Welcome to the September 13, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
F.C.C. Likely to Open Airwaves to Wireless
New York Times (09/12/10) Edward Wyatt
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this month is expected to approve the use of "white spaces"--unlicensed, TV-band airwaves that could lead to stronger, faster wireless broadband networks, which would serve as the framework for innovative applications. Analysts say the new airwaves will enable networks to extend broadband transmissions to rural regions and permit smart electric grids, remote health monitoring, and wireless Internet that is free of dead zones. "I'm absolutely confident that there will be a huge range of applications that we cannot yet predict," says Microsoft's Dan Reed. The new airwaves are especially appealing because TV signals are low-frequency waves, which means that they can travel farther, more easily penetrate obstructions, and support more reliable links. The first applications are likely to be wireless broadband networks that can cover entire university or corporate campuses, says FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. "But this will also be a platform for innovators and entrepreneurs," he says. "There is every chance of this leading to the development of one or more billion-dollar industries."
Electric Skin That Rivals the Real Thing
Technology Review (09/13/10) Katherine Bourzac
Two separate research groups have developed pressure-sensing devices that can match human skin in sensitivity and flexibility. Stanford University researchers created a system based on organic electronics that is 1,000 times more sensitive than human skin. The Stanford system consists of a clear silicon-containing polymer called PDMS. The team designed PDMS with arrays of micropillars that stand up from the touchable surface, which enables the material to flex quickly and return to its original shape. Meanwhile, University of California, Berkeley researchers built low-power tactile sensors based on arrays of inorganic nanowire transistors. The transistors are connected to a layer of conductive rubber made of carbon nanoparticles that can detect changes in the material's electrical resistance. "The nanowires are being used as active electronics to run the tactile sensor on top," says Berkeley professor Ali Javey. The Stanford system requires about 20 volts to operate, while the Berkeley device needs less than five volts. The new electronic-skin devices "are a considerable advance in the state of the art in terms of power consumption and sensitivity," says Trinity College at the University of Dublin professor John Boland.
Access to Data of the Past--and the Future
ICT Results (09/13/10)
European researchers working on the CASPAR project are building a software infrastructure that facilitates access to and understanding of scientific data from out-of-date projects while promoting shared global usability of present-day digital research. "The techniques that you need to preserve old digital objects--techniques that make unfamiliar digital objects usable--are exactly the same techniques you need to make newly created digital objects accessible and understandable," says project coordinator David Giaretta. CASPAR infrastructure will contextualize data for interpretation by designated communities. It represents a deployment of the Open Archival Information System, which will define a pan-European digital preservation methodology and infrastructure. Eleven reusable digital preservation infrastructure elements and toolkits were generated by CASPAR. All elements exist independently of each other and offer Web-based services, adding resiliency to the system by eliminating a single point of failure.
How Football Playing Robots Have the Future of Artificial Intelligence at Their Feet
Research published in WIREs Cognitive Science details how robots designed to play football (which is called "soccer" in the U.S.) are propelling the development of robotic artificial intelligence that can be used for advanced applications. "Football is a useful task for scientists developing robotic artificial intelligence because it requires the robot to perceive its environment, to use its sensors to build a model of that environment and then use that data to reason and take appropriate actions," says Claude Sammut, a scientist at the ARC Center of Excellence for Autonomous Systems. "On a football pitch that environment is rapidly changing and unpredictable, requiring a robot to swiftly perceive, reason, act, and interact accordingly." The sport also requires communication and collaboration between robotic players as well as learning capability as teams adapt their strategies to better challenge opponents. Competitions between robots are not restricted to football--there also are contests for urban search and rescue and residential robotic assistants. Search and rescue presents robotics developers with a new set of problems to overcome because such environments are highly disorganized, unlike a football pitch layout.
CMU Researchers Work on Web Security, Access
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA) (09/13/10) Mike Cronin
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding studies at more than 30 institutions across the United States in an effort to make Web surfing safer. For example, Carnegie Mellon University researchers, in collaboration with researchers at Boston University and the University of Wisconsin, are building an Internet framework to accommodate yet-to-be developed technologies. Meanwhile, a University of California, Los Angeles team is focusing on securing data no matter where it exists, instead of securing host computers. Rutgers University researchers are examining improving the security and reliability of information produced by mobile devices, instead of desktop computers. And University of Pennsylvania scientists are analyzing ways to increase the speed, availability, and security of cloud computing. "We hope to have a collaboration among the project researchers," says NSF's Darleen Fisher.
New Formula Shows Who's Really Top of the Tweeters
New Scientist (09/09/10) Justin Mullins
Cornell University's Daniel Romero and colleagues have developed a method to rank the most influential Twitter feeds. The new method uses the total number of followers and how likely those followers are to retweet a message to determine the most influential twitterers. The most influential tweets are those that change the status quo by convincing followers who rarely retweet to forward the message. The ability to change the behavior of passive followers is the main factor that defines influential Twitter feeds, says the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology's Wojciech Galuba, who worked on the technology. "Our algorithm measures this ability to change people's behavior." In addition to ranking Twitter feeds, the system also can rank individual tweets by measuring how far they spread through a network. Galuba is creating a Web site that will enable users to analyze their tweets. "So we can show them tweets ranked by influence rather than chronology," he says.
