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April 26, 2006

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Welcome to the April 26, 2006 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Council Releases Blueprint for Federal Cybersecurity Research
GovExec.com (04/25/06) Pulliam, Daniel

A presidential advisory council has released guidelines for coordinating cybersecurity research and development among different federal agencies. Released last week by the National Science and Technology Council, the Federal Plan for Cyber Security and Information Assurance Research and Development involved members of more than 20 federal entities. The plan calls for the creation of standard cybersecurity metrics and other measures to inform researchers of the government's priorities, said Simon Szykman, director of the National Coordination Office for Networking and Information Technology Research and Development. While the blueprint was developed solely by government officials, true coordination will be an ongoing effort that will include public comments and workshops to provide a forum for the private sector. "Certainly having a plan is one thing and executing it is another," said Szykman. "This group of people was focused on the [research and development] issues and understanding the existing issues and the priorities." The document is notable for its call for metrics and its emphasis on emerging technologies and incorporating security at the beginning of any deployment, though it is remiss in not defining how recipients of federal funding are to be held accountable, said Alan Paller, research director of the SANS Institute. "Researchers are going to look at this as justification for anything they want to do," said Paller. Gartner's John Pescatore says the blueprint should have identified specific areas where the government could fill in the gaps in research and development left by the market.
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Stingy Immigration Policy Stifles U.S. Innovation
USA Today (04/26/06) P. 13A; McNealy, Scott; Westine, Lezlee

Restrictive U.S. immigration policies are closing the door to much-needed international talent and threatening to end the rich tradition of foreigners who have revolutionized the technology industry through their work in the United States, write Sun Chairman Scott McNealy and TechNet CEO Lezlee Westine. Foreign-born workers helped found Intel, Sun, and Google, helping establish the United States as a global leader in the technology sector and creating millions of U.S. tax dollars and thousands of jobs for American workers in the process, but the admittance of the next class of innovators into the country is jeopardized by an immigration system beset by arbitrary visa caps and red tape. The competition for technology talent is now a global race, as more nations are recognizing the value of innovation, often subsidizing research and development initiatives with tax incentives to entice foreign talent into their own countries. The demand for technical jobs in the United States in math and computer science is expected to increase 39 percent by 2012, while demand for jobs in science and engineering will rise by more than 25 percent. The current program allows for 65,000 foreign workers with unique technical skills and a bachelor's degree to enter or remain in the country annually with H-1B visas, though the cap for the year beginning on Oct. 1 had been reached two months earlier, effectively halting the influx of foreign talent for 14 months. The H-1B program makes it difficult for foreign-born students graduating from college to find work, while many workers already in the country on the visas are being denied permanent U.S. residency. While the long-term solution to the challenge of preserving innovation is to improve math and science education, loosening immigration rules is a crucial step in the short term to satisfy the urgent needs of today's economy.
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The Total Information Awareness Project Lives On
Technology Review (04/26/06) Williams, Mark

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed new evidence supporting its class-action suit against AT&T, alleging that the company provided the National Security Agency (NSA) with total access to vast repositories of telephone and Internet communications. The new evidence follows the revelation that the purportedly defunct Total Information Awareness (TIA) project, founded by DARPA in 2002 but halted by Congress the next year, had actually been acquired by NSA. While the names of individual projects have been changed, the overall TIA initiative still enjoys its original sources of funding, though Congress has stated that component technologies are only to be used for military or foreign intelligence applications that collect data on non-U.S. citizens. One of the components of the program acquired by NSA's Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA) is the core architecture that would integrate the original TIA information extraction, analysis, and dissemination tools. In February, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez defended the legality of the Bush administration's surveillance policy against charges that it violates the Fourth Amendment and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978. Gonzalez claimed alternatively that the administration was abiding by the stipulations of FISA and that parts of the law do not apply to the surveillance program, though he refused to elaborate for reasons of national security. The EFF has demonstrated that AT&T provided NSA with access to enormous quantities of data, such as the electronic records of 1.92 trillion telephone calls made over several decades that are stored in a data center in Kansas. With such access, NSA's supercomputers can perform sophisticated data mining operations, using search algorithms and techniques such as content filtering and machine learning to cull through the records in the search for terrorist activity.
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Pullet Surprise at CHI 2006
PCWorld.com (04/24/06) Townsend, Emru

