Welcome to the February 24, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Telecoms Step Up Fight Over Net Neutrality
The Wall Street Journal (02/24/14) Sam Schechner; Ryan Knutson
The net neutrality battle is intensifying in both the United States and Europe, as telecommunications companies and technology firms argue over the handling of Internet traffic and how to divide the costs and profits of data-intensive Web services. ENTO, a group of Europe's biggest telecommunications companies, is fighting provisions in a proposed European law that would enforce net neutrality. "We fear that, if the most restrictive views on open Internet prevail, there will be a significant reduction of users' choice," says ENTO head Luigi Gambardella. In the United States, telecommunications companies are trying to push the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to allow them to charge some websites to deliver content at higher quality. However, European telecommunications companies are battling their American counterparts over how to divide the costs and profits from the large amounts of data being sent all over the world. A main issue in the net neutrality debate is where to draw the line between the broader Internet and private services that telecommunications operators provide. The providers think they should be free to set aside part of their infrastructure to sell advanced services, while technology companies think that type of system could lead to a two-tiered Internet, with only some types of content available at top speeds.
Intel Touts New Ultra-High-Speed Wireless Data Technology
Technology Review (02/24/14) David Talbot
Intel researchers have developed a chip-based antenna array small enough to fit in a milk-carton-sized cellular base station. The researchers say the millimeter wave modular antenna array could turbocharge future wireless networks by using ultrahigh frequencies. The technology, which will be demonstrated today at the Mobile World Conference, could handle huge amounts of data at short ranges. Any one of the array's cells could send and receive data at speeds of more than a gigabit per second over up to a few hundred meters, compared to about 75 megabits a second using current state-of-the-art 4G LTE technology. For mobile cellular communications, the Intel technology could use frequencies of 28 or 39 gigahertz or higher, which are known as millimeter wave frequencies, and carry much more data than those used in conventional cellular networks. However, they are easily blocked by objects in the environment. To avoid the blockage problem, processors dynamically shape how a signal is combined among 64, 128, or more antenna elements; Intel's system makes this process more efficient. "We can scale up the number of modular arrays as high as practical to increase transmission and reception sensitivity," says Intel researcher Ali Sadri.
Taking European Expertise in Computing to Market
CORDIS News (01/07/14)
The European Commission (EC) hopes to complement academics with business expertise through Technology Transfer in Computing Systems (TETRACOM), a coordination action funded by the EC under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The aim is to coordinate and support technology transfers from academia to industry by transferring knowledge and technologies developed by universities to the marketplace in the form of new products, processes, applications, or services. Even when research is high-quality, researchers often do not prioritize the commercialization of their results, usually due to high costs. TETRACOM seeks to incentivize researchers to undertake an actual technology transfer. A unique and lightweight funding instrument called the Technology Transfer Project (TTP) will be used to train researchers on how to set up and execute a successful technology transfer, and also will provide private consulting services. A TETRACOM TTP will usually last between three and 12 months, with the total cost ranging from 10,000 to 200,000 euros. TETRACOM will fund up to 50 percent of this cost, with the expected average grant size being 25,000 euros. This funding will target well-defined and short-term collaborations that bring solid research and development results into industrial use, and funding is reserved solely for academic beneficiaries. Three calls for TTP proposals will be issued over the next three years, and the deadline for the first call round is March 31, 2014.
New Study Reveals Communications Potential of Graphene
Queen Mary, University of London (02/19/14)
Graphene could be used to provide secure wireless connections and improve the efficiency of communications devices. Scientists at Queen Mary University of London and the Cambridge Graphene Center are touting these potential applications for graphene after discovering the electromagnetic radiation absorption capabilities of the one-atom thick layer of carbon. The researchers describe graphene as a wonder material with remarkable, record-breaking properties. The group demonstrated how the transparent material increased the absorption of electromagnetic energy by 90 percent at a wide bandwidth. The team placed a stack of layers of graphene supported by a metal plate and the mineral quartz to absorb the signals from a millimeter wave source, which allows for the efficient control of wave propagation in complex environments. "The stacking configuration gives us better control of the interaction between radio waves and the graphene," notes Xidian University's Bian Wu, who is at Queen Mary. The researchers are now developing prototypes such as wireless networks. "The transparent material could be added as a coating to car windows or buildings to stop radio waves from travelling through the structure," says Queen Mary professor Yang Hao. "This, in turn, could be used to improve secure wireless network environments, for example."
