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Welcome to the May 28, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Google’s Next Phase in Driverless Cars: No Brakes or Steering Wheel
The New York Times (05/27/14) John Markoff

Google is developing a fleet of 100 experimental electric-powered vehicles that will not have any of the familiar controls found in conventional automobiles. The only thing the driver controls in the car is a red "e-stop" button for panic stops and a separate start button. The car can be called upon using a smartphone application that would help the vehicle automatically pick up a passenger and drive to a predetermined destination without any human intervention. About a year ago, Google decided to change its car project after an experiment in which Google employees used autonomous vehicles for their normal commutes to work. The researchers found that even with partially autonomous vehicles, human passengers are unlikely to be paying close enough attention to be able to take over the system in an emergency situation. The new vehicles will have electronic sensors that can see about 600 feet in all directions. Another new feature is known as Traffic Jam Assist, which enables the car to steer and follow another vehicle in stop-and-go driving at low speeds. The Google prototype will not be able to go faster than 25 miles per hour, and are designed to drive in urban and suburban settings. The low speed limit will keep the cars out of more restrictive regulatory categories and could result in more design flexibility.
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Supercomputers Used to Model Disaster Scenarios
Bangor University (05/27/14)

Bangor University School of Computer Science researchers are using supercomputers to run programs that can predict how people will react in a disaster. The researchers are working with High Performance Computing Wales' supercomputer to help develop an agent-based modeling toolkit, specifically designed for use on a high-performance computer. The system will help students simultaneously run thousands of simulations, enabling them to improve the accuracy of the predictive models through aggregated results. The system is fast enough that thousands of simulations take hours to run instead of weeks. The researchers say the faster processing time means averages can be extracted from a larger number of scenarios, enabling more accurate predictions. "It will be great research and work experience for our students, I'm looking forward to helping them," says project supervisor and Bangor Ph.D. student Chris Headland. He says these types of supercomputing technologies can handle and analyze massive amounts of data at high speeds, and could lead to breakthroughs in product, process, and service development and boost business competitiveness.


Cyber-Physical Systems Readied for Demos by White House-Led Team
Computerworld (05/27/14) Patrick Thibodeau

The White House's SmartAmerica Expo will showcase pilot projects that demonstrate the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) to control cyber-physical systems. Cyber-physical systems collect and analyze data and then feed the information into a system with the goal of resolving a problem. "We really want to show and demonstrate that this is possible, but not just from a technical level," says Sokwoo Hree, a Presidential Innovation Fellow and co-leader, along with Geoff Mulligan, of the SmartAmerica effort. "From a technology level, we know it's possible." The Expo involves researchers from the University of California, Irvine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as those from several private-sector firms. The researchers are developing a system that can monitor, on a very detailed level, what goes on inside the home. In terms of hardware, the researchers are using off-the-shelf IoT technologies. The researchers note the devices can operate independently of a resident's network, even during a power outage. "When we look back at some of the bigger disasters that have happened, one of the things that we have learned from them is you can't rely on cell phones," says Montgomery County, MD, chief innovation officer Dan Hoffman.


New Graphene-Type Material Created
University of Liverpool (05/22/14)

Transistors used in electronic devices could get a boost from a new material related to graphene. Scientists at the University of Liverpool say they are the first researchers to make triazine-based graphitic carbon nitride (TGCN), which was predicted theoretically in 1996. The new TGCN material is two-dimensional, but has an electronic band gap, making it potentially suitable for use in transistors. Scientists have been looking for a material that is carbon-based and has the electronic band gap needed for use as a semiconductor. The team started with the inexpensive molecule dicyandiamide, and prepared crystals of graphitic carbon nitride, a two-dimensional layered material that is similar to graphene but contains nitrogen. The researchers combined the ingredients in a quartz tube and heated them for 62 hours at up to 600 degrees Celsius. The result is a liquid containing flakes of TGCN that can be removed by filtering or peeling them off the quartz tube. The team now plans to explore the material's properties.


