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Welcome to the June 6, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Stanford Opens State-of-the-Art Facility for Collaborative Scientific Visualization
Stanford Report (CA) (06/05/14) Tom Abate

Stanford University has opened a new facility at the Huang Engineering Center called the HANA Immersive Visualization Environment (HIVE), which uses cutting-edge technology to enable unprecedented visualizations of scientific data. "Researchers are creating tremendous amounts of data through computations, simulations, measurements, sensor readings, and so forth," says Stanford professor and Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering director Margot Gerritsen. "A laptop screen doesn't do that justice. We have to have a way to visualize such data in ways that allow us to see the big picture and also zoom in on the detail." The HIVE incorporates 35 high-definition displays into a 10- by 24-foot screen, and demonstrations highlighted at the facility's launch included cosmological simulations, 360-degree views of Michelangelo's David statue, and simulations of damage caused by improvised explosive devices. The U.S. Army Research Laboratory's John Pellegrino says the HIVE was developed through a joint government-industry-academic partnership. He says that although some researchers "can look at the mathematical equations and understand what they mean and imply, the rest of us need this visualization capability to realize what these equations are predicting."


How to Raise a Personable Robot
Financial Times (06/06/14) Emma Jacobs

Social roboticist Heather Knight's research focuses on making robots socially expressive so they can interact with people on a more personable level than today's machines. Knight says robots can function as a stimulator for social interactions between people, although she thinks robot designers and policymakers may need to protect users from substituting robot interaction for human contact. Knight also believes the treatment of robots should be regulated so the machines are accorded respect. She does not agree with the contention robots are taking jobs away from people and she is optimistic about the possibilities of human collaboration with robots. "Technology revolutions of course impact humans," Knight acknowledges. "But it is less about the technology than the socioeconomic environment that welcomes the technology in." As head of Marilyn Monrobot Labs, Knight works on art projects that seek to combine robotics and entertainment, and part of her work involves performing stand-up comedy routines with a robot to gauge a machine's responsiveness to the audience. The robot can detect how humorous the audience finds a joke and thus cue up the next one, selected from a large joke database.
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Are Squiggly Lines the Future of Password Security?
Rutgers University (06/05/14)

Rutgers University researchers have found that free-form gestures, such as sweeping fingers in shapes across the screen of a smartphone or tablet, can be used to unlock phones and grant access to apps. The researchers say these types of gestures are less likely than conventional passwords to be observed and reproduced by others who spy on users to gain unauthorized access. "With all the personal and transactional information we have on our phones today, improved mobile security is becoming increasingly critical," says Rutgers professor Janne Lindqvist. The free-form gestures have an inherent appeal as passwords because they can be created in any size and shape in any place on the screen. "You can create any shape, using any number of fingers, and in any size or location on the screen," Lindqvist says. The researchers tested their method with an experiment in which 63 participants were asked to create a gesture, recall it, and recall it again 10 days later. The gestures were captured on a recognizer system and the researchers developed a method to measure the complexity and accuracy of each gesture. The researchers also tested whether people could steal gesture passwords by shoulder surfing. The results of both tests, although preliminary, indicate gesture-based passwords could improve security.


Microsoft's '3D Audio' Gives Virtual Objects a Voice
Technology Review (06/04/14) Tom Simonite

Microsoft researchers have developed a way for headphones to imbue virtual objects with sounds that appear to come from specific points in space, thus enhancing virtual or augmented reality interaction. The system uses software to construct a three-dimensional (3D) model of the user's head and shoulders, and then employs the model to calculate a personalized filter capable of deceiving the user's auditory senses. Microsoft researcher Ivan Tashev says once this filter has been recorded, it could be utilized by various devices or software. When Tashev scans a person's head, the software produces an approximation of that person's head related transfer function (HRTF) that seems adequate to generate unusually precise spatial audio. "Essentially we can predict how you will hear from the way you look," Tashev says. "We work out the physical process of sound going around your head and reaching your ears." The software was developed by recording HRTFs for 250 people and then comparing them with 3D head scans. The system's function also relies on data of the headphone's position as the user moves their head, which is supplied by motion sensors and a monitoring camera.


