Welcome to the July 21, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
RoboCup: Humans 1, Machines 7
The Economist (07/19/14)
Accelerating innovation in the field of robotics is the overarching goal of the RoboCup competition, in which teams of researchers pit their robots against each other in soccer matches to determine if such technology will one day outclass their human counterparts. The competing machines vary in form and function, ranging from small-wheeled robot teams controlled by a single computer using input from cameras to sophisticated androids that employ independent on-board sensors and artificial intelligence software. RoboCup co-founder Manuela Veloso's group has won the most final titles in the non-humanoid "little league" games, and five years ago she and her colleagues shared the team's vision software with their rivals, thus establishing the contest's now obligatory open source development strategy. "In the past couple of years, one of the big changes is that we are starting to analyze real football tactics and strategy, to devise our own," Veloso says. Particularly intriguing to Veloso is when the robots in games execute moves that were not deliberately inserted into their control algorithms, which suggest emergent behavior. The objective of RoboCup since the time of its inception has been the creation of a humanoid robot soccer team that is superior to human champions by 2050.
Researchers Develop a Wikipedia of Fact-Checking During Natural Disasters
University of Southampton (United Kingdom) (07/18/14)
Social media is often flooded with information in the wake of natural disasters such as earthquakes or tsunamis, but much of that information is contradictory and it can be difficult or impossible to sort the accurate from the inaccurate. Researchers at the University of Southampton, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, and Qatar Computing Research Institute are hoping to address this shortcoming with Verily, an online platform for crowd-sourcing the veracity of information posted to social media. To test the platform's ability to rapidly verify information, researchers set up the Verily Challenge. Questions, such as whether a picture had been taken in a certain city, were posted to Verily's website and users were asked to answer the question and justify their answer with an explanation, picture, or video. Researchers found users were able to very rapidly verify or falsify the information on Verily through various means, including personal memory, Web searches, and online tools such as Google Earth. Researchers say their next step will be to deploy Verily to collect and verify evidence during an actual humanitarian disaster.
Supercomputers Reveal Strange, Stress-Induced Transformations in World's Thinnest Materials
Brookhaven National Laboratory (07/16/14) Justin Eure
Columbia University researchers used Brookhaven National Laboratory supercomputers to map and compare the transformations and breaking points of graphene and other promising monolayers. The researchers identified the breaking mechanism of several monolayer materials hundreds of times stronger than steel with exotic properties. They found straining the materials induced a novel phase transition, and the phenomenon persisted across several different materials with disparate electronic properties, suggesting monolayers may have intrinsic instabilities to be either surmounted or exploited. "To see the beautiful patterns exhibited by these materials at their breaking points for the first time was enormously exciting--and important for future applications," says Columbia researcher Eric Isaacs. The researchers used a mathematical framework called density functional theory (DFT) to describe the quantum mechanical processes unfolding in the materials. "DFT lets us study materials directly from fundamental laws of physics, the results of which can be directly compared to experimental data," says Columbia professor Chris Marianetti. As the monolayers were strained, the energy expenditure of changing the bond lengths became significantly weaker, meaning under sufficient stress, the emergent soft mode encourages the atoms to reconfigure themselves into unstable arrangements, which dictates how one might control that strain and tune monolayer performance.
For TV 'White Spaces,' the Global Outlook Is Hopeful but Cautious
Bloomberg BNA (07/16/14) Paul Barbagallo
Efforts to use "white space" left over from TV stations' switch to all-digital broadcasts to transmit broadband signals across the globe have run into resistance from incumbent spectrum owners and TV broadcasters, which has dampened manufacturers' enthusiasm to build new white-spaces devices, chipsets, and infrastructure. Still, developed and developing markets' spectrum policies are starting to accommodate white spaces, with regulators establishing a foundation for providing some unlicensed white space. Singapore's Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) recently introduced a regulatory framework for guiding TV white space usage, stipulating that all devices must link with a geo-location database to determine whether channels are protected for use by incumbent broadcasts. An IDA spokesperson says the database approach is the deployment scheme globally favored by the industry, while IDA is encouraging continued development of spectrum sensing as a complementary strategy to boost spectrum allocation efficiency. As Africa and other emerging nations have yet to complete the digital TV transition, the world's mobile network operators are pushing regulators to license a maximum volume of sub-1 GHz spectrum. It remains uncertain whether white spaces can enable next-generation mobile devices to offer inexpensive Internet services worldwide. However, policy changes could be spurred by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' approval of the 802.11af Wi-Fi standard, and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's adoption of broadcast spectrum auction rules.