Girls at the Center of Obama's Science Push
The Hill (05/27/14) Julian Hattem

Girls and women in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields will be a special focus of the annual White House science fair. The special focus on girls is part of the Obama administration's effort to ensure the sciences are accessible to all students. The science fair is scheduled for May 27 at the White House, and more than 100 students from across the United States will participate in the event. About 30 student teams will demonstrate their work to President Barack Obama. The president also will announce a new $35-million U.S. Department of Education competition to help create more math and science teachers, which will contribute to his goal of training more than 100,000 teachers in the sector. Obama also plans to announce an initiative to teach 18,000 low-income students about STEM issues through AmeriCorps, as well as a mentoring effort to expand children's exposure to math and science in seven cities.


Origami Unfolds a New World of Shape-Shifting Electronics
CNet (05/22/14) Nick Statt

The art of origami is transforming the field of electrical engineering and electronics design, as scientists draw on concepts that could enable new shape-shifting electronics. The technology could result in devices such as smartphones that can fold into a pocket or tablets that simply roll up. A joint research team at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Florida International University (FIU) is working on origami-influenced antennas, using a $2 million grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation's Origami Design for Integration of Self-assembling Systems for Engineering Innovation. Beyond antenna design, the researchers also are exploring DNA folding and mechanical structure design. FIU professor Stavros Georgakopoulos says art inspires the imagination to develop new design concepts. For example, with antennas, origami concepts help to miniaturize the antenna during launch, and help it grow much larger when it reaches outer space, according to Georgakopoulos. The team has created paper prototypes and deposited conductive materials onto the paper using special ink-jet techniques. Other flexible materials, such as plastics and flexible dielectrics, also could work for this type of development. To test the real-world electromagnetic properties of antenna prototypes, Georgakopoulos uses simulation software. The engineers also are collaborating with origami masters, who demonstrate various folded structures that could serve as prototypes.


Google's 'Quantum Computing Playground' Lets You Fiddle With Quantum Algorithms
Gizmag (05/25/14) Dario Borghino

Google has released a new Web-based integrated development environment (IDE) called Quantum Computing Playground that enables users to experiment with quantum algorithms. Using an ad-hoc scripting language called qScript, the IDE simulates a graphics processing unit-accelerated quantum computer on which users can write, compile, debug, and execute programs on a Chrome browser. The IDE can simulate quantum registers up to 22 quantum bits and visualize algorithm outputs as two- and three-dimensional graphs in which each bar represents a superposition of qubits. Running the same code sometimes results in different outputs, because most quantum algorithms are probabilistic and do not offer deterministic certainty. Users in practical settings would need to run the same algorithm multiple times to ensure a correct answer. Although practical quantum computers do not yet exist, Quantum Computing Playground will help computer scientists prepare for the future by familiarizing themselves with quantum algorithms.


MINT Program Helps Pinpoint Threats Contained in Intelligence Data
Georgia Tech News Center (05/22/14)

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology's Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) are working to improve the capabilities of the U.S. Multi-Disciplinary Intelligence system (Multi-INT, or MINT), which monitors incoming intelligence data. The key to improving the system involves bringing actionable intelligence to the attention of human analysts as quickly as possible, says Chris Kennedy, a research program analyst who leads the MINT effort in GTRI. However, finding actionable intelligence can be challenging because it must be identified from a wide range of raw data gathered by intelligence sources. "Out of a huge set of information--which could involve millions of data points--you need to find the most valuable pieces to prioritize for investigation and possible action," Kennedy says. The work addresses network bandwidth and workstation processing power, and the fact that human analysts need to be aware of incoming data by concentrating on the most significant information. "Obviously under this data-reduction approach there are information losses that could affect how our program makes decisions, which is why our system is only a tool for--and not a replacement for--the human analyst," Kennedy says. The researchers also address a method to improve the system's ability to identify, compare, and prioritize different types of information. They found that one set of significant signals could be quickly compared to others in the same general area to form an in-depth picture.