Dr. Adrian David Cheok of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore has given one of the more intriguing presentations at ACM's CHI 2006, the annual conference of the computer-human interaction community. The solution that Cheok and his team have in mind to allow busy people to reconnect with their pets made for a humorous presentation. In "Poultry.Internet: A Remote Human-Pet Interaction System," Cheok showed that a haptic vest could be used to transmit feedback between humans and pets, with the aid of a motorized remote dummy. The pet is to be outfitted with the vest, and running in a circle would also prompt the dummy to run in a circle for the pet owner. But rubbing the dummy would allow the pet to feel the stroking through the haptic vest. Cheok uses chickens to test the haptic technology, and his team has made significant strides since SIGGRAPH 2003. He also believes first responders would be able to use the technology to guide dogs through areas that humans are unable to reach. The event will continue in Montreal over the next few days, with presentations and discussions that will impact all aspects of life from privacy and health to social issues. For more on CHI 2006, visit http://www.chi2006.org
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For Academia, Patents Mean BIG $$
EE Times (04/24/06) Merritt, Rick

The increasing focus in academia on securing patents sometimes puts universities at odds with businesses that sponsor academic research. Patents awarded to universities account for more than $1 billion in licensing revenue a year, and the number of patent applications filed by universities increased from 1,584 in 1991 to 10,517 in 2004. The mounting competition for patents has complicated the relationship between academia and industry, leading to deals such as the agreement ARM reached with a top-level university to pay the salaries of the school's research assistants in exchange for co-ownership of any patents they file. Though they derive most of their patent revenue from royalties, schools also cash in from the equity amassed in successful startups spun off from university research. Second-tier colleges are responsible for the recent increase in patent activity, as they are attempting to develop a menu of patents that could ultimately serve as the basis for a spinoff company. "There's a huge [patent] opportunity outside the Stanfords and MITs. That's where the hunger is," said Victor Hwang, president of the Larta Institute, a nonprofit that dedicated to furthering the connection between academia and industry. Smaller companies without the luxury of large research staffs particularly benefit from partnerships with universities, notes University of Michigan electrical engineering professor Trevor Mudge, explaining that universities become an inexpensive way of conducting innovative research. For their part, more second-tier universities are aggressively pursuing venture capital funding in an attempt to boost the cache of their research programs. As more universities are creating research and incubator centers, they are clashing more frequently with companies over intellectual property and licensing issues. A roundtable discussion in Washington, D.C., will take up the issue of guidelines for university patents, though most argue against a universal template out of the belief that every deal must be treated uniquely.
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Researchers Use Tongue as Interface
Top Tech News (04/24/06) Levine, Barry

Researchers at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition are exploring a technique for using the human tongue as a computer interface for Navy SEAL divers, Army Rangers, and other soldiers on the front lines. "Brain Port" uses the tongue's ability to detect sonar echoes to control a PC. "Most of the human-computer interaction so far has been on using the eyes, ears, and hands," said Geri Gay, a professor of communications and information sciences at Cornell University. "Everything nowadays is so ubiquitous with mobile computing, and we need to find new, hands-free ways of interacting for environments where your hands and eyes are busy." The research takes a cue from nature, where animals such as pit vipers have sensitive tongues that enable them to detect scents in the air. For humans, a red plastic strip loaded with microelectrodes is placed on the tongue, where it can convey information from handheld devices such as an electronic compass. The DARPA-funded project will also attempt to create infrared tongue-vision, enabling divers or pilots to see in the dark without the aid of night-vision goggles. The research owes its origins to the work of University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Paul Bach-y-Rita, who 30 years ago identified the tongue as a superior conduit after attempting to relay camera images via electrodes that he taped to the backs of his test subjects. The researchers hope to get the project fast-tracked once they present a prototype to the military in May. The technology also holds potential for helping the blind walk or even catch balls, and a custom interface could help restore balance for people who have suffered damage to their inner ears.
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Wanted: Girls Interested in Computers
Seacoast (04/24/06) Kane, Amy

