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Microsoft funds Virtual Earth research schemes

$1m invested in futuristic mapping projects

Microsoft announced $1.1 million in funding for academic research programmes that will develop new applications using its Virtual Earth and SensorMap technologies.

One of the recipients of the funding is a Harvard University project called CitySense, which is also funded by the National Science Foundation. CitySense is a network that consists of 100 nodes - PCs equipped with long-range Wi-Fi radios and sensors - that hang on streetlights in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The sensors monitor pollution, wind speed, humidity, temperature, rain fall and car traffic.

The data collected by the sensors will be displayed on SensorMap, technology developed at Microsoft that lets users publish and share sensor data and also browse live data on an interface such as Virtual Earth, Microsoft's mapping product.

Without access to the SensorMap technology, the Harvard researchers would have had to build their own program to publish the data. Microsoft hopes to learn from the project about using a common platform to support diverse types of sensor data publishers and users, the company said.

Another grant winner, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is developing a similar project that will use mobile sensors. That project will build two applications, including one that could be used in ecological studies to monitor bird sounds, heartbeats and location.

The second is a social application allowing a person to wear a jacket with activity-monitoring sensors. One University of Illinois researcher envisions applications that would allow a user to create an avatar that reflects what the user is doing in a virtual world, so family and friends can monitor their activities.

Researchers at the College of Computing at Georgia Tech University also received grant money from Microsoft to continue working on its City Capture project. They want to mount sensors developed by Microsoft Research that have high-resolution, high-focal length camera lenses around a city to document changes over time. With several pictures a day from multiple cameras integrated into Virtual Earth, the researchers can build a record of the city's evolution, they say.

In addition to the grants, winners receive access to relevant Microsoft publishing technologies and research support from the company.


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