DARPA Highlights Innovative Approaches to Information Technology Superiority at 2014 Demo Day
CCC Blog (05/21/14) Ann Drobnis

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Information Innovation Office recently hosted Demo Day 2014, which showcased DARPA projects designed to change how the country addresses growing national security challenges. For example, the DARPA Cyber Grand Challenge will be the first-ever tournament for testing fully automatic network defense systems. High-Assurance Cyber Military Systems aims to protect networked, embedded IT systems from cyberattacks by developing semi-automatic systems that build software according to formal methods and check that the new code is secure. Big Mechanism will improve state-of-the-art big-data analytics by developing automated technologies to help explain the causes and effects that drive complex systems. Memex will develop the next generation of search technologies and revolutionize public-domain search results. Finally, Broad Operational Language Translation will create new techniques for automated translation and linguistic analysis that can be applied to informal text and speech.


Analyzing Pixel Correlations in Photographs Improves Image Analysis
Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) (05/21/14)

Researchers from the A*STAR Institute for Infocomm Research say they have developed a robust and efficient method for capturing salient information from images and movies. The key lies in the distribution of brightness and color between pairs of pixels. The technique involves counting the pixels in an image based on their color and then plotting the distribution, which makes the distribution of colors apparent as well as the frequency at which pairs or neighboring pixels appear. A low frequency of pixel pairs with a certain difference in color indicates a region of high interest, as it denotes clear boundaries between objects, making the salient features easily identifiable. "Our model has great potential for predicting the point in an image that will attract the human eye," says A*STAR's Shijian Lu. "Apart from generic object detection, it can be applied to tasks such as guiding robots or to the smart design of Web pages and advertisements." The next step will be to apply this scheme to detecting motion in videos, which follows similar rules to spotting relevant information in still photographs. Lu says the algorithm also allows more complex approaches to image analysis.


New Analysis Eliminates Potential Speed Bump in Quantum Computing
UCSD News (CA) (05/20/14)

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) have extended the degenerate perturbation theory to the field of quantum information science. A quantum particle can search for an item in an unsorted database by jumping from one item to another in superposition, and it does so faster than is possible with classical computers. However, this assertion assumes the particle can hop directly from any item to any other. Any restriction on which items the particle can directly hop to could slow down the search. "Intuition says that a symmetric database allows the particle to hop freely enough to retain the quantum speedup, but our research has shown this intuition to be false," says UCSD physicist Tom Wong. The team's novel approach proves global symmetry is not required for a sped-up search. Wong says the findings also expand the kinds of data structures on which quantum computing outperforms classical computing.


Computers Learn Better Reading Comprehension Through UT Research
University of Twente (Netherlands) (05/14/14) Kim Bekmann

University of Twente researcher Mena B. Habib has developed a way to help computers improve their understanding of written texts. Using context, the method enables a computer to analyze the importance of named entities such as people, places, and organizations. Demand is rising for improved ways of helping computers comprehend text, and many current methods are based on superficial word analysis that leaves much of a text's meaning obscured. "With greater understanding of the entities referred to and information available about these entities, computers are better able to extract a lot more information from texts for analysis purposes," says University of Twente senior lecturer Maurice van Keulen. The researchers are participating in the TEC4SE project, in which the software will be deployed in the emergency rooms of the Twente fire brigade and police. The software reads and understands tweets that can alert emergency services workers of problems. The method is language-independent and does not require a large number of texts from which to learn, van Keulen says.


Researchers Test Distributed Computing as Defense Against Cyberattacks on Power Grids
The Abstract (05/20/14) Matt Shipman

The Smart Energy Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) project, which involves a team of researchers from across the United States, aims to use sophisticated tools to test various scenarios related to cybersecurity in power grids. Researchers at North Carolina State University (NCSU) and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill are creating a distributed computing system that would disseminate monitoring and control functions across multiple virtual machines in a cloud computing network that overlays the grid. "The advantage here would be that if one element of the computing system gets compromised, the other virtual machines could step in to protect the system and coordinate their efforts to keep the grid functioning," says NCSU professor Aranya Chakrabortty. Early testing indicates the distributed computing approach would make the grid more resilient against both physical attacks and cyberattacks. "The more we understand about our potential vulnerabilities, the better controllers we'll be able to design to protect our infrastructure," Chakrabortty says.


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