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Microsoft shares open source system for training drones, other gadgets to move safely on their own

Microsoft AIRP 01 LR

Microsoft researchers Shital Shah, Ashish Kapoor and Debadeepta Dey are leading development of the Aerial Informatics and Robotics Platform. Photography by Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures.

Posted February 15, 2017 By Allison Linn

When most people with normal vision walk down the street, they can easily differentiate the things they must avoid – like trees, curbs and glass doors — from the things they don’t, such as shadows, reflections and clouds.

Chances are, most people also can anticipate what obstacles they should expect to encounter next — knowing, for example, that at a street corner they should watch out for cars and prepare to step down off the curb.

The ability to differentiate and anticipate comes easily to humans but it’s still very difficult for artificial intelligence-based systems. That’s one big reason why self-driving cars or autonomous delivery drones are still emerging technologies.

Microsoft researchers are aiming to change that. They are working on a new set of tools that other researchers and developers can use to train and test robots, drones and other gadgets for operating autonomously and safely in the real world. A beta version is available on GitHub via an open source license.

It’s all part of a research project the team dubs Aerial Informatics and Robotics Platform. It includes software that allows researchers to quickly write code to control aerial robots and other gadgets and a highly realistic simulator to collect data for training an AI system and testing it in the virtual world before deploying it in the real world.

Ashish Kapoor, a Microsoft researcher who is leading the project, said they hope the tools will spawn major progress in creating artificial intelligence gadgets we can trust to drive our cars, deliver our packages and maybe even do our laundry.

“The aspirational goal is really to build systems that can operate in the real world,” he said.

That’s different from many other artificial intelligence research projects, which have focused on teaching AI systems to be successful in more artificial environments that have well-defined rules, such as playing board games.

Kapoor said this work aims to help researchers develop more practical tools that can safely augment what people are doing in their everyday lives.

“That’s the next leap in AI, really thinking about real-world systems,” Kapoor said.

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The Windows Azure

The Windows Azure public cloud platform is one of the three pillars of Microsoft’s Cloud OS vision that will transform the traditional datacenter environment, help businesses unlock insights in data stored anywhere, enable the development of a wideWindows Azure range of modern business applications, and empower IT to support users who work anywhere on any device while being able to manage these devices in a secure and consistent way. The other two pillars of the Cloud OS are, of course, Windows Server 2012 R2 and Microsoft System Center 2012 R2, and Microsoft Press will soon be releasing.

General Availability (GA) of these latest versions of Windows Server and System Center is currently scheduled for October 18, 2013. In sync with these two releases, the Windows Azure platform has also been enhanced in recent months with preview releases of new services like Windows Azure BizTalk Services, Windows Azure Traffic Manager, and Windows Azure HDInsight. And in the same timeframe, services that were previously in preview like Windows Azure Web Sites and Windows Azure Mobile Services have now reached the GA milestone.

At the core of the Windows Azure platform is its ability to execute applications running in the cloud. Windows Azure currently provides four different models for doing this: Web Sites, Virtual Machines, Cloud Services, and Mobile Services. Together these four approaches comprise the compute services portion of the Windows Azure platform, and they can either be used separately or combined together to build more complex solutions that can meet specific business needs.

Windows Azure Web Sites is a scalable, secure, and flexible platform you can use for building web applications that run your business, extend the reach of your brand, and draw in new customers. It has an easy-to-use self-service portal with a gallery of the world’s most popular web solutions including .DotNetNuke, CakePHP, DasBlog, WordPress, and many others. Or you can simply create a new website from scratch and then install a tool like WebMatrix—a free, lightweight web development tool that supports the latest web technologies such as ASP.NET, PHP, HTML5, CSS3, and Node. You can use WebMatrix to create websites and publish applications for Windows Azure. And if you use Microsoft Visual Studio as a development environment, you can download and install a Windows Azure SDK so you can build applications that can take advantage of the scalable cloud computing resources offered by Windows Azure.
When you create a new website you can also have the option to create a database for storing the data for your web application. You can choose to create either a SQL database or a MySQL database for your website. You can also choose to publish your website from source control. This sets up continuous deployment from source control providers like Team Foundation Service, CodePlex, GitHub, or Bitbucket.

The running applications on machines in an Internet-accessible data center can bring plenty of advantages. Yet wherever they run, applications are built on some kind of platform. For on-premises applications, this platform usually includes an operating system, some way to store data, and perhaps more. Applications running in the cloud need a similar foundation. The goal of Microsoft’s Windows Azure is to provide this. Part of the larger Azure Services Platform,Windows Azure is a platform for running Windows applications and storing data in the cloud. The Windows Azure Compute service can run many different kinds of applications.

