Welcome to the May 7, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
F.C.C. Proposes Rules on Internet Access
New York Times (05/06/10) Wyatt, Edward
U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Julius Genachowski has outlined a plan that would allow the agency to control high-speed Internet transmissions, but not rates or content. The plan calls for the FCC to reclassify broadband transmission service as a telecommunications service, which would enable the agency to prevent Internet service providers (ISPs) from discriminating against certain applications, Internet sites, or users. However, the plan also would forbid the FCC from regulating rates, content, services, applications, or electronic commerce sites run by ISPs. The approach would rely on a legal theory that recognizes the computing function and the broadband transmission component of retail Internet access as separate entities subject to different regulations. "The upshot is that the commission is able to tailor the requirements" of its regulatory authority "so that they conform precisely to the policy consensus for broadband transmission services," says FCC general counsel Austin C. Schlick. Opponents of the plan say the approach will create uncertainty and legal problems that would slow the development of technologies that could benefit consumers.
Microsoft Researches Low Latency Operating System for Multicores
ITPro (05/05/10) Scott, Jennifer
The Microsoft Research Lab in Cambridge, England, has developed BarrelFish, an operating system designed to overcome the latency problem in multi-core computers. BarrelFish's key concept is to restrict communication between the cores to create a better timeline of actions, says Microsoft Labs' Andrew Herbert. "The operating system understands the relationship between the resources and where the bottlenecks can be, and it takes its scheduling decisions about how it organizes the work in the machine to respect those resources and those bottlenecks," Herbert says. The awareness of where the latency occurs and the correct scheduling of how applications run has led to impressive results in Microsoft's labs. "The kind of performance graphs we get out of systems like BarrelFish [means] the latency holds much more constant even as the number of cores go up, so you win both on increased throughput and also not having to sacrifice the latency to achieve it," he says.
MU Researchers Create Software for Robot to Improve Rescue Missions
University of Missouri (05/05/10) Jackson, Kelsey
University of Missouri researchers have developed software for robots that enter dangerous structures to assess their stability. "We are developing computer graphics visualization software to allow the user to interactively navigate the [three-dimensional (3D)] data captured from the robot's scans," says Missouri professor Ye Duan. The software helps users analyze the data and conduct virtual navigation. The remote-controlled robot is designed to transport a Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) unit so that responders can know more about dangerous structures before entering them. The robot takes multiple scans using LIDAR that conducts up to 500,000 point measurements per second. After the scans, the software forms the data into 3D maps that can show individual objects, make floor plans, and designate areas inside the structure for stability. "This system could be used for routine structure inspections, which could help prevent tragedies such as the Minneapolis bridge collapse in 2007," Duan says.
Digital Information Will Grow to 1.2 Zettabytes This Year: IDC Study
The amount of digital information in the world continues to grow exponentially. After expanding by 62 percent to nearly 800,000 petabytes in 2009, the digital universe will grow to 1.2 million petabytes, or 1.2 zettabytes, this year, according to IDC. The voice, TV, radio, and print media will complete their transition from analog to digital by 2020, which will help push the amount of digital information created or replicated to 35 trillion gigabytes, which would be 44 times the size of the digital universe in 2009. Nonetheless, there was only enough space to store about 65 percent of every gigabyte of digital content last year, and there will likely be room for less that 40 percent of the data created in the next few years. More than a third of all digital information will be centrally hosted, managed, or stored in cloud services by 2020. The cost of storing the content, and reducing the risk of losing it, will be major challenges, IDC notes.
Students Develop Software to Detect Hearing Problem
Khaleej Times (05/06/10) Chowdhury, Farhana
Computer science students from Dubai's University of Wollongong took fourth place at the Microsoft Gulf Imagine Cup for developing Ear It, software that turns a mobile device into a tool for conducting a hearing test. Wollongong's Shawn Frank says low-cost and user-friendly software such as Ear It is needed because checkups can be expensive. "The user plugs in earphones and listens to a set of beeps at different decibels," says Wollongong student Rashida Daruwala. Users select the "yes" or "no" option based on how clearly and loudly they can hear a beep, and the results are shown per decibel. Ear It also is designed to access the Internet, and government agencies or hospitals can set up a server and collect information. "We can use this application to detect hearing loss at an early stage and collect statistics on hearing impairment in the [United Arab Emirates]," Daruwala says.
What Would it Take to Put a Walking Robot on the Moon?
New Scientist (05/04/10) Zukerman, Wendy
Astro-Technology SOHLA, a small cooperative of companies in Osaka, Japan, wants to put an autonomous humanoid robot on the moon. The group hopes its robot, called Maido-kun, could go to the moon with a robotic mission set to be launched by the Japanese space agency JAXA in about five years. JAXA had previously opted against sending a bipedal robot to the moon because its footing would be so uneven. But a walking robot would be more inspiring than a wheeled rover, says SOHLA president Hideo Sugimoto. If the robot were to fall over, it could have trouble getting up again, says Massachusetts Institute of Technology roboticist Rodney Brooks. He notes that human-sized robots have been designed to pick themselves after falling, but the technology "has not been demonstrated robustly." However, Brooks says the moon's weak gravity could make it easier to accomplish. Nevertheless, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology's Roger La-Brooy says designing a bi-pedal robot for the moon will be a major challenge. "Human beings are relatively unstable, and when designing robots for unpredictable terrain, three legs are better than two," he says.
