Welcome to the May 4, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Smart Skin for Flexible Monitoring Smart Skin for Flexible Monitoring
KAUST Discovery
May 3, 2018

A team of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) researchers in Saudi Arabia have developed Marine Skin, a smart patch that could be used to electronically tag marine animals. Marine Skin is derived from flexible silicone elastomers that can tolerate high pressures in deep waters. Former KAUST team member Joanna Nassar says the patch tracks an animal's movement and diving behavior, as well as the health of its surrounding marine environment, in real time. The Marine Skin prototype supplements location data with temperature and salinity readings, and the data can be retrieved wirelessly when the patch is removed. Nassar thinks the prototype and planned enhancements will enable more comprehensive analysis of the marine ecosystem, and she says probing behavioral changes of organisms as they relate to the quality and health of the ocean will help evaluate habitability in the face of rising global temperatures, increased pollution, and the impact of overfishing.

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The Unhackable Envelope
IEEE Spectrum
Samuel K. Moore
May 3, 2018

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied and Integrated Security in Germany have developed an envelope for hardware security modules that requires no battery and cannot be broken into without deleting its stored data. The B-Trepid solution supplants the stored key with one supported by the structure of the envelope itself. B-Trepid estimates the femtofarad capacitances between its mesh of micrometer-scale wires instead of the resistances in the mesh, and these capacitances vary between envelopes in unpredictable ways, generating a unique electrical signature for each enclosure. When B-Trepid is plugged into its computer network and activated, the external mesh produces a key to encrypt all system data, thwarting theft when it is deactivated by rendering the key nonexistent, obviating the need for a battery. Penetrating the mesh triggers a shift in capacitances and changes its physical unclonable function, causing any data within the system to become unreadable.

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Low battery icon NUS Engineers Invent Smart Microchip That Can Self-Start, Operate When Battery Runs Out
May 2, 2018

National University of Singapore (NUS) researchers have developed the BATLESS microchip, which can continue to function even when its battery is depleted. BATLESS can self-start and continue operating under dim illumination without any battery assistance via a small on-chip solar cell. This milestone reduces the size of batteries for powering Internet of Things (IoT) sensor nodes, making them 10 times smaller and less expensive to manufacture. BATLESS is able to sense, process, capture, and timestamp events of interest without interruption, and to wirelessly send such data to the cloud when the battery becomes available again. Despite being in minimum-power mode when the battery is unavailable, the lower speed of the microchip remains sufficient for many IoT applications that must sense parameters that vary slowly. BATLESS' self-starting power management method was demonstrated at 50-lux indoor light intensity, which is equal to the dim light available at twilight, and corresponds to nanoWatts of power.

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Predict Responsibly: Fairness Needed in Algorithmic Decision-Making, U of T Experts Say
U of T News
Nina Haikara
May 1, 2018

David Madras at the University of Toronto (U of T) in Canada believes machine learning algorithms could handle uncertainty better by adding fairness in their decision-making processes. Madras worked with U of T professors Toniann Pitassi and Richard Zemel to develop an algorithmic model that includes fairness. The researchers note in situations where there is a degree of uncertainty, an algorithm must have the option to admit its lack of certainty and defer its decision to a human user. "In order to train up our model, we have to use historical decisions that are made by decision-makers," Zemel says. "The outcomes of those decisions, created by existing decision-makers, can be themselves biased or in a sense incomplete." Madras thinks greater concentration on algorithmic fairness alongside issues of privacy, security, and safety will help make machine learning more conducive to high-stakes applications.

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Young girl building robotic car NASA's Swarmathon Improves Student Skills in Robotics, Computer Science
Bob Granath
May 1, 2018

Students from colleges and universities across the U.S. recently participated in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) third annual Swarmathon, a robotic programming competition. Participants were tasked with developing software code to operate small robotic vehicles called "Swarmies," which were equipped with sensors, a Web camera, a global-positioning system, and a Wi-Fi antenna. The contest called for Swarmies to search walled arenas for small cubes with bar-code-like tags, using student-invented search algorithms to execute such activities. The competition is designed to enhance students' skills in robotics and computer science, advancing technology for future space exploration. "Swarmathon students gain experience with code integration, hardware testing, software engineering, project management, and team collaboration critical to their future success in robotics and computer science," says Theresa Martinez with NASA's Minority University Research and Education Project.

