At Microsoft, even the security team gets in on the science fair.
Today, Microsoft held one of its periodic The Garage science fairs and we got to attend. The Garage is Microsoft’s program where employees work together on side projects during off hours. The results of those collaborations sometimes make it into Microsoft products. (Occasionally, some are released on their own to the public, such as Mouse Without Borders — a mouse that reaches across several PCs — that’s free to download.)
The science fair — which The Garage hosts about six times a year — is a chance for project creators to show their work to colleagues and higher-ups at the company.
Today’s fair — focused on the cloud and held in The Commons Mixer Building on the Microsoft campus — featured 57 booths displaying everything from a cloud-enabled emotion sensor for Windows Phone to DIY weather forecasts. Employees from various departments participated, from Microsoft Research to Bing to Office.
Joining them for the first time were members of the global security group — the folks in charge of physical security for the people and property on campus. They were showing off their invention: Project Good Samaritan.
The Project Good Samaritan booth at The Garage science fair.
The project uses Microsoft technology such as Kinect and Windows Phone, along with information gathered from employee badges that’s stored in the cloud.
Say someone in Building C on campus has a heart attack. Using a pre-determined gesture — such as waving the arms — a Kinect sensor can pick up that emergency help is needed in Building C. A text message can then be sent out to the mobile phones of all employees in Building C who are currently there — which the system would know because the employees waved a badge to get into the building earlier.
“It’s really an oddity to have physical security involved” in the science fair, acknowledged Brian Tuskan, senior director of global secuirty. Tuskan (at right, along with fellow security team member Joe Fairchild) was formerly a detective with the Redmond Police Department. “It’s like we’re the football team entering the science fair in high school.”
But, Tuskan added, “we’re the geeky jocks.” Plus, “working in a technology company — it’s like osmosis.”
Some of the other interesting projects (which won awards from the science fair judges for business value):
- MapDive, which allows people to do geo-temporal searches. For instance, if you want to go to Carnation, Washington, at a specific time of year, MapDive allows you to find out what events are happening during that time by simply zooming in on a map and limiting the time bar to a specific time frame. There’s also a Flickr feed so you can see what what photos people were posting from, say, New York City on Sept. 11, 2011. MapDive can also pull up worldwide earthquake data dating from the 8th to the 20th century.
A search on MapDive shows a Flickr feed featuring images from 9/11 in New York City.
“There’s a lot of data currently on the Web that’s temporally and spatially tagged but no good way of visualizing or harvesting it,” said Hamed Esfahani, who works in Bing engineering and was one of those who worked on MapDive. “This is a way.”
- Listen-N-Feel, a cloud-enabled emotion sensor for Windows Phone. It works like this: You say something into the phone. The app then takes not the content but things like the pitch and resonance of your speech, compares it statistically with speech data that’s stored in the cloud, and determines what kind of mood you’re in. (Listen-N-Feel determined I was in a good mood.)
- Simulated Bacteria in the Cloud, created by James McCaffrey, a research software development engineer. It’s a new way, based on algorithms derived from the behavior of bacteria, to make predictions based on extremely large amounts of complex data.
Arjmand Samuel, senior research program manager, shows off Listen-N-Feel.
James McCaffrey, research software development engineer, shows off Simulated Bacteria in the Cloud.
(Janet I. Tu photos)
Information in this article, originally published Feb. 10, 2012, was corrected later that day. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Brian Tuskan was formerly a detective with the Bellevue Police Department. He was actually a detective with the Redmond Police Department.