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Welcome to the May 22, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Five Outstanding Innovators Under Age 40 Honored at Design Automation Conference
Design Automation Conference
Michelle Clancy
May 16, 2019

The 56th Design Automation Conference (DAC) and its sponsors, including ACM, have announced the five recipients of this year’s Under-40 Innovators Award. Chinese Academy of Sciences professor Yunji Chen was recognized for his work in developing the Cambricon deep learning processors. Intel staff research scientist Huichu Liu was recognized for her innovations and technology transfers for driving energy efficiency breakthroughs in circuits and CPU architecture with novel devices. IBM senior hardware developer Rasit Onur Topaloglu was recognized for his work on design for manufacturability and design-technology co-optimization. Robert Wille, a professor at Johannes Kepler University in Austria, was recognized for his work in developing methods for design automation, which he applies to the design of conventional circuits and systems. Purdue University professor Vijay Raghunathan was recognized for his work in studying the design of new hardware and software architectures for next-generation embedded systems, Internet of Things edge devices, and wearable and implantable electronics.

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U.S. Postal Service Testing Self-Driving Trucks
The Wall Street Journal
Jennifer Smith
May 21, 2019

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is conducting a two-week pilot study in which self-driving trucks complete a more-than-1,000-mile mail run between Phoenix and Dallas. The test will utilize big rigs from autonomous trucking company TuSimple to haul trailers on five round trips between distribution centers in the two cities. The trip normally takes about 22 hours with human drivers, and is serviced by outside trucking companies that use two-driver teams to comply with federal regulations limiting drivers' time behind the wheel. The autonomous trucks are part of a USPS effort to cut operating costs and fuel expenses, and improve truck safety and use its fleet more efficiently.

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A man holding a drone States Turn to Drones to Predict Avalanches, Spot Wildlife
Associated Press
Lindsay Whitehurst
May 20, 2019

Public transportation agencies in nearly every state are using drones, according to a recent American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials report. The small unmanned aircraft are often used to inspect bridges and roads because they can use their sophisticated cameras and thermal technology to detect tiny cracks and identify potential potholes before they are visible to the human eye. In North Carolina, drones are used to search for nests of endangered species. Kansas state employees are using drones to create sophisticated farming programs. Said Utah’s Jared Esselman, “We can predict not only snow slides, but mudslides and water runoff as the snow melts. Drones are a perfect tool for any job that is dangerous or dirty.”

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Mathematical Technique Tunes Next-Generation Lenses
MIT News
Jennifer Chu
May 21, 2019

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a mathematical technique for ascertaining the optimized composition and configuration of "metasurface"-based lenses, etched with microscopic features to enable precise light diffusion. The process designs fully arbitrary patterns for large-scale metasurfaces, and plots out precise pixel patterns for diverse optical effects. The computational model begins with a square centimeter of randomly etched pixels, divided into clusters, or patches, with each pattern's light-scattering effect predicted by Maxwell's equations; the model then approximately "stitches" together these patch solutions, to determine optical diffusion across the whole metasurface. The topology optimization technique allows iterative modification of each patch's pattern, until the desired effect is realized. Said MIT's Steven Johnson, "You then have a new structure which you can resimulate, and you keep doing this process, each time going uphill until you reach a peak, or optimized pattern."

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Security Researchers Discover Linux Version of Winnti Malware
Catalin Cimpanu
May 20, 2019

Security researchers discovered a Linux version of Winnti, a malware used by Chinese government-sponsored hackers, which operates as a backdoor on compromised hosts. Researchers at Alphabet's cybersecurity unit Chronicle found Winnti malware on the Bayer drug company's systems after Bayer was attacked by Chinese hackers. The researchers detected the Linux variant when scanning for Winnti on Chronicle's VirusTotal platform. Its components include a rootkit element that conceals the malware on infected hosts, and the backdoor trojan itself. The variant's code resembled the Winnti 2.0 Windows version, and conducted similar handling of outbound communications with its command-and-control (C&C) server. Moreover, the Linux iteration enabled Chinese hackers to link to infected hosts while bypassing C&C servers.

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How Usable Is VR?
University of Gottingen
May 21, 2019

Patrick Harms at the University of Gottingen in Germany has designed an automated process for evaluating the usability of virtual reality (VR). Harms' process, which can detect many issues with user friendliness and usability in the virtual environment, begins by recording testers' individual activities and movement, producing "activity lists." A program (MAUSI-VR) mines those lists for typical user behavioral patterns, then assesses this behavior as it relates to defined irregularities. Said Harms, "This makes it possible...to determine how well users of a specific VR are guided by it and whether they usually have to perform ergonomically inconvenient procedures during its operation."

