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Welcome to the April 2, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Nation's First Undergraduate Web Science Degree Launched at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Newswise (04/01/10)

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has launched a new undergraduate degree program devoted to the emerging interdisciplinary field of Web Science. Students in the program will study issues on the Web related to security, trust, privacy, content value, and the development of the Web of the future. James Hendler, one of the inventors of the Semantic Web, will serve as the assistant dean in charge of the Information Technology and Web Science program. He notes it will extend well beyond most traditional information technology curriculums and their traditional focus solely on the technical details in building Web applications. "The World Wide Web has drastically changed the way we live our lives, process data, and even make scientific discoveries. Despite this, we know very little about the overall structure and evolution of the Web," Hendler says. "Through interdisciplinary study, students at Rensselaer will be among the first in the world to specifically explore the interactions between the complex technical, engineering, and social aspects of the Web."


Feds Developing Cloud Security Program
InformationWeek (03/31/10) Hoover, J. Nicholas

A U.S. federal interagency working group is developing a unified, governmentwide risk-management program that could greatly decrease the amount of security work agencies must do to access cloud services. The proposed new effort, called the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program Pilot (FedRAMP), would give agencies a centralized approach to solving security problems such as certification and accreditation. FedRAMP will develop common security requirements for certain systems, provide ongoing risk assessments, and carry out governmentwide security authorizations. Agencies also will be able to see what security controls have been conducted for different products and services. The program would make certification and accreditation processes simpler because they would only need to be carried out once per cloud service, and agencies could share security management services. Initially, the program would focus on public and private cloud computing technologies, but could eventually expand to cover traditional Web hosting and other domains.


Robot Soon Able to Operate Inside MRI Scanners
University of Twente (Netherlands) (03/31/10) Bruysters, Joost

Researchers at the University of Twente's MIRA Institute for Biomedical Technology, in partnership with Radboud University, are working to develop robot-assisted surgery inside a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. The development of this technology will be carried out as part of the Minimally Invasive Robotics in an MRI Environment (MIRIAM) project. The researchers will be examining the possibilities offered by MRI for the accurate positioning of needles and other medical equipment. The MIRIAM project will focus on the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer, and the researchers hope to use the robot-assisted technique for taking tissue samples and when treating prostate cancer with the help of brachytherapy, which involves placing radioactive material inside the tumor. Conducting these operations inside an MRI scanner would allow doctors to see real-time images showing whether the needle had been correctly positioned. The project will not only bring about an improvement in health care, it could also have a considerable economic impact, say the researchers.


Robot Pruner May Cut Labor Costs
Daily Democrat (Calif) (04/02/10) Johnson, Bob

Vino Farms is one of several farms in California that have invested in the development of a new machine that uses vision systems to mechanically prune vine spurs. The machine, produced by Vision Robotics, has already been used to harvest citrus fruits and apples. "We were approached five years ago by these industries who saw the writing on the wall in terms of the availability of labor," says Vision Robotics CEO Derek Morikawa. The new technology uses two cameras, which gives the robot three-dimensional vision, allowing it to look ahead to see the spurs further down the vine. The visual information is used to control two pruning heads which cut the spurs according to specifications that can be altered by the user. "Instead of a mechanical hedging, we're talking about understanding the structure of the vine and pruning intelligently," says Morikawa. Normally, hand pruning costs Vino Farms between 32 cents and 38 cents per vine--but in areas where they have used the robotic pruning system, the cost has dropped to about 14 cents per vine, says Vino Farms' Craig Ledbetter.


Tubingen Computer Scientists Develop a Comfortable and Secure Login Method
AlphaGalileo (03/29/10)

Tubingen University's Bernd Borchert has developed a new method that saves smartphone users the trouble of memorizing, and typing, passwords and login names. The new approach provides a solution to the issue of keyloggers, which are trojans on the computer a password is entered into, and could later be misused for criminal purposes. The user downloads the application software to a smartphone. In order to access an account, the user can open the login page in a browser window on any computer. The user will be shown a two-dimensional code that must be scanned with the smartphone's camera. The data is processed by the application and the smartphone contacts the account server, which checks the data and connects to the browser window on the computer and opens the user's account.


World Record: Julich Supercomputer Simulates Quantum Computer
EurekAlert (03/30/10) Schinarakis, Kosta

University of Groningen and Julich Supercomputing Center (JSC) researchers recently broke the world record for running software that can simulate the largest quantum computer system with almost 300,000 processors. "Our software is optimized so that thousands of processors can work seamlessly together," says JSC professor Kristel Michielsen. With the new simulation methods, it will be possible to explore the phenomena and dynamics of quantum mechanical systems. Though current laboratory prototypes have only reached 8 bits in size, simulations can be used to study the properties of larger systems. Simulations make it possible to test the impact of external influences on the sensitive quantum system and how to compensate for resulting errors.


FAU's Harbor Branch Develops Underwater Camera and Sensor Unit for Australian Scientists
TCPalm (FL) (03/31/10)

The Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University has built a unique lander that can film ocean life without startling deep-sea creatures and does not require an underwater vehicle for deployment. The new camera and sensor unit, named Medusa, features detachable legs, and a tether line and stability fin, which allows the lander to be dropped from the side of a small boat. Medusa is retrieved by sending an acoustic signal, which causes it to jettison its drop weight and float to the surface. Acoustic position information is relayed via a transponder. Medusa takes advantage of buoyant foam, drop weight, and leg design to stay upright. Harbor Branch also outfitted the lander with an ultra low-light video camera, water and light sensors, and far-red LED lighting that cannot be detected by many deep-sea creatures.


