A $23.7 million block of funding recently announced by the Canada Foundation for Innovation may help expand computing beyond the keyboard or change the way software is upgraded. Those are two of the 135 projects that will receive funding that is being distributed to 160 researchers at 32 research

institutions across Canada.

The CFI perodically disperses funds to Canadian universities to aid research across technological, medical and scientific fields. These institutions submit proposals which are evaluated on their own merits as well as the merits of the researcher — their training, background and prior accomplishments. Another consideration is the capacity of the project as a training tool for future generations of researchers as well as broader positive implications for Canadian society and the economy.

“”It’s an extremely rigorous evaluation process,”” said CFI president Eliot Phillipson. “”We do a number of trackings and audits. There is a very tight reporting relationship between the institutions and CFI.””

Fund recipients provide annual reports on their progress, and Ernst & Young will perform an independent financial audit on projects that receive funding of more than $4 million. A separate scientific audit will determine the actual research output that results from each project. The CFI sends out a team on-site to perform that function.

Phillipson recognizes the need to turn university lab research into products that can be sold. One of the CFI’s funding criteria — economic and societal impact — takes this into consideration.

The CFI has been providing funding for six years, so it may be too soon to measure the impact of any projects to date, he said. But he’s confident the gap between development and commercialization can be bridged.

One of the projects selected is Sageev Oore’s research on developing multimedia computer interfaces beyond the tandem of mouse and keyboard. Oore, an assistant professor in the department of mathematics and computer science at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, has developed what he calls interactive character animation.

“”There’s an expression: when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Unfortunately, a whole lot of computer tasks are continually hammered by the keyboard and mouse combo,”” said Oore.

Oore isn’t trying to replace those tools, since they are best suited for many computer tasks, but wishes to augment them. He’s devised a way to interact with 3-D characters on a screen using an interface that would typically be used to operate puppets. “”It’s effectively virtual puppeteering where you use input devices that are like puppet sticks except that they’re connected to sensors,”” he said.

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