and let out the battle cry - DEFEND THE HIVE!!

          I do believe you are laughing - a nervous laugh to be sure, but I do understand why you do that.

          BTW - "The early intentions of the company were to develop an advanced operating system for digital cameras, when it was realized that the market for the devices was not large enough, and "diverted their efforts to producing a smartphone operating system to rival those of Symbian and Windows Mobile"

          That was before G$$gle bought them, so G$$gle did not buy a camera OS, they bought a smartphone OS, though I doubt scared little trolls like yourself would have known that.

          If you can't learn anything else, at least learn to G$$gle.
          • OMG

            Your volatile responses are cracking me up! Is this just a joke? Admit it, you're just portraying an M$ troll, no one is this excessive and vulnerable.

            Now that I see your joke I have to say it's good. It's brilliant to portray such a simple dolt.
          • Calm down Frank, it's only an R&D division, after all

            My goodness, you people really do obsess about Microsoft to no end - you live breathe and sleep MS, or so it would seem.

            You should take up a hobby or something. Or is it you really ARE paid by G$$gle to post the statements you do?

            Seriously, its not normal for someone to post and act the way you do for fun, as that would be childish, unless of course trolling IS the hobby you've undertaken...

      • For that matter...

        They are all IBM wannabes...

        IBM has (along with AT&T) one of the longest running original research branch in the world. They were the ones to perfect the computer design. They were the ones to perfect the semiconductor memory, they were the ones that provided the first disks, and to make the multi-TB disks possible. They were the ones to define how databases can work. They were the ones to invent memory paging. They were the first to combine a CRT and a computer for display.

        For AT&T it was Bell Laboratories. They perfected circuit switching, line diagnostics, signal processing... and following a model from MULTICS they developed a simplified, portable, and logical operating system: UNIX. And that has turned out to be the most flexible design for an operating system ever.

        Everybody else just imitates.

        Microsofts problem is that they can't seem to deliver on their research, and a fair amount of that research is just rehashing what was done quite a while ago.

        I have no problem with this copying going on. It is a good model to follow. Good ideas get expanded in different ways. Bad ideas get identified and dropped.
        • Can't seem to deliver on their research?

          Selective eyesight?
        • jesse: Reality check time...

          MS has been doing R&D before Google even existed, and now, MS's R&D budget is bigger than Google's and Apple's combined.

          So, it's Google that's late to the R&D game, and copying everybody else, or just buying companies after all the research has been done.
          • No wonder

            They need 3 "inventors" to patent "page up" and "page down":

            Even when those kind of things existed for years before, those kind of brilliant minds are not cheap for sure.

            More serious, I agree with you on this one - MS deserves credit and Google sucks, I know how Google sometimes works regarding buying technology - it must be (close to) ready or they simply don't want to put any money on it.
          • If rounded corners can be patented, then page-up/page-down, can

            also be patented, because, they are a much bigger deal than rounded corners; also, if something is going to be patented, it doesn't matter how many "inventors" it takes. An idea can come from cooperation and elaboration from many.
    • Um, no

      MSR has been around since long before anyone heard of a Google, and they have a long history of doing weird research (and amusing, in the case of SongSmith.) If they've expanded their mission to include non-obvious forays into other areas (as Google has), why would anyone object to this? If Microsoft comes up with a safer airplane, or a more ecologically friendly paint... then who is it that loses?

      I just don't understand this tech-partisanship at all. We're not at a baseball game, folks!