Think Computer Science 2011

Think Computer Science 2011


Welcome to Think Computer Science 2011

Through our work at Microsoft Research in Cambridge and our collaborative partnerships, we strive to inspire and support students early on in their education. Think Computer Science is an annual event we hold to showcase the work of computer science researchers, to educate and enthuse students about the field of computer science.

The 8th annual Think Computer Science event was held at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford on December 7th 2011. Students in attendance got to see a number of talks and view the latest technologies in development through interactive demos. The talks from the event will be loaded on to the ‘Gallery’ section of the website in the coming weeks.

If you would like to register your interest for the next Think Computer Science event, please email


09.15 Registration opens
10.00 Welcome and introduction, Andrew Blake, Microsoft Research
10.20 Talk: Playing the Game of Research – Thore Graepel, Microsoft
10.40 Talk: Breathing Life into Computer Programs – Jasmin Fisher, Microsoft Research
11.00 Talk: Atmospheric Science Through Robotic Aircraft(ASTRA) – Steven Johnston, University of Southampton
11.20 Refreshment break
11.40 Talk: Chasing Birds: Tracking the Behaviour of Animals in the Wild – Robin Freeman, Microsoft Research and University College London
12.00 Talk: The Art of Computer Programming – Samin Ishtiaq, Microsoft Research
12.20 Lunch and demonstration session
13.50 Talk: What Does Reality Look Like? Connecting Real and Digital Worlds – Tim Weyrich, University College London
14.10 Q&A session (all speakers)
14.30 Competition winners announced
14.50 Closing comments, Andrew Blake
15.00 Close


WebThore Graepel
Microsoft Research Cambridge

Playing the Game of Research

Many of us love playing games. In our Research Games project, we develop games that help us investigate how people behave in strategic situations and how we can use peoples’ competitive drive, curiosity, and social impulses to accomplish useful tasks. The games we have people play range from a battle simulation in Project Waterloo to Prediction Square, an online challenge for people to predict their friends’ preferences. Members of the audience who have a Facebook account are invited to play our games and help us carry out our research.

WebJasmin Fisher
Microsoft Research Cambridge

Breathing Life into Computer Programs

The human body is the most amazing machine ever constructed. Understanding how it evolves from a single fertilised egg is one of the greatest mysteries in science. To shed light on this question, we build computer programs that mimic aspects of biological behaviours. By simulating and analysing these programs, we gain new insights into development, disease and life.

steven_johnstonSteven Johnston And AndrÁs SÓbester
University of Southampton

Atmospheric Science Through Robotic Aircraft (ASTRA)

Direct measurements of the physical properties of the upper atmosphere are essential for a better understanding of Earth’s climate, as well as for routine weather forecasting, the mapping of volcanic ash clouds, and so on. Flying scientific instruments to extreme altitudes (sometimes two or three times higher than the cruising altitudes of passenger airliners) has some interesting technical challenges. What is the most suitable air vehicle for such a mission? How do we track a small probe at such high altitudes and how do we recover it after the flight? How do we record the scientific data and how do we process it?

We will explore these questions in a talk that will include (weather permitting) a live demonstration of a high altitude balloon flight.

WebRobin Freeman
Microsoft Research Cambridge and University College London

Chasing Birds: tracking the behaviour of animals in the wild

From the amazing global migrations of seabirds to the local homing flights of pigeons, technological advances are helping change our understanding of the behaviour of animals in the wild. These technologies are helping us see not only where these journeys lead, but also how important they are for the animals themselves. In this talk, I’ll describe some of these astonishing journeys and some of the exciting technologies that are helping in our quest to understand these amazing animals.

WebSamin Ishtiaq
Microsoft Research Cambridge

The Art of Computer Programming

Your shiny Xbox would have a dull hunk of metal inside it without the programs that give it life. Programs tell the metal what to do. Writing these programs ‘computer programming’ is one of the most creative and mathematical tasks that you can do. We’ll look at some classic programs like Shortest Path and Quicksort for inspiration. If you can write programs like these, programs that are correct, elegant and run fast, then respect, fame and fortune lie ahead of you!

