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Educators take Redmond field trip

Microsoft is set to hold its annual research conference, detailing lab projects as well as ongoing projects sponsored by the software titan at universities.

Microsoft will hold a research conference next week detailing technology development in its labs as well as ongoing projects sponsored by Microsoft at universities.

The Faculty Summit, which will take place at the company's Redmond, Wash., headquarters, will focus on the state of computer research, current engineering trends and Microsoft's .Net initiative. Speech recognition and natural language processing, two areas of intense research at Microsoft, will also likely be discussed. More than 300 academic researchers are expected to attend.

Chairman Bill Gates will deliver a keynote speech on Monday. Rick Rashid, head of Microsoft Research and a former professor at Carnegie Mellon, will also speak.

Like other major technology companies, Microsoft has built an extensive network of relationships with universities worldwide and underwrites many academic research projects. Intel, for example, opened three "lablets" at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Washington and Carnegie Mellon University last year. These small laboratories are independent of the university but staffed with professors on leave and doctoral candidates.

Typically, academic institutions conduct more of the "pure" research while company labs focus on projects that could lead to tangible products.

There are benefits for both sides. Most technology companies simply can't afford to employ all the researchers they need, while universities are clamoring for funds.

Last September, at the tenth anniversary of Microsoft Research, the company showed off a number of projects, including:

• A handheld computer that understands which way is up and where it's being touched, technology that lets it reorient the display according to how it's held or understand when a person is holding it like a cell phone to give dictation.

• The "Mulan" software project for reading Chinese writing out loud or transcribing speech into characters. With about 60,000 characters in the Chinese language, it's difficult to use keyboards.

Microsoft Research maintains five labs, which are located in Redmond, Silicon Valley, Cambridge, Mass., San Francisco and Beijing.