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New to Microsoft Garage Wall of Fame: Azure Quickstart Center

It started with data. Data showed customers were experiencing difficulties onboarding to Azure, not knowing how to get started, with murky understanding of all the tools and services available to them. Ayesha Ghaffar, a data scientist who analyzed these and many other customer onboarding experiences, saw an opportunity to improve the existing process. She put together a proposal of a new way to acclimate customers to Azure. Ayesha began meeting with a few product teams about her idea and everyone felt it was worthwhile to pursue – but what she found was resources were thin and other commitments took priority. “I just wanted to make this idea a reality, but I was a data scientist and I didn’t know how on my own. I needed help to make this happen.” The answer came in the 2017 company-wide Hackathon. “A week before the Hackathon started, I thought, ‘I’m just going to write an email and put it out there. This is the problem, this is how we can solve it, and this is the impact.’ I sent it to everyone.”

Soon, employees from around the world – designers, user researchers, developers, program managers – wanted to join her Hackathon project. They found a common passion for the customer experience. Peilin Nee shared her experience as part of the hack team. “Designing with empathy begins with yourself. This was my first time working with 15 others coming from different disciplines who have never met before. What amazed me is how we put aside our differences and work towards our shared dream – provide new Azure users a better getting-started experience and ultimately increase trial users’ adoption rate. And, we did just that in two and a half days.”

Azure Quickstart Center

For their hack project, called Azure Launchpad, they created an extension in the Azure Portal that served as a hub for key getting started resources and personal recommendations for customers to achieve their cloud goals. Their efforts were noticed by the head of the Azure Portal product, Leon Welicki who was able to secure a Portal developer, Asher Garland, to continue to work on the project. While Ayesha was still a data scientist, she worked with Asher on a private preview version of Quickstart Center for the Ignite 2017 conference.

After the positive feedback they received from the private preview released for the conference, they were invited to present their work to Scott Guthrie who later mentioned it in one of his employee meetings. Because Ayesha moonlit as a product manager for the hack project, the Portal team eventually hired her to work on it full time as the PM in November 2017.

At Build 2018, Azure Quickstart Center shipped in public preview and became available to all customers through the Azure Portal. In 2019, Azure Quickstart Center partnered with the FastTrack team and Azure Docs to introduce Azure setup guides in the Quickstart Center to help customers deal with more complex scenarios like governance and migration based on the Microsoft Cloud Adoption Framework for Azure.

“The Cloud Adoption Framework provides the One Microsoft voice for cloud adoption. Azure Quickstart Center has made that voice actionable by injecting pointed and relevant guidance into the customer experience. The user now has prescriptive instructions at the point of execution. Together, these assets create a seamless integration of strategy and tactical execution,” shared Brian Blanchard, Sr. Director, Cloud Adoption Framework.

The Hackathon helped the team get feedback and continues to be a way to showcase the value of their ideas and projects. For Ayesha, “Hackathon is one of my favorite things at Microsoft – it helped me land a job as a PM, get visibility on the solution, and I learned how to solve customer problems in depth.” For the 2019 Hackathon, Ayesha and team (along with FastTrack team) iterated on features they could add that customers have said they wanted. “The goal is to democratize knowledge and put it in these custom guides. Our superpower is enabling our customers and partners to find their own superpowers. Cloud can be complicated, we want to enable customers and partners to simplify it for their organizations by creating their own custom guides for their users.”

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Microsoft Garage project Sketch Pal helps you sketch your best work

It’s that time of year again! And no, we’re not talking about the leaves changing color, pumpkin picking, or deciding on the best pop culture reference to inspire your Halloween costume (The Scoops Ahoy crew from Stranger Things, obviously) for those of us residing in the Pacific Northwest. We’re talking about Inktober, the annual artist community challenge to create a new sketch a day in the month of October. We’re excited to announce a modern tool that will help digital inking enthusiasts everywhere sketch their best work. Sketch Pal, a Microsoft Garage project, is a UWP app that enables artists and designers to sketch in new, seamless ways with the Surface Pen. The project is available for download in the Microsoft Store worldwide.

Showcasing inking on Windows 10 and Surface

Sketch Pal team photoArcadio Garcia Salvadores, the creator of Sketch Pal, first began working on the project at the 2018 Hackathon. By day, Arcadio is a Software Engineer on the Windows 10 team, was originally inspired to make a unique experience that highlighted Windows Ink. Arcadio insists that he isn’t an artist, but you would never know it as he sketches Ninja Cat, unofficial mascot of Windows, for me; with Sketch Pal, he uses a reference mode to sketch Ninja Cat astride a dragon using a reference picture underneath his creation, cleaning up lines, and adding sophisticated colors swiftly like a pro.

