Welcome to the September 20, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Technology in the Extreme
Newcastle University (09/20/10)
Researchers at Newcastle University's Centre for Extreme Environment Technology have developed radio transmitters that can withstand temperatures of up to 900 degrees Celsius using silicon carbide electronics. The Newcastle team is working to integrate the technology into a device about the size of an iPhone that could be used in a variety of locations, including power plants, aircraft engines, and volcanoes. "We still have some way to go but using silicon carbide technology we hope to develop a wireless communication system that could accurately collect and transmit chemical data from the very depths of a volcano," says Newcastle's Alton Horsfall. Silicon carbide's unique molecular structure enables it to withstand extremely high temperatures, and it also has a high radiation tolerance. "The situations we are planning to use our technology in means it's not enough for the electronics to simply withstand extremes of temperature, pressure or radiation--they have to continue operating absolutely accurately and reliably," says Newcastle professor Nick Wright.
Optical Chip Enables New Approach to Quantum Computing
University of Bristol News (09/16/10) Aliya Mughal
An international research team led by University of Bristol scientists has developed a silicon chip for quantum computing that could be used to perform complex calculations. "We believe, using our new technique, a quantum computer could, in less than 10 years, be performing calculations that are outside the capabilities of conventional computers," says Bristol professor Jeremy O'Brien. The technique uses two identical particles of light moving along a network of circuits in the silicon chip to perform an experiment called a quantum walk. "Using a two-photon system, we can perform calculations that are exponentially more complex than before," O'Brien says. The researchers say that a quantum computer based on a multi-photon quantum walk could be used to simulate complex processes such as superconductivity and photosynthesis. "Our technique could improve our understanding of such important processes and help, for example, in the development of more efficient solar cells," O'Brien says. Other applications could include the development of ultra-fast and efficient search engines, designing high-tech materials, and new pharmaceuticals.
Student Creates Anti-Counterfeit Software
Viet Nam News (Vietnam) (09/20/10) Ngoc Duy
HCM City National University (HCMCNU) student Nguyen Kim Hoang Nhu has developed 1.1trieu.com, a program that can help people avoid accidentally purchasing counterfeit products. Nhu began working on the software by studying commonly copied products such as calculators, telephones, motorcycles, gas cookers, and cleaning products. She generated a list of more than 30 product categories with information about prices, characteristics, uses, and retail agents. The program's interface resembles an online shopping Web site. Manufacturers register to display their products and customers can order the items they want. "I believe that software displaying goods with information to help consumers distinguish between products is one of the best ways for businesses to promote their brands as well as strengthen their images in the market," Nhu says. "Information about products must be acquired and frequently updated from original manufacturers and their authorized distributors, who are the most reliable sources of information."
The Face of Facebook
New Yorker (09/20/10) Jose Antonio Vargas
Through Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg aims to create something that moves beyond search engines and other Web-indexing tools. Three years ago, Zuckerberg announced Facebook's transition to a platform for applications devised by outside developers, while two years ago he introduced Facebook Connect, an app that allows users to sign onto other Web sites, gaming systems, and mobile devices with their Facebook account. Spring 2010 marked the unveiling of the Open Graph, which lets users reading articles see what articles their Facebook friends have read, shared, and enjoyed. Zuckerberg ultimately envisions Facebook as an underlying layer of virtually every electronic device. Such ambitions require people to be willing to cede more and more personal information to Facebook and its partners, and last December Facebook amended its privacy policies so that much more of users' information would be publicized by default. Users and institutions such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Privacy Information Center balked, and in response Zuckerberg announced a streamlined version of the privacy settings. Critics say his vision of the world as a more honest place through greater transparency does not align with many individuals' inclinations.
Magical BEANs: New Nano-Sized Particles Could Provide Mega-Sized Data Storage
Berkeley Lab News Center (09/16/10) Lynn Yarris
Berkeley Lab researchers have discovered a new class of phase-change materials that could be applied to phase-change random access memory technologies and possibly optical data storage technologies. The binary eutectic-alloy nanostructures (BEANs) are nanocrystal alloys of a metal and semiconductor. The scientists found that embedding germanium tin nanocrystals within amorphous silica produced a bilobed nanostructure that was half crystalline metallic and half crystalline semiconductor. "Rapid cooling following pulsed laser melting stabilizes a metastable, amorphous, compositionally mixed phase state at room temperature, while moderate heating followed by slower cooling returns the nanocrystals to their initial bilobed crystalline state," says Berkeley Lab's Daryl Chrzan. The researchers expect that the two structures' electronic transport and optical properties will differ significantly, and that this difference can be tuned via modifications in composition.
Emotional Robot Pets
Scientists in Taiwan are studying a new design paradigm that may eventually lead to the development of a robot vision module capable of recognizing its human owner's facial expressions and inducing appropriate responses in robot pets. The researchers are focusing on neural networks to help halt the cycle of repetitive behavior in robot toys and grant the pets simulated emotional responses to interactions. Their assessment of the design approach should enable them to build an emotion-based pet robot much faster than afforded by current design and manufacturing prototyping. Using a neural network, the researchers plan to adopt an approach to behavior-based architecture that could allow robot pet owners to reconfigure the robot to evolve new behavior--or learn--while concurrently guaranteeing that the device functions correctly in real time. "With current technologies in computing and electronics and knowledge in ethology, neuroscience, and cognition, it is now possible to create embodied prototypes of artificial living toys acting in the physical world," the scientists say.
