Welcome to the April 5, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Clearing a Path for Latino Scientists
Inside Higher Ed (04/05/10) Lederman, Doug
A recent University of Southern California (USC) study found that although the number of Latinos earning bachelor's degrees has increased over the last decade, the growth has been disproportionate in fields other than science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The study found that Hispanic-serving institutions (HSI) produce 40 percent of all Latino bachelor's degree recipients but only 20 percent of STEM graduates. The discrepancy can be attributed to "the fact that HSIs have been chronically underfunded in the distribution of federal STEM research dollars, which has limited their capacity to offer the undergraduate research opportunities that are known to attract and retain students in the sciences," the report says. Community colleges are the dominant institution for Latino students: Nearly three in five Hispanic students in postsecondary education attend a two-year college, a far greater proportion than for any other racial or ethnic group. So to the extent that Latinos are underrepresented among bachelor's degree recipients in STEM fields, increasing the flow of STEM students from community colleges to four-year institutions--and better ensuring the success of those who go on to HSIs--is likely to be the best way to attack that deficit, the report argues.
Walking, Talking Living Doll: Japanese Scientists Unveil Female Android
Daily Mail (UK) (04/04/10) Shaw, Anny
Japanese scientists worked with robot manufacturer Kokoro to develop a female android that can mimic a person's facial expression. Geminoid TMF, which uses a motion-capture system and has a rubber face, can imitate a smile, a toothy grin, and a grim look with furrowed eyebrows. Osaka University professor Hiroshi Ishiguro believes the robot, which is modeled after a young Japanese woman, could be used in hospitals and other real-life situations. Geminoid TMF has 12 actuators that are powered by air pressure, and the android's motion can be synched to imitate those expressed by a human being. Ishiguro, who has developed several human-looking robots, says people tend to realize an android is not human within five to 10 seconds. However, he believes scientists will one day develop robots that are able to fool people into believing they are human.
NIST Workshop Takes First Steps Toward Standards for Preserving Digital Data
Government Computer News (04/02/10) Jackson, William
A recent U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) workshop discussed the requirements for creating an international digital data preservation standard. "Everybody is doing their own thing to preserve data, but they are not doing it in a common way," says NIST computer scientist Wo Chang. "This is a huge problem." Chang says an approved standard is still at least two years away and then it will only address a preliminary set of needs. Any new standard will have to work within existing technology and infrastructure because there is so much data already in existence. Chang envisions adding new metadata about the formatting and metadata contained within the data envelope, which would enable users to identify the data and determine what is usable. "One thing that could help adapt data to a common standard for preservation would be to adopt a common workflow for capturing metadata in a systematic way," Chang says.
Simplifying Complexity--New Insights Into How Genomes Work
ICT Results (04/01/10)
Sophisticated numerical simulations of DNA folding have enabled a European research team to gain a better understanding of how genomes work. The GENetic NETworks Emergence and Complexity (GENNETEC) team was able to prove that the regular spacing of the same transcription factor along a chromosome helps determine the structure of the folded or condensed strand of DNA. Moreover, the researchers learned that the final shape is important for gene expression. The GENNETEC team used the new positional predictor with the standard sequence predictor, and was able to find new gene-regulator relationships more efficiently. GENNETEC project coordinator Francois Kepes says consortium partner NorayBio is developing commercial software that employs this approach for deciphering genetic networks, and the consortium plans to make a less sophisticated version available for free. GENNETEC's research could be used in different fields for designing software and engineering systems, says Kepes.
Bionic Vision Unveils Advanced Prototype Electronic Eyeball
DailyTech (03/31/10) Mick, Jason
University of New South Wales (UNSW) and Bionic Vision Australia (BVA) researchers recently unveiled an advanced prototype of an electronic eyeball that could be used by people with impaired vision. The prototype consists of a glasses-mounted video camera, a pocket-mounted processor, and a wireless electrode chip mounted inside the eyeball. The electrode chip contains electrodes that stimulate cells on the optical nerve. The researchers say the prototype allows for crude shape recognition that, when combined with an advanced image recognition and logical planning processor, should enable a person with vision impairments to navigate many settings without a cane or seeing-eye dog. Currently, the researchers are developing a second generation prototype, which would give patients roughly 20/80 vision, allowing for face recognition and much better object detail.
Life-Drawing Robot Could Teach Us About Art
New Scientist (04/01/10)
Computer scientists at Goldsmiths, University of London, have developed Aikon, a robot that can sketch a human face. Aikon, designed by Frederic Fol Leymarie and Patrick Tresset, makes use of an algorithm that allows it to mimic the thought processes of a human artist. Once Aikon's camera detects a human face, the robot identifies the orientation and looks for shaded regions, then determines how to recreate those regions by flexing its wrist and applying pressure to the pen. However, Leymarie and Tresset hope to eventually incorporate a feedback mechanism into Aikon, which would enable the robot to modify the sketch as it draws. "We hope to incorporate recent research results into the robot in the next two years," Tresset says. Researchers at Yeshiva University have found that the eyes of an artist move in a much more precise manner when drawing, while a team at Camberwell College of Arts is studying the differences in the cognitive processes used by artists and non-artists. Leymarie and Tresset also want to enable Aikon to develop, and work from, its own critical sense of art.
