Welcome to the April 6, 2022, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Kyiv’s Director of IT Oleg Polovynko, Deputy IT Director Victoria Itskovich, and Kyiv Deputy Mayor and Chief Digital Transformation Officer Petro Olenych. 'We Became Like a Big Startup.' How Kyiv Adapted Tech to Save Lives
Vera Bergengruen
April 4, 2022

Oleg Polovynko, IT director of Kyiv's city council, and Petro Olenych, Kyiv's deputy mayor and chief digital transformation officer, have been working to adapt and repurpose the Ukrainian capital's technology amid the war with Russia. They have enabled most Kyiv residents to connect to the Internet in underground bomb shelters using the city's mobile Wi-Fi hotspots and to receive phone alerts of incoming air raids. They also revamped the Kyiv Digital smartphone app—designed to help residents pay utility bills and parking tickets—to display maps of the nearest bomb shelters and places to obtain critical supplies. Said Polovynko, "I never imagined that I would develop software in 2022 to help people stay alive, to survive things like a missile attack. But of course, we can. And now we're using all of our IT minds in Ukraine to help our people and our soldiers."

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A robotic hand with a 3D-printed tactile fingertip on the little (pinky) finger. Touchy Subject: 3D-Printed Fingertip 'Feels' Like Human Skin
University of Bristol News (U.K.)
April 6, 2022

Researchers at the U.K.'s University of Bristol have developed a three-dimensionally (3D)-printed fingertip that could improve robotic dexterity and the performance of prosthetic hands via an in-built sense of touch. The artificial fingertip incorporates recordings of the human tactile sense using a 3D-printed mesh of pin-like papillae on the underside, which mimic those found in human skin. "Our 3D-printed tactile fingertip can produce artificial nerve signals that look like recordings from real, tactile neurons," explained Bristol's Nathan Lepora. He said the fingertip was able to "feel" the same ridged shapes used by psychologists, which scientists employed in 1981 to plot electrical recordings from human tactile nerves.

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Hawaii Officials Consider Uses for Virus Screening Tech
Associated Press
April 4, 2022

Hawaiian officials are seeking to repurpose the state’s "Safe Travels" program, which required visitors to upload proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test to enter the state. The program also involved the use of thermal and facial-recognition cameras in airports to identify passengers who might be ill. State Sen. Glenn Wakai is calling for those cameras to remain in place. Said Wakai, "We are moving toward the day when you and I don't need a phone or a card, we just use our face to get access and pay for things." Meanwhile, the Hawaii Tourism Authority said the program's mobile app could be revamped to provide educational and emergency information to visitors or allow them to make reservations for visits to natural and cultural sites.

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Singapore’s digital model relies on massive amounts of data, including the footprint of every building on the island-nation. Cities Using Digital Twins Like SimCity for Policymakers
Bloomberg CityLab
Linda Poon
April 5, 2022

Cities like Orlando, FL, and Singapore are using digital twins to generate virtual models of themselves, in order to simulate the effects of potential new policies or infrastructure projects that can inform real-world decision-making. For example, the Orlando Economic Partnership and gaming company Unity have developed a three-dimensional (3D) model of the region that the city can show to potential investors as it attempts to expand as a technology hub. Meanwhile, the Virtual Singapore model incorporates over 3 million street-level and 160,000 aerial images, plus billions of 3D data points, exceeding 100 terabytes of raw data. Singapore Land Authority's Victor Khoo said the model differentiates between individual elements, making it easier to test its responses to different conditions in various simulations.

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Researchers Use Decommissioned Satellite to Broadcast Hacker TV
Ars Technica
Lily Hay Newman
March 31, 2022

Karl Koscher and colleagues in the Shadytel telecommunications and embedded device hacking group used a decommissioned Canadian satellite to broadcast a livestream to the Northern Hemisphere, underscoring concerns about hackers accessing disused satellites moved to a "graveyard orbit." At the recent ShmooCon security conference, Koscher explained how they transformed an unidentified commercial uplink facility into a command center for satellite broadcasting. Although they had permission to access the uplink facility and satellite, Koscher emphasized the lack of controls against this on most satellites: "If you can generate a strong enough signal to make it there, the satellite will send it back down to the Earth. People would need a big dish and a powerful amplifier and knowledge of what they were doing."

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Monash Develops Algorithm for Stronger Blockchains
Digital Nation (Australia)
April 5, 2022

An international team of researchers has developed an algorithm to enable faster, stronger, more efficient blockchains. Researchers at Australia's Monash University, automation technology company ABB Zurich, and the U.K.’s University of Birmingham designed the Damysus Byzantine Fault Tolerance (BFT) consensus protocol to surmount faults and evade system failures in blockchain applications, adding more resilience as fault tolerance increases. Monash's Jiangshan Yu said the algorithm can be implemented simply for constructing scalable blockchains. He added that Damysus boosted the number of blockchain transactions per second by 87.5%, compared to the state-of-the-art HotStuff BFT consensus protocol. Said David Kozhaya at ABB Zurich, "Given the plethora of devices that inherently embed some form of trusted hardware nowadays, our results in Damysus, pragmatically speaking, make BFT protocols more appealing to use in real-world systems."

