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Welcome to the April 14, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Augmented Reality Brings Movie Magic to City Visits
ICT Results (04/13/10)

European researchers and city authorities have created CINeSPACE, an augmented reality device that merges location-based multimedia content with real-time images. The device resembles a pair of binoculars and contains an integrated camera and liquid-crystal display screen. It uses a hybrid tracking system to provide location-based information, and a city's wireless communications networks to download and share multimedia content. "European cities have a wealth of audiovisual content, from historical images and documentary footage to film scenes and photographs, which they can use to enhance the experiences of visitors, local residents, or even film professionals," says researcher Maria Teresa Linaza. The CINeSPACE device is held up to the eye like a pair of binoculars, enabling the user to see multimedia content superimposed on a city scene. Users are guided around a city by an intelligent sensor-fusion system that uses global-positioning systems, wireless local-area network tags, inertia cubes, and marker-less optical tracking. Users also can take photos or video with the built-in camera and leave virtual notes, which could then be picked up by other users over the Wi-Fi network, Linaza says.


New Force Behind Agency of Wonder
New York Times (04/12/10) Markoff, John

Under the helm of director Regina Dugan, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is engaged in projects that involve creative thinking. One such project was the DARPA Network Challenge, a contest in which participants were tasked with pinpointing 10 large red balloons hidden throughout the United States using social networking, with implications for intelligence gathering. Other areas DARPA is concentrating on under Dugan's leadership include cybersecurity, advanced manufacturing, biological sensors, and rapid vaccine development. Dugan's job is to coordinate the military, contractors, and universities' efforts to produce scientific and technological breakthroughs organized around a set of ideas, and strike a balance between civilian and military discoveries. Soon after her appointment in 2009, Dugan visited leading U.S. universities to try to mend the rift between DARPA and academia during her predecessor's tenure. She has an agenda to breathe new life into DARPA and is attracting top talent to posts within her organization by offering opportunities to contribute to the invention of transformative technologies. Among Dugan's contributions to DARPA so far is the establishment of the Transformational Convergence Technology Office, which focuses on technologies that include machine intelligence, social networks, and synthetic biology.


New Computer Interface Goes Beyond Just Touch
Technology Review (04/12/10) Naone, Erica

Microsoft researchers have developed Manual Deskterity, a computer interface that combines touch input with the precision of a pen. The prototype drafting application, designed for the Microsoft Surface tabletop touchscreen, enables users to perform touch actions such as zooming in and out and manipulating images, but they also can use a pen to draw or annotate those images. Manual Deskterity also allows users to touch an image onscreen with one hand while using the pen in the other hand to take notes or perform other actions that pertain to that object. Users need to learn more tricks to use Manual Deskterity, but the natural user interface should ease the learning curve by engaging muscle memory. "This idea that people just walk up with an expectation of how a [natural user interface] should work is a myth," says Microsoft research scientist Ken Hinckley. The researchers also plan to adapt the interface for use with mobile devices. Incorporating only touch input into devices is a mistake, according to Hinckley, who believes that pen and touch interactions can complement each other.


Integrating National Geographical Institute Data in Linked Open Data
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Spain) (04/12/10) Martinez, Eduardo

Researchers at the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid's (UPM) School of Computing are working with the Spanish National Geographical Institute (IGN) and the Spanish National Geographical Information Centre on linking IGN's data with the world Linked Open Data (LOD) network. Most of the data in LOD is in English and contains little geographical data. UPM's Ontological Engineering Group (OEG) has linked the IGN data using technologies known as R2O and ODEMapster. These technologies make up an integrated framework for expressing, evaluating, verifying, and using semantic correspondences between ontologies and relational databases. The OEG researchers used these systems to create new LOD datasets with IGN data. The datasets are then related to others that are part of the LOD data network. The researchers, led by Asuncion Gomez Perez, director of the UPM School of Computing's Department of Artificial Intelligence and the OEG, say that by relating IGN data to LOD, they will become part of a planned ecosystem of multimedia content and interactive services.


The Smarter Electric Grid of the Future
Inside Science (04/12/10) Schewe, Phillip

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST's) George Arnold recently detailed his vision for what a smart electric grid would look like in 2020. Houses will have roof shingles made of light-sensitive materials that make electricity to help power the home. Twenty percent or more of electricity generated by the local utility will be from renewable resources such as wind or solar power. Many homes will donate excess electricity they create from the roof-top solar cells to the general grid. Smart meters will allow utilities to charge different rates for electricity during different times of the day, and household appliances will be equipped with microchips that will enable them to turn on when the cost of electricity is lowest. Arnold says the smart grid also may carry Internet information over lines now dedicated solely to electricity. "Enernet is our name for a system that combines energy and information," he says. Converting two-thirds of the cars to plug-in style hybrids would cut oil imports to the United States by half and would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent, according to Arnold. However, that change will likely require upgrades in several parts of the electrical equipment that help deliver electricity to homes.


