Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the July 30, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Robot Pills
Scientific American (08/10) Vol. 303, No. 2, P. 62; Dario, Paolo; Menciassi, Arianna

Pill-sized robotic capsules are under development for screening, diagnostic, and therapeutic procedures. Making robotic capsules reliable for gastrointestinal screening requires the addition of actuators that provide a means of propulsion or tissue manipulation, while two-way, high-speed wireless data transmission of images and instructions is needed to operate the capsule's moving parts. Controlling the movement of capsular devices within the body usually involves one of two basic strategies--directing movement with onboard actuators, or by magnetic fields generated outside the patient's body. In addition, imaging sensors, power supplies, and other required tools must be fitted into a device small enough for the patient to swallow comfortably. A third solution is a hybrid approach that combines both internal and external locomotion methods. One research group has developed a hybrid capsule with four motor-driven extendable legs, which is guided forward by an external magnetic field. The capsule deploys its legs when it reaches a segment of intestine whose walls have collapsed, so that it can lift the surrounding tissue and move through the opening. Robots that configure themselves inside the body using magnets are being developed to expand the range of tasks that robot capsules can carry out, including surgery.
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Unraveling the Matrix
MIT News (07/29/10) Hardesty, Larry

Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Gilbert Strang has developed a way to split certain types of matrices into simpler ones, which could help produce better video and audio data processing software or create smaller digital files. Strang's method applies to banded matrices, in which almost all of the numbers are zeroes, except for those along diagonal bands at or near the center of the matrix. Since about 99 percent of the entries in a banded matrix are zeroes, multiplying it by another matrix is a very efficient process. After a signal has been processed, it must be converted back to its original form, which requires multiplying it by the inverse of the processing matrix. Unfortunately, the inverse of a banded matrix is almost always "full," meaning that almost all of the entries are nonzero, in which case all the speed advantages offered by banded matrices would be lost if restoring the signal required multiplying it by a full matrix. Strang's technique for breaking up banded matrices into simpler ones makes it easier to tell whether these simpler matrices have banded inverses. The method enables engineers to determine whether a promising new signal-processing matrix will be practical.


H-1B Visa Usage Declines Sharply Due to Economy, Bureaucracy
eWeek (07/26/10) Rash, Wayne

The United States' struggling economy is a major reason why almost 40,000 H-1B visa application slots are currently unused, in addition to 9,000 slots in the Masters Exemption program. The availability of H-1B visas represents a significant drop in applications from previous years, says attorney Kellie Lego. Although a few major companies are still bringing employees into the U.S. on H-1B visas, the overall numbers have shown a huge decrease, Lego says. In addition to the economic downturn, the low H-1B visa numbers can be attributed to potential applicants having to navigate a much more stringent process for proving they have a job in the U.S., including submitting to a series of interviews at a U.S. Consulate in their home country. Another factor is that Customs and Border Protection agents have been denying holders of valid H-1B visas entry into the United States in some places, such as Newark International Airport, especially people from India, according to Lego. The U.S. State Department says the number of H-1B visa applications has dropped 30 percent from 2007 to 2009.


Oil-Based Color Pixels Could Let You Watch Videos on E-Paper
PhysOrg.com (07/26/10) Zyga, Lisa

University of Cincinnati (UC) researchers have developed a vertical stack approach for electrowetting (EW) displays that can produce high-resolution color video. The EW display consists of a vertical stack of several layers. Three layers of oil dyed red, green, and blue are separated by two intervening layers of water. The layers, along with a hydrophobic insulating layer and hydrophilic grid, are sandwiched between electrodes. The layers of colored oil also are divided into aligned rows to create separate pixels. To change the color on the display, a low voltage is applied to the water layer, which produces an EW effect, causing the oil to move to one side and to be replaced by water, enabling the colored oil to become visible. The method "saves space, enabling the development of smaller pixels and higher resolution," says UC professor Andrew Steckl. Compared to electrophoretic displays, EW reflective displays offer fast video-rate switching speeds, low power consumption, extreme thinness, and a wide viewing angle. The researchers say the EW vertical stack structure offers the potential for a variety of future electronic-paper and flat-panel applications, such as touch commands and animation.