Mike Pell, Lead Designer at the Microsoft Garage also loves the tool. “From our first discussions about Sketch Pal, it was a fascinating showcase of the advanced features of digital inking that people don’t usually see or even know exists.” Powered by Windows Ink and designed for the Surface Pen, Sketch Pal offers unique features that optimize a digital sketching and drawing experience while leveraging the strengths of the Surface hardware. The project provides a modern inking experience, combining classic features like layers and custom brushes with new tools like coloring assist, stroke cleanup tools, and a reference mode.

Key Features

Sketch Pal includes a number of modern inking features to open up a world of opportunities with sketching.

  • Advanced inking features Brush creation, layers, line clean-up with joining, trimming and straightening strokes, and faster coloring with vector boundary detection, bring new capabilities to your drawing
  • Reference Mode Add a reference picture alongside or underneath to help with your sketch
  • Cross-device connection Use a second device as a remote palette, continue drawing on anther device or tool, and export .psd files
  • Powered by Windows Ink Built on top of the fast and fluid Windows Ink experience for must-have features like low latency and crisp vector ink rendering
  • Designed for Surface Pen Sketch and draw naturally as you would with pen and paper with pressure sensitivity, tilt recognition, and Surface Dial support

By the way, today’s Inktober Challenge? Patterns. Download Sketch Pal today and give it your best shot. We’ll be retweeting our favorite Sketch Pal sketches tagged with #Inktober and @MSFTGarage all month.

Try it out

Sketch Pal is available for download in the Microsoft Store worldwide. Share your feedback on our new Garage Communities page. We’re looking forward to seeing your sketches on Twitter!

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Virtual reality project Microgravity Lab takes students to space

Virtual reality can transport us to new lands that are near, far, or imagined. As a team of Garage interns found partnering with the Microsoft Hacking STEM and NASA Stem on Station teams, it can also demonstrate physics concepts and spark an interest in STEM careers. For the back-to-school season, we’re excited to announce the opportunity to try Microgravity Lab, a Microsoft Garage project. The VR experience for Windows Mixed Reality and corresponding lesson plan equip teachers with an engaging tool for teaching physics concepts by simulating microgravity. Interested educators can request an invite to try the VR application and corresponding lesson plans. Be sure to include your school name and plan for using the application into the form.

Bringing space into the classroom via Windows Mixed Reality

The Garage Internship is a unique, startup-style program in which teams of interns build projects in response to pitched challenges by Microsoft engineering teams. When this Vancouver intern team heard that the Microsoft Education team was looking for a creative new method way to illustrate the concept of microgravity through VR, they jumped at the opportunity to work on the project.

Microgravity Lab title screen, displaying 5 different expeiences, settings, and other options.An often-misunderstood concept, microgravity is difficult to simulate and understand in Earth’s gravity-laden environment. It is best explained through experiential learning. The Microgravity Lab VR lab experience for Windows Mixed Reality and its accompanying lessons gives teachers the tools to bring this experiential learning to their students.

As NASA Education Specialist Matthew E. Wallace shared, “The concept of microgravity is often misunderstood by students who learn about astronauts on the International Space Station. Providing a virtual reality world for them to explore the phenomena of life on orbit is an excellent way to engage students and solidify their comprehension of concepts related to force, mass and gravitational acceleration.”

Sabrina Ng, Design Intern for the project noted, “When I think of microgravity, I think of it as something you feel, not what you see per se. Thinking about how to visualize and communicate such an abstract concept without stimulating the physical senses was a really cool challenge.”

Microgravity Lab joins a collection of eight middle school lesson plans developed in partnership with NASA to celebrate 20 years of humans living in and working on the International Space Station.

Experiencing microgravity to understand Newton’s 2nd & 3rd Law

Microgravity Lab is designed for grades 6-8. Students can explore three VR modules to understand these physics principles in the context of microgravity on the moon:

  • Conservation of momentum
  • Newton’s 2nd Law
  • Newton’s 3rd Law

The team worked closely with teachers to develop the project, testing early versions of Microgravity Lab with 7th and 8th grade classes. They refined and updated the experienced based on the classroom feedback.

Implementing feedback from teachers and students, the interns added a feature to enable live Microgravity data analysis via Excel. “This project gives students the experience and the fun aspects of VR, but with Excel, we found a way to expose them to Data Analysis. Data is a very important part of our world and this is a great way to introduce it to them,” shared Rébecca Vézina-Côté, the Program Manager Intern for Microgravity Lab.

Introducing space into the classroom via Windows Mixed Reality

Hacking STEM to engage students

Microgravity Lab joins the Hacking STEM portfolio. The portfolio is created by teachers for teachers to offer hands-on, inquiry-driven, real-world lesson plans. The standards-aligned, interdisciplinary lessons lesson plans teach 21st century technical skills in the context of existing curricula. The Hacking STEM portfolio now includes 22 middle and high school lesson plans built by teachers for teachers on topics ranging from circuits and robotic hands to learning how sharks swim, and now, microgravity.

