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Microsoft Research India has come of age

In its present avatar, MSR India does research in nine areas, including programming language and tools, mobility networks and systems.

Sunny Sen        Last Updated: March 8, 2013  | 12:42 IST

On August 14, 1977, P. Anandan left for the United States armed with an engineering degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. Twenty years later, he joined Microsoft Research Labs, the non-business entity of Microsoft, which uses technology to change lifestyles. In 2005, Anandan got the mandate to set up a lab in India. Today, the scientist is the Managing Director of Microsoft Research (MSR) India.

When he started out, Anandan found that research was very nascent in India. There was no eco-system or support for it. The India centre is becoming the fulcrum of research in technology for emerging markets. Its research included geo-spatial computing, which maps information about Earth, and sensor networks, which was research on how devices collaborate with each other. Another area of study was harnessing the power of multi-lingual systems; for instance, getting a query in English to also pick related documents in other languages.

From four areas, Microsoft India's research has expanded and it contributes a lot to Microsoft Research globally. The India lab produces about 100 research papers every year. "The eco-system of research is also growing outside Microsoft Research," says Anandan. "There is a more positive attitude than there was eight years back. Even IITs are much more research oriented than they used to be."

"Computer Science research in India has been lacking in quantum and visibility traditionally," says Prof. P J Narayanan of IIIT Hyderabad and President, ACM India. "However, there are increased efforts to up the quantity and quality of research in academia and industry today."

In its present avatar, MSR India does research in nine areas, including programming language and tools, mobility networks and systems (for example, it works in the field of efficient data transmission) and core theoretical computer science (to enable faster streaming of data).

VidWiki, one of MSR India's research projects, was showcased at TechFest , Microsoft Research's annual event, which showcases futuristic technology. The event is currently on at Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Washington state. VidWiki is an education technology that compiles thousands of videos online to make learning freely available to the masses. Content can be overlaid on these videos to make it more interactive. Another project, Digital Green, which started inside the lab as a project, was hived off as a separate non-governmental organisation four years ago, and is also funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This helps farmers to share knowledge through video lectures. This technology has been taken to countries in Africa.

"MSR India is known for its technology in emerging markets," says Jeannette Wing, Vice President and head of Microsoft Research International, who is responsible for the company's research labs in India, UK and China. "They are the only group in this field not been replicated at any other lab."

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