Welcome to the December 10, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
How 'Hour of Code' Sparked a Movement That Could Teach 100 Million People to Code
Tech Republic (12/08/14) Lyndsey Gilpin
This week is Computer Science Education Week and Code.org hopes it will see unprecedented numbers of students and ordinary people take part in its worldwide Hour of Code learning event. Hour of Code makes hour-long coding tutorials available for various education levels and suitable for anyone age six and up. The tutorials are compatible with smartphones, tablets, and PCs, and are available in more than 30 languages. Code.org says it already is well on its way to making this year's Hour of Code the biggest ever. About 38,000 people signed up to participate in 2013, but ahead of this week's event, 66,000 organizations from around the world had signed up. Five million students participated last year and Code.org wants to double that number this year, with a goal of 100 million people participating in the program by the end of 2014. Code.org is well on the way to realizing that goal as 51 million people already have completed an Hour of Code tutorial this year. Apple will be hosting Hour of Code events in all of its stores around the world this week and Code.org has partnered with organizations in countries ranging from Italy to Brazil and the U.K.
New Research Will Help Robots Know Their Limits
University of Sheffield (12/08/14)
Three U.K. universities are teaming up on a collaborative project to ensure the autonomous robots and systems of the future will be safer, and capable of making decisions based on laws and ethics. The project includes teams at the universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, and Bristol, with funding from the national Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Each university will have its own area of concentration, building on their existing work. The University of Liverpool will focus on the development and extension of formal verification techniques and tools that enable a deeper understanding of how autonomous systems make decisions. The University of Sheffield will focus on autonomous control, learning, and decision-making. Sheffield professor Sandor Veres uses the example of teaching an autonomous car how to choose between two bad decisions, such as cutting across the street unexpectedly or braking suddenly, possible leading a following car to rear-end the autonomous vehicle. Meanwhile, the University of Bristol will research, develop, and demonstrate robots that can base their decisions on ethical or legal standards. The project will continue through 2016.
Researchers Quantify the 'S' in HTTPS
ZDNet (12/07/14) Leon Spencer
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, Polytechnic University di Torino, and Telefonica Group say although the use of HTTPS is increasing due to growing security concerns, it could result in more latency online, greater battery drain for some connected devices, and the loss of in-network value-added services. The researchers say HTTPS "may introduce overhead in terms of infrastructure costs, communication latency, data usage, and energy consumption." Although the encryption offered by an HTTPS address may protect information from "man-in-the-middle" attacks, that same functionality can hamper the application of "middlebox" network appliances, such as firewalls. "Given the opaqueness of the encrypted communication, any in-network value-added services requiring visibility into application-layer content, such as caches and virus scanners, become ineffective," the researchers say. "Most in-network services simply cannot function on encrypted data." In addition, the deployment of HTTPS can make it hard to provide in-network services to users, and it also can impact latency and data usage in certain circumstances. "The extra latency introduced by HTTPS is not negligible, especially in a world where one second could cost $1.6 billion in sales," the researchers note. They also suggest the loss of proxies can significantly impact battery life.
Football Robot Promises to Get Rid of the Boring Bits
BBC News (12/05/14) Steve Holden
Polytechnic University of Catalonia researchers have developed software that can identify the important parts of a soccer match and edit them together to make a short summary of the game. The program looks for moments when many players are grouped together, when there is lots of zoomed-in action, when there is extra noise from the crowd, or for the sound of the referee's whistle. Catalonia professor Arnau Raventos describes these moments as "occasions." "We want to find specific combinations of moments in a football match," he notes. "A goal is an occasion." However, the technology is not yet perfect because it still cannot identify the exact moment when the ball goes in the goal. In a test on five matches, the technology detected 70 percent of the total goals. "We need to say that at the moment it's not possible to perform a complete automatic summary just yet," Raventos says. "It's difficult to detect all the goals." However, he notes it is easier to determine moments in the game that are not important, such as panoramic views. "They are easy to detect and to discard them so that already makes the job of the editor easier," Raventos says.