“There are companies moving towards commercializing space travel and package delivery, a project like this might give students an idea of what life might be like on a space station, and hopefully inspire them to want to go further with it and see it as a future path for them as an area of interest or a future career,” shared Adrian Pang, a Software Engineer Intern with the project.

The Microgravity Lab experience makes science more engaging and introduces these concepts to students in a way that inspires lifelong learning and passionate curiosity about the world around them.

The impact of VR in the classroom

Microgravity lab team photoThe Microsoft Education team has provided materials to enable a seamless introduction of VR to the classroom. When immersive technologies are deployed correctly and in a pedagogically consistent manner, they have the potential to support and expand curriculum, enhancing learning outcomes in ways that haven’t been previously affordable or scalable. Read more in this white paper detailing the impact of VR in the classroom.

Based on their own experience learning VR and Windows Mixed Reality, Garage interns have suggestions on how teachers can get started with VR. “Windows Mixed Reality does a great job of walking users through setting up the headset, then it’s just finding the app on the Microsoft Store, downloading it and installing it,” shared Rébecca. Crystal Song, another Software Engineering Intern continues, “I’d encourage teachers and school administrators to not see the tech as just a toy, but something that can teach. VR has a unique ability to teach through discovery, so allowing space and time for students to explore is key.”

James Burke, a longtime Hacking STEM developer partner who worked with the interns to test the project, encourages fellow educators to think outside the box to engage and challenge students. “Kids can do a lot more than people give them credit for.” In Burke’s engineering lab at Tyee Middle School, students work on project-based learning modules that can resemble college-level multidisciplinary assignments. With future-ready equipment and real-world projects to tackle, his award-winning classroom engages with students at every level. VR is just another way to spark that passion in students.

Request an invitation to try the project

To get started with Microgravity Lab for your classroom, request an invite to try the VR application. Include your school name and plan for using the application into the form.

More lesson plans and classroom materials are available at the Hacking STEM website.

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Microsoft Garage fan favorite Dictate graduates to Office and Windows

Today, we’re excited to graduate Dictate, a Microsoft Garage project, 2 years after its initial launch. The Office add-in for Microsoft Office released in June 2017, enabling Office users to be more productive with the power of dictation. Upon positive reception from users, Dictate’s approach to dictation was increasingly integrated across Office and Windows products. The feature sets are staffed by two dedicated teams and continue to improve over time.

Doing one thing really well

Dictate got its start as a Hackathon project in 2016 when a small team saw there was demand for enhanced dictation features integrated into tasks we handle everyday–drafting emails and documents, recording notes for ourselves and others, and even translating content. Anand Desai, a Software Engineer on the Speech and Language team in Microsoft’s Cloud and AI group and one of the hack project leads saw an opportunity to translate his team’s work in speech recognition to a simple tool for dictation. After building a prototype, the team reached out to Derik Stenerson, a Principle Program Manager on the Office team who was spearheading an initiative to bring dictation to Office. Together, they realized they could create a focused Office add-in that could help them zero in on the best experience before incorporating that approach into Office on a broad scale.

Dictate team image
The Dictate team pictured from left to right: Anirudh Koul, Anand Desai, Derik Stenerson, Eren Song, Prabhav Agrawal, Ayush Sharma, Cem Aksoylar

When Dictate launched, hundreds of users emailed in feedback. “It was invaluable to have a deeper conversation with the people who use this to make their lives more productive,” shares Derik. More importantly, the engagement from users confirmed they were on to something. “The thing that gave us the most encouragement to go forward was the reception,” continues Derik. We confirmed that there’s a huge gap and a really strong need, and more some users it’s incredibly impactful. It’s not just that the project enabled users to get more done in less time–we heard that from information workers and journalists. But the feedback we heard from people with challenges with hand dexterity issues and dyslexia about the impact in their lives really motivated our team.” The team began integrating confirmed features into Office and Windows shortly after launch and has maintained the Garage project as a way to continue to get detailed feedback from fans.

“The Garage afforded us the freedom to experiment and learn quickly.” –Derik Stenerson

We asked Derik about this unique strategy of creating a Garage project that focuses on doing one thing well to unearth insights for an integrated feature set. “We can do something really lightweight, really fast and confirm that we’re on the right track. That’s what the spirit of this was for me.” Since Dictate launched in 2017, the Office team has built a state-of-the-art testing experimentation platform that allows teams to flight new experiences and rapidly collect customer feedback right within Office.

For Anand, the Dictate launch and now graduation struck an even deeper chord, bringing memories of his first experiences with technology growing up in India. “Personally, if Microsoft had not reached the parts of the world I grew up in, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Specifically Office 97 inspired a sense of passion for software development in me–it’s so fulfilling to have had the opportunity to contribute to this same product and potentially inspire others in a similar way all these years later.”

