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Microsoft Research will open a laboratory in Bangalore, India, the company’s third research installation overseas and a sign of India’s increasing importance in tech.
The lab, set to open in January, will initially focus on four areas: multilingual systems, technology for emerging markets, geographical information systems and sensor networks. Over time, however, the direction of the lab’s research will be largely determined by the people it recruits.
“As a research organization, you want to hire the best and brightest people. That’s what we did in China six years ago,” said Rick Rashid, senior vice president of Microsoft Research. “Ultimately, the work that will be going on there will be based on the people we hire.”
In the past few years, the Redmond, Wash., software giant has become more active in immersing itself in emerging markets. It has released budget versions of the Windows XP operating system in Thailand, for example, as well as specially priced software bundles for educational institutions in developing countries. Last year, Microsoft created an internship program geared toward recruiting doctoral students in India. It also supports five technical labs in Latin America, Rashid said.
Although the lab will work on projects with global impacts, two of the initial areas of research–multilingual systems and technology for developing nations–will nonetheless dovetail to a certain extent with some day-to-day tech problems many Indians face. There are 15 official languages in India, and that doesn’t count English, one of the most important languages for government and business. Additionally, there are variants, such as Hindustani, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World FactBook. The research conducted by the lab will focus on machine translation and on software for allowing users to more easily access information written in different languages on the same computer.
Rapid PC growth, combined with a fairly low per capita income, has also made India a popular place to try out cheap PCs that require little training. Hewlett-Packard has tested solar power printers and cameras in India. Advanced Micro Devices, meanwhile, is promoting what it calls the Personal Internet Communicator, a $185 PC, on the subcontinent.
Geographical information systems revolve around better managing data about the Earth. In this field, Microsoft has developed SkyServer and TerraServer to enable scientists to share astronomical and geological data. Erected in 1998, TerraServer gets 20 million hits a day.
Other companies, such as GeoFusion and MetaCarta, meanwhile, are looking at ways to correlate information in databases to points on a map. In this way, users can get a visual image of complex or lengthy sets of data: Data-feeds from a tagged tuna become a line on a map, while police reports can be plotted by time and space to reconstruct a person’s movements.
Bangalore is India’s tech capital, but rapid growth has led to traffic jams and power outages, according to many.
P. Anandan, a computer vision specialist who has been working at Microsoft Research since 1997, will head up the laboratory. Initially, the Bangalore lab will employ about 12 scientists. Overall, Microsoft has about 700 researchers employed at Microsoft Research. Other labs are located in Redmond, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Beijing, and Cambridge, England.
Things weren’t always so rosy in India. Microsoft had to recall 200,000 copies of Windows 95 from the country because a pixilated map showed Kashmir as a disputed area and not part of India proper.