Boston University Engineers Trying to Improve UAVs
Asian News International (04/01/10)
Boston University (BU) engineers are implementing a theoretical approach to optimize automated mission control, which describes mid-level control approaches that go further than improving stability and tracking trajectories, and decision-making for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). "We were interested in automating functions such as partitioning of tasks among members of teams of UAVs ... monitoring the success of the individual activities, and re-planning to accommodate contingencies or failures in executing the planned tasks," says BU's David Castanon. Automating these functions would enable UAVs to adapt their actions more quickly in response to unpredictable events and require less human supervision. The team has developed mathematical algorithms that can make nearly optimal decisions under realistic conditions. The team also has developed a robotics test scenario to analyze their approach. In the test, the robots must function in a mid-level control environment while being distracted by unforeseen events.
Speedier Bug Catching
Technology Review (03/31/10) Greene, Kate
Engineers have developed new transistors that can locate hardware bugs in a fraction of the time it takes to perform normal debugging. Instruction footprint recording and analysis (IFRA) enables engineers to find evidence of bugs while they happen, eliminating much of the time needed to perform electrical simulation during the post-silicon debugging phase of testing. The approach relies on building recording devices, or buffers, into about 1 percent of the transistors on a chip, to collect the right amount of information about chip activity at the right time. The circular buffers are designed to briefly hold information on instructions that stream through a chip, but when a failure or impending failure is detected, recording stops, buggy instructions are saved, and the data is transferred to a computer. The team has developed software to decode the labels and detail the instructions and location on the chip that led to the failure. Working with Intel, a test of IFRA on its Core i7 chips found the technique can locate 96 percent of bugs and pinpoint 80 percent with their exact time and location.
Paintable Electronics? NIST Studies Spray-On Manufacturing of Transistors
NIST Tech Beat (03/31/10) Boutin, Chad
U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) researchers have found that an organic semiconductor may be a viable candidate for creating large-area electronics that can be sprayed onto a surface as easily as paint. Experts predict that organic semiconductors could be used to build low-cost solar cells and video displays that could be sprayed onto a surface. "What our team has done is to translate a classic material deposition method, spray painting, to a way of manufacturing cheap electronic devices," says NIST electrical engineer Calvin Chan. The researchers showed that a commonly used organic transistor material, poly(3-hexylthiophene), works well as a spray-on transistor material. The simplicity of spray-on electronics gives it a potential cost advantage over other manufacturing methods for organic electronics, Chan says.
Author of PhD Applies Innovative Techniques for Visual Navigation by Mobile Robots
Basque Research (03/30/10) Bulegoa, Prentsa
University of the Basque Country (UBC) researchers are studying how hyperspectral images can be applied to mobile robots with the goal of enhancing the robots' capacity for spatial orientation and their resources for detecting their surroundings. UBC's Ivan Villaverde studied how the visual navigation of small robots can be improved by applying new techniques such as lattice computing, which involves a system based on a series of data with concrete internal ordering. The researcher used lattice computing for the self-location of the robot on qualitative maps and for the detection of visual markers. Villaverde also used optic cameras and three-dimensional cameras to improve the robots' navigation systems. Villaverde's research found that these innovative techniques are valid for the visual navigation of robots. Though the robots did not have to complete more than some simple tasks in this first phase experiment, it did provide positive results, and more extensive research will follow.
Building Airplanes on a Computer
LiveScience (03/25/10) Manocha, Dinesh
University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill computer scientists and Boeing researchers are developing a new set of hierarchical and multi-resolution algorithms and techniques to simulate digital assemblies of large computer-aided design (CAD) structures such as a Boeing aircraft. The algorithms enabled the researchers to produce real-time programs to ray-trace large models on PC workstations. Efficient algorithms for proximity computations also have been developed for the purpose of object placement and spotting interferences among the CAD components. The ultimate aim of the UNC project is the development of digital manufacturing environments that include three-dimensional representations of parts and assembly tooling that can significantly enhance assembly, disassembly, and re-assembly processes for manufacturing and maintenance.
Next Generation Disaster Communications Technology Now a Reality With LifeNet
Georgia Institute of Technology (03/24/10) Terrazas, Mike
The National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance has awarded a Sustainable Vision Grant to a Georgia Institute of Technology research team to migrate its ad hoc, infrastructure-free wireless communications network to the marketplace. The network, called LifeNet, lets one person share network connectivity with others through their computer and is particularly critical for supplying instant communications connectivity in post-disaster scenarios or in rural and developing areas. LifeNet consists of consumer electronic devices, such as laptops or smartphones, with each device serving as a host and a router at the same time. LifeNet can support incremental expansion or shrinkage by enabling any user to connect and disconnect from the network at will, and it covers areas ranging from a few hundred meters to a few kilometers in diameter. In addition, all devices throughout a LifeNet network can access the Internet if just a single device is connected. LifeNet will next undergo rigorous testing and implementation.
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