Computer Program Turns Complex Data Into Brilliant Images
KSL.com (UT) (05/05/10) Boal, Jed
University of Utah scientists Jens Krueger and Tom Fogal have developed ImageVis3D, a three-dimensional (3D) imaging program that converts complex data into colorful pictures that can be viewed with an iPhone or iPad. The researchers say ImageVis3D takes abstract phenomena and data and converts it into something that can be seen and better understood. "The average computer user can now visualize and look at their data in real time, regardless of how large it is," Fogal says. The program enables users to manipulate a wide range of 3D images of medical, scientific, and engineering data, he says. The technology could help teach a new generation of computer-savvy, visually-oriented students, according to Fogal. It also could lead to being able to download more complex material onto even smaller computer devices.
Iowa State Researcher Uses Wii Remotes to Teach Lessons in Computer Engineering
Iowa State University News Service (05/05/10) Krapfl, Mike
Iowa State University (ISU) students are writing software that uses a Wii remote to collect data about the spinning pedals of a bicycle and convert that into useful information about cadence and the rider's movement and efficiency. The assignment is designed to teach students how to collect, process, and use data, says ISU computer engineering professor Tom Daniels, who was recently honored by the Technology Association of Iowa for Best Innovation in Teaching. "The familiarity of the gaming device coupled with the mystery of how the Wii remote functions captures the imagination, as well as engages, the freshman students," says ISU systems analyst Larry Brennan. Using a Wii remote as a teaching tool is part of a new teaching method for two introductory, problem-solving classes, Daniels says. The idea was to find new ways to boost student interest and retention in computer engineering. Daniels wrote new software, called Wii Wrap, which enables the Wii remote to send data from its sensors to a computer instead of a game console.
Robotic Cell Phones Express Emotions
Simon Fraser University (05/04/10) Thorbes, Carol
Scientists in Simon Fraser University's School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT) have turned cell phones into robots that can walk, dance, and express human-like emotions. SIAT's Ji-Dong Yim and Chris Shaw first used wireless networking, text messaging, and other interactive technologies to develop Cally. The robotic cell phone stands about 16 centimeters high and tracks the human face so users can make eye contact with the other person on the line. The team used the same technology to make a more emotionally sophisticated cell phone robot named Callo. Callo has a display screen in which text-messaged emoticons appear as human-like facial expressions. It responds to an emotional crisis by slumping its shoulders or frantically waving its arms. Yim and Shaw say they are developing robotic cell phones to "explore ways in which we can help social robotic products, such as [global positioning systems], interactively communicate with people and build long-term intimacy with them."
U. Md. Students Working on Next Big App
Fox5.com (DC) (05/04/10) Umeh, Maureen
University of Maryland (UM) computer science professor Adam Porter is leading a new class that teaches students how to write applications for Apple's iPhone. "We want to come to the students the way they live now," says Porter, who teaches the class with an Apple employee. "Their mobile, their social networking systems." UM student Hayhan Hassan is working on an application that would allow anyone to listen and communicate with the campus radio station. "You’ll be able to browse a schedule, listen to the latest show," Hassan says. UM's Michael Evans is developing a virtual postcard app. "When you take a picture, it'll keep track of where you took it with [global positioning system]," Evans says. And UM's Rob Kiefer is creating an app for firefighters. "It would be good if they had an app using maps on the cell phone that gave the locations of all the fire hydrants in the area," he says.
White House Offers $1 Million Innovation Prize
InformationWeek (05/03/10) Montalbano, Elizabeth
The U.S. Department of Commerce's i6 Challenge gives innovative thinkers the chance to win up to $1 million in prize money. The government wants to find better ways to commercialize new technology. "How well America moves ideas out of the research lab and into the marketplace will help determine whether we remain the most competitive and vibrant economy in the world," says Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. "And we want to hear the best ideas from entrepreneurs, investors, universities, foundations, and nonprofits across America." The i6 Challenge is part of the Obama administration's Strategy for American Innovation, which encourages government agencies to use prizes, challenges, and awards to help spur the competitiveness of U.S. industry. Six winners will be chosen, and could have an opportunity to work with National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research program grantees. Applications must be submitted to the Department of Commerce by July 15.
Researchers Study National Efforts to Censor Traffic on the Internet
UNM Today (04/29/10) Wentworth, Karen
University of New Mexico (UNM) researchers are investigating the Chinese government's methods for censoring information on the Internet. UNM professor Jed Crandall and Ph.D. student Jong Chun Park monitored the Chinese government's efforts to filter HTML responses, a technique the Chinese censors abandoned by January 2009. The UNM researchers' work details the technical problems of backbone-level HTML response filtering and examines how the Chinese government tried to censor specific items of information. The Chinese censors made another attempt at content filtering with a project called Green Dam, which required software to be installed on individual computers, but the initiative faltered when computer manufacturers refused to install the software. Now the Chinese are looking at a technique called Blue Shield, which requires a major strategy change because censors can no longer monitor information at the centralized backbone. The researchers will present their findings at the 30th International Conference on Distributed Computing Systems in Genoa, Italy.
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