As those of you who read IT Innovators regularly know, its goal is to help spark your imagination with new ideas and opportunities for improving your networks and storage capability. Just in case you’re in need of a little additional inspiration, however, there’s word out of Microsoft that cloud computing is being used with cutting-edge molecular biology and drones in a system designed to detect infectious disease outbreaks before they become widespread.
The system is being developed through the combined efforts of Microsoft and academic partners across multiple disciplines, all of whom are working together on a project that’s being referred to as Project Premonition. If all works as planned, the system will collect and analyze mosquitos to look for early warning signs that a disease is spreading. The mosquitos will be captured in traps flown into and out of remote area by autonomous drones (Figures 1 and 2). Once the mosquitoes are collected, they would be analyzed for microbes and viruses that can harm humans.
The project’s long-term goal is to be able to predict outbreaks, even if the disease at the root of the outbreak is not spread by mosquitos. But that may be five years away. In the more immediate term, project members are working to complete the needed system elements.
What makes this announcement exciting for IT professionals is that the ongoing research is showing great promise for use in broader applications. According to Ethan Jackson, the Microsoft researcher heading up the project, “At scale, Project Premonition would require significant cloud-based storage and vast data processing. The data generated from the system would be on the order of petabytes of genomic data per year.”
With that data, researchers can create cloud-based databases, and use them to come up with algorithms for evaluating which viruses could present a threat to humans or animals that humans rely on. Ethan adds that “an important part of this project will be developing high-throughput genomic pipelines, which would likely have broader applications to health-care, agriculture, and science.”
Several other areas may benefit from the ongoing research as well. For example, for the drones to operate safely and autonomously, a deep and robust technology stack will be required. And this will require technologies like operating systems that don’t crash, bug-free control algorithms, and machine learning and vision pipelines that are hardened against noisy data.
Ethan fully admits that getting this technology stack right will be hard. But, he also believes it’s entirely possible, because “Microsoft Research has invested heavily over the last decade to make operating systems better, detect bugs and security flaws in programs before they occur in the wild, and build efficient machine learning and vision pipelines.” As it turns out, many of these technologies are already incorporated into Microsoft products used by IT professionals today on a daily basis, including: Windows, Office, Azure, and Visual Studio.
“As we evolve our research technologies for ambitious projects like Project Premonition, we also reflect on how these advances might be applied to make Microsoft’s core products better,” says Ethan. For IT professionals, the implication here is clear: new Project Premonition related technologies may one day soon make their way to you.
This blog about storage and networking is sponsored by Microsoft.
Cheryl J. Ajluni is a freelance writer and editor based in California. She is the former Editor-in-Chief of Wireless Systems Design and served as the EDA/Advanced Technology editor for Electronic Design for over 10 years. She is also a published book author and patented engineer. Her work regularly appears in print and online publications. Contact her at [email protected] with your comments or story ideas.