For three years running, Norm Messa has not had a single female student in the high school programming classes that he teaches at the Seacoast School of Technology in Exeter. To address the problem at its source, Messa has begun hosting free game programming nights for middle school girls, hoping to catch them at a time when many girls are still undecided about math and science. Messa notes that despite media reports heralding the decline of the technology sector, the industry is actually quite healthy and even growing. "Of the 10 fastest growing jobs, five are in health care and five are in IT," he said. "You have to be good at it, but the payoff is immense." Messa walked the students through a tutorial for Gamemaker and had them program a simple maze game. The girls enjoyed editing the games, creating their own characters, and telling stories, aligning with Carnegie Mellon researcher Caitlyn Kelleher's theory that girls are more interested in the applications of technology than they are in the technology itself. Kelleher is developing the next version of Alice, an object-oriented Java platform featuring elements from Electronic Arts' "The Sims," the most popular computer game of all time. After a short instruction session, the girls got to try their hands at Alice, building worlds and creating characters to tell stories while still learning some of the basics of programming in a non-threatening environment. "The language in these is consistent with programming language, but it's not intimidating," Messa said. "They are learning to think procedurally and algorithmically." Messa still looks for more ways to kindle female interest in technology, and looks forward to a new free educational program called Kids Programming Language. For information about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://women.acm.org
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Internet2 Unveils Plans for an Improved Version of its Academic High-Speed Network
Chronicle of Higher Education (04/26/06) Kiernan, Vincent

Leaders of the Internet2 academic-computing consortium announced plans on Tuesday for a new national academic fiber-optic network, tentatively called "Newnet," that would replace the Abilene high-speed network. Internet2 President Douglas E. Van Houweling says Newnet would initially carry data on 10 different wavelengths of light, each of which would be able to handle 10 gigabits of data per second--or the total capacity of Abilene--at a time. Institutions connected to the new network would have access to one light wavelength that, like Abilene, would carry conventional Internet traffic, said Steve Cotter, director of network services for Internet2. Cotter added that each institution would also have access to a second wavelength that could be used however the institution desired, or even subdivided for multiple users. He said Internet2's goal is to develop a Web-based system that scientists could use to order extra fiber-optic capacity as needed for their research. The system would be able to find unused capacity on the network and deliver it to the researcher within moments, which is far faster than three months' lead time that is often required when requesting extra fiber-optic capacity from a telecommunications company, Cotter said. Newnet is expected to become operational in about 18 months, and will be offered at a cost that is "comparable" to Abilene's, Van Houweling said.
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Net Neutrality Debate Heats Up
InternetNews.com (04/26/06) Mark, Roy

A House Judiciary Committee task force took up the issue of network neutrality and heard differing opinions on whether legislation should be established to prevent discrimination by broadband providers. Verizon and AT&T have publicized their intent to charge content providers different fees according to bandwidth consumption to access consumers while promising not to block, distort, or hinder the transmission of content, a strategy that tech companies and consumer organizations have branded as discriminatory with the argument that those who cannot afford the broadband providers' rates will be at a competitive disadvantage. Republicans are in favor of the telecoms' tiered access proposal and believe the FCC should be charged with enforcing network neutrality violations. Democrats and a coalition of consumer groups and tech companies would prefer that the FCC's network neutrality principles become law. Columbia University professor Tim Wu said the network neutrality issue is, at its core, an issue about the concentration of market power, and noted that distorting competition between Internet firms would be a more profitable strategy for power players such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T.
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IU Scientists Devise Means to Test for Phony Technical Papers
EurekAlert (04/24/06)