Inside Higher Ed (02/18/14) Elizabeth Redden
Presenters at this year's Association of International Education Administrators conference described a pair of programs in which students double-major in a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field and a foreign language. Currently in its third year is Northern Arizona University's Global Science and Engineering Program, a five-year initiative in which students earn both a B.S. in a STEM discipline and a B.A. in a foreign language. Students take courses in both the language and the STEM field during their freshman year, while their fourth year is spent abroad before returning to campus for the final year. "We try hard not to sell it as an elite program because I think that kind of language is a language of exclusion and we want to have as many students participate in the program as possible," says Northern Arizona's Harvey Charles. Meanwhile, Valparaiso University's Valparaiso International Engineering Program lets students earn double majors in an engineering discipline and a foreign language and spend a year overseas. "One of our strategic objectives overall for the university is that every student has a cross-cultural experience," says Valparaiso College of Engineering dean Eric W. Johnson. He notes that students generally cannot begin language study until their second year due to other course requirements.
Robots With Human-Like Brains to Take on Mars Unaided
New Scientist (02/19/14) Hal Hodson
Robots could gain a human-like ability to multitask by switching from central-processing units (CPUs) to graphics-processing units (GPUs). The CPUs traditionally used in robots are very effective at processing small data streams very quickly, but can only handle one task at a time. By contrast, the GPUs often used in supercomputers and gaming can deal with larger sets of data more rapidly, and handle multiple information streams simultaneously. Neurala has developed robot brains that use GPUs, which it says are approximately 10 times faster than those built on CPUs. The robot's brain processes visual information in real time, which would enable it to avoid rocks, for example, when navigating changing terrain independently on Mars. Neurala's robot brain has autonomy rather than just automation, says the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Mark Motter. He says Neurala's goal is to imitate how human brains recognize objects, gain experience, and make judgments. The robot's vision system borrows a human tactic called foveation, which enables it to focus on specific points of a scene to develop a picture of its environment instead of processing everything at once, thereby decreasing the overall load on the brain. Over the next few years, robots are expected to benefit from advances in smartphone technology that will offer hardware small enough to power mobile, autonomous robots.
Smartphones May Be Our First Line of Defense Against Radiation
Government Computer News (02/18/14) Patrick Marshall
Smartphones could be used to detect gamma radiation, and Joshua Cogliati and colleagues at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) have developed CellRad, an app that can detect gamma-ray photons using the charge-coupled device (CCD) in cellphone cameras. Users just take a picture and do the analysis on their phone. Pixels in the phone's CCD can be excited by many different sources, including other spectra of light, heat, and current leakage from the phone itself. Thus, the researchers note CellRad only works when the camera lens is covered, and an algorithm developed by the team at INL is needed to filter out the noise. They say the app could even be developed to detect the direction of the radiation source since many phones contain two cameras. More processing power would be needed, but this could be a near-term improvement. First responders and military service members could use the application, which also could provide passive scanning at ports and borders.
Using Holograms to Improve Electronic Devices
UCR Today (02/19/14) Sean Nealon
University of California, Riverside (UCR) researchers say they have developed a type of holographic memory device that could provide unprecedented data storage capacity and data-processing capabilities in electronic devices. The memory device uses spin waves instead of optical beams because spin-wave devices are compatible with conventional electronic devices and can operate at a much shorter wavelength than optical devices, allowing for smaller electronic devices that have greater storage capacity. The researchers found it feasible to apply holographic techniques developed in optics to magnetic structures to create a magnonic holographic memory device. "The results open a new field of research, which may have tremendous impact on the development of new logic and memory devices," says UCR professor Alexander Khitun. He says the key breakthrough came when the researchers realized the device could complement circuits, or help them accomplish certain tasks, such as image recognition, speech recognition, and data processing.
