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Brown, Microsoft partners in new technology
[March 21, 2006]

Brown, Microsoft partners in new technology

(Providence Journal, The (RI) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Mar. 21--PROVIDENCE -- The research arm of computing giant Microsoft Corp. will invest $1.2 million over the next three years in a pen-based computer research center at Brown University.

At the Microsoft Center for Research on Pen-Centric Computing, Brown students and faculty will research new ways to use computers that don't involve keyboards. Researchers will focus on getting computers to understand and process complex written handwriting -- such as chemistry equations and artistic sketches.

This will be first research center in the country focused on pen-centric computer research, according to the university.

"In some cases the pen is mightier than the keyboard," said Andries van Dam, vice president for research at Brown. Van Dam, a member of Microsoft Research's technical advisory board, will be the director of Brown's new computer center.

In addition to providing money, Microsoft Research will also make its computer expertise available to the researchers at Brown, said van Dam.

The center was unveiled yesterday at a news conference at Brown, where the school's existing research in pen-based computing was on display. The university has been conducting research in this area for four years, said van Dam, fueled by about $150,000 a year from Microsoft Research as well as seed money from Brown and the National Science


"What you're seeing now is Brown and Microsoft stepping up to the next level," said Rick Rashid, senior vice president of research at Microsoft Corp., who was at Brown yesterday for the announcement of the new center.

Some of Brown's undergraduate and graduate students as well as computer science professors demonstrated a computer program that can turn a sketch of a molecule on a tablet personal computer into a three-dimensional, moving model. A tablet computer is a laptop computer configured like a notebook, which allows people to write on the screen with a stylus, rather than typing information on a keyboard. Already this program, called ChemPad, is being used by chemistry students at Brown to help them understand chemistry and molecular modeling.

The Brown researchers also showcased the Music Notepad, which uses a tablet PC to allows musicians to write musical notations on the screen. The music can be saved and manipulated on the computer rather than using traditional pen and paper.

"There are any number of problem areas where typing and mousing are not natural," said van Dam, such as composing music and writing math equations.

The new center at Brown is the fourth university-based research collaboration that Microsoft Research has financed. Microsoft has also fueled the creation of computer research centers at universities in Japan, Italy and France. The company plans to set up one more center, focused on robotics research, at a U.S. university this year, said Sailesh Chutani, director of external research and programs for Microsoft Research.

"This center is an example of the kind of research environment that will drive innovation in the future," said Rashid.

Brown is focused on creating pen-centric programs with broad applications, said van Dam. The school is already discussing with the state the possibility of testing a math pen-centric program at charter schools in Providence, he said.

Under the alliance, Brown has the "first right of refusal" for ownership of any technology developed by the center, said van Dam. Microsoft can negotiate with the university for an exclusive or non-exclusive license for the technology, he said.

Brown will also be looking for other partners, such as the State of Rhode Island, corporations and the federal government, to help make the center financially self-sufficient, said van Dam.

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