Welcome to the August 10, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
A Makeover Made in Google's Image
Wall Street Journal (08/09/12) Amir Efrati
Former Google executive Marissa Mayer has a plan to reverse Yahoo!'s waning fortunes as its new CEO, using lessons she applied at Google that include placing products and users first and developing or obtaining Web services that leverage social media, mobile devices, and other new platforms. Mayer has intimated to Yahoo! employees as part of her product-focused campaign that she wants to retool the Yahoo! Web-search and email service, whose use is in decline. Mayer also is interested in placing more Yahoo! content and advertising on other sites. This aligns with an old plan to launch a network that helps Web site publishers install new Yahoo! software on their pages to display visitor-customized articles and videos, which is known as content personalization. Moreover, the new CEO is striving to cultivate relationships with Yahoo!'s programmers through regular email discussions with software engineers who do not report to her. In addition, Mayer has emphasized the value of analyzing data on people's usage of Yahoo! Web sites and mobile apps, and the necessity of generating such user-behavior information before making decisions on whether to create a new service.
Southampton to Lead National Project to Develop 'IT as a Utility'
The United Kingdom is funding research that will focus on the challenge of IT as a Utility (ITaaU). Society is becoming increasingly connected and digitally driven, and the concern is how to encourage the same level of trust in and use of IT utility services as there is for electricity. ITaaU is about the provision of information and technology in a transparent and highly usable manner. The three-year ITaaU Network+ project will work toward simple, usable, and safe IT provision from smart services, surroundings, and information stores, and will examine the perceived obstacles that inhibit new users of these services. The University of Southampton will lead a consortium of U.K. universities, which have received about $2.3 million from the Research Councils U.K. Digital Economy Program. "IT as a Utility is closely related to Grid and Cloud Computing with its emphasis on making IT resources effortlessly and almost invisibly available to the end user," says Southampton professor Jeremy Frey. "Cloud models for access to applications and infrastructure are now well established, and are changing the way users interact with applications, especially where the application is accessible from multiple devices and users."
A Battery That Folds!
EE Times India (08/08/12)
Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) researchers have developed a super-thin, flexible, all-solid-state battery that could one day lead to phones and gadgets that can be folded. "The technological advance of thin and light flexible displays has encouraged the development of flexible batteries with a high power density and thermal stability," the KAIST researcher says. The advent of a high-performance, flexible, and thin film battery will accelerate the development of next-generation fully flexible electronic systems in combination with existing flexible components such as display, memory, and light-emitting diodes, the KAIST team notes. The KAIST researchers are currently studying a laser lift-off technology to facilitate the mass production of flexible lithium-ion batteries and three-dimensional stacking structures to enhance charge density of batteries.
New Router Enhances the Precision of Woodworking
MIT News (08/08/12) Helen Knight
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a handheld device that can adjust its position to precisely follow a digital plan when the user moves the router generally around the shape to be cut. "You load the system up with a digital plan that you would like it to follow, and then you are only responsible for getting it to within a quarter-inch or so of that plan," says MIT Ph.D. student Alec Rivers. First, the user moves the device over the raw material, while a built-in camera films the surface and then connects all the video frames it sees into a single cohesive two-dimensional (2D) map of the piece. The user then loads the desired design onto a computer, and places it over the 2D digital map of the material. "Since you have this image of the actual piece of material you are working with, you can line up your cut precisely," Rivers says. Motors controlled by the system adjust the position of the drill to ensure that it precisely follows the plan.
How to Share Personal Data While Keeping Secrets Safe
Technology Review (08/07/12) Tom Simonite
Cornell University researchers have developed a new mathematical technique that allows for the sharing of large data sets of personal data without compromising any one individual's privacy. "We want to make it possible for Facebook or the U.S. Census Bureau to analyze sensitive data without leaking information about individuals," says Colgate University professor Michael Hay, who helped develop the new technique while he was a researcher at Cornell. The Cornell researchers used an approach called crowd-blending privacy, which involves limiting how a data set can be analyzed to ensure that any individual record is indistinguishable from a large group of other records. "The hope is that because crowd-blending is a less strict privacy standard it will be possible to write algorithms that will satisfy it, and it could open up new uses for data," Hay says. Crowd-blending privacy has the potential to allow one to achieve much better utility by introducing less or no noise, according to University of Maryland professor Elaine Shi. "The underlying system architecture itself [would] enforce privacy—even when code supplied by the application developers may be untrusted," Shi says.
