Welcome to the May 9, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Professor Anthony Yeh Gar-On and a member of his research team with model of their GPS system (HKU) HKU Team Offers Novel Solution to a GPS Blind Spot
The University of Hong Kong
May 2, 2018

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) have developed a novel solution to address a blind spot in the global-positioning system (GPS) by immediately identifying whether a vehicle has entered a flyover or is still on the ground. Their Angle Difference Method compares a vehicle's inclination angle and the angles of different road levels stored in a Transport Global Information System to ascertain whether a vehicle has entered a flyover ramp or is still on ground level. The technique employs a common smartphone positioned anywhere at any angle in the vehicle with an onboard diagnostic device. The system can instantly alert drivers when they have accidentally entered a wrong road level, with 100-percent accuracy. "The research team will further apply this 'Angle Difference Method' to the navigation of automatic cars," says HKU professor Anthony Yeh Gar-On.

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English computer scientist, mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist Alan M. Turing. How the Father of Computer Science Decoded Nature's Mysterious Patterns
New York Times
JoAnna Klein
May 8, 2018

Mathematician and cryptologist Alan Turing was also a naturalist who used math to explain patterns in nature. Chemists and biological mathematicians are only now coming to appreciate his work in the field, which can explain problems they are working on now, like how zebrafish become striped, or how cheetahs get their spots. Chinese chemical engineers last week published a paper that incorporated a method of pattern generation described by Turing in defining a more efficient process for the desalination of water. University of Oxford visiting professor and computational biologist Jonathan Swinton said Turing "thought mathematics was very powerful, and you could use it to explain lots and lots of things —and you should try."

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Iridis 5 Supercomputer to Simplify HPC
Inside HPC
May 3, 2018

The University of Southampton in the U.K. has rolled out a new high-performance computing (HPC) machine called Iridis 5. The 1,300-teraflop system will support research demanding traditional HPC, and projects requiring large-scale deep storage, big data analytics, Web platforms for bioinformatics, and artificial intelligence services. Iridis 5 features more than 20,000 cores on a next-generation server, making it four times more powerful than Southampton's previous HPC system. The system also uses 10GB servers containing 40 graphics-processing units (GPUs) for projects that require high, single-precision performance. Said the university's director of i-solutions, Oz Parchment, "We really are trying to get to the point where we are adding value to what the researcher does, rather than just providing a facility and saying 'here you go' and we will come back to you in three or four years' time with a new one. We want to make our users more productive."

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A winding country road Navigation System Helps Autonomous Cars Tackle Country Roads
R&D Magazine
Kenny Walter
May 7, 2018

MapLite is a navigation system developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) that helps autonomous vehicles drive on previously unencountered roadways by employing "parameterized" models that embody somewhat similar multiple situations. "Our minimalist approach to mapping enables autonomous driving on country roads using local appearance and semantic features such as the presence of a parking spot or a side road," notes MIT professor Daniela Rus. By integrating global-positioning system data with sensor input of road conditions, MapLite enables self-driving autos to drive on unpaved roads and accurately read the road more than 100 feet ahead. "A system like this that can navigate just with on-board sensors shows the potential of self-driving cars being able to actually handle roads beyond the small number that tech companies have mapped," says CSAIL researcher Teddy Ort.

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Brain Drain: Many Canadian Science and Tech Grads Heading to U.S. for Work
The Brock News
May 4, 2018

Canada's loss of technology and innovation talent to the U.S. has surpassed levels previously identified as harmful to economic expansion, according to a study by researchers at Brock University and the University of Toronto in Canada. The team, which examined 3,162 graduates of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs at three Canadian universities and their post-graduate employment, determined talent migration to be most significant in software engineering, computer engineering, computer science, engineering science, and systems design engineering. The researchers identified three reasons most of those STEM graduates elected to work in the U.S.: higher salaries, solid reputation of the hiring firm, or the perception they would have a more varied scope of work. The study also found many STEM graduates who opted to stay in Canada found employment with U.S.-based companies.

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Browser window illustration 'Rowhammer' Attack Can Hijack Smartphones via Browser
PC Magazine
Michael Kan
May 3, 2018

Researchers at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands have demonstrated how the "Rowhammer" phenomenon in dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) chips can be exploited to commandeer smartphones. The team applied JavaScript in a mobile browser to hack an Android smartphone in less than two minutes. The Rowhammer effect stems from the fact that repeatedly activating memory cells triggers a fluctuation in electrical charges, potentially modifying DRAM's stored data. The researchers' proof-of-concept "GLitch" attack rigs the DRAM by taking advantage of Firefox's support for a JavaScript application programming interface that governs the smartphone's graphics processor. Mozilla and Google each have introduced fixes to mitigate the potential impact of the exploit.

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Flying Beetle Cyborgs Guided With Tiny Battery-Powered Backpacks
New Scientist
Sandrine Ceurstemont
May 3, 2018

Nanyang Technological Institute researchers in Singapore have developed cyborg beetles equipped with electronics-filled backpacks that enable the researchers to control the beetles in flight with small electric pulses. The beetles' acceleration can be increased by upping the frequency of the pulses, and a three-dimensional motion capture system tracks their positions during flight. The team says insects are better at dealing with turbulence than drones, are easier to guide, and are less costly. The researchers are currently studying how to control the beetles' altitude, as well as how to make them hover in mid-air.

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Robot Transitions From Soft to Rigid
Wyss Institute at Harvard
Leah Burrows
May 1, 2018

Researchers at Harvard University's Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering and the School of Engineering and John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have demonstrated how a multi-layered structure can enable robots to mimic the kinematics of an octopus by creating and eliminating joints on command. This type of structure also lets robots rapidly change their stiffness, damping, and dynamics. "We believe that this class of technology may foster a new generation of machines and structures that cannot simply be classified as soft or rigid," says SEAS' Yashraj Narang. The structure is composed of multiple layers of flexible material wrapped in a plastic envelope and connected to a vacuum source. When the vacuum is off, the structure is flexible, but when the vacuum is applied, the structure can hold arbitrary shapes and be molded into additional forms. This transition is the result of laminar jamming, a phenomenon in which the application of pressure creates friction that strongly couples a group of flexible materials.

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Neurons of a tiny, pod dwelling Hydra, labeled with a green fluorescence indicator. An AI for Deciphering What Animals Do All Day
Columbia News
Kim Martineau
April 30, 2018

Columbia University researchers have demonstrated how an algorithm for filtering spam can parse hours of video footage to reveal the behaviors of Hydra, a close relative of coral, jellies, and sea anemones. Although it lacks a backbone or brain, Hydra behaves in predictable ways that computers can identify. The research aims to illuminate Hydra's nervous system functions by comparing behaviors to the firing of neurons. The team applied the popular "bag of words" classification algorithm to hours of footage tracking Hydra's actions. The algorithm identified 10 previously described behaviors, and determined the impact of various environmental conditions on six of those behaviors. The researchers plan to decipher Hydra's neural code with a model that shows how its networks of neurons create behavior. Beyond facilitating behavioral studies in more complex animals, the work has potential for maintaining stability and control in machines that navigate in variable conditions.

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