Inside Microsoft's UK Research Labs


TrueSkill is an opponent selection system that has been widely integrated into Xbox Live. The system works by rating performances, then selecting people of the same ability to play against. In order to determine the skill of all the players for a new game, the TrueSkill ranking system needs to determine the probability of the game's outcome.


This is done by averaging all possible performances weighted against the probability of the player's performance. The system then uses a host of complex formulae to give every player a numeric score based on their performances. When you join an Xbox Live game, you're matched with people with a similar score.

If you consistently improve, so does your score, and the pairing system adjusts. The TrueSkill system is operational in over 100 Xbox Live games, and has been instrumental in making Xbox Live one of the most popular online services in the world.


Somniloquy enables PCs to be woken up from sleep when receiving a Skype call, data request or network traffic. Currently, when a PC is in low power sleep mode, only the hardware can wake it, but this USB network card-with-a-twist can restart your machine.


At the moment, people who want to access their PC remotely, using the tools in Windows Vista or Windows 7, are thwarted if their PC goes into sleep mode; however, keeping it powered up wastes electricity. With Somniloquy, the PC would be allowed to sleep, and the USB device would automatically wake it when a remote request came through.

The prototype also has room for a built-in SD card. This means that in the future it could be designed to carry on downloads even when the PC is asleep, and then automatically sync the information when the PC is reawakened.

Forest analysis

Understanding the growth of plant life is crucial to assessing the future of climate change, but the impact of tree populations on the environment remains a mystery. To solve this mystery, Microsoft Research has been involved in the first mapping and analysis of forests, based on 35 years of research.

It's hoped that scientists can start obtaining accurate information about the growth and decline of the world's trees, and therefore the impact of climate change. "Forests are made of trees, and trees are made of carbon," says Drew Purves, creator of the software.

Forest analysis

"We know that forests are processing and storing large amounts of carbon. When trees grow, they remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in wood. But eventually every tree dies, and the wood rots or burns, releasing the carbon back into the atmosphere. There's a potential for a huge effect of that cycling and storage of carbon on the future of the earth's climate."

The research holds the promise to address fundamental scientific questions that could help conservationists and governmental officials decide how to protect the climate. "The way that forests process water and energy has immediate effects on everything from cloud formation to air temperatures to seasonal patterns of air flows," continues Purves. "This is an important part of modelling the global climate, along with things like ocean currents and atmospheric movements."

Five more technologies from Microsoft Research


The heritage of Microsoft's search engine, recently rebranded as Bing, owes a lot to Microsoft Research. The search engine perfectly underlines the goal of Microsoft Research to find new opportunities for Microsoft as a business. Much of the original build and a raft of last month's new features have come straight out of Cambridge.

Driver Verification Software

In 2006 a Microsoft Research employee solved an age-old mathematical problem using software that could test the validity of equations by running them forever. The seemingly pointless research was then taken on by Microsoft to verify that hardware drivers won't wreck your PC, and are safe to install.

Worldwide Telescope

Worldwide telescope

STARS IN YOUR EYES: The Virtual Telescope brings the universe to your desktop

Google Earth – eat your heart out! Virtual Telescope enables users to travel the galaxy using photos from NASA's database and jump from planet to planet, learning about the wonders of the solar system as they go.


Last year, videos surfaced on the internet of new software from Microsoft Research that created automatic music to vocals. The product was made an instant hit due to its cheesy advertisement, which became a viral internet hit.


LA, LA, LA: So this is how 'talented artistes' come up with their big hits…

Grammar checkers

Research by the Natural Language Processing Group in the newly-founded Cambridge centre in 1997 led to the the first grammar checker in Microsoft Office 97, and has stayed there ever since. IPv6 Internet Protocol version 6 came about after the internet started running out of unique addresses for new pages. Microsoft Research designed the protocol, which is only now starting to take effect. Without it, internet growth could have stopped dead in its tracks.


First published in Windows: The Official Magazine Issue 33

Liked this? Then check out 7 mind-blowing projects from Microsoft Research

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