Lead by Women in Graduate Degrees Doesn't Extend to IT
Computerworld (09/14/10) Patrick Thibodeau
Women received 60 percent of the master's degrees and 50.4 percent of the doctorates in the 2008-09 academic year, but degrees in computer and information sciences were overwhelming earned by men, according to the latest annual survey of graduate school enrollments by the Council of Graduate Schools. The council reports that women accounted for only 3,249 first-time graduate or doctoral students in computer and information sciences, compared to 9,021 men. And the overall year-to-year growth in computer science enrollments was less than 1 percent. "Over the last year, the growth that did occur in computer science was actually due to an increase in men," says Nathan Bell, director of research and policy analysis for the council. "We saw a decline in the number of women in computer science in 2009." The first-time enrollment of women in computer science programs fell 3.5 percent from 2008, while male enrollment increased 0.2 percent. The average annual rate of increase had been 4.8 percent since 2004 for women and 2.9 percent for men.
Nokia Developing 3D Rival to Google Street View
New Scientist (09/16/10) Paul Marks
Nokia researchers are developing a system that offers immersive three-dimensional (3D) computer models of villages, towns, and cities. Objects rendered in Nokia's system will resemble their 3D originals better than they do in Google's Street View, according to Nokia researcher Ville-Veikko Mattila. "What we're developing is a full 3D rendering of our locations and environments," Mattila says. "That's a big difference." Users will be able to move smoothly through urban environments, and the researchers say the technology could enable the urban representations to form the backdrop to realistic computer games. The 3D models are built with data from Navteq's Journey View system, a dataset of mapping measurements made using lidar. The models are then decorated by City Scene, software developed by Mattila and his team.
BBS Team Evaluating Facial Recognition Techniques
University of Texas at Dallas (TX) (09/15/10) Emily Martinez
University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) researchers are working with the U.S. Department of Defense to find the most accurate and cost-effective way to recognize individuals who might post a security risk. UTD professor Alice O'Toole and her team are examining facial-recognition software to determine where the algorithms succeed and where they fail. The researchers are comparing the algorithms to human test subjects in how well they can correctly identify matching pairs of human faces. So far, the best algorithms have performed better than humans at identifying faces, according to O'Toole. "Because most security applications rely primarily on human comparisons up until now, the results are encouraging about the prospect of using face recognition software in important environments," she says. However, combining the software with human evaluation methods produces the best results. By using the software to spot potential high-risk individuals and then combining that information with the judgment of a person, nearly 100 percent of matching faces were identified, O'Toole says.
Intel Will Teach Gadgets to Learn About You
CNet (09/15/10) Erica Ogg
Intel researchers are developing context-aware computing technology that will enable gadgets to learn about their users and adapt to their preferences. The context is gathered through a combination of hard sensors, such as movement-detecting cameras, and soft sensors, such as calendar information or other data that users have entered into their devices. For example, Intel's Personal Vacation Assistant uses personal information to help travelers make decisions about what to do while on vacation. "Sensing is at the core of these context-aware devices," says Intel researcher Lama Nachman. In addition, Intel is developing a TV remote control that can sense who the user is by the way they hold the remote. Intel's Justin Rattner says the company also is developing a platform that users control for context-aware devices. "We need a cognitive framework for managing context," Rattner says. "So users can share what context is released, to whom, and when it expires."
Home's Electrical Wiring Acts as Antenna to Receive Low-Power Sensor Data
UW News (09/15/10) Hannah Hickey
Researchers at the University of Washington and the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed low-cost sensors that use residential wiring to transmit information throughout a home, enabling the sensors to run for decades on a single watch battery. The UW team, led by assistant professor Shwetak Patel, developed the Sensor Nodes Utilizing Powerline Infrastructure (SNUPI), a device that uses copper electrical wiring as an antenna to receive wireless signals at a set frequency. SNUPI, when placed within 15 feet of electrical wiring, can use the antenna to send data to a single base station plugged in anywhere in the home. The researchers say that SNUPI uses less than one percent of the power for data transmission compared to the next most efficient model. "Most of our power is consumed in the computation, because we made the power for wireless communication almost negligible," says Washington researcher Gabe Cohn.
3-D Computer Simulations Help Envision Supernovae Explosions
Princeton University (09/16/10) Kitta MacPherson
A Princeton University-led research team has developed a method to make three-dimensional (3D) computer simulations of supernovae explosions. Previously, researchers could only study supernovae explosions in two dimensions, and their efforts often caused the simulations to stall. "It may well prove to be the case that the fundamental impediment to progress in supernova theory over the last few decades has not been lack of physical detail, but lack of access to codes and computers with which to properly simulate the collapse phenomenon in 3D," the researchers say. The scientific visualization method used by the research team combines astrophysics, applied mathematics, and computer science. To create the simulations, the researchers developed mathematical values representing the behaviors of stars by using mathematical representations of fluids in motion. The team used an advanced computer code called CASTRO to solve the complex equations and simulate what happens inside a dying star.
New Wave: Spin Soliton Could Be a Hit in Cell Phone Communication
NIST News (09/14/10) Chad Boutin
Researchers at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) say they have discovered a new way to generate the high-frequency waves used in modern communication devices, which could lead to the development of a new generation of wireless technology that would be more secure and resistant to interference than current equipment. The researchers have discovered an oscillator that would harness electrons' spin to generate microwaves. The researchers believe that a special type of stationary wave, called a soliton, can be created in a layer of a magnetic sandwich. "In theory, you could change the frequency of these devices quite rapidly, making the signals very hard for enemies to intercept or jam," says NIST's Thomas Silva. "All we've done at this point is the mathematics, but the equations predict these effects will occur in devices that we think we can realize," Silva says.
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