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DARPA Innovator Headed To Microsoft

Peter Lee arrives in Redmond at a time when the company is struggling keep up in hot new growth markets like mobile and online software.

Peter Lee, the former head of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University who brought Web 2.0-style research methods to the military's DARPA unit, is now headed to Microsoft to play a key role in the software maker's research arm.

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Lee was named managing director, Microsoft Research Redmond, on Thursday. He will report to Rick Rashid, Microsoft's senior VP for research. Lee replaces Rico Malvar in the role, who will become Microsoft's chief scientist.

"Peter has long played a strong leadership and service role within the research community, both at DARPA and Carnegie Mellon University," Rashid said, in a statement. "His extensive background in both research and service to the community will allow him to continue the tradition of excellence in research at Microsoft and help lead us to new heights," said Rashid.

At DARPA (Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency), Lee was known for applying new, Internet-centric approaches like crowdsourcing to routine military operations such as logistics and mobilization. He created an iTunes-like app store through which soldiers could rate and acquire software, and challenged the public to find a set of red balloons he'd unleashed across the country in order to study spontaneous team building.

Lee said the scale of Microsoft's reach was partly behind his decision to join the company. "While Microsoft Research's revolutionary advances affect just about every desktop, enterprise and mobile system in the world, what I find most exciting is Microsoft Research's ability to influence and inspire countless numbers of researchers, students, and technology leaders," Lee said, in a statement.

Lee's arrival at Microsoft comes at a time when the company is struggling to maintain its dominance in a software market in which mobile systems and Internet-based, or "cloud", software are eroding the centrality of the Windows PC in the IT world.

The KIN phone, Microsoft's most recent effort to build its presence in the mobile market, was a dismal failure and was pulled from the market last month just weeks after its debut. That Microsoft, known for promoting within, turned to the wider research world for a key player like Lee may be a sign that the company realizes it needs fresh approaches to innovation if it's to continue to be a tech leader in the years ahead.

That it's still capable of convincing an innovator like Lee to come to Redmond is also a positive sign for the company.

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