Continue enjoying dictation on Office and Windows

The project will formally sunset on October 15, 2019. We recommend users who love Dictate leverage the dictation feature sets in Windows 10 and Office 365 that the project inspired. Full un-installation details are documented in an FAQ on the project website.

This effort would not have been possible without the users who tried the project and gave feedback–thank you for your time and passion. The teams are still working to improve these features. If you’d like to offer additional feedback on dictation features moving forward, you can do so through in-product feedback channels outlined here.

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Hackers get help from Garage interns with new features in program for quickly building apps

Following the initial release of Web Template Studio in May earlier this year, Web Template Studio 2.0 is now available with additional services, inspired by community feedback and built by a second team of Garage interns. The VS Code extension helps hackers create full stack web apps quickly, now with a broader range of front and back end service options. Try Web TS 2.0 and share feedback for new feature requests on GitHub and check out the full story on the Windows Developer Blog or the walk-through video on YouTube.

Tag teaming development

This team of Garage interns, based out of the Vancouver, BC, pioneered a new approach for the unique internship program, picking up where a first team of interns left off to build on a product and refine its direction. Unlike in a traditional internship, Garage interns hear pitches from sponsoring teams who outline challenging engineering projects interns will tackle with a team. Typically, interns create new projects from the ground up to be released by Microsoft or partners, or add new capabilities to scaled Microsoft products. In this case, the Web Template Studio team from the Summer 2019 cohort accepted the baton from the Winter Cohort and continued iterating on the product features and direction.

Web Template Studio screenshotIn addition to managing the opensource feedback provided following the launch at Build 2019, the interns spoke to current users, student developers, hackers, and more to understand where Web TS could be enhanced. In addition to requests to deepen the bench of supported frameworks, the team also honed in on the value the solution could provide to the novice developer with a foundation of experience creating web apps.

Web Template Studio was created with hackers in mind; it’s ideal for rapid prototyping and spinning web apps up quickly at hackathons. In fact, the team made early versions of Web TS 2.0 available to hackers across Microsoft’s global, annual hackathon in July. The intern teams confirmed that Web TS is most useful for developers who have some background in creating web apps with specific frameworks–in their research, about 20 hours of coding time–enough to select their preferred front and back end without the tedium of wading through endless forums to identify how to stitch them together quickly in a time crunch setting. Web TS continues to be a great solution to get started with Azure with its simple wizard.

Adding new services to Web Template Studio

The team listened closely to developer feedback on GitHub and expanded the front and back end frameworks supported from React.js and Node.js available at the initial launch to also include Angular, Vue, and Flask. In an update this morning, the team also added App Service support to make it even easier to create web apps powered by Azure for storage and cloud hosting.

Throughout the summer, the team added a number of new features, namely adding additional frameworks.

  • Angular support
  • Flask support
  • Vue support
  • App Service support

For the full details of new features and how to use them, check out the Windows Developer Blog.

You can see a walk-through of Web TS on YouTube.

Apply to the Garage Internship

The Garage is hiring for the 2020 Winter & Summer seasons! Here you can learn more details about the internship and how to apply.

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Travel app and Microsoft Garage project Outings graduates, bringing new destination search experiences to Bing

The Garage empowers Microsoft employees to explore demand for new products and features through tangible experiments. Outings, a Microsoft Garage project, an app for iOS and Android released in December 2017 and has since generated the feedback, usage, and buzz required to confirm the sponsoring Bing team hypotheses that travel and destination search is an area for continued investment. The team has integrated insights from user’s interest and feedback into and Bing Search apps, and the project is officially graduating from The Garage.

An experiment designed to explore new search

Bing has always had a strong culture of experimentation and the product was built from the ground up to enable efficient experimentation. “Our culture has always been: experiment, fail fast, learn fast—our infrastructure is built to equip engineers to flight and A/B test new features,” shares Jyot Patel, the Engineering Manager of Outings and a Principal Software Engineer on the Bing team.

While the team had access to this state-of-the art testing infrastructure, they built dedicated mobile apps to more acutely test an experience that presents users with possible destinations of interest. Outings identifies rich content from online travel blogs and curates it into bite-sized attractions, or outings, that users can browse through. It’s powered by a data pipeline that mines meta-data in popular travel blogs, which debuted in the Outings experience. The focused apps allowed the team to hone the relevance of the new data type and get clear feedback and ratings on the experience to zero in on users’ interest in curated travel content.

Once they observed the positive feedback for Outings, the team knew they had to scale the experience to more users on both desktop and mobile.