Researchers at Indiana University have developed an application that can detect bogus technical papers using compression to determine whether the text was produced by a human or a computer. "This is a potential problem since no existing systems, the Web for example, can or do discriminate between content that is meaningful or bogus," said assistant professor of informatics Mehmet Dalkilic. "We believe that there are subtle, short-, and long-range word or even word string repetitions that exist in human texts, but not in many classes of computer-generated texts that can be used to discriminate based on meaning." The Inauthentic Paper Detector relies on a mixture of compression algorithms that save space and transmission time by condensing the volume of data. The researchers assembled two groups of text: one consisting of several hundred thousand syntactically correct sentences that are entirely meaningful, while the other was comprised of several hundred thousand syntactically correct sentences that, in aggregate, are meaningless. The inspiration for the project came from a 2004 prank where three MIT students created a program that could randomly produce fake computer code. When the students submitted a meaningless four-page document to an international conference, it was accepted with no review. The Inauthentic Paper Detector easily identified the bogus MIT paper and numerous others as fraudulent. "We hypothesized that we could build a reliable and fast model that recognizes fake papers automatically," said Predrag Radivojac, an assistant professor of informatics who joined Dalkilic along with informatics doctoral student James Costello and undergraduate Wyatt Clark.
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Nokia Teams Up With MIT
Cellular-News (04/24/06)

The joint research facility of Nokia and MIT has now opened its doors, and about 20 researchers and scientists each from Nokia Research Center and MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) will staff the center in Cambridge, Mass. The new facility, called Nokia Research Center Cambridge, is directed by Dr. James Hicks from Nokia Research Center, and its program manager is Arvind, the Johnson Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at MIT. The work of the researchers and scientists at Nokia Research Center Cambridge will focus on creating an "ecosystem" of information, services, peripherals, sensors, and other tools that will enable mobile devices to operate more intuitively with users, machines, and environments. Current projects include using speech to interact with mobile devices, and developing a platform for Semantic Web applications that understand policy, preference, and context. Other communications technologies projects include providing a way to verify the interoperability of Web services, and facilitating easy and secure connection of devices to each other and across the Internet.
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Robo-Ethics
Albany Times Union (NY) (04/21/06) Lisi, Michael

The fear that robots will eventually appear in surveillance systems and computer networks to monitor every element of human activity is a pressing concern for Chico MacMurtie, artistic director of Amorphic Robot Works. "I am frightened to death of the way technology controls our society and is used against us," he said. "Technology can be a wonderful tool, and at the same time it's a very controlling tool. (Robotics) will continue to be used to give us luxury, and to repress us." MacMurtie was scheduled to deliver a keynote address at the Schenectady Museum's High Voltage Fields symposium on Sat. April 21 entitled "How Robotics Affects Our Society and Why It Concerns Me." MacMurtie worries that, just as in the movie "I, Robot," humans will instinctively create robots to perform undesirable tasks and endow them with human-like qualities. This year's symposium is thematically centered on the ethics of robotics to reflect the convergence of art and technology. The panel discussion will take up the issue of whether robots already play too much of a role in people's lives. The museum is also preparing a June exhibit entitled "Robots Rock!," featuring an ensemble of self-playing robotic musical instruments. That sort of application for robotics is less concerning to MacMurtie, who acknowledges the field's many productive uses, such as space exploration and powerful computers. He is more concerned with the government's use of technology as an instrument of oppression in the post-9/11 age. "The really important thing to keep in mind is as our government is protecting us from terrorism, they've locked us down and used technology as the tool to lock us down with," he said. "The question is what (our government) has up its sleeve at this point. The stuff that's not out there is always more interesting than the stuff that's out there."
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New Group Aims to 'Save the Internet'
CNet (04/24/06) Broache, Anne