Making Robot Cars More Human
PC Magazine (12/05/14) Doug Newcomb
As autonomous driving technology advances, new challenges and obstacles continue to appear. One is the need for autonomous vehicles to be more "human," which would enable them to drive more like a person and less like a machine. Google's Nathaniel Fairfield says autonomous vehicles need to be taught to drive more defensively or aggressively, depending on a given situation. "We found that we actually need to be--not aggressive--but assertive," Fairfield says. "If you're always yielding and conservative, basically everybody will just stomp on you all day." To make the cars drive more like a person, Google is training them to inch forward at intersections and follow more closely to avoid being cut off or left behind. However, Peter Skillman of Nokia's HERE mapping division says autonomous driving systems need to go even further and enable people to calibrate how aggressively or defensively they want their car to drive and for the car to better communicate its intentions to passengers. For example, autonomous vehicles should feature a way to inform passengers of its intention to change lanes or execute rapid maneuvers so they aren't startled by the sudden movements. Another tricky problem is training autonomous vehicles to recognize the subtle ways human drivers communicate their intentions through both their driving behavior and their body language.
Tiny Motions Bring Digital Doubles to Life
Max Planck Society (12/08/14)
New technology dubbed Motion and Shape Capture (MoSh) is helping animators convert moving dots into detailed body shapes that move like real humans. MoSh was developed by a team of researchers under the direction of Michael J. Black, director of the Max Planck Institute's Perceiving Systems department. The technology enables animators to record people's three-dimensional (3D) motions and shapes and digitally retarget them to a new body shape. MoSh computes body shape and pose from standard motion capture marker sets, and needs only a small amount of such data to create animations with a high level of realism. A complex mathematical model of human shape and pose is used to compute body shape and motion directly from the 3D marker positions. The researchers say MoSh's realistic digital human figures may soon be used in video games, training videos, and new virtual-reality headsets. "Realistically rigging and animating a 3D body requires expertise," says Naureen Mahmood, one of the co-authors of the study. "MoSh will let anyone use motion capture data to achieve results approaching professional animation quality." Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems presented their MoSh study at the recent ACM SIGGRAPH Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques in Shenzhen, China.
Marines Expand Training Field With Augmented Reality
Government Computer News (12/05/14)
The U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) says an augmented reality system it developed will be tested by the U.S. Marine Corps to convert any location into a working battlefield training ground. The Augmented Immersive Team Trainer (AITT) is a live simulation-based system that adds images, including indirect-fire effects, aircraft, vehicles, and simulated personnel, into a live view of trainees' surroundings. AITT uses algorithms and sensors to render a trainee's viewpoint, and then adds virtual effects. The next phase is to develop an optical display showing images directly on the glass of a visor or goggles to enable greater mobility, according to ONR. "Whereas Google Glass or other systems are just head-worn displays that place a static image in the wearer's field of view, our augmented reality system allows users to put a virtual object in a specific location in a person's natural field of view," says ONR program manager Peter Squire. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Steve Bravo envisions the system becoming a full training environment, "without the expense of having aircraft time, artillery, fuel, etc." The program will end in the fall of 2015, and then move to the Marine Corps System Command and Marine Corps Program Manager for more research.
45-Year Physics Mystery Shows a Path to Quantum Transistors
University of Michigan News Service (12/05/14) Nicole Casal Moore
University of Michigan (UM) researchers have discovered or confirmed several properties of the compound samarium hexaboride that classify the material as a topological insulator. Topological insulators are a class of solids that conduct electricity across their surface, but block the flow of current through their interior. The researchers used a technique called torque magnetometry to observe oscillations in the material's response to a magnetic field that show how electric current moves through it. The researchers note these properties are intriguing because samarium hexaboride is considered a strongly correlated material, meaning its electrons interact more closely with one another than most solids, which helps its interior maintain electricity-blocking behavior. UM professor Lu Li says a deeper understanding of samarium hexaboride raises the possibility engineers might one day route the flow of electric current in quantum computers like they do on silicon in conventional electronics. The researchers found samarium hexaboride contains Dirac electrons, which could be capable of clumping together into a new kind of qubit, which would change the properties of a material in a way that could be measured indirectly, without the qubit sensing it, meaning the qubit could remain in both states.