Outings insights scaled to and Bing mobile experiences

Oswaldo Ribas is a Principal Program Manager working on The Bing Attractions and Outdoors team which helps users discover attractions and destinations that they might want to visit, see, and experience, and in the process, help them map their experience. “Our goal is to continuously improve these scenarios.” He worked closely with the Outings team to explore what they’d learned about user experience and their technical approach through their experiment. “The work will surface in a number of places including the search results page and the Maps vertical.”

Bing has long had dedicated search result experiences for maps, travel, and destinations, and the insights and technology from Outings will fold into Bing in three chief ways.

  • Enhanced Search Result UX Now users will see attractions arranged in a carousel with better images, brief descriptions, and different topics synthesizing what the attractions are popular for.
  • Relevance The data pipeline fine-tuned in Outings powers more relevant search for destinations and attractions. Since the pipeline gathers meta-data from millions of travel blogs, the experience can surface the most popular attractions in particular areas
  • Improved Query Triggering Additional key terms in the search query that will cue these search result experiences. For example, you don’t just have to search the Space Needle; you can search things to do in Seattle or things to do near me

Jyot continues, “All the feedback and reviews we got, the first impression of the app was really positive. They really enjoy the content. But even if this content is already available, you’ll have to scour the internet for that information. There’s a need to have all this rich content about destinations in one place.” Now, the opportunity to access that content from a simple, single place will be available on a far broader scale.

“The positive feedback told us that there is quite a bit of demand for rich, attraction and destination content to be presented in a put-together fashion. Obviously, there’s a lot of opportunity for us to invest in travel and destinations moving forward. It confirmed suspicions that we have, basically,” adds Oswaldo.

The team is excited to bring these enhanced search results to a broader user base and continue to improve the experience. “Moving forward, we’re acquiring more and more content around attractions in France, Italy, Spain and the next countries that we’re after. I’m looking forward to seeing all that rich data surface on Bing,” he continues.

Congratulations to the entire Outings team and thanks to the users who can now see their feedback integrated into a larger search platform.

Outings fans, find your next outing on Bing

With this experiment complete, the Outings mobile app on iOS and Android will sunset on July 31, 2019. The enhanced search relevance will be available on Bing desktop and mobile experiences for English in the United States.

The Outings mixed reality experience highlighting Maps SDK will remain available for users who want to continue to use the sandboxed, sample app. The Outings Garage project will remain active but will mainly serve to illustrate the power of Maps SDK to MR developers.

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Meet Azure Resource Graph, latest Microsoft Garage Wall of Fame inductee

For the 2017 company-wide Hackathon, Chirag Gupta and Gaurav Kapila saw an opportunity to bring visibility to and alignment behind an improved and more in-depth analysis of resource allocation for large enterprise customers on Azure. At the time, the two were working on log analytics and Azure Governance for their day jobs. They were gathering evidence on what were the gaps for enterprise adoption of Azure, and what could help the experience for customers with Azure subscriptions at scale. With their 2017 Hackathon project, Cloud Map, Chirag and Gaurav recruited a team to create a solution that provided Azure Resource exploration through a graphical interface as well as advanced query language for searching across Azure resource properties. When showing their hack project to various groups in the company, they found that everyone was dealing with one problem – helping large-scale, enterprise customers better understand their own Azure environments by bringing better visibility to existing issues or potential problems.

“Hackathon helped us really get these internal teams together. Our project has a lot of dependencies and partners inside Microsoft.” Gaurav explained. “We needed to get these teams in the same room and ask, ‘would something like Cloud Map be helpful to you? Does this solve your problems?’” Chirag added.

Their project resonated with teams and especially Group Manager of Azure portal, Leon Welicki, who not only joined their project but became the sponsor, key in guiding the project towards public preview and general availability as Azure Resource Graph. Alex Zakonov, who was the Director of Application Insights in 2017, also sponsored the project with engineers from his team contributing to the project early on. The amount of validation the project received was so powerful that the portal team adopted Azure Resource Graph completely, with the top search bar in Azure portal pulling data solely from Azure Resource Graph.

“We coded like crazy in 3-4 days during Hackathon, we were elbow to elbow, sitting together, so we developed a really close relationship. Fantastic full stack collaboration between everybody involved, which set a very solid foundation of two teams that worked like one.” Leon recalled his team working side by side with the Graph team during the Hackathon and how each member of the hack project worked across disciplines to achieve a compelling demo that showed their vision for the project. “We continue to have a fantastic partnership going on driving two parts of the product – front-end and back-end.”

Azure Resource Graph - dashboard displaying bar charts for VMs, SQL database, and disks counts

In 2018, Chirag again participated in the Hackathon to experiment with what their team had built. Their 2018 Hackathon project, Microsoft Graph for Azure, investigated ways Azure Resource Graph’s reach could be extended by integrating Microsoft Graph to allow exploration using Microsoft Graph API’s.

