Welcome to the October 2, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
ACM Announces Plans to Serve European Computing Community With World-Class Resources
Association for Computing Machinery (10/01/09)
The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the world's largest educational and scientific computing society, uniting computing educators, researchers, and professionals, will introduce 15 leading computer scientists from academia and industry who are spearheading ACM Europe, http://europe.acm.org, a new effort to recognize and support European members and ACM activities in Europe. These leaders have joined the newly formed ACM Europe Council to expand ACM's high-quality technical activities, conferences, and services in the European region. Director of External Research Programs for Microsoft Research Europe Fabrizio Gagliardi chairs the Council, which will host a special event in Paris on October 8, in conjunction with the European Computer Science Summit, sponsored by Informatics Europe, www.informatics-europe.org/ECSS09. A reception at the event will also honor the achievements of European computer scientists and recognize European winners of ACM's A.M. Turing Award as well as other ACM award winners and ACM Fellows. “Our goal is to share ACM's vast array of valued resources and services on a global scale,” said ACM President Professor Dame Wendy Hall. “We want to discover the work and welcome the talent from all corners of the computing arena so that we are better positioned to appreciate the key issues and challenges within Europe's academic, research, and professional computing communities and respond accordingly. For us, ACM Europe is about seeing leading European computer scientists shape and enhance what ACM does in Europe and for Europe.”
Google Invites Users to Join Wave
BBC News (09/30/09) Wakefield, Jane
Google developers Lars and Jens Rasmussen have released a limited preview of an open source messenger called Wave. Users must be invited to test the application, but can then send five more invitations to friends. Wave conversations can be edited like Wikipedia Web pages, with a log tracking who has made what alterations and when. Google Wave also allows real-time typing, meaning that users can watch friends' on-screen messages appear letter by letter. One can answer a question before it is finished, says Lars Rasmussen. The Google team is designing an option to turn this feature off for users who do not want it. Other options include easy image-sharing, game applications, and the ability to read conversations even after signing off. All Google developers now use Wave to create design documents. Internet Explorer does not support Wave on its own, but users can download the add-on Chrome Frame to run the program, which is written in HTML 5 code. One million people have asked to be invited to use the program, and Wave will be open to everyone at the beginning of 2010. "I have been accused of being pathologically optimistic about it, but I can't see why people wouldn't want it," says Rasmussen.
The Self-Managing, 'Unbreakable' Internet?
ICT Results (09/30/09)
European researchers have built a system to create self-managing and self-repairing Internet applications under the auspices of the SELFMAN project. "We wanted to make big Internet applications easy so that all the management problems you normally have are handled by the system itself," says project coordinator Peter Van Roy. Four crucial functions for application self-management--self-configuring, -tuning, -healing, and -protecting--were identified by the SELFMAN researchers. A highly structured approach was deemed necessary to incorporate all these functions into useful applications. Each application uses a structured overlay network as a platform, and the program keeps tabs on all nodes and links between them, and can choose when and how to correct problems. The second level contains a replicated storage system to ensure that every node has access to the same data, and that data is always replicated to guarantee that it does not vanish. On the third level resides a transactional problem-solver that delivers a systematic way of reaching agreement among any population of fallible elements using a sophisticated algorithm. Van Roy maintains that SELFMAN "will take the Internet to the next level."
'Time Telescope' Could Boost Web
BBC News (09/30/09)
Researchers led by Cornell University's Mark Foster report that they have developed a prototype device that could significantly boost the volume of information squeezed into data packets sent over the Web by focusing information-transporting light pulses in time rather than space. The device has successfully increased the data rate of telecoms-wavelength pulses by a factor of 27. The device employs a silicon waveguide as a temporal lens to compress comparatively long pulses in time by selectively accelerating or decelerating their different components. The combination of a pair of temporal lenses produces a time telescope that can create an image of a standard 10 GHz pulse, bundling the same data into a pulse that is one twenty-seventh the length. "The primary limitation of this approach right now is the length of the packet that can be compressed," Foster says. "Typical packets used in Internet communications are much longer than 24 bits, therefore extending the time window over which compression occurs is the primary problem to be solved in future generations of this device." Foster describes the system as potentially lucrative for industrial application because it is robust and has relatively few power requirements. He also notes that the method could dramatically enhance the ultimate time limit of studies of chemical and biological processes.