WebTim Weyrich
University College London

What does reality look like? Connecting real and digital worlds…

When Buzz Lightyear’s helmet shines in the sun, or if Transformer Robots get scratches, it is maths and a number of computer algorithms that create each image pixel, computing how the different materials reflect light, thus conveying a life-like appearance of these materials. The field in computer science that models appearance digitally is called Computer Graphics. While the physics of light reflection are generally known, many everyday objects, such as skin, wood, cloth, or minerals, show a surprising complexity. Computer Graphics researchers are constantly striving to increase the degree of realism at which such materials can be modelled. Amongst other examples, this talk will look into the digital modelling of human skin, a particularly complex ‘material’ that is still very hard to get right. We will see, for instance, how researchers have built devices to measure reflectance properties of skin, allowing for more realistic digital faces. We will also learn how the process can be inverted: instead of creating a digital representation of real objects, we can create real objects whose reflectance is controlled digitally!


Audio Reactive Particle Generator

particleThis is a demonstration of a real-time interactive multi-touch particle generator which is reactive to sound. The system, which is put together using different source code online and assembled in openFrameworks, is a fun abstract illustration of how computer generated visuals can react to audio. The system reacts to sound and touch in real-time, animating a vast amount of force-sensitive particles using physics-based commands. Using a multi-touch track pad, it is possible to create ‘magnetic’ nodes that pull these particles towards them. Sound input then affects the direction of the particles perpendicular to the magnetic force of the nodes.

Behavioural Game Theory Experiments on Facebook

waterlooGame theory studies how humans behave in strategic situations. It makes strong assumptions and ignores key aspects such as our emotions, our limited capacity to reason and our biased judgments. Behavioural game theory (BGT) attempts to do better using insights from psychology, sociology and cognitive science. But how can we scale up BGT’s small scale lab experiments to thousands of participants? We propose using Facebook as a large-scale game theory lab, investigating the famous game ‘Colonel Blotto’. Two opposing generals allocate 100 troops across 5 battlefields. Without knowing what your opponent does, how should you allocate your own troops to overwhelm them in as many battlefields as possible? We deployed the Facebook application ‘Project Waterloo’ which allows users to play the game. Based on this data, we analyse how social relations affect players’ strategies. Come see how Facebook can help us understand human behaviour and help you become a master strategist!

Computing the Natural World

computingJPGIn its short history, the science of ecology has uncovered an amazing amount about different parts of the natural world: most predators are starving most of the time, most plants on land aren’t eaten but most plants in the sea are, animals forage intelligently… but how does this all fit together!? And what does it all mean in terms of what humans are doing to the planet?

Microsoft Research uses large-scale computing to understand the natural world, and predict the consequences of human actions. We are assembling global-scale models of ecosystems, creating tools to track animals in their daily lives, and using statistics to predict the effect of climate change.

Emotionally Intelligent Interfaces

emotionalWhen people talk to each other, they express their feelings through facial expressions, tone of voice, body postures and gestures. They even do this when they are interacting with machines. These hidden signals are an important part of human communication, but most computer systems ignore them. A major challenge for human-computer interaction is to appreciate emotions as part of the context in which man-machine communications are conducted. Much of our time is spent communicating with embedded and conventional computer systems, and these systems need to be equipped with the same emotional intelligence that informs human communications.

One particular application is in monitoring the operators of command-and-control systems. We use remotely-controlled quad-rotor drones for experimental studies. They are more realistic and natural than simulators but still allow the operator to be monitored in a laboratory setting.

We are also interested in computer systems that can display emotional expressions. Our robotic android head (pictured above) has two dozen motors simulating muscles, allowing him to mimic subtle facial expressions. We are currently investigating its use as an intervention for children with autism spectrum conditions.

Presented by: University of Cambridge

Geometry in Action

geometryThe 3D world around us is complex and often cluttered. We, as humans, find it second nature to easily reason about our surroundings, understand the function and purpose of most objects, and navigate the world accordingly. Performing the same computationally remains challenging. In one area of study, we use a branch of mathematics called geometry to create a range of applications such as intriguing 3-D art pieces, cost-efficient building designs and a better understanding of the growth laws of organic forms, e.g., nautilus or sea-shells.