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A Flytrex aerial delivery drone. Amazon, Alphabet, Others Quietly Rolling Out Drone Delivery Across America
The Wall Street Journal
Christopher Mims
April 2, 2022

A handful of companies have initiated commercial drone delivery across the U.S., with Alphabet's Wing unit boosting deliveries in Virginia via drone due to the pandemic. Other examples include Israeli startup Flytrex following up two years of food-delivery testing in North Carolina with a new delivery station in Texas. Flytrex's Yariv Bash said commercial-scale U.S. drone delivery hinges on gaining certification for drones, via the same process used to certify passenger aircraft. No U.S.-based drone delivery company is fully certified to fly everywhere without either a human operator or monitor, and such services require permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which has a lengthy certification process. National deployments will require FAA approval for fully autonomous drone delivery.

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A neuromorphic chip. AI Can Create Computer Inside Itself to Run Another AI, Play Pong
New Scientist
Matthew Sparkes
March 30, 2022

University of Pennsylvania researchers have developed an approach that enables a neural network to run a code like a standard computer, in an effort to speed up certain calculations. The researchers determined the effects of individual artificial neurons and used that information to assemble a neural network capable of addition and other basic tasks. To mimic the behavior of the logic gates in computer chips, the researchers connected several of these networks in chains so they could perform more complex operations, then combined the chains into a network that could run a virtual neural network and play the game Pong. Francesco Martinuzzi at Germany's Leipzig University said, "There will definitely be specific applications where these computers are going to be outperforming standard computers. And by far, I believe."

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Researchers Outline Bias in Epidemic Research, Offer Simulation Tool to Guide Future Work
New York University
March 31, 2022

Researchers at New York University (NYU) have identified biases in epidemic research and developed a simulation tool to improve research methodologies. The researchers examined the Grue Paradox, Simpson's Paradox, confirmation bias, and other paradoxes, fallacies, and bias in the context of epidemic research and the COVID-19 pandemic. They developed the open source Epidemic Simulation (Episimmer) platform to offer decision support. Episimmer undertakes "counterfactual" analyses, which involve measuring the impact to an ecosystem of such paradoxes, fallacies, and bias without interventions or policies to help users identify opportunities and optimizations that could be included in their COVID-19 strategies. Said NYU's Inavamsi Enaganti, "Faced with a rapidly evolving virus, inventors must experiment, iterate, and deploy both creative and effective solutions while avoiding pitfalls that plague clinical trials and related work."

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The four-legged yellow and black Spot robot will inspect the ancient ruins of Pompeii and help to improve management of one of Italy's most famous archaeological sites. Four-Legged Robot to Help Manage Pompeii
Angelo Amante
March 31, 2022

A robot designed by Boston Dynamics will be used to inspect the ancient ruins of Pompeii, Italy, as part of an initiative to use technology to improve the management and safety of the archaeological site. Among other things, the four-legged robot, named Spot, will be used to inspect and monitor the safety of underground tunnels dug by thieves to steal artifacts from the site. The park's Gabriel Zuchtriegel said, "We want to test these robots in the underground tunnels of the clandestine excavators we are discovering in the area."

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Pitt Prevents Potential Phone Password Plunder
University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering
April 1, 2022

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) Swanson School of Engineering found the graphics processing units (GPUs) in certain Android smartphones could be used to intercept user credentials typed on the onscreen keyboard. The researchers were able to infer which letters or numbers were pressed on the smartphone keyboard more than 80% of the time based solely on how the GPU generates displayed keyboard animations. Pitt's Wei Gao said, "Our experimental version of this attack could successfully target usernames and passwords being entered in online banking, investment, and credit reporting apps and websites, and we have proved that the embedded malicious codes in the app cannot be correctly detected by the Google Play Store." The team alerted Google and Qualcomm to the vulnerability; Google said it will release an Android security patch later this year.

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Scientists Artificially Recreate Smells Using Olfactory Display
Tokyo Tech News (Japan)
April 1, 2022

Researchers at Japan's Tokyo Institute of Technology have developed technology that can artificially replicate diverse scents by combining multiple odor components. The researchers defined 185 essential oils using mass spectrometry, then extracted 20 corresponding basis vectors via multidimensional data analysis. They produced various smells by mixing odor components corresponding to these basis vectors, and were able to emulate a variety of scents by adjusting the composition of odor elements. The team also used an olfactory display to generate scents instantly in the gaseous phase from 20 odor components. In a sensory test, people using the display were presented with seven typical essential oils derived from the 185 essential oils; the test subjects reported no significant difference between the original and reproduced smells.

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Honey Holds Potential for Making Brain-Like Computer Chips
WSU Insider
Sara Zaske
April 5, 2022

Washington State University (WSU) scientists used honey to produce memristors, in a step toward more environmentally sustainable components for neuromorphic computers. The researchers processed honey into a solid form, and sandwiched it between two metal electrodes, creating a structure resembling a human synapse. They tested the resulting memristors' ability to emulate synapses with high switching on and off speeds of 100 and 500 nanoseconds, respectively; they also mimicked spike-timing dependent plasticity and spike-rate dependent plasticity, which govern learning processes in human brains and neuronal retention of new information. Said WSU's Feng Zhao, "“This is a very small device with a simple structure, but it has very similar functionalities to a human neuron."

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