In September of 2018 at Microsoft Ignite, Azure Resource Graph was officially released as part of Azure Governance, a set of services for customers that help build and scale applications quickly while making sure their environments are secure, compliant, and cost effective. Customers are able to access Azure Resource Graph by directly searching in the Azure portal search bar, querying and filtering on multiple resource properties, and seeing an in-depth and even visual representation of their resources across Azure subscriptions. All to ensure customers have a clearer picture of their activity and environments across Azure for smarter and more efficient management to save time and money.

At Build 2019, the team released the Azure Resource Graph explorer view in Azure portal. In addition to allowing customers to create custom queries, they could now also create dashboards based on the Graph. The experience was also made available on the Azure mobile application, expanding Azure Resource Graph’s footprint.

Even after public preview and general availability release, expect the team to continue improving and extending Azure Resource Graph. The team is collaborating closely with Azure portal to provide robust data visualizations and build improved Azure management experiences that are critical for IT admins, cloud admins, DevOps, and enterprise businesses everywhere.

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Interactive art: ‘Public Radio’ installation lets you pick the music

Public Radio on display at District Hall
Public Radio on display at District Hall (photo credit: New American Public Art)

Standing 10 feet tall, elegantly sloped along its front face with the soft light of rainbow LEDs glowing behind half inch of frosted acrylic, “Public Radio” is a unique art installation you’ll find at District Hall’s outdoor plaza in the Seaport, Boston’s home for innovation. Turn the metal-rimmed dials to tune to a different station as the corresponding LEDs light up on this giant radio, powered by a tiny but mighty BBC micro:bit computer, inviting the public to play with and listen to the latest broadcasts and music. Built by New American Public Art in the Microsoft Garage at the New England Research and Development Center, Public Radio is an interactive art installation with microprocessor parts and a futuristic look that encourages a spirit of community, working and grooving together.

A sense of community, inspiring movement and spontaneous interaction

Somerville-based New American Public Art (NAPA) is a multi-disciplinary art studio that builds interactive projects and installations. NAPA answered the 2016 Public Space Invitational Digital Challenge put forth by Boston’s Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics in collaboration with Microsoft. After 6 months of fabricating and building, the larger-than-life radio was ready for show. It has been living in The Garage at NERD as a centerpiece that demonstrates how technology and art can converge.

“When you scale up a common object and place it in the public, you often get uncommon and surprising results. How will the public decide among themselves what to listen to?” says Dan Sternof Beyer, Creative Director and Co-Founder of NAPA.

From NAPA’s original project proposal, the idea is “Music inspires movement, creates a sense of place, and provides an opportunity for spontaneous interaction with other people.” NAPA designed the project in collaboration with creative engineer Andrew Ringler. Chris Templeman, Microsoft Garage program manager, had connections with the local studio prior to joining Microsoft. Templeman introduced NAPA to the bevy of hardware and fabrication tools in the Garage maker lab. “The Garage at NERD has embraced local artists since we opened our doors last year. We’re constantly inspired by art and how that creativity and imagination can help make better products and spark new ideas.”

Public Radio in The Garage at NERD

Public Radio in The Garage at NERD (photo credit: New American Public Art)

“I think people will be excited to experience the Public Radio because it’s an innovative way to activate a public space using a combination of interactive art and technology,” says Aimee Sprung, Director of Civic Engagement at Boston’s Microsoft office. “The build-out at Microsoft Garage has been both an educational and exciting experience and we’re proud to have sponsored this program as part of our commitment to driving civic engagement in Boston.”

More than art – bringing technology to life

Public Radio was freshly installed outside District Hall on April 5th and will be on display for the public to interact with through September. For the past year, however, it has stood as a compelling example of innovative tech-meets-art in The Garage at NERD, showcased in interactions with the community and local schools. “We often use micro:bit in workshops where we invite local STEM students,” explains Templeman. “When we have students come in and learn how to program on the micro:bit, we use the Public Radio to illustrate what you can do with it to run such large and interactive projects. It brings the tech to life in a creative and tangible way.”

Employees from Microsoft’s Education Windows and Devices team have also been engaging public schools and collaborating with The Garage to bring students in to engineer escape rooms. “We are teaching kids engineering by building escape rooms using the micro:bit.” Tisha Nguyen, a Solutions Professional on the Education team explains. “This hands-on experience outside the traditional classroom setting is extremely valuable as we continue to prepare the next generation of Data Scientists, Engineers, and Statisticians.” The effort was made possible with the help of engineers from Office who designed the escape room experiences, Jean-Yves Ntamwemezi, Arthur Berman, and Eric Frackleton.