Steganography Discovery Could Help Data Thieves, But Also Improve Radar, Sonograms
Network World (04/09/10) Greene, Tim

The technology for instruments used to see through fog also could be used for optical steganography, according to a team of researchers at Princeton University. Radar instruments rely on the refractive properties of crystals, which combine the energy of light noise with the weak energy of the signal, to make a clear image of an object. Jason Fleischer and colleague Dmitry Dylov used a ground-glass filter to simulate fog so they could control the statistical properties of the noise, but they say the same principles could be used in natural environments. Thieves might try to store stolen data on CDs in a way that prevents it from being detected by corporate security professionals. A coating on the surface could diffuse the signal from the data so conventional CD players would interpret just noise. However, a device with a tunable crystal could be adjusted to read the signal behind the noise. "There could be a signal there, but unless you know it's there you wouldn't even know to look," Fleischer says. The technology also could improve sonograms and night vision goggles.


Battling Botnets With an Awesome OS
University of Illinois at Chicago (04/08/10) Francuch, Paul

Computer security and cryptography experts at the University of Illinois at Chicago are laying the foundation for more secure computer operating systems (OSs). Jon Solworth and Daniel Bernstein are developing the Ethos OS, which they say could become the blueprint for a new generation of robust OSs that are able to fend off bugs, viruses, and other kinds of malware. They hope to address the heart of computer vulnerability by enabling Ethos OS to guard against attacks on applications that would run on the OS. Ethos OS will be designed for virtual machine computers that run one or more OSes together, and will be able to simultaneously handle applications such as online banking and other sensitive business transactions. Solworth says an OS with no vulnerabilities will enable software developers to focus more on making applications work better. "This is a huge undertaking, with complex scientific aspects," he says. "If we succeed, we'll have achieved what many thought couldn't be done."


Innovation, by Order of the Kremlin
New York Times (04/09/10) Kramer, Andrew E.

The Russian government is using Silicon Valley as a template for a new scientific city in order to cultivate a U.S.-like spirit of entrepreneurship through the commercialization of work performed at university laboratories. "The founding of the innovation city, in form and substance, could be a launching pad for the country as a whole," says project co-director Viktor F. Vekselberg. The site, once developed, is designed to nurture scientific concepts using generous tax holidays and government grants until the startups achieve profitability. The city is intended to promote five scientific priorities outlined by President Dmitri A. Medvedev--communications, biomedicine, space, nuclear power, and energy conservation--and to spur cross-disciplinary fertilization. Property will be rented rather than owned, and the government will offer grants for scientists who have difficulty securing private financing. Vladislav Surkov, the deputy director of the Russian presidential administration, says the new site will insulate new businesses from the bureaucracy that currently stifles Russia's economy. The city will be constructed and operated by a government-funded foundation, while a scientific council will determine which companies can locate at the site.


'Mind-Reading' Brain-Scan Software Showcased in NY
Associated Press (04/08/10) Gross, Samantha

Intel is developing software that uses brain scans to determine what items people are thinking about. The software analyzes magnetic resonance imaging scans to determine which parts of the brain are being activated as a person thinks. During testing, the software was 90 percent accurate in guessing which of two words a person was thinking about, says Intel's Dean Pomerleau. The technology could help disabled people communicate or, eventually, lead to mind-controlled devices. "The vision is being able to interface to information, to your devices, and to other people without having an intermediary device," Pomerleau says. The system works by initially scanning the brain while a person is thinking of several nouns. When test subjects are then asked to pick one of two new terms, the software uses the earlier results as a baseline to determine what the subject is thinking. Other technology under development at Intel includes cell phones that can track what the user is doing, technology that monitors users' conversations to warn them about misinformation, a transparent holographic display that could point consumers to featured items, and a TV set-top box that wirelessly connects a laptop to the TV.