A group of media, consumer, and Internet groups has launched a campaign and Web site under the banner "Save the Internet" to lobby federal lawmakers considering revision of the nation's telecommunications policy to maintain so-called Net neutrality. "The fight for Internet freedom is now being waged in earnest," said Tim Karr, campaign director for Free Press, a media reform organization that opposes large media companies and organized the coalition. "On one side you have the public...on the other side you have the nation's largest telephone and cable companies, who have aligned with some in Congress to strip the Internet of the First Amendment." The group says the latest version of the reform bill does not go far enough in protecting neutrality. A first vote on the bill failed to grant passage for an amendment that would give content providers the right to bandwidth "with equivalent or better capability than the provider extends to itself or affiliated parties, and without the imposition of any charge," a measure the coalition supports. The group says current FCC regulations regarding neutrality are too vague. The bill would require the agency to investigate complaints of violations of its Net neutrality rules and give it the power to impose fines of up to $500,000 per violation, but denies it the right to make new rules regarding the issue. "You could have a system where I might be able to get my Vonage service but because Verizon has its own voice over Internet protocol service, they may degrade my Vonage service," says Gigi Sohn, president of the advocacy group Public Knowledge. "So technically I could get a degraded Vonage service, still in keeping with principles, but I'm accessing a degraded service, and that's why a non-discrimination principle must be put in the law."
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Software Insecurity: Plenty of Blame to Go Around
Government Computer News (04/18/06) Jackson, William

Attendees at the recent International Conference of Network Security were unable to agree about who should shoulder the blame for the persistent unreliability of software. Eset Chief Research Officer Andrew Lee attributed the poor quality to the barrier between developers and users, noting that an application that may seem perfectly intuitive to a developer can be put to illogical and destructive ends in the hands of a user. Lee also said most software is too complex to ever receive sufficient testing. Careful deployment could minimize disruptions caused by even the most flawed software, said Lockheed Martin's Eric Cole. "In a lot of cases, even though the bugs are still there, the impact to your organization can be mitigated" with a suitably architected and well-protected network, just as perfectly coded software is still vulnerable if improperly deployed, he explained. In response to an audience member's charge that organizations are more concerned with clever workarounds than with methodologies for solving problems, Stuart Katzke of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) said his organization could help, noting that the same level of due diligence created by the documents prepared for government users under the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) could also apply to private industry. "The framework that we have established for federal agencies is really applicable to any environment," Katzke said. Participants also debated the relative worth of the Common Criteria program maintained by NIST and the NSA. Supporters claimed that the program enables a comparison between products, while critics charged that it is more about red tape than software quality.
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ICT Only Part of the Answer to Poverty
Computerworld New Zealand (04/24/06) Bell, Stephen

A debate over the use of information communication technologies (ICTs) to bridge the world's poverty divide took place at ICANN's recent conference in Wellington, New Zealand. Some proponents suggest that ICTs play a key role in reducing poverty, while others believe that this view is overly optimistic. Ultimately, this debate centers on the conflict between the Internet and real-world governance. In the United Nations' "Reforming Internet Governance: Perspectives From the Working Group on Internet Governance," Alejandro Pisanty wrote that the effectiveness of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was undermined by an obsession about who controls Internet naming and numbering. "Excessive focus, first on Internet governance generally and then, almost exclusively on the names and numbers, has made the whole WSIS effort a waste of goodwill effort, genuine work, and genuine hope to make the information society inclusive and its development beneficial to all," wrote Pisanty. In the same report, Kangsik Cheon, a top executive of Korean firm Netpia.com, addressed the issue of international domain names, while Trevor Clarke wrote that there needs to be a global forum for Internet governance, explaining, "Despite its very successful past, the Internet is much too important to global peace and prosperity to be left alone."
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You Vs. Offshoring
InformationWeek (04/24/06)No. 1086, P. 44; McGee, Marianne Kolbasuk

