Epoch Foundation celebrates nearly 20 years of collaboration with CSAIL

Taiwan-based organization has helped fund projects ranging from cryptography to medical-imaging
Taiwan-based organization has helped fund projects ranging from cryptography to medical-imaging
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In 1998 there were no iPhones, no touchscreens and no Facebook, but there was the beginning of an idea. That idea was for MIT’s best and brightest computer scientists to join forces with a group of forward-looking global businesses, with the goal of helping invent the future of computing.

Almost 20 years later, CSAIL’s collaboration with Taiwan’s Epoch Foundation remains strong as ever, with the two groups committed to working together to use technology to solve major societal problems.

Founded in 1990, Epoch is made up of 20 conglomerates coming from a broad spectrum of industries that include technology, manufacturing and banking. Founding Chairman Paul Hsu says that its aim is to combine the research power of elite educational institutions with the resources of the private sector.

Epoch’s partnership with MIT started through a collaboration with the Sloan School of Management. From there, Epoch began a relationship with what was then the Laboratory for Computer Science, which focused on information technology and related fields.

Epoch and CSAIL

In 2000, Epoch members Delta Electronics and Acer Inc. were among a group of companies that helped launch Project Oxygen, a CSAIL research effort to create interactive computing systems that later paved the way for products like Google
Maps and Siri.

In 2005 CSAIL launched a five-year, $20 million project on mobile computing with Epoch member Quanta Computers, the world’s largest laptop manufacturer. The two groups have since expanded their work to topics ranging from flash memory and speech-recognition to medical diagnostics.

“Epoch has become an agent of change for technology at MIT and beyond,” says Victor Zue, Epoch’s liaison at CSAIL and the Delta Electronics Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT. “The executives that make up the organization represent a group of incredible visionary leaders.”

Two other key Epoch partner include Delta Electronics and Wistron Corporation. Delta has funded various projects in cryptography and other fields, while Wistron has supported research that includes everything from new spreadsheet systems  to better methods for analyzing CT-scans.
“What has really surprised me is the ever-growing tie between CSAIL and the IT industry in Taiwan,” says Hsu. “Many of CSAIL’s state-of-the-art technologies have helped Taiwan become recognized globally as a leader in the field.”

"Peeking through the blinds" of technology
Hsu has worked closely to foster the CSAIL relationship alongside Epoch president Josephine Chao, who stepped into Hsu’s shoes as president last year. Chao says that the decades-long collaboration has gone beyond business to become a deep-rooted relationship defined by mutual admiration and enthusiasm.

“This collaboration is about not just research, but inspiring young people and peeking through the blinds to see the future of technology,” says Chao. “From the Internet of Things to cloud-computing, every time we come back to Cambridge we look to CSAIL for guidance on what’s next.”

A more recent focus area for Epoch is entrepreneurship. They’ve created a startup incubator called Garage+ that counts CSAIL among its strategic partners, as well as programs that bring Taiwanese students to the US to visit universities like MIT. When a team of students visited CSAIL this past month, Chao says she was struck by how lab director Daniela Rus made time to talk to the students about their ventures.

“In the middle of a week when she was running around meeting with executives from major automakers and Silicon Valley giants, taking the time to meet with these young entrepreneurs really demonstrated her and the lab’s commitment to this collaboration,” says Chao.

Hsu says that he hopes for the next decade of research to extend to medicine, agriculture, marine science and “smart city” technology. Both he and Zue say that they are excited to continue to treat the relationship as a crystal ball aimed at looking at the future of computing.

“Epoch has had more to do with CSAIL’s growth in Asia than anyone,” says Zue. “It has served as a key facilitator for many of our most rewarding industry collaborations, and we look forward to continuing the relationship in the years to come.”