Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the December 18, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


Intel Research Embraces European IT Goals
EE Times (12/18/09) Clarke, Peter

In January of this year, Intel bolstered the collaborative thread of its collaborative European research and development (R&D) initiative, and broadened its research and innovation remit up to the provision of remote services in sectors that include health, education, and government. Intel Labs Europe (ILE) "is a network organization, a new platform for Intel doing research and innovation in Europe," says National University of Ireland professor and ILE director Martin Curley. He says ILE's mission is to advance Intel Architecture research, development, and innovation while teaming with European stakeholders to enhance European competitiveness. Intel has set up open labs in Munich and Leixlip, Ireland, to facilitate and host participation in about 20 Framework Program 7 projects with European firms, startups, and universities. Intel's European research encompasses such areas as nanotechnology, cloud computing, wireless communications, networking, and financial computing. In Leixlip, ILE has four wafer labs where work is ongoing in such areas as alternative circuit patterning using self assembly, memory structures employing magnetic layers, applications for carbon nanotubes in interconnect, and metal oxides research for logic applications. Curley says the Intel-European R&D collaboration has already produced the Rock Creek 48-core chip for parallel processing research and established an exascale computing research center in Paris. ILE terms its innovation agenda Digital Europe, and this is now calibrated with the European Union's goals for an innovation-based economy and a society with better connectivity.

Demonstrating Hardware Fault Tolerance at Low-Energy Cost
University of Southampton (ECS) (12/16/09) Lewis, Joyce

The 2009 International Conference on Hardware-Software Co-design and System Synthesis (CODES-ISSS) has recognized research on combining power management and fault tolerance with its Best Paper Award. In the paper "A Standby-Sparing Technique With Low Energy-Overhead for Fault-Tolerant Hard Real-Time Systems," an international team describes a hardware-redundancy, fault-tolerance technique offering dynamic and frequency voltage scaling as well as dynamic power management awareness. University of Southampton professor Bashir M. Al-Hashimi, Sharif University's Alireza Ejlai, and the University of Linkoping's Petru Eles developed the technique to reduce the energy use of embedded computing systems. "We developed all the necessary theoretical foundations to work out the operating voltages of the primary unit and when to activate the spare unit of the developed technique to achieve the best possible fault-tolerance performance with minimum energy cost and meeting the imposed system deadline," says Al-Hashimi. "It represents an important step towards development of the low power and reliable embedded computing systems required in emerging mobile electronics applications."

Carnegie Mellon Engineers Develop Machine That Visually Inspects and Sorts Strawberry Plants
Carnegie Mellon News (12/16/09) Spice, Byron

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) have developed a machine that uses computer vision and machine learning to inspect, grade, and sort strawberries. The researchers say the machine classifies and sorts harvested plants faster and more consistently than human workers can. The strawberry plant sorter uses computer vision to examine strawberries as they pass by on a conveyor belt. The sorter is taught how to classify strawberry plants by size, variety, and stage of growth using machine-learning algorithms. The researchers say the sorter could make strawberry nurseries much more efficient, and improve quality, streamline production, and deliver better strawberry plants to growers. NREC engineers tested the sorter under realistic conditions, accounting for variables such as weather conditions that can change the plant's appearance. On average, the machine sorted 5,000 plants per hour, several times faster than human sorting. NREC researchers believe the maximum sorting rate could reach 20,000 to 30,000 plants per hour. The successful field test concluded stage two of a five-stage program that will develop a machine ready for commercial use.

MIT's Big Wheel in Copenhagen
MIT News (12/16/09) Chandler, David L.

A bicycle wheel developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers features a hub packed with electronics that can perform multiple unique functions. The wheel is capable of storing energy every time the rider applies the brakes, and then channeling that power into extra speed or force. The device also employs a suite of sensors and a Bluetooth link to the user's iPhone so that it can monitor the bicycle's speed, direction, and mileage traveled while also reading pollution levels in the air and even the proximity of the rider's friends. The resulting information can benefit the rider--by providing feedback on fitness objectives, for instance--as well as the city by constructing a database of popular biking routes, air quality, or areas of traffic congestion. The system generates an extra burst of power when the rider pedals fast, and the batteries are recharged when the rider pedals in reverse. MIT research fellow Christine Outram says the two-way link to the rider's iPhone also can be used to control certain wheel functions and display information. The research that developed the wheel was sponsored by Copenhagen, which plans to have some of the wheels used by city employees. "It's a city with 500,000 people and 600,000 bicycles," says MIT SENSEable City Laboratory's Assaf Biderman. "This device can change your experience of riding, and change your experience of the city." Information about the daily cyclist routes captured by the wheels could help city planners ascertain where more bike paths are needed, while sources of pollution might be traced with the help of fine-grained data obtained by the wheel's sensors.