A primary goal of this platform, however, is to support applications that have a very large number of simultaneous users. (In fact, Microsoft has said that it will build its own SaaS applications on Windows Azure, which sets the bar high.) Reaching this goal by scaling up—running on bigger and bigger machines—isn’t possible. Instead, Windows Azure is designed to support applications that scale out, running multiple copies of the same code across many commodity servers. To allow this, a Windows Azure application can have multiple instances, each executing in its own virtual machine (VM). These VMs run 64-bit Windows Server 2008, and they’re provided by a hypervisor (based on Hyper-V) that’s been modified for use in Microsoft’s cloud. To run an application, a developer accesses the Windows Azure portal through their Web browser, signing in with a Windows Live ID. They then choose
whether to create a hosting account for running applications, a storage account for storing data, or both.

Once the developer has a hosting account, they can upload the application, specifying how many instances the application needs. Windows Azure then creates the necessary VMs and runs the application. It’s important to note that a developer can’t supply their own VM image for Windows Azure to run. Instead, the platform itself provides and maintains its own copy of Windows. Developers focus solely on creating applications that run on Windows Azure.
A developer can use only Web role instances, only Worker role instances, or a combination of the two to create a Windows Azure application. If the application’s load increases, they can use the Windows Azure portal to request more Web role instances, more Worker role instances, or more of both for his application. If the load decreases, he can reduce the number of running instances. To shut down the application completely, the developer can shut down all of the application’s Web role and Worker role instances.

The VMs that run both Web role and Worker role instances also run a Windows Azure agent, as shows. This agent exposes a relatively simple API that lets an instance interact with the Windows Azure fabric. For example, an instance can use the agent to write to a Windows Azure-maintained log, send alerts to its owner via the Windows Azure fabric, and do a few more things.

To create Windows Azure applications, a developer uses the same languages and tools as for any Windows application. They might write a Web role using ASP.NET and Visual Basic, for example, or with WCF and C#. Similarly, they might create a Worker role in one of these .NET languages or directly in C++without the .NET Framework. And while Windows Azure provides add-ins for Visual Studio, using this development environment isn’t required.

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Microsoft Azure in application of IoT

Defining Microsoft Azure
Microsoft Azure is a cloud service launched in October 2008. In direct competition to Amazon Web Services (AWS), Azure comes out a more progressive and diverse cloud computing platform. Deploying different tools and frameworks, Azure provides cloud service to global clients. It focuses in three areas of cloud computing, remote monitoring, asset management and predictive maintenance.

Azure IoT Suite

Remote Monitoring through Azure
Millions of devices collaborate with millions of systems at one time through Microsoft Azure. This exceptional collaboration describes the resourceful Azure remote monitoring system, where every program is synchronized in a distinctive way. The system regularly checks status of devices and monitoring happens every single minute. A backend Analytics team of Microsoft is always there to support fast data exchange between devices and the Cloud. The idea of how Enterprise resources should be well-connected is actualized in Azure remote monitoring system.

Asset Management & Predictive Maintenance through Azure
Azure works on enhanced security protocols. By using unique identities and credentials, devices are brought to full protection in Azure Cloud messaging system. Confidentiality is maximized in such highly-vigilant communication system.

Microsoft Azure details the process of digital asset management.  It automates media management workflows, optimizing time taken in organizing or sharing corporate media files. Azure provides self-service portals for exchange or transfer of media files. It gives direct access of assets through Microsoft Word or Powerpoint extension. Azure aligns with other external Hypermedia such as Application Program Interface (API) to manage assets’ records in a more user-friendly way. It gives strong backup and recovery during Big-Data storage.

Azure Machine Learning is an artificially intelligent logical workspace to predict flaws of a Cloud system. Using work histograms such workspace predicts remaining life of a device, equipment, machine or anything huge such as an overall system itself. Predictability is inevitable with Microsoft Azure workspace, allowing strategists to bring more improved and productive solutions for business.

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Amazon Web Services for Small & Medium Sized- Businesses- Part 2

In part one of this series, located HERE, we discovered what AWS offers. In this second installment, we discuss the advantages of suing AWS. Let’s get started.