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'Smart' Dresser Prototype Guides People With Dementia in Getting Dressed
New York University
May 1, 2018

Researchers at New York University, Arizona State University, and MGH Institute of Health Professions have created an intelligent dressing system called DRESS, which integrates automated tracking and recognition with guided assistance. Using a combination of sensors and image recognition, DRESS tracks progress during the dressing process, with bar codes on clothing to identify the type, location, and orientation of each piece. A dresser equipped with a tablet, camera, and motion sensor contains one piece of clothing in each of five drawers, with the system alerting the caregiver if problems occur. DRESS is very successful at detecting clothing in the initial stages of dressing, but struggles to identify when a user is finished putting on a clothing item.

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Cambridge Receives Funding for New AI Supercomputer
University of Cambridge
Sarah Collins
April 27, 2018

The University of Cambridge in the U.K. will get a new artificial intelligence (AI) supercomputer via a 10-million-pound ($13.5-million) collaborative alliance with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Science and Technology Facilities Council, with the goal of helping companies generate business value from advanced computing infrastructures. "Cambridge's supercomputer provides researchers with the fast and affordable supercomputing power they need for AI work," says Cambridge's Paul Calleja. AI projects currently underway at the university include medical imaging analysis and genomics, as well as an astronomy initiative for mapping exoplanets. The supercomputer is part of the U.K. government's AI Sector Deal designed to help position the nation as a research hub, with measures to ensure future innovators and technology entrepreneurs are based in the U.K., with investment in the high-level post-graduate skills required to capitalize on AI's vast potential.

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A Powerful Laser Breakthrough
Lehigh University
Mary Anne Lynch
April 27, 2018

Lehigh University researchers have built a terahertz semiconductor laser with a record-high 170 milliwatts of power output. Terahertz lasers emit radiation that sits between microwaves and infrared light along the electromagnetic spectrum, which can penetrate common packaging materials; they also are effective in optical sensing and analysis of a wide variety of chemicals. The team, in collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories, developed a simple technique to enhance the power output of single-mode lasers that are "surface-emitting," as opposed to those using an "edge-emitting" configuration. The surface-emitting configuration provides advantages in how the lasers could be miniaturized, packaged, and tested for commercial production. The new technique introduces a specific type of periodicity into the laser's optical cavity, allowing it to fundamentally radiate a high-quality beam with increased radiation efficiency. The researchers say their hybrid grating scheme could potentially improve performance of a broad class of surface-emitting semiconductor lasers that emit at different wavelengths.

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The Brookhaven/Stony Brook team (from left): Junjie Li, Yimei Zhu, Lijun Wu, Tatiana Konstantinova, and Peter Johnson Scientists Pinpoint Energy Flowing Through Vibrations in Superconducting Crystals
Brookhaven National Laboratory
Peter Genzer
April 27, 2018

Researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory have tracked previously unseen interactions between electrons and the crystal lattice structure of copper-oxide superconductors. SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, North Carolina State University, Georgetown University, and the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany also participated in the research, which was led by Brookhaven Lab scientists. Using a novel combination of experimental techniques, the team attained measurement precision faster than one-trillionth of a second. The team used ultra-fast electron diffraction and photoemission spectroscopy to observe changes in electron energy and momentum, as well as changes in atomic structure in the superconducting copper oxide Bi2Sr2CaCu2O8, which exhibits the strong interactions central to the study.

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Improving Mid-Infrared Imaging and Sensing
MIT News
David L. Chandler
April 26, 2018

Researchers have discovered a new way of taking images in the mid-infrared (mid-IR) part of the spectrum that could enable a wide variety of applications, including thermal imaging, biomedical sensing, and free-space communication. The team includes researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Massachusetts at Lowell, the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, and the East China Normal University. The researchers say the new approach, which is highly efficient and can be manufactured in large quantities, uses a flat, artificial material made from nanostructured optical elements to provide on-demand electromagnetic responses. The devices transmit 80 percent of mid-IR light with optical efficiencies up to 75 percent, a major improvement over existing mid-IR metaoptics, the team says.

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Soldier using laptop computer and radio for communication during military operation in the desert AI To Help Soldiers Learn Faster in Combat
U.S. Army Research Laboratory
April 26, 2018

Researchers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) have used a low-cost, lightweight hardware system and implemented collaborative filtering on a low-power field-programmable gate array platform to achieve a 13.3-fold acceleration of training compared to a state-of-the-art, optimized multicore system. They note the new technique consumed only 13.8 watts of power, compared to 130 watts for the multicore system and 235 watts for GPU platforms. ARL's Rajgopal Kannan says the method could be part of a suite of tools embedded on a next-generation combat vehicle, offering cognitive services and devices for soldiers in distributed coalition environments. Kannan, who worked with researchers at the University of Southern California on this project, also is collaborating with them to develop other techniques to speed up artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms via innovative designs on state-of-the-art (but inexpensive) hardware.

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