Presented by: University College London


gestureHolodesk is an exciting display that allows you to interact with virtual objects. You can hold a ball in your hands or knock over a tower of blocks without actually touching anything! The system uses a special see-through display, a mirror, a Kinect camera and some novel programming to create the illusion that you are interacting directly with objects. Much excitement has been created by Holodesk, as it has the potential to make futuristic scenes from famous sci-fi movies, a reality.[panel header="Kinect-Based Gesture Controlled Media Player"]

This interactive demo illustrates a real-time gesture recognition system that is based on machine learning and is running on top of the Kinect full body skeletal tracking pipeline. The demo system shows a gesture-controlled media player that recognises 22 separate gestures and maps these to eight control actions such as increasing the volume, stopping the music, and skipping to the next track. This gesture recognition system was deployed in the recently released Xbox game, Kinect Sports: Season Two.


kinectfusionAfter its release a year ago, Kinect’s potential for use outside of gaming was quickly recognised and the technology has been used in many different ways. KinectFusion explores one of these alternative uses. It can create real-time, high quality 3D models – rapidly scanning environments or people in a way that’s never been so quick, easy or inexpensive. The possibilities for future uses are very exciting. Imagine being able to scan your house and place virtual objects in it so you can interact with them! Come and see how well the system can produce a 3D model of its surroundings and maybe even you!

The Magic of Computer Science

Magic_of_CSThe Magic of Computer Science Learn some clever conjuring tricks and try to work out how they are done. Then discover how the same techniques that make the ‘magic’ work are responsible for some of the most interesting computer science applications around.

Presented by: CS4Fun

Microsoft Student Tools

Check out cool tools and resources and try out a Windows Phone.

    • DreamSpark provides professional-level developer and design tools to students and educators around the world at no charge. These Microsoft tools will help you advance your learning and skills through technical design, technology, maths, science, and engineering activities. Schools, Vocational and Trade Schools, Community Colleges, and Universities are all eligible to participate in the DreamSpark program. Simply put, any accredited school around the world is eligible.
    • Welcome to Microsoft UK Students: the place to talk tech, share your knowledge, and find information to stay ahead of the curve. If you’re looking for the technology that’s making waves across the Web, you’ve come to the right place

    Nao Robot Interactions

    naoCome and meet and interact with a Nao Robot using Microsoft technologies.

    Presented by: Aldebaran Robotics

    .NET Gadgeteer

    gadgeteer.NET Gadgeteer is an exciting new platform that allows you to build and program your own gadgets. Even someone with little or no electronics background can build devices made up of components like sensors, lights, switches, displays, communications, motor controllers, and much more. Just pick your components, plug them into a mainboard and program the way they work together.


    secondlightSecondLight is a surface-computing technology that can project images and detect gestures ‘in mid-air’ above the display, in addition to supporting multi-touch interactions on the surface.

    It works by using an electrically switchable liquid-crystal diffuser as the rear-projection display surface. This material is continually switched between diffuse and clear states, so quickly that the switching cannot be detected. When it is diffuse, the system behaves like a regular surface computer, but when clear, it is possible to project into the area above the display surface. This enables magical new forms of interaction in which the user interface is no longer bound to the display surface, but becomes part of the real world.

    Technology Heirlooms

    techheirloomsWe are showing three prototypes that explore what all the digital things you are creating today – your photos, status updates and other items – will say about you in 30 or 40 years.

    What would you want to keep for the future? How will you reminisce about your past with these items when you are older? What kind of digital legacy will you leave behind?

    Top Secret

    topsecretTop Secret Codes and ciphers have been a feature of warfare since the middle ages, but it was not until telegraphic and radio communication became a reality that they really came into their own.

    Messages from the German Enigma and Lorenz cipher machines proved very difficult to crack, but eventually machines such as the electro mechanical and electronic Bombe and Colossus helped in the effort and laid the foundations for modern computing. On display will be an original Enigma machine next to the Eurofighter Typhoon, which incorporates some of the latest computer control known as Fly-by-Wire. So come and find out more about the prehistory of computers and their modern applications in aviation.

    Presented by: Imperial War Museum Duxford

    Where it all began

    Where_it_all_beganWe’re all used to seeing film-like graphics and hearing studio sound quality in our games, but go back just 35 years and most families didn’t even own a computer or a games console! Computers have totally revolutionised our lives and infiltrated nearly every aspect of our working life. Our display gives you the opportunity to experience the machines that started the home computing revolution way back in the seventies! Come and play Space Invaders and Pac man or try your hand at programming the computers of yesteryear…

    Presented by: The Centre for Computing History