No Growth in Science and Engineering Graduate Enrollments
Campus Technology (06/02/14) David Nagel

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduate enrollments among U.S. citizens and permanent residents in 2012 fell for the first time in the last decade, while enrollments for temporary visa holders increased, according to a new U.S. National Science Foundation report. Overall enrollments grew only 0.1 percent, reaching 561,418 in 2012 compared to 560,941 in 2011. Without temporary visa holders, graduate enrollments fell 1.7 percent, marking the only decline in the 2003-2012 timeframe covered by the report. Over this same period, the U.S. government, states, and private companies have spent billions of dollars improving STEM education and urging U.S. students to pursue STEM careers. The Race to the Top program, for example, prioritizes STEM education and provides $4.85 billion in federal funding for states. The reasons for the decrease in U.S. citizens and permanent residents enrolling in STEM graduate programs in 2012 remain unclear, but the decline was consistent across most ethnic groups. However, among individual disciplines covered in the report, those categorized as "science" fared worse, declining 0.3 percent in 2012, while those categorized as "engineering" increased 1.3 percent.


Intelligent Machines for Tomorrow’s Factory
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (06/04/14) Monika Landgraf

The European Union's SkillPro research project is developing a plug-and-produce process that uses intelligent production technology to speed mass manufacturing of industrial goods. Manufacturing new products typically requires a production process overhaul, but intelligent machines that communicate amongst themselves could facilitate the production of small series of individualized items. "Machines equipped with additional intelligence and communicating with each other are expected to significantly reduce the changeover time," says Thomas Maier, director of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology's (KIT) Institute for Information Management in Engineering. For example, a machine with camera sensors could recognize any workpiece in any product, and determine how to use gripper or suction caps and where to position the workpiece. Machines that grip, weld, or bond could determine their next task or production step by communicating with adjacent machines. The plug-and-produce process begins with software that determines which assembly line would produce the orders most efficiently, then allows the addition of other machines or technical capabilities. In addition to KIT, SkillPro participants include the Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies, and Image Exploitation; the FZI Research Center for Information Technology, and other industry partners. Intelligent production could especially benefit smaller companies by enabling cost-effective production of niche products.


NSF Dear Colleague Letter--Cybersecurity Education EAGERs
CCC Blog (06/02/14) Helen Vasaly

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Education and Human Resources and Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering have released a Dear Colleague Letter announcing interest in using Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGERs) to foster collaboration between the cybersecurity research and computing education research communities. EAGERs aim to advance cybersecurity education, an area supported by the NSF's Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace and CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service programs. EAGERs fund exploratory work on untested research ideas or approaches with the potential for breakthroughs. The proposed research could lead to fundamentally new ways to motivate and educate students about cybersecurity and address the challenge of expanding educational opportunities and resources in cybersecurity. Potential research areas include identifying core knowledge and skills that cybersecurity professionals should have, identifying characteristics of cybersecurity learners, and assessing the efficacy of various instructional delivery methods.


Social Media Garden Is First Step in Creating 'Emotional' Buildings
University of Lincoln (06/03/14) Marie Daniels

Computer scientists and architects at the University of Lincoln are exploring whether architecture is able to reflect and map human emotions through the Science Technology Architecture Networks research project. The team has created a garden that consists of an articulating raw steel structure, which sits vertically and horizontally, and is controlled by responses on Twitter. Posts using the #gardenup hashtag are translated into movements of the garden's mechanical landscape. Duncan Rowland from the School of Computer Science developed the software, which aims to intercept and expose some of this data in a tangible representation. The researchers foresee a building one day using social media to monitor a person's emotional state and then modify its structure in response. "For example, if we feel like wearing a big cozy jumper and sipping a cup of boiling hot soup, it will turn the temperature down and open a window," says the School of Architecture's Richard M. Wright. "Buildings may also begin to reflect the mood of a populace by changing color or shape, constantly remapping our perception of our urban environment, with facades becoming animated, reflective, and mobile in response to communal desires and emotions." The garden also could serve as a prototype for the future development of smart buildings.


Project Aims to Avert Internet Capacity Crunch
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (06/03/14)

Aston University will lead an international effort to address the growing worldwide Internet capacity crunch. The Petabit Energy Aware Capacity Enhancement (PEACE) project seeks to improve bandwidth and reduce consumption on major optical-fiber networks. The project team believes that by using a balance of digital, analog, electric, and optical processing, they can transmit signals over an optical fiber with enough bandwidth to simultaneously support 1 million mobile phones operating at the same time, while also cutting the energy consumption of optical transponders in half. "We will increase network capacity by maximizing spectral use, and developing techniques to combat the nonlinear effects induced by the high intensities encountered in today's networks," says PEACE project leader and Aston University professor Andrew Ellis. The team believes their approach could fundamentally boost the speed and quality of service for 17.6 million mobile Internet users and more than 70 percent of households with broadband access in the United Kingdom.