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A robotic arm with its thumbs up Facebook's Robotic Arms, Legs Are Learning Faster Than Ever
Jeremy Kahn
May 20, 2019

Researchers at Facebook and New York University have developed a method to reduce the time it takes to teach a robotic arm how to grasp objects from hundreds or thousands of attempts to just tens of tries. Such advances in robotics can lead to breakthroughs in other forms of machine learning (ML), improving the software Facebook has started to use to identify harmful or unfavorable behavior by users on the social network. Facebook began working on robots in the past year because it forced researchers to think creatively about how to make ML more efficient. Facebook chief AI scientist Yann LeCun said the company’s researchers have a responsibility to “see around corners” to where technology might be heading.

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Algorithm Steers Catheters to Target for Treating Atrial Fibrillation
Florida Atlantic University
Gisele Galoustian
May 21, 2019

Florida Atlantic University (FAU) researchers have developed an algorithm that can navigate catheters to atrial fibrillation (AFib) targets, without the need for specialized equipment or three-dimensional maps of a patient’s heart. FAU's Benhaz Ghoraani said the iterative catheter navigation (ICAN) algorithm "guides the incremental movements of this catheter from an arbitrary initial placement on the atrial tissue until a source of arrhythmia, rotor or focal, is detected by the algorithm." Tests showed ICAN stopped the catheter when it located the AFib source and classified source type with more than 95.25% success, using human AFib models. When used with the additional presence of fibrosis and patchy myocardial scars, ICAN's detection was 99% successful, irrespective of scar size.

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Portrait of Brittney Ball Tech Jobs Lead to the Middle Class, Just Not for the Masses.
The New York Times
Steve Lohr
May 19, 2019

Technology jobs can be a route to the middle class for certain underprivileged Americans, but Rutgers University researchers doubt this will significantly enlarge the middle-class population in the foreseeable future. The researchers found a 70% expansion in the number of information technology jobs over the last 15 years, to 4.7 million last year, was dwarfed by the 12.8 million jobs in manufacturing. However, said Rutgers’ Hal Salzmann, “The idea that tech jobs are going to create a substantial middle class anytime in the foreseeable future is unrealistic.”

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Picture of pandas China Has a New Facial Recognition App—This Time for Pandas
The Washington Post
Anna Fifield
May 20, 2019

Researchers at the China Conservation and Research Center for Giant Pandas have developed an app that allows conservationists to identify individual pandas using facial recognition technology. The researchers built a database with over 120,000 images and 10,000 video clips of giant pandas, allowing them to correctly identify individual animals. The app and database will help scientists gather more precise and well-rounded information on the population, distribution, ages, gender ratio, and birth and death rates of wild pandas, said researcher Chen Peng. "It will definitely help us improve efficiency and effectiveness in conservation and management of the animals."

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Colorful drone image. ‘Spidey Senses’ Could Help Autonomous Machines See Better
Purdue University News
Kayla Wiles
May 20, 2019

Researchers at Purdue University, Nanyang Technology University in Singapore, and ETH Zurich in Switzerland have developed sensors inspired by spiders, bats, birds, and other animals to help autonomous machines navigate in dangerous environments and avoid accidents. In nature, once a particular level of force activates the mechanoreceptors of an animal, they compute information by switching from one state to another. The researchers designed their mechanosensors to do the same, and to use these on/off states to interpret signals. Said Purdue researcher Andres Arrieta, "With the help of machine learning algorithms, we could train these sensors to function autonomously with minimum energy consumption."

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Software Locates Sugarcane Genes of Interest
Agencia FAPESP
Peter Moon
May 15, 2019

Researchers at the University of Campinas' Biology Institute (IB-UNICAMP) in Brazil have advanced sugarcane genome mapping, using software that is less costly and time-consuming than current state-of-the-art programs. Said IB-UNICAMP's Marcelo Falsarella Carazzolle, "Previous studies set out to reconstruct the plant's entire DNA, but our strategy consisted of focusing on small portions corresponding to about 1%-2%, exactly where the genes of interest for plant breeders are located." Carazzolle said the Polyploid Gene Assembler (PGA) software package allowed the team to provide “a high-quality assembly of gene regions in T. aestivum and S. spontaneum, proving that PGA can be more efficient than conventional strategies applied to complex genomes and using low-coverage DNA sequencing."

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Heterogeneous Computing - Hardware and Software Perspectives

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