ACM TechNews


Welcome to the May 27, 2022, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

Please note: In observance of the U.S. Memorial Day holiday, TechNews will not be published on Monday, May 30. Publication will resume Wednesday, June 1.

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One of three optically connected nodes between which quantum information was teleported. 'Quantum Internet' Inches Closer with Advance in Data Teleportation
The New York Times
Cade Metz
May 25, 2022


Physicists at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands used quantum teleportation to transmit data across three physical locations in a step toward a quantum Internet; only two locations were previously possible. The researchers assembled a quantum system with an electron-trapping nitrogen vacancy center. They built three systems, linked them linearly with optical fiber, and entangled them by sending individual photons between them to enable the teleportation of data across all three nodes. The network nodes were only about 60 feet apart, but the implication is that miles-long quantum teleportation will eventually be practical.

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Toward Customizable Timber, Grown in a Lab
MIT News
Adam Zewe
May 25, 2022


Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a way to cultivate wood-like plant material in a laboratory through the use of three-dimensional (3D) bioprinting to tailor its shape and size. The researchers extract cells from the leaves of young Zinnia elegans plants, and cultures them in liquid and gel-based media; adjusting hormone levels tunes the cells’ physical and mechanical properties. The researchers feed a customizable computer-aided design file to a 3D bioprinter, which deposits the gel culture in a specific configuration. MIT's Jeffrey Borenstein said the research "demonstrates the power that a technology at the interface between engineering and biology can bring to bear on an environmental challenge, leveraging advances originally developed for healthcare applications."

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Training demonstration of VR equipment and a version of the Taser 7 energy weapon. VR Brings Portable Taser Training to Police
Associated Press
Michael Balsamo
May 24, 2022


Axon, the company that developed the Taser, is expanding a virtual reality (VR) and immersive training program for police officers equipped with the device. The idea is to have officers experience life-like scenarios that will help them make better decisions involving the use of Tasers in actual situations. The program involves the use of VR headsets, wrist controllers, and a special VR cartridge that is used with the officer's actual Taser. The components are assembled in a small duffel bag so that police departments can conduct training during roll calls or while officers are in police stations between calls, eliminating the need to travel for off-site training.

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The robotic system can detect, pick up, and load dirty clothes into a washing machine. Robot That Does Laundry Will Help Test Washing Machines
New Scientist
Payal Dhar
May 25, 2022


Researchers at Italy's University of Bologna (UNIBO) and Swedish appliance maker Electrolux have developed what they call "a complete robotic laundry operation" to test washing machines. The system, assembled from commodity robots, can identify soft objects to grasp using a three-dimensional camera and a perception algorithm that represents such items as a collection of points in space. A second algorithm visualizes clothes as a single mass, in order to detect portions of clothing that may be partially hanging out of the washing machine. UNIBO's Gianluca Palli said the robot mimics the action of human hands to grasp the mass of clothing "by pushing in the middle [of it] and closing [its] hand."

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Hotels Using NFTs to Create ‘StubHub’ for Lodging Reservations
The Wall Street Journal
Peter Grant
May 24, 2022


Some hotels are wagering they can reduce excess inventory from sudden cancellations by converting room nights into nonfungible tokens (NFTs) that guests can buy or sell. The Pinktada startup has launched a booking system that lets guests purchase NFTs to reserve rooms at participating hotels in the Caribbean, Mexico, San Francisco, and Hawaii, at a discount from what each establishment would charge for a refundable reservation. The hotels' revenue is assured whether the room is used or not, and guests whose plans change can use the tokens for other Pinktada resorts, or sell them to other travelers in the network. Pinktada said it only allows its members to participate in its marketplace, and makes membership data available to the property owners.

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Abstract computer communication design. The Darmstadt system uses a protocol in which quantum information is encoded in the phase and arrival time of the photons. Secure Communication with Light Particles
Technical University of Darmstadt (Germany)
May 25, 2022


Researchers at Germany's Technical University of Darmstadt and telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom have developed an eavesdropping-proof communication network based on quantum key distribution. The system facilitates quantum key exchange, providing several parties with a common random number to encrypt/decrypt messages that third parties cannot decode. The system distributes photons to users from a central source in order to calculate the random number and the digital key; quantum entanglement ensures the key's security. The scheme employs a protocol in which quantum information is encoded in the photons' phase and arrival times, protecting it from environmental disruptions. The resulting quantum network is scalable in terms of user numbers, and requires no trusted nodes to be resilient.

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An ATV gathers data to be used in training self-driving vehicles to drive off-road. Roboticists Compile Off-Road Data to Train Self-Driving ATVs
Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science
Byron Spice
May 25, 2022


Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) roboticists compiled the TartanDrive all-terrain vehicle (ATV) training dataset from approximately 200,000 off-road trips, including data from video, individual wheel speeds, and the amount of suspension shock travel from seven types of sensors. TartanDrive could be useful for training autonomous ATVs to perform off-road navigation. The researchers found the multimodal sensor data allowed the assembly of better prediction models than those built from simpler, nondynamic data. "We were forcing the human to go through the same control interface as the robot would," said CMU's Wenshan Wang. "In that way, the actions the human takes can be used directly as input for how the robot should act."