PRACE Awards 320 Million Compute Hours to Ten European Research Projects
PRACE (07/28/10)

The Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) recently awarded more than 320 million compute core hours to a total of 10 research projects from Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, and Portugal. The research projects are in the fields of astrophysics, earth sciences, engineering, and plasma and particle physics. The projects will have access to JUGENE, IBM BlueGene/P, hosted by the Gauss-Center for Supercomputing member site in Julich, Germany, which is the first Petascale high performance computing system available to researchers through PRACE. The 10 projects were chosen from a total of 68 applications because of their high level of scientific maturity, demonstrated need for Tier-0 resources, and the fact that they will achieve results within the initial grant period of four months. The projects include simulation of electron transport in organic solar cell materials, excess proton at water and hydrophobic interfaces, parallel space-time approach to turbulence, QCD thermodynamics, ab initio simulations of turbulence in fusion plasmas, providing fundamental laws for weather and climate models, plasmoid dynamics in magnetic reconnection, a dislocation dynamics study of dislocation cell formation, type Ia supernovae from Chandrasekhar-mass white dwarf explosions, and QCD simulations for flavor physics.


Can't Place That Face?
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (07/28/10)

Tel Aviv University (TAU) researchers are exploring what makes the part of the brain responsible of processing information about human and animal faces unique. The researchers are trying to understand the mechanisms at work in the area of the brain known as the "fusiform gyrus." TAU's Galit Yovel is combing cognitive psychology with brain imaging and electrophysiology to study how the brain processes information about faces. Two percent of all people are born with "face blindness," scientifically known as prosopagnosia, says Yovel. The research is aimed at helping these people train themselves, using software and other methods, to better differentiate one face from another. The study could also lead to new algorithms that can help computers to better recognize faces.


How Facebook Could Make Cloud Computing Better
IEEE Spectrum (07/10) Rosen, Sarah

Computer scientists from Victoria University, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, and Cardiff University have proposed the creation of a "social cloud," which would facilitate the sharing of information, hardware, and services by utilizing the computing resources of a user's online social network. The researcher say that social media sites such as Facebook could provide a reliable framework for regulated resource sharing, although they would need to be combined with certain market controls, such as financial payments, social ranking, or credit trading, to encourage appropriate behavior. Sharing within a network of friends could minimize privacy concerns and certain inefficiencies that are common in conventional cloud computing. The researchers' model combines social networking, cloud computing, and "volunteer computing," which is a way of pooling storage and computational resources. The social cloud relies on existing Facebook friend-sorting mechanisms, which group people according to the type of association they have with one another and could be used to assess different levels of trust between users, says Victoria professor Kris Bubendorfer.


Avatars to Help Latina Girls Say ‘No' to Sex
University of Central Florida (07/27/10) Lewis, Kimberly

University of Central Florida (UCF) professors Anne Norris and Charles Hughes are developing a computer game with life-sized avatars and real-life scenarios aimed to help Latina middle schoolers resist peer pressure and say no to sex. "Our ultimate goal is to reduce pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease among the young Latina population," Norris says. The game, which is being developed at UCF's Institute for Simulation and Training, has middle school girls interact with realistic computer-generated characters that speak and respond to them in real-life scenarios. The game, which will be designed to improve girls' skills at handling peer pressure to engage in sexual behavior, is intended to be played in after-school and youth-outreach programs run by trained counselors. Once the game is fully developed, it will be tested on a small group of Latina girls, and their progress will be monitored three, six, and nine months after they start playing the game.


Japan Pushes High-Tech in World Cup Bid
IDG News Service (07/26/10) Williams, Martyn

Japan's bid to host the 2022 World Cup includes ultra-realistic holographic broadcasts of games, a virtual camera technology that would enable viewers to see the action from almost any angle, and smartphone-like devices that would provide automatic translations. The bid proposes public viewing "fan-fest" events in all 208 Federation Internationale de Football Association nations where live, holographic coverage of the games could be viewed. Fans would gather in stadiums thousands of miles from the actual event and watch holographic projections of players running around on the field. The bid also proposes a virtual camera technology that would enable TV viewers to fly around the field and watch the action from any angle. In addition, Japan is planning an application that will help fans communicate through automatic translation. A coalition of research institutes, universities, and companies are working Keio University professor Jun Murai to develop the necessary technology. "Of course, this isn't something we can do immediately," says the Japan Football Association's Kohzo Tashima. "We showed four or five technologies that could be developed with the right research."