Launch of First Operating System for Smart Grid Home Automation
Fraunhofer Institute (12/16/09)

The Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology (IWES) has founded the Open Gateway Energy Management Alliance (OGEMA) to promote an open energy management software platform that connects a customer's loads and generators to the control stations of the power supply system while also featuring a customer display for user interaction. The software platform will enable end customers to automatically see the future variable price of electricity and shift energy consumption according to supply. "Already today electricity is for free on the German Energy Exchange at times when large power plants have to be derated due to high feed-in from wind power," says Fraunhofer IWES' Philipp Straub. "Using automated load-shifting, private households and small business should also benefit from such favorable electricity prices." Through the gateway platform's open nature, anyone will be able to convert concepts into software, even if they are not OGEMA participants. The initiative involves the rapid development of numerous applications that will encompass the unique needs of private households, supermarkets, small businesses, and public institutions and help to harness the potential for energy efficiency which is not currently available. The OGEMA-provided interfaces also can be used by the developers of driver software for linking the gateway to devices and energy systems within the building as well as to the control stations of the energy suppliers.

New Web Tool May Help Predict Risk of Second Stroke
American Academy of Neurology (12/08/09) Seroka, Rachel; Babb, Angela

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Harvard Medical School have developed Recurrence Risk Estimator at 90 days (RRE-90 score), a Web-based tool that can better predict whether a stroke victim is likely to have another stroke. The RRE-90 score calculates a patient's risk of having a second stroke within three months by examining specific risk factors, such as a history of mini-stroke, age, and the type of stroke the patient originally experienced, along with information from brain scans. The higher the score, the more likely it is that a patient will have a second stroke. The 90-day risk was about 40 times greater in patients with at least four risk factors than those without risk factors. The study found that more than 96 percent of patients who suffered a second stroke showed at least one risk factor. "This is an important new tool because studies show that people who have a second stroke soon after a first stroke are more likely to die or have severe disability," says MGH's Hakan Ay. The RRE-90 score can save lives by allowing patients to be admitted to specialized stroke centers and given preventative treatments, according to researchers. The study also found that long-term predictors of stroke do not predict short-term strokes. The accuracy of the RRE-90 score must be confirmed before it can be implemented for general use, Ay says.

Translation Technologies Advancing Rapidly: Expert
Gulf Times (Qatar) (12/08/09) James, Bonnie

Automatic translation technologies are swiftly advancing to the point where a classroom of speakers of different languages could hear the lecture in their native dialect, according to Carnegie Mellon University professor Alexander Waibel, director of the International Center for Advanced Communication Technologies. Speaking at Carnegie Mellon Qatar, Waibel said that "it is possible to create natural, seamless communication without the requirement for everyone to know a common language." He noted that only 41 percent of the European population has English fluency, while only 30 percent of online content is in English. Nearly 100 percent of translation is performed by humans today, though the actual translation work is presently only about 10 percent of translatable text. There are 400,000 translators, of which 150,000 are based in Europe. However, less than 1 percent of the 300,000 conferences held in Europe each year are translated. Among the automatic translation technologies Waibel demonstrated at the lecture was Jibbigo, an English-Spanish speech translator commercially available for the iPhone 3G that features an expandable 40,000-word vocabulary. Waibel also screened videos of simultaneous automatic, two-language text translation demos of several speeches given in the European Parliament.

Less Clumsy Code for the Cloud
Technology Review (12/16/09) Naone, Erica

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley are working on a project called BOOM, which is developing new programming techniques for cloud computing. BOOM researchers hope to make cloud computing more efficient by using database programming techniques originally developed in the 1980s, which are designed to collect large data sets and process them in various ways. "We can't keep programming computers the way we are," says Berkeley professor Joseph Hellerstein. "People don't have an easy way to write programs that take advantage of the fact that they could rent 100 machines at Amazon." Bloom researchers are adapting an old language called Datalog to develop Bloom, a new language that would provide an easier way for programmers to work with cloud computing resources. The group also is creating a Bloom library that can be used with popular languages such as Java and Python. Oxford University professor Georg Gottlob, a Datalog expert, says the language may have been ahead of its time, but is gaining in popularity with the rise of distributed computing applications.

