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Microsoft Chooses UML Robotics Project for Funding


LOWELL ߝ Microsoft Corp. has selected UMass Lowell Prof. Holly Yanco’s robotics project as one of eight proposals that will share $500,000 in research funding and an array of advanced software development technologies.

Yanco was selected from a field of 74 by Microsoft External Research following a request for proposals that are intended to create devices that move robots forward from automated vacuums and human-operated devices to more complicated interaction between machines and people. 

Yanco’s project came about after Hurricane Katrina exposed technological gaps that, despite the prevalence of satellite photography, left emergency responders using hand-drawn paper maps to search for survivors in the aftermath of the 2005 storm. Although robot cameras were in use, they were limited to sending video only to operators at the site, and not immediately to command staff. 

The research by Yanco, conducted jointly with a student who is an emergency responder, focuses on bridging the technology gaps through the use of tabletop multi-touch displays. The researchers plan to use the displays to create a multi-robot interface for command staff to monitor and interact with all of the robots deployed during response to a disaster.

“Prof. Yanco’s research into robot interaction for disaster response exemplifies Microsoft Research’s commitment to innovative research that has the potential to solve some of today’s most challenging societal concerns,” said Sailesh Chutani, senior director of Microsoft Research.  “We are delighted to partner with the University of Massachusetts Lowell on robotics research with the potential to improve how people respond in times of disaster.”

The project was chosen by Microsoft from 74 proposals submitted by researchers from 24 countries. UMass Lowell is sharing the $500,000 in funding with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale University, University of California Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University, McGill University, United Arab Emirates University and University of South Florida.

The other projects include: development of robots that document the effects of climate change on the environment and wildlife, those that improve interaction between wheelchairs and their users, and those that perform services independently such as selling snacks in an office building; and research to study and improve relationships between robots and humans using online social networks, offer improved vocal communication between humans and machines.

UMass Lowell, with a national reputation in science, engineering and technology, is committed to educating students for lifelong success in a diverse world and conducting research and outreach activities that sustain the economic, environmental and social health of the region. UML offers its 12,000 students more than 120 degree choices, internships, five-year combined bachelor’s to master’s programs and doctoral studies in the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management, the School of Health and Environment, and the Graduate School of Education. .

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