Pioneering Software Robots to Aid Businesses
Royal Holloway, University of London (09/29/2009)
Royal Holloway, University of London, will integrate its intelligent agent technology with distributed data management technology developed by the software company Thinking SAFE in an attempt to give networks the ability to heal themselves. The joint venture will develop software that will run the intelligent agents on computers, monitor the delivered information technology (IT) services, observe how businesses use the services, and record how computing resources are used. The software robots will be able to analyze the information to detect failures in service, recommend corrective actions, or create disaster recovery and business continuity plans. "The technology also has potential applications in other areas, including environmental monitoring, modeling and managing complex business systems such as supply chains or enhancing online shopping by engaging agents as your 'personal shoppers' for anything from holidays to car insurance," says Kostas Stathis, who heads the research team at Royal Holloway. The software would create a "private cloud" for an organization. "The fusion of these technologies has potential to transform information management within medium to large enterprises, creating self-repairing networks that ensure IT services required by the business are always available," says Thinking SAFE chief technology officer Julian Dean. Thinking SAFE hopes to unveil a self-repairing network in early 2010 and more applications throughout the year.
By 2040 You Will Be Able to Upload Your Brain...
U.K. Independent (09/27/09) Hodgkinson, Mike
Inventor and visionary Ray Kurzweil has drawn admiration and scorn in equal measure for his prediction of imminent revolutionary innovations such as the overtaking of human intelligence by artificial intelligence, three-dimensional printers that can fabricate physical objects from a data file and cheap input materials, and an indefinite lifespan free of senescence. He anticipates that it will be possible to upload the human brain from a computer by the end of the 2030s, while human intelligence will evolve through technological enhancement to the point where it will start to expand outward to the universe in the 2040s. Kurzweil is the author of a book, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, in which he envisions a singularity, or what he calls "a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed." The singularity hinges on the exponential rate at which technology is advancing, according to Kurzweil. He is a director of the nonprofit Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, which is touted as "the only organization that exists for the expressed purpose of achieving the potential of smarter-than-human intelligence safer and sooner."
Robots in Education
EE Times (09/28/09) Mokhoff, Nicolas
Robots are increasingly becoming ubiquitous in education. The Google Lunar X Prize, a $30 million contest to design a robot capable of traveling to the moon, is being envisioned for children by the X Prize Foundation, Google, Lego Systems, and National Instruments on MoonBots. The winner of the Google Lunar X prize can send his or her robot to the moon to gather information, photographs, and video footage to send back to Earth. Children can assemble robots that imitate the same tasks using a Lego Mindstorm kit. The Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering has a Senior Capstone Program in Engineering (Scope) that asks students to work on a large engineering project that simulates the kind of problems they would tackle in the corporate world. Vision Robotics Corp (VRC) has asked the Scope group to help them design fruit-picking robots. The first robot finds the fruit, and the second picks it. The team of seniors designed an end effector that can select the fruit, and the device has been added to a working model of the fruit-picker. Researchers from Nanyang Polytechnic, Schmid Engineering, and Analog Devices--from Singapore, Switzerland, and the U.S., respectively--have put together a spider robot that can crawl into small places and across difficult surfaces. Equipped with six legs, the robot can move in any direction, either slowly with all six of its limbs or more quickly with just three. Scope director David Barrett says that robots are the new groundbreaking technology, in use today "in the military, in industries and the consumer level."
Louisiana Tech Receives Grant to Advance Women in Engineering, Science
Louisiana Tech University (09/28/09) Carpenter, Jenna
The U.S. National Science Foundation's ADVANCE program has awarded Louisiana Tech University $736,500 for a four-year initiative called "Creating a Culture of Success for Women in Engineering and Science." Louisiana Tech will strive to keep more women faculty in the College of Engineering and Science, create a more women-friendly environment, and promote women faculty's professional careers through training, networking, and mentoring programs. Dean of the College Stan Napper hopes that, by supporting women faculty, the college will inspire female students to see engineering and science as possible career paths. The project has created the Office for Women in Science and Engineering (OWISE). The OWISE will provide administrative support for the project and will assist campus-wide campaigns for female students of engineering and science. Project director Jenna P. Carpenter says that Louisiana Tech's efforts are especially relevant in today's professional climate. "Nationally, there is a significant need to attract more women into engineering and science fields if we are to meet future workforce demands," she says.