Public Radio outside of District Hall

Public Radio outside of District Hall (photo credit: New American Public Art)

With Public Radio now leaving The Garage space and headed to its new home, there are still plenty of creative sources for inspiration left. The recent collaboration of MIT, The Met, and Microsoft has spurred new relationships with other art institutions such as the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. “We are thrilled to work with local artists and museums to figure out different ways tech can help push the boundaries of creativity,” says Linda Thackeray, Director of The Garage.

The details and specifications of the Public Radio are all available open-source on Github, including how to get the micro:bit connected with the radio boards, sensors, and LEDs. Learn more about the Public Radio from the official press release.

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Garage projects team up to illustrate the power of mixed reality

A customizable 3D Map canvas for MR creators

MapsSDK_Screenshot_01Maps SDK offers a host of developer-friendly controls, allowing creators to focus their energy on innovative MR experiences. Developers can drag the map control into a Unity scene to build on an out-of-the-box map complete with 3D terrain and configurable city and location labels sourced from Bing Maps, rather than start from scratch and create their own. From there, they can overlay additional geo-anchored content that users can explore via a table-top map experience with built-in panning, zooming, and navigation tools.
 In effect, Maps SDK creates a canvas against which developers can illustrate content in new and interesting ways. Whether developers are layering in data visualizations, custom 3D objects/terrain, or other geo-anchored content, the project gives them a head start so they can spend less time on the basics, and more time bringing a creative MR map experience to life.

Explore places near and far, now in mixed reality

“We are constantly thinking about the intersection between maps and new mediums,” shared Brian Kircher, a Senior Software Engineer on the Maps team and developer for Maps SDK. “We not only wanted to empower MR developers, but also inspire them.” By day, Brian, David Buerer, and Jesse Levine, work on the Maps team and sit next to Oswaldo Ribas, the current PM of Microsoft Garage project Outings. “Last summer, we were brainstorming how we could illustrate what a 3D map control could do when it hit us that Outings was the perfect experience to bring to mixed reality,” shared Jesse, a Program Manager II. Pairing up with the Outings team, the three pitched an Outings mixed reality experience to a group of Bing interns.
The original Outings Garage project launched last December, and presents users with points of interest by pulling in rich pictures and relevant descriptions from digital travel journals so they can explore local gems and far-away destinations through a Tinder-esque, card UI. The team of interns was able to easily create a similar travel exploration experience in a few short weeks by leveraging Maps SDK and the location-based data that powers the Outings iOS and Android apps. While the sand-boxed sample app is not connected to the mobile experiences (locations saved on mobile will not appear in the MR experience), Outings fans will recognize the same point-of-interest cards, now overlayed geographically against the rich, 3D terrain from Maps SDK.

• Discover points of interest via search or panning/zooming as the crow flies across a 3D, tabletop globe
• Save favorite destinations to build a bucket list or travel itinerary
• Explore famous natural and urban landmarks in 3D

The Maps SDK team polished the new experience and enhanced the SDK, incorporating feedback from the interns and Outings team, as well as other teams around Microsoft working on innovative 3D experiences. The team has already collected feedback from first-party developers, but is excited to open feedback up to third-party developers creating anything from productivity to entertainment experiences.

Try it now and share your feedback

Maps SDK is now available and accepting feedback via GitHub. The sample experience, Outings, is a UWP app for mixed reality headsets and HoloLens, and now available for download and feedback via the Microsoft Store.
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By devs, for devs: Meet new Garage projects XAML Studio and Team Retrospectives

Today, we announce two new Garage projects built by developers, for developers. Two teams, inspired by their roles building developer tools, worked on ideas to enhance the developer experience during Microsoft’s annual Hackathon. XAML Studio, a Microsoft Garage project, makes iterative prototyping easy with real-time UI module changes. Team Retrospectives, a Microsoft Garage project, closes the loop on continuous iteration, enabling an Agile retrospectives experience within Azure DevOps. Whether devs are starting a new project or reflecting on how to work more efficiently as a team, they can use these projects to get a little more productive.