Fractal Wire Patterns Enhance Stretchability of Electronic Devices
PhysOrg.com (02/18/14) Lisa Zyga
A group of researchers from the United States, China, Korea, and Singapore recently published a paper on the benefits of fractal wire patterns for stretchable electronics. The main challenge in designing stretchable electronics is maintaining good electronic functionality while enabling stretching of up to twice the normal device size. The researchers found that fractal patterns offer a promising approach to hard-soft materials integration, and suggest that fractal patterns can influence the mechanical properties of two-dimensional materials. "We have established an approach, with general utility, for configuring hard materials with soft ones, in ways that have immediate relevance in all areas of stretchable electronics," says University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor John Rogers. He notes the resulting properties also provide advanced capabilities in stretchable devices and sensors. The control supplied by fractal patterns could permit researchers to customize stretchable electronics devices for different applications, depending on the type of stretching required. Fractal patterns also could have applications for radio-frequency devices, which could enable electrodes that are compatible with magnetic resonance imaging scans.
Crowdsourced Testers Prefer New Cyber Search Method Created by CWRU Computer Scientists
The Daily (02/17/14)
Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) researchers have developed the Conjunctive Exploratory Navigation Interface (CENI), software designed to search for electronic files and save users time by more quickly identifying and retrieving the most relevant information on their computers and handheld devices. The researchers say anonymous testers preferred the new search tool nearly two-to-one over a keyword-based search interface and the most commonly available search interface using Google. CENI, which the researchers say is more effective than looking up items by matched keywords alone, combines two search methods and a more comprehensive way to organize and tag data. CENI users access data by browsing through menus of topics and typing in keywords, utilizing a method that provides a more focused search and retrieves the most pertinent information. CENI enables data to be tagged into as many areas as necessary, and provides an interface and system that leverages multiple tags for each single data item. To make questions and answers more relevant, "we designed a simple approach called 'multi-tagging' that allows the system to tag as many topics as it takes to cover the bases," says CWRU professor GQ Zhang. The researchers also built text analytics into CENI and annotated tag words to account for synonyms and related concepts.
A New System Accelerates Verification of Printed Electronic Documents
Carlos III University of Madrid (Spain) (02/17/14)
Researchers at Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M) have developed Valid@doc, a system that accelerates online administrative procedures by automatically verifying and validating printed electronic documents. "The purpose of this project is for our system to become the only one needed to generate and validate universal and officially approved secure verification codes (CSVs) for all the different public administrations in Spain," according to the researchers. Valid@doc speeds up bureaucratic procedures that involve several public entities. The tool makes it possible to automatically read the CSV from an authentic paper copy, pull the corresponding original electronic document from the emitting entity's repository of electronic files, and confirm its authenticity. Valid@doc has been designed to resolve critical issues in a system identified by a study of electronic documents from 100 of the most representative head public offices in Spain. "The city government's collaboration with the university has allowed us to test our project in a real and practical scenario, especially at a time when the administrations are in a period of transition, moving from a traditional model of public services to the current one, which requires citizens to have electronic access to those services," says UC3M researcher Pilar Aranzazu Herraez.
The Joy of Teaching Computer Science in the Age of Facebook
The Atlantic (02/18/14) Hope Reese
In an interview, Stanford University professor Mehran Sahami discussed changes in computer science education over the past three decades. He says students today understand computing's potential and are technology consumers, whereas in the past the average person did not have a computer in their house. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, students did not view computer science as a field full of job opportunities, and entered the discipline only because of a deep interest in the subject, Sahami says. At that time, a single set of requirements existed for all computer science majors. Today, the field has broadened and numerous subareas such as human-computer interaction and computational biology have emerged. Although the number of students enrolling in computer science dropped significantly from 2000 to 2005 due to the dot-com bubble burst, computer science enrollment is now increasing as the economy turns around and perceptions change about high-tech opportunities. "When people see companies like Google and Facebook being founded by relatively young people, they feel empowered and think: 'I can do that,'" Sahami says. "And there's the realization that the demand for computing, at least looking out over the next ten years, is certainly going to be there." He also says that although gender and racial gaps in computing are severe, as computer science enrollment grows, it increasingly reflects the overall population and decreases discrepancies.
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