Researchers Develop a System to Reconstruct Grape Clusters in 3D and Assess Their Quality
RUVID Association (12/04/14)
Software developed at Spain's Polytechnic University of Valencia can assist the wine industry with assessing the quality of grapes during harvest time. The system automatically evaluates the size of wine grapes and other factors used to test their quality. Researchers say the system uses three-dimensional (3D) computer-vision techniques to reconstruct grape clusters. Experts currently inspect grapes and award a score based on a series of parameters that determine their quality. Estimates for the quantity of sugar, the pH, the total acidity, and the phenolic quality of the grapes come from laboratory testing. "The introduction of this 3D grape reconstruction system helps assess different quality parameters for a wine grape cluster avoiding these problems," says Valencia researcher Antonio Jose Sanchez Salmeron. "One of these parameters is the average size of the grape, which is a very important factor as it establishes the ratio between the quantity of skin and pulp. Increasing the objectivity and automating the grape quality monitoring tasks would be a technological breakthrough with regard to the traditional evaluation system of the grape, based on the knowledge of an expert, and it would have a great impact on the wine industry."
Neural Network Rates Images for Happiness Levels
Technology Review (12/03/14)
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and Yahoo Labs are applying computer-vision techniques used to automatically identify the content of an image to determine an image's sentimental content. Sentiment analysis is a well-developed field when it comes to text, and the researchers are combining sentiment-analysis techniques with computer-vision techniques to enable computers to identify the sentimental content of an image. UCSD's Can Xu and colleagues started with a neural network that already was trained on a data set of images that were divided into 1,000 classifications. When presented with a new image, the network generates a distribution showing how likely the image is to fall into one of the 1,000 classifications. The researchers then used this system on two data sets of images from Tumblr and Twitter, which were rated for sentiment based on a five-point scale from very negative to very positive. The researchers say their method yields far superior results to other state-of-the-art visual sentiment-analysis techniques. "The results for the first time suggest that convolutional neural networks are highly promising for visual sentiment analysis," they say.
POSEIDON: Information Technology for People With Down’s Syndrome
CORDIS News (12/03/14)
European researchers are working on the PersOnalized Smart Environments to increase Inclusion of people with DOwn's syndrome (POSEIDON) project, a three-year initiative that will use information technology to help people with Down's syndrome (DS) achieve a greater level of independence in their lives. The POSEIDON project aims to help people with DS gain greater autonomy as well as improve their opportunities for socializing. POSEIDON includes the development of apps for tablets and smartphones, virtual reality programs, and interactive tables. One app is a calendar that presents the events of the day in a simple way, and links to school schedules, weather information, and instructional videos. "We want to give people with Down's syndrome additional support in comparison to that provided by standard smartphones and tablets," says POSEIDON coordinator Terje Grimstad. One of the early conclusions of the project is the apps need to facilitate a high degree of personalization. "People with DS and their carers need to be able to load in, for example, their own timetables, instruction videos, and transport information and photographs," Grimstad says.
Researchers Develop Clothes That Can Monitor and Transmit Biomedical Info on Wearers
Laval University (Canada) (12/03/14) Jean-Francois Huppe
Smart textiles developed at Laval University in Canada could benefit people suffering from chronic diseases and the elderly, as well as firefighters and police officers. Researchers at Laval's Faculty of Science and Engineering and Center for Optics, Photonics, and Lasers in Quebec City report the smart fibers are capable of using wireless or cellular networks to monitor and transmit a range of information, such as the glucose levels, heart rhythm, brain activity, movements, and spatial coordinates of the wearer. The team superimposed multiple layers of copper, polymers, glass, and silver to create the smart fabric, which acts as both sensor and antenna. The researchers say the signal quality is comparable to that of commercial antennas. The fiber is durable but malleable, and can be woven with wool or cotton. However, the researchers still must devise a solution for the power supply. "We will also have to make sure the fabric is robust, and can stand up to chemicals found in laundry detergent," says Laval professor Younes Messaddeq.
Tone Mapping Technique Creates 'Hyper-Real' Look
Researchers at Disney Research Zurich have developed an image-processing technique designed to improve high dynamic range (HDR) video. HDR enables images to be captured with a greater range of illumination and contrast than is possible with standard photography and that is closer to how people perceive natural scenes. For example, the researchers say combining HDR with the local tone mapping technique would enable the details of an actor's face to be shown even as lighting shifts from shadow to direct sunlight and back to shadow. The researchers note several other techniques exist, but they either lose some of the visual details or they introduce unwanted effects, such as brightness flickering, or amplify camera noise to create ghosting. As with other techniques, the approach decomposes the signal into a base and a detail layer, but the main difference is the approach uses a temporal filter on the detail layer and a spatiotemporal filter on the base layer. The researchers presented the work at the recent ACM SIGGRAPH Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques in Shenzhen, China.
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