Programming With Purpose
The Daily (University of Washington) (03/30/10) Vu, Tiffany

The University of Washington recently held a reception that enabled computer-science and engineering undergraduate students to show off new accessibility applications to the local blind, deaf, and deaf-blind communities. The students developed five phone applications for blind, deaf, deaf-blind, or cognitively impaired users, to fill the requirements of their capstone design class on accessibility applications. The class designed a daily task manager for cognitively impaired patients and their caretakers; a text-to-speech reader using the phone's camera; a program that helps blind and deaf users find destinations, and Braille learning games for blind children. "We wanted to see how we can make it fun for the kids," says senior Janet Hollier, who developed BrailLearn and Braille Buddies with junior Christine Marie Acuario. "Not a lot of games are specifically made for blind children." The programs are open source and were developed for Google's Android phone. The students continue to test the applications, which are expected to be released in the coming months.


Getting Families and Friends Together Again, Virtually
ICT Results (03/26/10)

Technology tends to encourage isolation as machines are designed to be used by one person, but a team of European researchers believes telepresence would allow people to interact and have fun more naturally with friends and family members who are thousands of miles away. As part of the TA2 (together anywhere, together anytime) project, the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS in Germany and partners like Philips, BT, and Alcatel-Lucent are working to develop components for an affordable, in-home telepresence system. State-of-the art software would manage a communications backbone that would turn a television set, sound system, cameras, and microphones in a living room into an interactive and immersive environment. For example, families playing a board game would be able to see and hear each other over their TV sets, artificial intelligence would focus the in-home camera on the person speaking, a touch screen embedded in a table would serve as the board game interface, and ambient intelligence in the in-home sensors would let the system know where the participants are and what they are doing.


University of the Basque Country Develops Telemedicine System 'for Identifying Febrile Illnesses Cases as Soon as Possible' in Isolated Places in Para
Basque Research (03/25/10) Bulegoa, Prentsa

The Bonis project led by University of the Basque researcher Xabier Basogain Olabe has created a multimedia telemedicine system to facilitate visual monitoring of epidemiology in remote regions of Paraguay in order to avoid the dengue plague and other febrile disease outbreaks. The system will supply the tools needed to enable patients to contact health authorities themselves. The Bonis researchers developed a multimedia system based on free software, with the user making a phone call and answering questions about his or her symptoms from an automatic answering machine. The machine retrieves the medical history and postal address of registered callers, with the database located at the Office of the Director General of Health Monitoring in Asuncion. The new system is designed to boost the effectiveness of community agents making house-to-house analyses. The final link in the system is a Web page for professionals that facilitates communication between doctors and experts and functions as a notification system.


Augmented Reality (AR) Brings Dibidogs Alive in 3D
VTT Technical Research Center (03/25/2010)

The VTT Technical Research Center of Finland has been developing augmented reality (AR) technology, which superimposes digital information in the user's view, and uses real-time video images and three-dimensional (3D) virtual objects. In the case of Dibidogs, animated puppies created by Finnish and Chinese children, the user is viewing a magazine via a Webcam and PC display. The 3D character can act and react in various ways based on the movement of the Webcam. A marker printed on the magazine can be copied and enlarged, which enables the user to play and interact with the Dibidog in a larger space. The applications require a Windows PC that is suitable for 3D games and a Webcam. "What makes Dibidogs unique is the use of animated 3D computer graphics and, in particular, the interaction between the user and the 3D character," says VTT professor Charles Woodward. VTT focuses on applying AR technologies to fields such as interior design, construction, industrial applications, and virtual video conferences.


New Spintronics Material Could Help Usher in Next Generation of Microelectronics
UCLA Newsroom (03/23/10) Kromhout, Wileen Wong

Research into spintronics, which generates power by leveraging electrons' spin, could lead to smaller electronic devices with greater power efficiency. A research team at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has developed a new spintronics-incorporating magnetic material that combines quantum dots with silicon. "By applying an electric field, we are able to control the hole concentration inside the dots and thus modulate their ferromagnetism," says UCLA researcher Faxian Xiu. The goal is to make the material useful at room temperature, and Xiu reports that the UCLA team has successfully achieved electric field–controlled ferromagnetism at 100 degrees Kelvin. "Once we've achieved room-temperature controllability, we'll be able to start building real devices to demonstrate its viability in non-volatile electronic devices," he says.


Babbage Nanomachine Promises Low-Energy Computing
New Scientist (03/25/10) No. 2753,

Boston University (BU) researchers have created a nanoscale mechanical logic gate that could form the basis of tiny mechanical computers. The gate consists of a strip of silicon sitting between two other chunks of silicon. Applying a specific voltage between one of the chunks and the strip causes the strip to vibrate and enter a hysteretic regime, where it will vibrate with one of two amplitudes. By using a pair of electrical pulses, the team was able to flip the vibration from one amplitude to another. If one of the pulses or neither of them resonates with the strip, it then remains in its existing vibrational state. Although the gate is not as fast as its traditional equivalent, it loses far less energy per operation, says BU's Raj Mohanty. Trading speed for energy might be beneficial in certain situations.
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