Advantages of using AWS:

AWS carries all the advantages that a conventional cloud-hosting platform provides, along with some unique aspects that makeaws logo 100584713 carousel.idge it an indispensable and unmatched tool for startups and SMBs. To paint you a realistic picture, in a survey carried out by Pacific Crest, 50% of the 300 SMBs reported AWS as their choice of cloud service. And this is not surprising considering the so many advantages AWS offers:

1.    Growth:

AWS is designed keeping the growth of businesses in mind. All the services offered by Amazon are completely scalable. You can start from choosing the cheapest available pricing for your needs. Once you grow, AWS takes care of the demand surges. The pay-per-use model ensures that there is a linear relationship between your business profits and cloud-hosting expenditure.  

2.    Performance

With AWS, you use an infrastructure which is hosted on world-class data centers and servers. When you first setup your cloud infrastructure, AWS allows you to choose a location to set-up your virtual IT infrastructure. This location may either be closest to where the majority of your users are or where your developers and administrators are based. This allows you to optimize your services for either your user base or for your developers in the development phase.

3.    Security & Compliance

AWS offers extra layers of security to address the misuse of resources, which is highly likely using a resource as AWS, where you can set up and erase production servers with just a mouse-click. There are obviously, many recommended practices such as not to create a super-user with unlimited access and allocating users to groups with varying levels of permissions. Additionally, AWS offers MFA (Multi-factor authentication) both in hardware form, wherein it comes as a key fob manufactured by a third-party, Gemalto and in virtual form, through MFA apps by Google and Amazon on all the mobile platforms.

4.    Integration:

With AWS, it is super easy to integrate your app or web development program. AWS offers enhanced compatibility with your applications by supporting numerous languages in it’s SDK program such as iOS, Java, Android, .NET, PHP, Ruby, etc.

5.    Learning Curve:

While a certain degree of IT background sure helps to accelerate the development process, the learning curve is a lot smoother, shorter and user-friendly. You can develop and deploy applications in a matter of days that would take you months to develop conventionally. For small businesses, which prefer the DIY method or do not have the resource to employ the services of a developer, this is a deal-breaker. Moreover, AWS boasts of a large global community where members help each other and even share pre-designed instances.

6.    Cost

Lastly, the most important feature of AWS is the low cost of the services. It is a pure pay-per-use model and you are not bounded by any contract or long-term commitment while deploying a service.

Moreover, to offer a more transparent system, AWS provides a monthly calculator, where you can calculate the costs of the deployments you use by adjusting the network usage and storage levels used. Based on this estimate, you can decide whether or not to deploy a service. The ‘Spot instances’ allow you to deploy services at a highly discounted rate if you are fairly certain of your usage levels. These and the many additional cost-reduction features make it a perfect tool for SMBs.

AWS is one of those cloud-computing solutions available to small businesses which allow you to grow while not compromising on the features. It is not surprising that AWS is the favorite of the majority of the small and medium-sized businesses and even used by popular companies such as Netflix and Spotify. If you are still relying on in-house IT infrastructures, make sure that you check out AWS and boost your results.

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Microsoft Is Bringing Azure And Cortana To A Car Near You

Janakiram MSVJanakiram MSV, Contributor



At CES 2017, Microsoft announced that it is building a platform to enable automobile manufacturers to deliver connected car experiences to customers. Microsoft Connected Vehicle Platform is a set of services that is integrated with Azure, Cortana, Office 365, Power BI, and Skype.


Nissan Renault


In the last couple of years, Microsoft has doubled down its investment in machine learning (ML) and analytics. The company is embedding ML in almost all its products. Powered by Azure, these new set of services such as Azure ML, Microsoft Cognitive Services, Cortana Intelligence Suite takes advantage of the abundant compute and storage resources exposed by the underlying infrastructure. Microsoft is also expanding its portfolio to enterprise IoT that delivers predictive maintenance, remote monitoring, and asset tracking solutions. Microsoft Connected Vehicle Platform is yet another abstraction built on top of a variety of existing cloud and ML technologies.

Microsoft Connected Vehicle Platform is not a finished product that automobile companies can buy. It is a framework that brings multiple technologies together to deliver the latest in consumer experiences. Car manufacturers can integrate In-car infotainment systems with Cortana for immersive conversational user experience. They will be able to take advantage of Bing for search, location-based services, and hyper-local integration. Office 365 and Skype would deliver presence information, calendaring, and conferencing capabilities. The combination of Cortana Intelligence Suite and Power BI become the brain of the connected car that capture, analyze, present, and predict various metrics related to the automobile. The heavy lifting involved in storing and processing the data will be handled by Azure Compute and Storage services.

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