How a robo-trap zeroes in on Zika mosquitoes

Mosquito trap
Microsoft researcher Ethan Jackson sets up a robotic mosquito trap in Grenada. (Microsoft Photo)

BOSTON – Microsoft’s robotic mosquito trap is so smart it can tell one insect species from another – and that’s good news for scientists fighting the Zika virus, dengue fever and other mosquito-borne maladies.

It can also tell if you’re buzzing an electric toothbrush in its vicinity.

The toothbrush was used to dramatic effect today by Ethan Jackson, a Microsoft researcher from Redmond, Wash.

Jackson heads up Project Premonition, a research effort aimed at giving epidemiologists smarter tools for tracking disease outbreaks. Today he showed how the high-tech trap works at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Boston.

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Microsoft bets big on quantum computers

Todd Holmdahl
Microsoft executive Todd Holmdahl is leading the effort to create scalable quantum hardware and software. (Red Box Pictures via Microsoft / Scott Eklund)

Microsoft says it’s moving ahead from just talking about quantum computing to building an actual quantum computer, based on the physics that won a Nobel Prize this year.

The project will be headed by longtime Microsoft executive Todd Holmdahl, who previously played key roles in developing the Xbox gaming console, the Kinect motion sensor and the HoloLens augmented-reality system. Now he’s corporate vice president of Microsoft’s quantum program.

“I think we’re at an inflection point in which we are ready to go from research to engineering,” Holmdahl said in a Microsoft blog posting about the project on Nov. 20.

Microsoft isn’t alone in the field: For several years, Google has been working with NASA and a Vancouver-area company called D-Wave to evaluate quantum computer designs.

But neither is Microsoft a newcomer in the field: The Redmond-based software giant has had researchers exploring the quantum frontier for more than 15 years.

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Study: AI will change our lives but won’t kill us

Image: AI brain
Experts say human intelligence and artificial intelligence are likely to work together in the decades ahead, and that will pose a challenge for public policy. (Credit: Christine Daniloff / MIT file)

A 100-year project conceived by Microsoft Research’s Eric Horvitz to trace the impacts of artificial intelligence has issued its first report: a 28,000-word analysislooking at how AI technologies will affect urban life in 2030.

The bottom line? Put away those “Terminator” nightmares of a robot uprising, at least for the next 15 years – but get ready for technological disruptions that will make life a lot easier for many of us while forcing some of us out of our current jobs.

That assessment comes from Stanford University’s One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence, or AI100, which is Horvitz’s brainchild. Horvitz, a Stanford alumnus, is a former president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence and the managing director of Microsoft Research’s Redmond lab.

Horvitz and his wife, Mary, created the AI100 endowment with the aim of monitoring AI’s development and effects over the coming century. The 2030 report represents a first look at AI applications across eight domains of human activity.

“This process will be a marathon, not a sprint, but today we’ve made a good start,” Russ Altman, a bioengineering professor who is AI100’s Stanford faculty director,said today in a news release.

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Microsoft and MIT unveil smart tattoos

Image: DuoSkin smart tattoo
A DuoSkin touch-slider tattoo uses gold and silver leaf. (Credit: Jimmy Day / MIT)

Smart tattoos made out of super-thin electronics have been a thing for years, but now the technology is getting closer to fashionable prime time.

Microsoft Research has joined forces with MIT Media Lab for the latest iteration, dubbed DuoSkin. The skin-friendly process is the subject of a paper to be presented next month in Heidelberg, Germany, at the International Symposium on Wearable Computers.

“DuoSkin draws from the aesthetics found in metallic jewelry-like temporary tattoos to create on-skin devices which resemble jewelry,” the research team reports in its paper about the technology.

The tattoos consist of artistic arrangements of conductive gold and silver leaf, plus tissue-thin electronics.

Apply an array of the circuitry to your forearm, using a water transfer method similar to that used for everyday temporary tattoos, and you have a trackpad or touchpad to control a music player or smartphone.

Other applications include tattoos that can change color or light up to reflect your mood, and an antenna tattoo that can transmit data via Bluetooth or near field communications (a.k.a. NFC).

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Microsoft shows off ‘Star Wars’ holoportation

Image: HoloLens demo
Microsoft Research’s Shahram Izadi shows how a clip of his HoloLens-facilitated interactions with his daughter in a remote environment can be played back in 3-D. (Credit: Microsoft Research)

As Microsoft gets set to ship its HoloLens development kit, it’s previewing a “Star Wars” application called holoportation that takes full advantage of the mixed-reality headset.

The effect is like that scene in the original Star Wars movie, where Princess Leia pops up in a hologram and tells Obi-Wan Kenobi he’s her “only hope.” (The same concept is behind other holo-conferences sprinkled throughout the sequels and prequels.)

In a demo video, Microsoft Research’s Shahram Izadi shows how it works.

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Pegasus will put you in touch with stratosphere

Image: Pegasus I view
The sun shines above the clouds in a view captured by the Pegasus I balloon experiment. (Credit: MIcrosoft)

How high can the Internet of Things go? Microsoft Research plans to extend the IoT into the stratosphere with its Pegasus II high-altitude balloon experiment, and you’re invited to take a virtual ride.

The flight will build on years’ worth of research into creating networks that can take advantage of Microsoft Azure cloud services, even when part of the network is above the clouds.

Pegasus I sent a balloon from Othello, Wash., to an altitude of 100,000 feet in January 2015. The communication system experienced some glitches, but Microsoft Research’s Project Orleans team eventually recovered the instrument payload and extracted data that helped them prepare for the Pegasus sequel.

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Free e-book shares sci-fi’s ‘Future Visions’

"Future Visions"
“Machine Learning” by Nancy Kress is one of the tales in “Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft.” (Credit: Joey Camacho / Raw & Rendered for Microsoft Research)

When you’re developing technologies that sound like science fiction, why not use science fiction stories to show what you’re up to? That’s the motivation behind“Future Visions,” a free e-book from Microsoft Research that highlights the gee-whiz ideas its researchers are working on.

“We have a group of people who are trying to turn science fiction into reality, and it seems fitting that we’d want to tell that story with science fiction stories written by science fiction authors,” Steve Clayton, Microsoft’s chief storyteller, told GeekWire. (And by the way, Steve, how did you get that job title?)

The authors are top-drawer: Eight short stories come from science-fiction luminaries Elizabeth Bear, Greg Bear, David Brin, Nancy Kress, Ann Leckie, Jack McDevitt, Seanan McGuire and Robert J. Sawyer. There’s also a graphic mini-novel by Blue Delliquanti and Michele Rosenthal.

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