Carnegie Mellon University
November 14, 2018

Carnegie Mellon University, Microsoft Join Forces To Advance Edge Computing Research

By Byron Spice

Byron Spice
  • School of Computer Science
  • 412-268-9982

Carnegie Mellon University today announced it will collaborate with Microsoft on a joint effort to innovate in edge computing, an exciting field of research for intensive computing applications that require rapid response times in remote and low-connectivity environments.

By bringing artificial intelligence to the "edge," devices such as connected vehicles, drones or factory equipment are able to quickly learn and respond to their environments, which is critical in scenarios like search and rescue, disaster recovery and safety.

To enable discovery in these areas and more, Microsoft will contribute edge computing products to Carnegie Mellon for use in its Living Edge Laboratory, a testbed for exploring applications that generate large data volumes and require intense processing with near-instantaneous response times. Intel, which already is associated with the lab, also is contributing technology to the lab.

Edge computing is a growing field that, in contrast to cloud computing, pushes computing resources closer to where data is generated – particularly mobile users – so that a host of new interactive and augmented reality applications are possible. It’s the focus of intense commercial interest by network providers and tech companies, even as researchers continue to investigate its possibilities. Carnegie Mellon is at the forefront of this major shift in computing paradigms.

Under a two-year agreement, Microsoft will provide edge computing products to the Living Edge Lab, including Azure Data Box Edge, Azure Stack with hardware partner Intel, and Microsoft Azure credits, which provides access to cloud services including AI, IoT, storage and more. The new hardware is powered by Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors to support the most high-demand applications and actionable insights.

The lab, run by edge computing pioneer Mahadev Satyanarayanan, now operates on the CMU campus as well as shopping districts and parks in Pittsburgh’s Oakland and Shadyside neighborhoods.

"It's easy to talk about edge computing, but it's hard to get crucial hands-on experience," said Satyanarayanan, professor in CMU's Computer Science Department. "That's why a number of major telecommunications and tech companies have joined our Open Edge Computing Initiative and helped us establish the lab. We validate ideas and provide unbiased, critical thinking about what works and what doesn't."

With the addition of Microsoft products and Intel technology to the lab, faculty and students will be able to use them to develop new applications and compare their performance with other components already in the lab. Microsoft partners also will be able to use the lab.

"The intelligent edge, with the power of the intelligent cloud, can and is already driving real-world impact. By moving AI models and computie closer to the source, we can surface real-time insights in scenarios where milliseconds make a critical difference, and in remote areas where 'real time' has not been possible," said Tad Brockway, general manager, Azure Storage and Azure Stack. "Microsoft offers the most comprehensive spectrum of intelligent edge technologies across hardware, software and devices, bringing the power of the cloud to the edge. We are excited to see what Carnegie Mellon researchers create."

Speed — both of computation and communication — is a driving force for edge computing. By placing computer nodes, or "cloudlets," near where people are, edge computing makes it possible to both perform intensive computation and to communicate the results to users at near real-time. This enables solutions that are better designed for latency-sensitive workloads where every millisecond matters.

"Intel is at the heart of solutions needed to run the most demanding AI applications on the edge," said Renu Navale, senior director Edge Services and Industry Enabling of the Network Communications Division. "We are excited to extend our existing networking edge collaboration with the Open Edge Computing Initiative, to include Microsoft solutions like Azure Data Box Edge and Azure Stack, powered by Intel Xeon processors."

One example class of applications are wearable cognitive assistance applications based on the Gabriel platform, a National Science Foundation-sponsored project led by Satyanarayanan. A Gabriel application is intended as an "angel on your shoulder," observing a user and providing advice on a task. This technology might provide expert guidance to a user who is assembling furniture, troubleshooting a complex piece of machinery, or helping someone use an AED device in an emergency.

CMU School of Computer Science researchers demonstrate the power of Edge Computing using the OpenRTisT app.

A second example of the value edge computing brings to applications is OpenRTiST, which allows a user to see the world around them in real time, "through the eyes of an artist." The video feed from the camera of a mobile device is transmitted to a cloudlet, transformed there by a deep neural network trained offline to learn the artistic features of a famous painting, and returned to the user's device as a video feed. The entire round trip is fast enough to preserve the illusion that the world around the user as displayed on the device is being continuously repainted by the artist.

Another class of applications envisioned for the Living Edge Laboratory are real-time assistive tools for visually impaired people to help them detect objects or people nearby. The video feeds of a stereoscopic camera on a user are transmitted to a nearby cloudlet, and real-time video analytics is used to detect obstacles. This information is transmitted back to the user and communicated via vibro-tactile feedback.

"The Living Edge Laboratory not only can help determine what types of applications are possible, but also what kind of equipment or software works best for a given application," Satyanarayanan said.

The lab was established over the past year through the Open Edge Computing Initiative, a group of leading companies, including Intel, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and Crown Castle who have provided equipment, software and expertise.

"We welcome Microsoft as a new member of the Open Edge Computing Initiative and we very much look forward to exploring Microsoft technologies in our Living Edge Laboratory," said Rolf Schuster, director of the Open Edge Computing Initiative. "This is a great opportunity to drive attractive new business opportunities around edge computing for both the telecom as well as the cloud industry."