Prototype of New Transistor for Lower Power Consumption
University of Twente (Netherlands) (06/02/14)

University of Twente (UT) MESA+ research institute researchers and the SolMate S company have developed a new type of transistor designed to reduce the power consumption of microchips. The researchers enclosed a transistor in a shell of piezoelectric material, which distorts when voltage is applied, and reduced current leakage by a factor of five. The new transistor improves current leakage while the transistor is not active, and energy consumption while the transistor is active. The piezoelectric material expands when voltage is applied, compressing the silicon in the transistor with a pressure of about 10,000 atmospheres. The high pressure ensures that electrons flow through the transistor faster, making microchips more efficient by intelligently squeezing the transistor. However, the researchers note this method increases current leakage, so the UT transistor is only put under pressure when it is required, which helps contain some of the current.


App Paired With Sensor Measures Stress and Delivers Advice to Cope in Real Time
UCSD News (CA) (06/05/14) Ioana Patringenaru

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) researchers have developed ParentGuardian, a smartphone-based system that combines a mobile application and sensor to detect stress in parents and provides research-based strategies to help decrease that stress during emotionally charged interactions with their children. The interventions are based on Parenting Behavioral Therapy, which has been shown to help in addressing the needs of children with ADHD and their parents. "Instead of focusing on an individual in need we are looking at how to build and design technology for the family as a whole and what’s beneficial for them," says UCSD Ph.D. computer science student Laura Pina. ParentGuardian combines a stress sensor, a phone, a backend server, and tablet to remind parents of effective interventions. The wrist sensor measures electrical activity on the user's skin, which changes during high-stress situations. The researchers then compare the data from the sensors with the user's self-reported instances of stress to train a machine-learning algorithm to detect stress events in real time. During testing, the researchers say, parents of children with ADHD found the system's suggestions to be useful. Based on the insights gained from this work, the researchers have applied for a grant to conduct a study on a larger number of parents.


Intel & Georgia Tech Advance Spintronics
EE Times (06/03/14) R. Colin Johnson

The Georgia Institute of Technology and Intel recently announced the Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis (SPICE) project for modeling spintronics devices and interconnects, funded by the Semiconductor Research Corp. Spintronic devices have the potential to resolve the problem of power dissipation that occurs as chips grow smaller. In addition, spintronics could address the memory refreshing problem that slows the computer startup process. The SPICE platform will enable designers to experiment with simple models based on resistors, inductors, and capacitors that represent the entire physics of spintronic interconnects and devices. Next-generation interconnects are necessary to realize the benefits of lower power dissipation in spintronics devices. Most of the power dissipated in a complementary metal-oxide semiconductor is currently lost in the interconnections among chips. Engineers can use the models to study the implications of interconnects on logic implemented with spin. Electrical interconnects with spintronics devices, for example, would require a conversion from spin to charge, thus necessitating a transducer and a subsequent conversion back to spin. To enable devices to remain in the spin state as much as possible, researchers must understand the delay and the energy of a spin interconnect.


Pixar to Give Away 'Toy Story' 3D RenderMan Software
BBC News (06/03/14) Joe Miller

Pixar plans to make a non-commercial version of RenderMan freely available to students, institutions, researchers, developers, and for personal use. The firm, owned by Disney, says it will release the three-dimensional (3D) rendering software "without any functional limitations, watermarking, or time restrictions." The software has been used to render images for films such as "Toy Story," "Monsters Inc.," and "Harry Potter." RenderMan has been around for more than 25 years and is "very important at the higher end of the entertainment, animation, and visual effects industries," says 3D World editor Ian Dean. RenderMan is facing increasing competition from rival animation rendering programs such as VRay and Arnold, and Dean says Pixar's move could be construed as a response to this trend. He also notes Pixar and Disney are looking to nurture a community. "It's great news that anyone with an interest in computer graphics will be able to have free access to a state-of-the-art renderer from Pixar," says Nick Cannon, director of technology and operations at MPC Film. Pixar is expected to release the new version of the software ahead of the ACM SIGGRAPH conference in August.


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