5 Google Labs Projects That Should Be on Your Radar
CIO (12/16/09) Burnham, Kristin

Google Labs is developing five projects that could become mainstream in 2010. News Timeline organizes information on a certain topic chronologically, enabling the user to view it in a timeline. Searches also can be organized based on the news sources from which Google gathers information, such as newspapers, magazines, and blogs. Email Addict is designed for users who cannot look away from their inbox status. The program blocks access to the Gmail screen for 15 minutes and makes the user invisible on Gchat. Google Goggles is an Android photo-based search tool. After taking a photograph, Google Goggles scans the image, analyzes, and identifies it. The application works best with pictures of books, DVDs, landmarks, logos, business cards, artwork, and bar codes. The program provides information based on the image, such as details about a landmark or price comparisons of a book. Bar code matches will provide a link to Google Product Search. Undo Send is an application that gives the user a few extra seconds to stop the delivery of an email. Social Search will pull relevant Web sites, blogs, tweets, and public profiles created by anyone in the user's social circle and display that information under the normal search results.

World Champion in Automatic Image and Video Search
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) (12/16/09)

A search system developed by researchers at the University of Amsterdam has the potential to make it easier to find an image or video on the Internet or in large databases such as YouTube without providing a text description. The technology is capable of searching for objects within an image. Dutch researcher Theo Gevers and colleagues used advanced automatic-image understanding, rapid indexing, and intelligent-classification techniques. The researchers tested the software on enormous volumes of data using a supercomputer. The team also tested its approach to detecting concepts--including objects such as persons or vehicles and events such as explosions or violence--in images and video clips without text in three major international competitions, winning first prize in ImageCLEF, PASCAL VOC, and TRECVid.

Virginia Tech Team to Build Battlefield Robots for 2010 Competition
Virginia Tech News (12/16/09)

Robotics researchers from Virginia Tech will build a team of fully autonomous cooperative battle-ready robots to enter in the 2010 Multi-autonomous Ground-robotic International Challenge (MAGIC). Ten international teams are part of the MAGIC competition, including Japan's Chiba University, the University of New South Wales in Australia, the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan, and Cornell University, among others. Each team of robots must be able to differentiate friendly non-targets from enemy targets, jam the communications of the enemy targets, and shoot lasers to disable the enemy targets. The Virginia Tech team plans to re-engineer several high-end, remote-controlled trucks and tanks for autonomous operation. The biggest challenge will be getting the robots to drive autonomously and to communicate with each other, says Virginia Tech professor Tomonari Furukawa, who is leading a team of faculty and students from the school's Virginia Center for Autonomous Systems. The team will design robot hardware, which must be integrated with actuators and onboard sensors. Cooperative control strategy software will be uploaded into the basic control systems to help the robots work together.

Clever Folds in a Globe Give New Perspectives on Earth
New Scientist (12/10/09) Aron, Jacob

Jack van Wijk, a computer scientist at the Eindhoven University of Technology, has developed new algorithms that make it easier to create an accurate map of the Earth. Cartographers have struggled to project an accurate image of the planet on a flat map. Some maps distort the size of the continents, while others distort the continents' shapes. Van Wijk's method, which he calls the Myriahedral projection, divides the Earth's surface into thousands of three-dimensional polygon shapes, or polyhedrons, which are unfolded onto a flat map. "The basic idea is surprisingly simple," he says. Van Wijk's method assigns a weighting to each edge of the polyhedron shapes, which determines the placement of the cuts or folds of the polyhedrons. By changing the weighting of the edges, different map displays are possible. For example, giving landmasses more significance creates a map in which all of the continents are arranged along a line. Van Wijk's algorithms have been well received in the cartography community. The British Cartographic Society recently presented him with the Henry Johns Award, which recognizes the best mapmaking research paper each year.

New Game for PlayStation 3: Crunching Numbers
San Francisco Chronicle (12/05/09) Martinez-Cabrera, Alejandro

Researchers and some government agencies are using Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3) consoles to process data using the game machine's powerful Cell processor. For example, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency's Cyber Crimes Center uses 40 interconnected PS3s to decrypt passwords. Stanford University's Folding@home (FAH) project uses almost 40,000 PS3s volunteered by their owners to participate in a protein-folding study. The FAH team began using personal computers for the study, but expanded the study to include volunteer PS3s. "We more than tripled or quadrupled the power of FAH with the addition of the PlayStations," says FAH director Vijay Pande. Researchers say that more 880,000 PS3s have participated in the project. The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory uses a cluster of 336 PS3s for research on urban surveillance and large image processing. "We're taking gaming consoles and doing something scientific," says the Air Force's Mark Barnell. The combination of the PS3's Cell processor, which enables complex real-time graphics and calculations, and the ability to install the Linux operating system, opened the door to researchers. University of California, Berkeley professor David P. Anderson notes that the Cell processor can perform 100 billion operations per second, compared with 5 billion operations per second for a typical CPU. "It turned out that with a certain amount of work, it was possible to run scientific applications in the processor," Anderson says.

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