Carnegie Mellon Combines Hundreds of Videos to Reconstruct 3D Motion Without Use of Markers
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (07/17/14) Byron Spice
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have developed methods for combining the views of 480 video cameras to perform large-scale three-dimensional (3D) motion reconstruction. CMU professor Yaser Sheikh says the techniques could one day be applied to large-scale reconstructions of sporting events or performances captured by hundreds of cameras wielded by spectators. The new method estimates visibility using motion as a cue. For example, if a point on a person's chest is being tracked and most cameras show that point is moving to the right, a camera that picks up motion in the opposite direction is probably seeing a person or object that is in between the target and the camera. "At some point, extra camera views just become 'noise,'" says Hanbyul Joo, a Ph.D. student in CMU's Robotics Institute. "To fully leverage hundreds of cameras, we need to figure out which cameras can see each target point at any given time." In addition to the 480 video cameras, the researchers also used 30 high-definition cameras arrayed all around and halfway up the walls of a geodesic dome that can accommodate 10 people. The researchers note this dense array is what enables the system to perform 3D motion reconstructions that were previously impossible.
Smart Sensors Offer Haptic Feedback
EE Times (07/14/14) Christoph Hammerschmidt
The Centre for Smart Materials (CeSMa) at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research (ISR) has demonstrated a number of new smart materials that could be used to create a new generation of intelligent sensors capable of haptic feedback. Of particular interest are highly sensitive piezoelectric layers, which are suitable for use with hard materials, and dielectric elastomer sensors (DES) which are stretchy and flexible. DES could be integrated into structures to measure deformation and strain, with a particular use case consisting of sensors mounted into car seats that would be able to sense the position of the passenger, or in the beds of geriatrics to help them avoid pressure sores. Piezoelectric layers, especially when integrated into steel foil carriers, could be used to create "invisible" switches or sensors in a number of settings such as car interiors. They could also act as proximity sensors capable of providing haptic feedback. Another smart material technique developed by the CeSMa researchers is ultrasound transducers that use piezoelectric materials. These could be used to detect structural damage in glass, carbon fiber, or steel structures. The researchers also developed a high-temperature version that could be used to monitor the integrity of hot pipelines in chemical and power plants.
Fujitsu Designs Leaner Supercomputer With Fewer Switches
IDG News Service (07/16/14) Tim Hornyak
Fujitsu says it has devised a new approach to cluster supercomputers that reduces the number of network switches by 40 percent without sacrificing performance. The company uses a new communications algorithm that efficiently controls data transmissions and deploys a multilayer full-mesh topology in the configuration of the network. The multilayer full-mesh topology eliminates a layer of switches through more efficient mapping, while scheduling data transfers avoids data collisions along the same paths when each server is communicating with every other server. "Cost reductions can be achieved across the board, from number of components used and power consumption to installation space and maintenance," notes a Fujitsu spokesperson. The design could make powerful supercomputers used to analyze earthquakes, weather data, and drug discovery faster. Fujitsu Laboratories plans to present the technology this month at the Summer United Workshops on Parallel, Distributed, and Cooperative Processing 2014 in Japan. The lab hopes to produce a practical version within the next two years and also intends to maintain research into lowering the number of network switches in cluster supercomputers.
People in Leadership Positions May Sacrifice Privacy for Security
Penn State News (07/16/14) Matt Swayne
Pennsylvania State University (PSU) researchers performed experiments examining how people with high-status job assignments assessed security and privacy and how impulsive or patient they were in making decisions. The results showed that participants who were randomly placed in charge of a project tended to become more concerned with security. In a follow-up experiment, those appointed as supervisors also exhibited a more patient, long-term approach to decision-making. "Hopefully, by calling attention to these tendencies, decision-makers can rebalance their priorities on security and privacy," says PSU professor Jens Grossklags. In the first experiment, the researchers randomly assigned 146 participants roles as either a supervisor or a worker to determine how those assignments changed the way leaders approached security or privacy during a task. Those appointed supervisors displayed a significant increase in their concern for security, while those who were assigned a worker-level status expressed higher concern for privacy. The second experiment, consisting of 120 participants, examined whether patience correlated with high-status assignments. The researchers found the low-status workers were more impulsive, as they were willing to sacrifice 35 percent more to receive prize money now rather than later, while supervisors were more willing to wait, showing they would be more patient in making decisions with long-term consequences.