Despite noticeable pay hikes and a generally better attitude toward IT as a career path, offshoring has bred a less than sanguine IT job outlook among U.S. tech workers polled in InformationWeek's National IT Salary Survey. Sixty-four percent report the elimination of jobs by outsourcing, and almost 60 percent say the trend is having a detrimental effect on morale. Meanwhile, most respondents do not think the salaries of current workers will be hurt by global IT competition, but they are split over whether entry-level professionals will be disadvantaged. Though American IT pros seem increasingly sure their careers can prevail in the face of global IT competition, only a small percentage expect to work on more innovative projects as menial chores are outsourced, or anticipate new hires to support offshoring work. Foote Partners President David Foote thinks workers who combine technical skill with business acumen are less likely to be outsourced, though just 6 percent of managers and 2 percent of personnel polled in the salary survey assign great value in "understanding the company's business strategy." IT pros have a better shot of keeping their employment by updating their skills, yet the survey finds that less than half of staffers and managers receive education and training as part of their benefits packages, while an even lower percentage are reimbursed for tuition. Fifty-three percent of managers and 61 percent of staffers say IT career prospects appear less promising than they did five years ago. E.&J. Gallo Winery CIO Kent Kushar forecasts that cost savings in offshoring will eventually be tightened as other countries try to keep their workforces' skills up to date, thereby increasing the value of U.S. workers with both technology and business knowledge. To view "Globalization and Offshoring of Software--A Report of the ACM's Job Migration Task Force, visit http://www.acm.org/globalizationreport
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A Red Flag in the Brain Game
BusinessWeek (05/01/06)No. 3982, P. 32; Hamm, Steve

Eastern European and Asian computer programming teams' trouncing of their American counterparts in the world finals of the Association for Computing Machinery's International Collegiate Programming Contest on April 12 reflects the widening gap between the output of U.S. computer science programs and that of China, India, and Eastern Europe. "If our talent base weakens, our lead in technology, business, and economics will fade faster than any of us can imagine," cautions George Mason University professor Richard Florida. Reasons for the decline in U.S. computer science graduates include a lack of excitement among students toward programming as a career choice, and fears that programming jobs will be outsourced to lower-wage countries. Meanwhile, restrictive immigration policies instituted in the wake of 9/11 are forcing many foreign students enrolled in U.S. graduate computer science programs to leave the country, while others are being encouraged to leave by burgeoning tech markets and entrepreneurialism in their native countries. IBM's Nicholas Donofrio is worried about complacency among American students: "There has to be a passion to be innovative," he explains. Owen Astrachan, who coached the Duke University programming team that participated in the ACM contest, believes students' flagging interest in computer science could be revived by connecting the field to more practical, real-world scenarios. However, computer science proponents say such efforts cannot reverse America's brain drain without a firm legislative strategy by the government to enhance the country's technology competitiveness. For more on the results of the ICPC, visit http://icpc.baylor.edu/icpc
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New Hunt Is on for Robot Top Dog
New Scientist (04/24/06) Vol. 190, No. 2548, P. 24; Wald, Chelsea

Sony's decision to discontinue production of its Aibo robotic dogs has created major concern among robotics researchers, who have long used the products to test new artificial intelligence systems. The popularity of Sony's Aibo made it the closest thing to a standard robot the industry has seen, and researchers have been frantically moving to secure the remaining stocks of the device. A group of scientists who compete in the Aibo-inspired RoboCup soccer tournament is preparing a volume of published research papers based on Aibo studies to present to Sony in an attempt to convince the company to resurrect the robot or develop an alternative. Though it was designed as a consumer product, Aibo comes with a camera, sensors, a computer chip, and the ability to walk, which offered researchers all the features they needed to test new systems in an off-the-shelf package, saving them the trouble of building their own devices from scratch while providing a common platform to compare different systems. While Sony has pledged to service the latest Aibo model for seven years, many researchers hoping to stockpile the robots for the RoboCup Four-Legged Challenge are finding inventories depleted. "Anybody who is planning to restock now is out of luck," said Peter Stone, an artificial intelligence researcher from the University of Texas at Austin. A potential substitute is the Robosapien, a device produced by Hong Kong's WowWee Robotics that, while lacking Aibo's sensors and processing power, has a level of flexibility that inventor Mark Tilden hopes will enable the device to be easily modified for research purposes. As another potential alternative, University of Pennsylvania researcher Daniel Koditschek has developed the EduBot, which can run faster than the Aibo and also leap and flip.
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