New Software Program Developed to Improve YPG Test Equipment
Yuma Sun (AZ) (09/10/10) Mary F. Flores
Researchers at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) have developed a program that can determine the positional and angular motion of relatively stationary test objects during the various stages of their firing, using high-speed, high-definition digital camera imagery. The program gives testers detailed information in three dimensions, says YPG's John Curry and Jeff Kenney. The software can capture physical data imagery for analysis and produce accurate results in time-space coordinates to depict an entire event. "Using a Java-based graphical user interface for cross-platform support, it provides an excellent tool for interaction with the images, allowing test engineers to see precisely how much an object moves during firing," Curry says. The software allows researchers to hand-score the first frame of a video segment and then automatically score the rest of the test, which saves time, Kenney says. The program has already been used successfully on three different tests with more testing scheduled for future projects.
Bionic Speech Recognition
A new speech enhancement system developed at the University Campus' Laboratory of Signal Processing in Tunis, Tunisia, could help ensure that voice signals are as clear as possible before they are processed by a computer and acted upon. The researchers used a bionic wavelet transform and a recurrent neural network to reduce the noise from a recorded or sampled voice signal. The approach is designed to address additive or white noise, the random background hiss of a sound recording, which can have the most impact on speech recognition. Tests against several types of noises and a noisy speech database showed an increase in the signal to noise ratio from 5 dB to 12 dB. The researchers say that voice signals need to be clear for speech recognition systems because they could impact the profitability of a financial deal, the safety of a vehicle, or the maneuverability of aircraft. They say their approach also could be used for mobile phone conversations or secret recordings of speech for security and law enforcement purposes.
Most Influential Tweeters of All
Northwestern University News Center (IL) (09/09/10) Erin White
Northwestern University researchers have designed a Web site that tracks the top trending topics on Twitter in real time. The Web site--pulseofthetweeters.com--uses an algorithm to rank the most influential people tweeting on trending topics. The researchers say the algorithm combines dynamic data mining, sentiment analysis, and network analysis in real time. In addition to identifying the most influential tweeters, the algorithm can tell users whether the tweets are positive, negative, or neutral. "Discovering patterns, opinions, and sentiments from massive number of tweets is challenging in itself, but discovering influencers and leaders for specific topics is a major technological advance in data mining," says Northwestern professor Alok Choudhary. "The good thing about our system is it's completely automatic, and it needs minimal human supervision," says Northwestern's Ramanathan Narayanan.
Can You Find Me Now?
MIT News (09/09/10) Larry Hardesty
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT's) Wireless Communications and Network Sciences Group in the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS) are devising a theoretical framework for measuring the accuracy of wireless location data depending on network attributes such as available bandwidth and interference. The framework could eventually be employed to establish the precise whereabouts of mobile devices indoors, where global positioning system reception can be weak and unreliable. MIT researcher Wesley Gifford developed a robotic system capable of positioning a wireless transmitter with millimeter accuracy on a surface about the size of a ping pong table, and the LIDS research group has used the machine across the MIT campus to describe very wideband wireless channels. Insights the researchers have drawn include the fact that wireless device networks can enhance their location estimates' precision if they share data about their imprecision.
NASA High-End Computing Testbed Runs Over National LambdaRail
National LambdaRail (09/09/10) Kristina Scott
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is conducting end-to-end throughput performance tests as part of its high-performance computing (HPC) Network Testbed Initiative, which was developed by National LambdaRail (NLR). "NLR has been very forthcoming, helping us deploy a set of robust, high-speed connections that are now serving as the underlying network platform supporting a wide range of strategic research projects at NASA, including in the areas of advanced networking, climate science, earth science, and astrophysics," says NASA computer scientist J. Patrick Gary. NASA set up two HPC network-test workstations that have the capability to conduct 80 Gbps bi-directional memory-to-memory data transfers and 10 Gbps uni-directional disk-to-disk data copies. NASA also is using an NLR-enabled 4x10 Gigabit Ethernet pathway to transfer hundreds of terabytes of high-resolution climate forecasts from both the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office.
New CCTV Technology Helps Prevent Terror Attacks
VTT Technical Research Center (09/08/10)
The VTT Technical Research Center of Finland has developed image-processing technology that can analyze large amounts of video data automatically and quickly recognize potential risks. For example, the researchers say the software would enable smart cameras to recognize abandoned luggage in public places and track the person who left it behind. The technology also could be incorporated into existing closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems. VTT researchers are developing image-processing technology to improve luggage surveillance as part of SUBITO, a research project funded by the European Commission. The technology would enable security authorities to exploit image material before a terror incident takes place. Security authorities would be able to quickly determine the potential risk posed by abandoned luggage. VTT is working with nine other organizations to improve the image analysis technology of CCTV systems.
The Brain Speaks
University of Utah (09/07/10) Lee J. Siegel
University of Utah researchers have developed a technique for translating brain signals into words using two grids of 16 microelectrodes implanted beneath the skull but on top of the brain. "We have been able to decode spoken words using only signals from the brain with a device that has promise for long-term use in paralyzed patients who cannot now speak," says Utah professor Bradley Greger. The researchers used experimental microelectrodes to record brain signals as a volunteer patient with severe epileptic seizures read each of 10 words that might be useful to a paralyzed person. When the researchers examined all 10 brain signals at once, they were able to determine which signal represented a certain word 28 percent to 48 percent of the time. Greger says that people who have been paralyzed by stroke, Lou Gehrig's disease, and trauma could benefit from a wireless device that converts thoughts into computer-spoken words. The microelectrodes are considered safe because they do not penetrate brain matter.
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