Augmented Reality Gets Off to a Wobbly Start
New Scientist (09/23/09) No. 2726, Giles, Jim
Although the iPhone can superimpose navigation routes or reviews on top of real-time images, augmented reality (AR) still has a long way to go. The iPhone's application is easily confused and can make errors. AR expert Blair MacIntyre at the Georgia Institute of Technology, while emphasizing AR's strong potential, says that for now "these sensors are astonishingly bad at what people are trying to do with them." He says the reason is that AR applications for mobile phones cannot find locations precisely enough. MacIntyre is unsure if a global positioning system (GPS) can be built that is small and sophisticated enough to solve this problem. Graz University of Technology professor Dieter Schmalstieg says that the only solution is "to include computer vision on the phones." Occipital has created a three-dimensional (3D) map of San Francisco that can be stored in an iPhone. The application uses the phone's internal compass and GPS to position itself on the map, then makes further adjustments based on real-time images superimposed on top of the diagram. Google and Microsoft are building 3D maps as well, but such diagrams could never be comprehensive and accurate thanks to the constant fluctuation of city landscapes. Some researchers think that crowdsourcing could be the most accurate option. Online images of a location could be pulled from Web sites such as Flickr and thrown together to make a 3D map. The mobile phone could use this quilted diagram, along with a real-time photo of an area, to pinpoint its location. At the same time, the phone could record more photos, making it more accurate the more frequently it is used. University of California, Santa Barbara researcher Tobias Hollerer dubs the system "social augmented reality."
Google Earth Application Maps Carbon's Course
NASA News (09/21/09) Hansen, Kathryn
Michigan Tech Research Institute researcher Tyler Erickson worked with NASA researcher Anna Michalak to track carbon dioxide emissions using the file format KML, which helps operate Google Earth. Erikson won a Google contest in March 2009 for his application. Traditionally, scientists use monthly two-dimensional maps to chart carbon dioxide gas. Using inverse modeling, they look at past weather trends to calculate where those emissions may have come from. Erikson's three-dimensional map, however, is far more accessible to non-experts. "It's a much more human way of looking at the science," says Michalak. Erickson notes that it is much easier to visualize day-to-day changes on a three-dimensional map. The application uses information collected from the many 1,000-foot towers in the United States that use National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tools to measure carbon dioxide in the air. Carbon dioxide that is close to the ground is marked in green, indicating that strides can still be taken to reduce its volume. Carbon dioxide marked in red demonstrates that it is too high in the air to be affected by on-the-ground initiatives. Erickson's goal is to give accessible information to as many people as possible. He hopes that, with some alteration, the application will be used by researchers to improve inverse modeling techniques.
Next Stop--the Visual Walkman
Delft University of Technology (09/23/09)
With help from the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague, Delft University doctoral student Jurjen Caarls has created a device that allows users to see computer and real-world images simultaneously through augmented reality (AR). The user wears a helmet rigged with angular velocity sensors, accelerometers, and a camera. With these tools, the device processes up-to-date data on the user's location at all times, overcoming the usual AR difficulties involved in analyzing three-dimensional environments while on the move. Embedded sensors in the helmet and other equipment, such as a data glove, also help the device orient itself. The helmet contains two screens and two mirrors to transmit images onto the user's eyes. AR is already used in televised soccer games, as virtual billboards are set up on either side of a goal. When the camera moves, the transmission shifts as well, so that it always seems to be in the same place. Caarls' main objective was to design new ways to interpret images and process the information gathered from many different sensors. He hopes that in the future a pair of AR glasses will be developed that send computer images directly into the user's eyes. "Think of it as a visual Walkman," Caarls notes.
Room's Ambience Fingerprinted by Phone
Duke University News & Communications (09/24/09) Merritt, Richard
The U.S. National Science Foundation, Nokia, Verizon, and Microsoft Research are funding a mobile phone application project by Duke University researchers. Dubbed SurroundSense, the system can pinpoint a user's indoor location, unlike traditional navigation systems. Using a camera, microphone, and accelerometer, the application picks up on local sounds, images, and the user's movements. The cluster of information is collected and then passed on to a remote server, which labels the data. "You can't tell much from any of the measurements individually, but when combined, the optical, acoustic, and motion information creates a unique fingerprint of the space," says graduate student Ionut Constandache. Duke professor Romit Roy Choudhury sent students to different locations with prototypes and asked them to mimic the actions of people around them. SurroundSense had an approximately 87 percent accuracy rate, and the more often it is used, the more accurate it will be, says Choudhury. If the application is used in the same business several times a day, it will not be confused during periods of heavy or light customer traffic. In the future, researchers want SurroundSense to be functional even when it is in a container such as a purse. The researchers are currently determining if they should save battery life by requiring the system to turn itself on in spurts, or if the application should stay live all day. They also are debating whether the system should be supported by the phone, the server, or both.
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