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Illustration of a satellite tethered to Earth via a stethoscope. AI Predicts Potential Nutrient Deficiencies from Space
Scientific American
Rachel Berkowitz
June 1, 2022


Harvard University computer scientists found that geographic areas with populations at high risk of micronutrient deficiencies can be identified using publicly available satellite data and artificial intelligence. The method could allow for early public health interventions. The researchers found that a combination of data, including vegetation cover, weather, and water presence, can determine where populations may suffer from a lack of iron, vitamin B12, or vitamin A. The researchers trained their model using blood samples tested in labs. In a study of four regions of Madagascar, the researchers found the model's predictions of regional-level micronutrient deficiency in populations outside the training datasets were as accurate, and sometimes more accurate, than estimates based on surveys by local public health officials.

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Illustration of a wall with an open door exposing computer code. Researchers Find Backdoor in WordPress Plugin for Schools
Ars Technica
Dan Goodin
May 20, 2022


Researchers at website security service Jetpack warned that WordPress's School Management Pro plugin contains a backdoor that enables hackers to take full control of sites using the package, which is sold to schools. The researchers said the website operation-management plugin has had the backdoor since at least version 8.9, which a third-party site said was issued last August. The researchers confirmed the backdoor via a proof-of-concept exploit, after WordPress.com support team members disclosed heavily obfuscated code on several sites that used the plugin. The backdoor, said the researchers, "allows any attacker to execute arbitrary PHP code on the site with the plugin installed." Users of the plugin should update it right away, and scan their sites for signs any new backdoors may have been added.

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Cornell, U.S. Navy Raise Bar for Autonomous Underwater Imaging
Cornell Chronicle
Syl Kacapyr
May 25, 2022


Cornell University and U.S. Navy researchers tested new algorithms that outperformed cutting-edge programming for autonomous underwater sonar imaging. The researchers developed informative multi-view planning, which combines data about where objects might be located with sonar processing algorithms that select optimal views, and the most efficient way to acquire them. The planning algorithms factor in the sonar sensor's field-of-view geometry, along with each target's position and orientation, and can adjust these parameters on demand. In simulations, the algorithms classified multiple targets 50% faster than state-of-the-art methods, and identified targets with 93% greater accuracy; when the targets were scattered more randomly, the algorithms performed the task more than 11% faster, with 33% more accuracy. Deployed in an autonomous underwater vehicle, the algorithms identified 40 scattered targets off the Florida coast as quickly as the state-of-the-art algorithms, with equal or superior classification performance.

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Prototype of a smart contact lens. Could Contact Lenses Be the Ultimate Computer Screen?
BBC News
Emma Woollacott
May 19, 2022


Saratoga, CA-based Mojo is one of a number of companies currently testing smart contact lens products. Mojo’s scleral lenses featuring a microLED display that appears to float in front of the user’s eyes. The lenses correct the user’s vision, in addition to being equipped with the tiny display, smart sensors, and solid-state batteries. Other researchers are developing smart lenses to collect health data, potentially diagnosing and treating eye conditions, or even diabetes and cancer, by tracking light levels, cancer-related molecules, glucose levels in tears, and other biomarkers. Said Columbia University's Rebecca Rojas said such lenses "can also provide extended-release drug-delivery options, which is beneficial in diagnosis and treatment plans."

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Various medical devices arranged on a table. Smart Dissolving Pacemaker Communicates with Body-Area Sensor, Control Network
Northwestern Medicine Feinberg School of Medicine
Amanda Morris
May 26, 2022


Northwestern University scientists have unveiled a smart version of a transient pacemaker, which dissolves when it is no longer needed, mated to a coordinated ‘body-area network” of wearable sensors and control units. The sensors communicate monitor physiological functions like body temperature, oxygen levels, respiration, muscle tone, physical activity, and the heart's electrical activity. Algorithms analyze these readings to autonomously detect abnormal cardiac rhythms and to determine when, and at what rate, to pace the heart. The system streams this data to a smartphone or tablet, so doctors can remotely monitor patients. The pacemaker harnesses energy from a wireless device that gently binds to the chest, and can communicate to the patient through vibrations relayed via a wearable haptic-feedback device when problems are detected.

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Amazon Opens First Physical Clothing Shop
USA Today
Brett Molina
May 25, 2022


Retailing giant Amazon this week opened its first physical clothing store in Glendale, CA. The outlet affixes quick response (QR) codes to the apparel, which customers can scan with the Amazon shopping application to find different sizes, colors, and ratings. Customers can then opt to send items to a pickup counter to purchase, or to a fitting room to try on. When shoppers send garments to the fitting room, they are assigned to a virtual queue while employees gather the selected clothing; they receive a notification once their room is ready, and can unlock it with their phone. Shoppers scan a QR code to directly charge purchases to their account using an Amazon One hand scanner; they also can pay with cash or a credit card.

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