Posseidon Adventure for North East Researchers
University of Sunderland (07/27/10)

University of Sunderland researchers have developed software for a sensor-based computerized warning system that monitors a ship's lubrication system and can predict any deterioration or contamination in the oil. The researchers say the Posseidon system can extend a ship engine's life, avoid a loss of performance, and prevent catastrophic failures, such as a ship floundering through the loss of propulsion or a power blackout. "The main propulsion engine of a ship can circulate 40 tons of expensive lube oil that, in addition to its normal in-service aging, is exposed to contamination factors such as fresh and sea water, fuel oil, and the products of combustion from heavy fuel that started its life as refinery waste," says Sunderland's David Baglee. Posseidon will monitor the main properties of the lubricating oil, such as viscosity, water-in-oil, base number, impurities, and oil degradation. Baglee says the system also could have environmental and ecological benefits in reducing the risk of oil spills by alerting crews if a ship is in danger of breaking down.


Multi-Million Dollar Project Aims to Improve Surveillance
University of Arizona (07/28/10) Everett-Haynes, La Monica

University of Arizona researchers are developing an intuitive video surveillance system that can detect suspicious human behavior. The research team plans to build a visual detection and tracking system, models of human behaviors and simulators to generate possible future scenes. A key aspect of the project is incorporating visual imagination, the process by which the brain decodes what the eyes see and guessing what should happen next. It is a highly complex and difficult challenge in training a computer system to mimic this part of brain behavior. "The goal of the system is to really take the next step forward in the semantics of actions that are a little bit extended in time and more complex than what has been achieved so far, which is still in the research domain," says Arizona professor Kobus Barnard. The project has implications for several different fields, including law enforcement and military personnel, says Arizona professor Paul Cohen.


Enables Severely Disabled People to Communicate and Steer a Wheelchair by Sniffing
Weizmann Institute of Science (07/27/10)

A team at the Weizmann Institute has developed a device that enables disabled people to communicate or control a wheelchair by sniffing. Inhaling and exhaling is a precise motor skill that is controlled, in part, by the soft palate--the flexible divider that moves to direct air in or out through the mouth or nose. The team theorized that the ability to sniff might be preserved even in the most acute cases of paralysis, and functional magnetic resonance imaging showed an overlap between soft palate control and the language areas of the brain, suggesting that the use of sniffing to communicate might be learned intuitively. The team built a device with a sensor that fits on the nostril's opening and measures changes in air pressure, and a passive version for patients on respirators diverts airflow to the nostrils. In tests, about 75 percent of the subjects on respirators were able to control their soft palate movement to operate the device. One paralyzed subject was able to navigate a wheelchair through a complex route after 15 minutes of practice. In or out, strong or shallow, long or short sniffs are the multiple signals that make up the complex language of the device. The Weizmann team believes the device could also serve as a "third hand" for surgeons or pilots.


Are Female IT Graduates Still Underrepresented?
Women in Technology (07/27/2010)

Women are still underrepresented in technology-related degree programs, according to the latest data from the U.K.'s Higher Education Statistics Agency. The data shows that 38 percent of women are pursuing studies in mathematical sciences, the same percentage as 10 years ago. Women account for just 15 percent of students pursuing engineering and technology degrees, and the number of women studying computer science has fallen over the past five years, from 24 percent to 19 percent. "We need to be very worried that ... these figures are low and not getting any better," says the Institution of Engineering and Technology's Peter Hicks. Meanwhile, a new report from the Royal Society says the low number of people going into the science and technology profession could affect the U.K. economy. The report suggests that having more science teachers in early education could help improve the numbers. Hicks agrees that primary schools should have more responsibility in encouraging girls to choose technology careers, and adds that there is a need for more female role models teaching science at the primary school level.


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