Engineering Team Develops Chip for Mars Rover
University of Tennessee at Knoxville (08/07/12) Whitney Heins
University of Tennessee at Knoxville (UT) researchers have designed a tiny microchip that is being used to help control the rover that recently landed on Mars. There are about 80 Quad Operational Amplifier (op amp) microchips powering the rover's 40 motors, without which the rover would not be able to traverse the Martian surface, collect samples with its robotic arm, or maneuver the cameras for sending back pictures. "These analog chips are in the motor controller electronics that make the camera move, pan around, go up and down," says UT professor Ben Blalock. The new chips can withstand 500 days of potential radiation exposure and temperatures ranging from -180 degrees Celsius to +120 degrees Celsius. "We not only had to design it to meet the Martian surface environment requirements, we also had to overdesign it to operate in environments even colder than -120 degrees Celsius to help enable reuse of the microchip for other extreme environment robotic missions in the future," Blalock says. The new chip represents a paradigm shift in the application of extreme environment electronics in space avionics, and could lead to advances in space exploration, according to Blalock.
Discovery May Simplify Quantum Computer Development
Computerworld Australia (08/07/12) Byron Connolly
Australian National University (ANU), National University of Singapore (NUS), and University of Queensland researchers have suggested that background interference in quantum-level measurements, known as quantum discord, could be the key to discovering quantum computing's potential. Previously, quantum computing researchers have thought that quantum entanglement, a very difficult phenomenon to achieve, was the only way to develop quantum computing technologies. However, the ANU, NUS, and Queensland researchers have demonstrated that quantum discord, a more robust and easy to access phenomenon, also could be used to develop quantum technology. "In the long term, we want to have a revised understanding of what makes a quantum computer tick," says ANU professor Ping Koy Lam. "The hope is that we can simplify how quantum computers work and [make them] more accessible." NUS researchers first discovered the direct connection between quantum power and quantum discord, and then ANU scientists encoded information onto laser light to demonstrate the unlocking of this quantum resource. "These results show that discord has potential that can be unlocked for quantum technologies," Lam says.
A Simple Way to Help Cities Monitor Traffic More Accurately
Ohio State University Research News (08/07/12) Pam Frost Gorder
Ohio State University researchers have developed software to identify in-road loop detectors, which are used to monitor traffic, that are prone to splashover, and reprogram them to get more accurate numbers. The researchers monitored 68 in-road detectors in Columbus, Ohio, and found six that were susceptible to erroneously detecting cars in adjacent lanes. Error rates ranged from less than 1 percent to 52 percent. "With this software, we can help transportation departments know which detectors to trust when deciding how they should put their limited dollars to work," says Ohio State professor Benjamin Coifman. He concedes that they might not identify detectors in which one in 100 or one in 1,000 vehicles trigger splashover, but they should catch detectors where the rate is one in 20. However, the discovery comes just as many U.S. cities are moving toward the use of different technologies, such as roadside radar detectors, to monitor traffic. "The radar sensors that are replacing loop detectors are actually more prone to splashover-like errors," Coifman says. Fortunately, the same algorithms developed for loop detectors should function for radar detectors as well, according to Coifman.
Intelligent Cars Warn Each Other
TU Munchen (08/06/12)
A system that enables cars to communicate with each other and their environment will be tested on roads in and around Frankfurt, Germany, in the coming months. Scientists from private companies and public organizations are behind the Safe Intelligent Mobility-Test Field Germany (simTD) research project. The simTD consortium recently launched a fleet of 120 electronically networked cars, which will be able to share information on traffic conditions and possible dangers. The system uses wireless technology, based on the WLAN standard, which was specifically developed for these automotive applications. Researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) prepared the field test and will analyze the data the vehicles produce. "We investigate how drivers adopt this technology in everyday scenarios and to what extent we can improve road safety and prevent congestion," says TUM professor Fritz Busch. The team will simulate the impact of introducing the technology on traffic in the test area. The simTD consortium also notes the technology could help reduce emissions through the recommendations it can provide for energy-efficient driving.
