Microsoft to open research lab in India

Microsoft Corp. is setting up a research lab in Bangalore, India, that will focus on areas including computing technologies for emerging markets, according to a company executive.

The new lab, called Microsoft Research India, goes online in January, and will be part of a network of five research labs that Microsoft runs worldwide, said Padmanabhan Anandan, managing director of Microsoft Research India.

Besides research labs in Redmond, Washington, Mountain View, California, and San Francisco, Microsoft also operates labs in Cambridge, England, and Beijing. The company employs 700 staff in its research labs, working in 55 different areas. The Bangalore lab will have about 24 people to start with, Anandan said.

“We will be doing basic research,” Anandan said. “As we are not so much concerned with immediate business goals, we have the opportunity to think far ahead and look at new product opportunities.”

Besides computing technologies for emerging markets, the Bangalore lab will also research multilingual systems, geographical information systems (GIS) and sensors and sensor network applications, Anandan said. The lab will also research new types of hardware and software.

“We realized very quickly that the first thing we have to do is to understand what people really need, and that requires social sciences and ethnographic research,” Anandan said. “Choosing the right solution is not about price points alone, or about accessibility, though that is also important, but it is about what value the technology delivers.” Results from the research in India will be used in other emerging markets, he added.

In multilingual systems, the Bangalore lab will work on user interfaces and applications that handle multiple languages seamlessly. The research’s aim is to arrive at technologies that allow people speaking different languages to use the same computer to access content, Anandan said. Research in the area of GIS will include using satellite imagery, maps and other data, and then collating and indexing that information geographically, and providing ways of visualizing the information for different requirements, according to Anandan. GIS research will allow Microsoft to understand how to extend its SQL database technology to become a geographical database, he said.

Environmental applications of sensor networks, novel sensors for rural communities and distributed computing in sensor networks will be other research areas in the new lab. Although the research will focus on back-end infrastructure, database and application software for these networks, Bangalore researchers may also research the front-ends of these networks, such as the sensors, according to Anandan. Some of Microsoft’s Redmond-based researchers, for example, are examining tools for programming and deploying the sensor units at the front-end, he said.

In line with Microsoft’s research strategy worldwide, the Bangalore lab will collaborate with and fund research at key educational institutions in India, such as the Indian Institutes of Technology, Anandan said. Microsoft researchers will also work with the Indian government and nongovernmental organizations on research and to field test technologies.

Several U.S. and European technology companies run software and product development operations in India, but only a few conduct basic research in the country. Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Bangalore lab, for example, researches new technologies for emerging markets.

Microsoft already has software development centres in Hyderabad, India, working on product development and the company’s information systems. It also runs a tech support centre in Bangalore, and outsources some software development and support work to Indian software and services companies.

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