Virtual Finger Takes Scientists Through 3D Landscapes
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (07/15/14)
Scientists will be able to use the flat surface of their computer screens to navigate three-dimensional (3D) images of biological structures thanks to new technology developed by Hanchuan Peng at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle. Called the Virtual Finger, the software is designed to make 3D imaging studies orders of magnitude more efficient, saving time, money, and resources. Scientists will be able to reach into 3D images of small objects such as single cells to access the information they need more quickly and intuitively. "The software allows us to navigate large amounts of biological data in the same way that Google Earth allows you to navigate the world," Peng says. He notes the technique is particularly helpful with the advent of big data. "When you move your cursor along the flat screen of your computer, our software recognizes whether you are pointing to an object that is near, far, or somewhere in between, and allows you to analyze it in depth without having to sift through many two-dimensional images to reach it," Peng says. He believes the technology has the potential to revolutionize biological experiments and data analysis techniques, even beyond neuroscience. Allen Institute researchers are using Virtual Finger to enhance detection of spikes from individual cells, and to better simulate the morphological structures of neurons.
Development of an Automatic System for Translating Biomedical Patents in Real Time
Spanish researchers at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya's (UPC) Center for Language and Speech Technologies (TALP) have developed a prototype of an automatic translation system capable of translating biomedical patents between three languages in real-time. The prototype is able to translate not just the text of the patent, but also the images, formulae, and other annotations while retaining the patent's structure. The project is part of a broader effort by European researchers to develop automatic translation systems. Researchers involved in the effort, called MOLTO, are working to create technologies that can automatically translate mathematical exercises, descriptions of objects in museums, and patents. The biomedical patent translator uses the Grammatical Framework technique being used by MOLTO researchers, as well as statistical techniques similar to those used by machine translators like Google Translate. The translator can translate patents in real time between English, French, and German. A built-in API also allows the tool to be used with any Web application, and it is currently being tested on a document recovery system that was initially only capable of searching English-language documents.
Travis County Developing Electronic Voting System With a Paper Trail
Austin American-Statesman (TX) (07/15/14) Andra Lim
An electronic-voting system that prints out a paper copy of the ballot and a take-home receipt to confirm the vote was tallied is under development in Travis County, Texas, and could be in operation within three years. The system would likely have voters use a tablet computer to fill out an electronic ballot and then produce a print version, and the e-ballot would not be counted until voters deposited the print copy into a ballot box that scans a serial number. The take-home receipt would have a code that voters can enter online to verify the vote was counted. The county's initiative in creating its own voting system rather than handing the job over to one of a small cluster of voting machine vendors has never been attempted before, notes Travis County clerk Dana DeBeauvoir. The system came about from a 2009 study of election issues organized by DeBeauvoir, which concluded a paper trail was highly desirable. Adding urgency to the effort is the fact that some county voting machines are reaching the end of their life spans, and there is no longer any federal funding to pay for new systems.
Scientists Track Quantum Errors in Real Time: Step Toward Age of Wuantum Computing
Yale News (07/13/14) Holly Lauridsen
Yale University researchers have brought functional quantum computing another step forward by developing a method for real-time tracking of quantum errors. Yale professor Rob Schoelkopf says correcting errors will constitute 99 percent of quantum computing, and demonstrating workable correction "is the biggest remaining challenge for building a quantum computer." Schoelkopf and his team used a stable reporter atom, or ancilla, to detect quantum errors as they occured and report them to a computer without destroying a qubit's quantum state. Experimentation involved housing the ancilla and an unknown number of photons in a superconducting box cooled to almost absolute zero to minimize environmentally induced errors. Observation of escaping photons signaled a quantum error, and the ancilla only reported the photon parity in real time. A change in parity indicated the loss of one photon without showing whether the box had changed from six to five photons or from four to three photons. "We could see errors coming up as they happened," says Yale student Andrei Petrenko. Schoelkopf's team is now focused on developing a technique for fixing quantum errors, and Schoelkopf predicts the creation of a working quantum system will happen "sooner than we think."
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