Lab in the Wild Asks: What’s Your Internet Like?
Harvard University (08/06/12) Michael Patrick Rutter
Harvard University researchers recently launched the Lab in the Wild, which uses an ongoing series of voluntary tests to find information about different users' online culture. The tests provide instant feedback, so users can see how they are similar or different from other groups of users in different parts of the world. "We are seeking to answer questions like: How does your cultural background influence how you perceive and process information? Which types of Web sites do you find most appealing, trustworthy, and intuitive?" says Harvard's Krzysztof Gajos. The Lab in the Wild is designed to understand how people around the world differ in the way they think, perceive information, and use technology. For example, University of Zurich researchers have found that differences exist in the way cultural groups want to use calendar management tools. They found that in countries that are believed to have more collectivist and group-oriented cultures, study participants were more likely to mutually agree on specific dates as opposed to those in more individualistic societies. "To create truly responsive, intelligent designs that won’t get lost in translation, so to speak, it’s important that we gather input from a global audience," says Harvard's Katharina Reinecke.
Women Bridge Computer-Science Gap
Chicago Tribune (08/04/12) Kristyn Schiavone
Since 1984, the number of computer science degrees awarded to women has steadily declined, with just 13 percent of computer science graduates today being female. The reasons that few women pursue technology careers are complicated and varied, but the bigger picture is that the pipeline from elementary school to a computing career shrinks with each higher level of education, according to DePauw University professor Gloria Townsend, who has received a U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to encourage more women to explore computing as a career. "My own NSF grant works at the undergraduate and graduate school portions of the pipeline to create a number of regional areas where women in computing ... meet biennially at a conference to gain experience speaking and sharing research, networking with each other, interacting with industry sponsors who offer internships and jobs and listening to speakers who share realistic information about life in computing," Townsend says. A lack of K-12 computing courses and uninteresting computing courses at the middle school level, a lack of accurate career information about computer science, and the absence of female mentors in the field all play a role in turning young women away from the industry, Townsend notes.
See-Through-Wall Surveillance With WiFi Shown at UCL
Researchers at the University College of London (UCL) have demonstrated a passive radar system that can use Wi-Fi signals generated by wireless routers and access points to see through walls. The radar prototype identifies frequency changes to detect moving objects. Moreover, the device does not emit radio waves, which means it operates in stealth and cannot be detected. The prototype is about the size of a suitcase and it carries two antennae and a signal-processing unit, to monitor baseline Wi-Fi frequency in an area for any change that would indicate movement. In tests, the device successfully determined the location, speed, and direction of a person through a one-foot-thick brick wall. The U.K. Military of Defense is exploring whether to use the device to detect moving personnel targets in urban warfare, but the technology also could be used to monitor children and the elderly. The device is the work of UCL researchers Karl Woodbridge and Kevin Chetty, and they would like to make the radio system sensitive enough to detect people who are standing or sitting still.
Wired News (08/06/12) Christina Bonnington
Carnegie Mellon University professor Manuela Veloso has spent her career developing autonomous collaborative robots (CoBots). The CoBots run a combination of C++, Python, and Java, and consist of a camera and laptop on a wheeled base, while a Microsoft Kinect is used for navigation and obstacle avoidance. Users assign tasks to the CoBot via a Web interface, and once the task is completed, the CoBot can either return to its home base or move on to the next assigned task. Veloso eventually wants to develop CoBots that can perform daily human tasks alongside their human masters. "I decided that ... these robots ... need a symbiotic relationship with humans, and they need to proactively ask for help when they need help," Veloso says. Her research is focused on symbiotic autonomy, in which robots move through the world by themselves, but if they come across uncertainties about their location, or if what they are doing surpasses the threshold of their capabilities, they stop and ask humans for help. "The reason why I came up with symbiotic autonomy was exactly because I started looking at these robots performing tasks and services for humans as part of a team," Veloso says.
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