Online e-Expo Features More Than 100 University Robotics Labs
PhysOrg.com (04/07/10) Zyga, Lisa

EXPO21XX's online exhibition for the robotics industry features projects from more than 100 university robotics labs from around the world. Launched in 2008, the virtual University Robotics Platform offers robotics researchers and enthusiasts a convenient and free alternative to attending a conventional expo, via the Internet and with the use of other multimedia tools. Visitors are able to view videos of a number of robots, including one that uses Facebook, which was designed by researchers from the Interactive Robots and Media Laboratory at the United Arab Emirates University. Another machine performs stereotactic microsurgery, designed by researchers at the Institute for Robotics and Cognitive Systems at the University of Luebeck in Germany. The robotics exhibition also features several presenters, including George Washington University's Peter Bock, who discusses the functionality of adaptive learning image and signal analysis. Other projects on display include a robotic jaw that simulates human chewing behavior, which was designed by researchers at the Mechatronics and Robotics Research Group at Massey University in New Zealand.


Experts Say Research Into Nigerian 419 Scam E-Mails Could Lead to Improved Anti-Phishing Technologies
Kansas State University News (04/07/10) Ottenheimer, Harriet; Ottenheimer, Davi

Kansas State University (KSU) researchers collected and analyzed Nigerian 419 scam email messages for clues that could be used to block these spam messages. After studying the linguistic patterns in the emails, KSU professor Harriet Ottenheimer thinks a technological solution can be developed for email messages to automatically be scanned and alert the recipient if there is a possibility of fraud. The research shows that fewer than half of the emails originate in Africa, while the majority of them come from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the United States, and South America. "You can't really tell who is writing the letters, or where they are situated in the physical world, but if you are going to write a letter and claim to be a Russian engineer, or a Burmese princess, or a Middle Eastern widow of an oil-man, or the son of a Nigerian dictator, then you will probably want to choose your linguistic style carefully so that you sound 'authentic' to the recipient," Ottenheimer says.


Carnegie Mellon Releases ROBOTC2.0 Programming Language for Educational Robots
Carnegie Mellon News (04/07/10) Spice, Byron

Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Academy recently released ROBOTC 2.0, a programming language for robots and a suite of training tools designed for use by both elementary school students and college-level engineering courses. Based on the C programming language, ROBOTC is designed to evolve as students move from elementary school through college-level robot programming. Version 2.0 feature a new graphical user interface and an interactive real-time debugger that operates with either a wired or wireless connection to a PC. "We introduced ROBOTC four years ago because students working with robots should spend their time learning scientific, mathematical, and engineering principles, not learning a different programming language for each robot platform," says Robotics Academy director Robin Shoop. ROBOTC 2.0 is an integrated development environment that consists of a compiler, text and project editor, and a run-time environment. The debugger supports both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi links and provides users with complete access from a PC.


Opinion: Challenges to Exascale Computing
International Science Grid This Week (04/07/10) Wladawsky-Berger, Irving

Former IBM researcher and visiting lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Irving Wladawsky-Berger writes that supercomputing and the information technology industry will need to undergo a major technology and architectural transition in order to reap the benefits of exascale computing. Wladawsky-Berger cites the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's recognition of four key technology challenges through its ExaScale Computing Study. Those challenges encompass energy and power, memory and storage, concurrency and locality, and resiliency. One of exascale computing's most persuasive arguments is its facilitation of a tipping point in predictive science, with a potentially huge impact on massively complex problems. Dealing with such problems, which contain innate uncertainties and unpredictability, entails the concurrent running of multiple copies of the same applications using numerous distinctive combinations of parameters. Areas that stand to benefit from this new style of predictive modeling include nuclear reactor design, climate studies, economics, medicine, government, and business, says Wladawsky-Berger.


Look, No Hands: Cars That Drive Better Than You
New Scientist (04/06/10) Fleming, Nic

Semi-autonomous vehicles that can steer, accelerate, and evade collisions without human assistance are expected to be on highways by 2015, while fully autonomous vehicles could begin to appear on public roads by about 2020, according to General Motors executive Alan Taub. Vehicle manufacturers in both the United States and Europe see direct vehicle-to-vehicle communication as a methodology for forming ad hoc, reconfigurable networks that will share information on road conditions, local weather, and traffic accidents at less cost and less complexity than building roadside infrastructure. The European Safe Road Trains for the Environment project envisions a convoy of up to eight cars as little as one meter apart, guided by the software of a professionally driven lead vehicle with instructions relayed wirelessly. The potential of fully autonomous vehicles was demonstrated by Carnegie Mellon University's Boss robotic car, which bested other autonomous vehicles in a simulated urban environment in the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Urban Challenge three years ago. Boss' computer constructs a model of the immediate environment by processing data from radar, laser sensors, cameras, and global positioning systems. The model is used to plan the optimal route and provide the vehicle with situational awareness.


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