From Design to Development

XAML Studio enables developers to rapidly prototype UWP XAML by previewing and adjusting XAML in real-time before easily copying it over into Visual Studio.
Having spent the better part of a decade listening to developers around the world and as a developer himself, Michael Hawker has spent a lot of time thinking about how to make dev tools even more useful. Michael is a Senior Software Engineer working on the Partner, Analytics, and Essential Experiences, or PAX, team and contributes to the Windows Community Toolkit. He found himself wanting a faster way to edit XAML UI and set out to build a project that could do so in Microsoft’s 2017 Hackathon. The annual event gives Microsoft employees the opportunity to explore and build new ideas. Several teams continue working on the projects beyond the week-long experience to make their way into the hands of customers via Garage projects.
Xaml Studio projectMichael created an interactive XAML sandbox to test out small code changes without having to compile or rebuild projects first, much like what WPF developers had access to for years. “When you’re in Visual Studio, you have a variety of tools available to make coding and laying out your UI easy, but it’s not always straightforward to visualize the final result. So, I thought to myself, ‘What could I do to add to this experience?’” shared Michael, the creator of the project. “XAML Studio is about that quick prototyping loop. Using this tool, I can type my XAML and see how it renders right away. Then, I can interact with it and explore how it behaves before it goes in my app.”
XAML Studio follows a number of Garage projects that facilitate rapid prototyping. Launched in the January 2018, Garage intern project Ink to Code, enables developers to sketch wire frames and kickstart their app in Visual Studio. Both Ink to Code and XAML Studio help developers transition from design to code by creating concrete development assets that can be used in Visual Studio. Where Ink to Code provides a way to create several prototypes very quickly, reducing repitive steps across multiple UI sketches, XAML Studio accelerates prototyping through easy-to-see iteration. Developers can now quickly fine-tune their prototypes, aided by an interactive preview window.
XAML Studio also hosts a variety of tools, including a binding debugger that can illustrate how UI is going to use the data behind it and if problems arise, where those might be occurring. Check out the full set of features.

By Developers, For Developers

The team behind Team Retrospectives also got their start at the One Week Hackathon, inspired by their roles in the Azure Production Infrastructure Engineering organization, or Azure PIE, where they focus on ways to improve the Azure developer experience. “We knew we wanted to work on something that would help devs and tackle something that we could actually create a working prototype for during the timeframe of the Hackathon,” shared Andy Stumpp, Senior Software Engineering Lead in Azure PIE and the development lead on the project.
Photo of the Team Retrospectives team at the Microsoft Hackathon
True to the “One Week” name, the team landed on a simple idea that could make their own projects more productive and could be created in the space of a few days: building an experience that integrated Agile retrospectives into Azure DevOps.
Many Microsoft developer teams use Agile methods to build, deploy, and continuously improve upon their products, as well as create tools that empower developers to do the same. Azure DevOps is a set of modern development services that make it easier to plan, collaborate, and ship faster, and many of its features support Agile. “I love Azure DevOps. It’s a one-stop shop,” shares Perth Charernwattanagul, a Senior Software Engineer in Azure PIE and the technical lead for Team Retrospectives. “It has everything I need from starting a project to releasing it; I don’t need 5 or 10 different products, I can just use Azure DevOps, and everything is streamlined and coordinated.”

Closing the Agile Loop

The team loved using Azure DevOps to organize their iterations, the first phase of Agile in which developer teams determine and execute work items, but they found that they also wanted to integrate retrospectives, the closing step in Agile, designed to fuel improvement and upcoming work items in the next iteration. “Retrospectives are a key part of the Agile process,” adds Andy. “They help you figure out what you can do better and the next steps in your new sprint.”

Team Retrospectives Screenshot

The Team Retrospective hackers created a project in Microsoft’s internal Hackathon tool and quickly attracted other developers around the company who shared a similar problem. They achieved their goal of creating a working prototype during the hackathon and immediately began testing it during their everyday roles. The team found that not only did Team Retrospectives streamline work items within Azure DevOps, it also made collaboration more efficient. “I’m based in Vancouver, and the rest of our team sits in our headquarters in Redmond,” Perth explains. “Our tool made it easy to collaborate digitally, and with the option to add our feedback in advance, we didn’t have to reschedule our meeting if someone couldn’t make it.”

Increased Collaboration and Reflection

Team Retrospectives is an Azure DevOps extension that enhances collaboration and productivity within the Azure Boards service:
  • Collect – Create a board, connect from any device and start submitting positive or negative feedback. The interface makes it easy to manage boards and feedback cards.
  • Group – Organize similar items into categories to facilitate discussion.
  • Vote – Prioritize feedback when team members vote on the items that are most important to them.
  • Act – Create follow-up action items in your team’s Azure DevOps project. Track previous work items and view roll-up status to ensure your team is progressing.
Since building and using Team Retrospectives, the team has found themselves becoming more effective. For example, shares Perth, “Having this extension baked right into Azure DevOps makes it effortless to have these retrospective conversations, and we’re simply prioritizing it more. We’ve become faster, more impactful, and more observant. We were able to hit a difficult deadline by quickly noticing that we were distributing too many work items to one person.”
“Team Retrospectives makes sure that we’re not just shipping features, but always learning from them.” –Jeff Braunstein, Senior Program Manager, Azure PIE and PM, Team Retrospectives
The team also rolled the project out to other Microsoft groups for feedback and testing, both within their own organization as well as to several teams working on the Microsoft Store. With this release, the team is eager to get feedback from developers beyond Microsoft, especially around how the team can support different Agile styles and methods. “Every team conducts retrospectives their own way; we want to know what customizable features can help teams perform at their best,” continues Perth.

Try XAML Studio & Team Retrospectives