Google officials announced last week that the company would award the University $425,000 in grant funds to be used for research during the next few years.
Called the Google Focused Research Awards, the money will be applied to University research in fields that benefit both Google and the research community.
The University received two grants as part of the award. The first — called Data Centric Approach to Energy Proportionality — is a multi-university grant, which the University of Michigan will share with departments at Rutgers University, the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of Virginia. Through this grant, the University will receive $325,000 over the next three years.
Thomas Wenisch, assistant professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a recipient of the Google grant, said the funds will be used to research data structures. Wenisch described research data structures as big computing infrastructures designed to handle peak loads of technology users. When the infrastructures are running below capacity, they waste a lot of power, he said.
“We have to buy enough computers to be able to cover that peak load,” Wenisch said. “There’s basically more capacity there than you actually need, and the problem … is that the way computers work today you end up wasting energy.”
According to Wenisch, this particular research project will focus on understanding how computers access and use data, which will ultimately teach researchers how to better save energy.
The University also received a $100,000 grant from Google that was awarded to four faculty members in the University’s EECS Department. Wenisch is among these four, along with fellow EECS faculty members Trevor Mudge, David Blaauw and Dennis Sylvester.
The research funded by the second grant will focus on making the hardware for computer memory more energy efficient.
According to a Google press release, the company is awarding grants to 10 universities across the country and in England for research that will focus on four areas: “machine learning, the use of mobile phones as data collection devices for public health, environment monitoring and energy efficiency in computing and privacy.”
Both grants the University received deal with energy efficiency for large computing infrastructures, which is important to Google because the company wants to reduce both its energy costs and environmental impact in the United States, according to Wenisch.
“Two percent of the power in the United States is actually consumed by data centers and big computer infrastructure, and if you think world-wide, the environmental impact of data centers is about the same as the entire Czech Republic in terms of carbon footprint,” he said.
According to Wenisch, the University was selected as a recipient for these grants due to its ongoing focus on energy efficiency. The four faculty members have been working in partnership with the Pure Michigan Project and have been doing low-power computing for more than a decade.
Google has a history of funding University research. The company has relationships with many faculty members in the EECS and other departments. However, the recent awards are significant, Wenisch said, because they have been earmarked for specific research fields, and they consist of larger sums than usual. Until now, most of Google’s grants have been for less than $50,000.
Beyond the direct financial support, a tighter collaboration between the University and Google will also be established, Wenisch said.
“We’re on the phone with them, they’re directly involved in the research, we’re sending our students out there over the summer to work with Google’s researchers and then they’re coming back with an understanding of what Google does so that the research we do is directly relevant to them,” he said.