Welcome to the December 28, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Computer Code Frees Us to Think in New Ways
BBC News (12/26/12) Tom Armitage
Throughout this past year, U.K. Education Secretary Michael Gove was on a campaign to replace the British schools' ICT curriculum with a computer science program. Although existing ICT courses often focus on teaching specific software packages, Gove’s changes are an attempt to reach a more balanced sense of literacy by teaching students to use technology by being able to write the code for it, writes technologist Tom Armitage. However, fluency goes beyond reading and writing, and innovators need to understand how to have ideas that can be designed specifically for the internal workings of computers. They also need the ability to express those ideas in computer language. Those are the skills required to innovate and invent with new technology, Armitage says. He writes that the truth is that humans have developed a computer-assisted world in which computers and code are used as prostheses, allowing work to be completed more efficiently. In order for technology to move forward through innovation, the industry needs new thoughts. Therefore, technology education should be about developing a way of thinking, taught as part of a broad, diverse curriculum, Armitage concludes.
ITRI Makes IC Technology Breakthrough
Taiwan Today (12/26/12) Meg Chang
Researchers at Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) have developed an ultra-low power, efficient, and environmentally friendly system on a chip (SoC). “Boasting optimized energy management capabilities, the technology has applications in integrated circuit design and product development involving audio, signals and video compression,” says ITRI vice president Wu Cheng-wen. The video recording chip runs at just 0.6 voltage, or half of a traditional SoC. Furthermore, the SoC employs proprietary technology developed by ITRI. The new technology is capable of cutting power consumption by 75 percent, making it an ideal candidate for developing extended usage devices such as event data recorders. The new technology also incorporates thermoelectricity into the design, which allows the chip to use environmental energy sources such as body heat and light. The device uses maximum power point tracking technology, an electronic system that enables energy modules to operate at top capacity. “Such a highly integrated design approach is the focus of many research institutes and IC design houses around the world,” Wu says.
Advanced Humanoid Roboy to Be ‘Born’ in Nine Months
University of Zurich researchers are developing Roboy, a tendon-driven robot modeled on human beings that will be one of the most advanced humanoid robots ever created. Roboy will be a service robot, meaning it will execute services independently for the convenience of humans. The Roboy project involves the participation of 15 partners and more than 40 engineers and scientists. Roboy’s tendon-based body will help it move almost as smoothly as a human, and the robot will be covered with soft skin, making interacting with it safer and more pleasant. Caring for the aging human population will be the target market for service roots such as Roboy, as older people want to be as autonomous as possible, according to roboticists. They also note that the user-friendliness and safety of service robots are paramount, since the machines will be sharing their living space with people. The University of Zurich researchers set the goal of building Roboy in nine months, with a birthday of March 8, 2013. The project is a grassroots endeavor funded via crowdfunding.
U.S. Congress May Not Have Stomach for Another SOPA
IDG News Service (12/24/12) Grant Gross
Although some copyright holders’ representatives still want to see stronger online regulations, U.S. lawmakers do not appear to have the collective will to reintroduce bills similar to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) or the Protect IP Act (PIPA), for fear of facing another massive online protest. “That was an avalanche they’ve never seen,” says Computer and Communications Industry Association CEO Ed Black. He also notes that Congress will tread lightly in this area in the future. Early iterations of SOPA and PIPA would have permitted the Justice Department and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to order domain-name registrars to stop providing service and search engines to halt linking to sites accused of online piracy and counterfeiting U.S. products. The court orders requested by the two agencies also would have taken aim at online advertisers and payment processors. Almost a year after the online protests, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who was the main sponsor of SOPA, has no plans to reintroduce similar legislation in 2013. However, opponents of SOPA and PIPA want to engage the public in a dialogue about copyright next year, according to Fight for the Future and OpenCongress.org co-founder Tiffiniy Cheng. “We’ll be working with groups and the public on a plan in 2013,” she says.
Computer Graphics, Medical Research Expand Knowledge of Fossil Record
Asahi News Service (Japan) (12/23/12) Ryoko Takeishi
University of Oregon professor Kent Stevens has developed a computer model of the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur based on data that makes new experiments possible. "The study of dinosaurs has been mainly hypothetical, and there have been few means of demonstrating it," Stevens says. "[With these models], it's possible to incorporate an experimental element." Stevens developed his model from data obtained scanning more than 200 bones to precisely measure their size and shape. His modeling program enables viewers to see the dinosaur skeleton from every possible perspective, and tapping on the keyboard makes it stand up or crouch back down. “Even if a fossil has been crushed, you can re-create it in three dimensions using computers,” Stevens says. “This allows you to reassemble the skeleton as many times as you like, and verify how the bones fit together and move without great difficulty.” Researchers also are using CT-scanning techniques to estimate the size and shape of a dinosaur's brain based on its skull, and to study the internal structure of bones. New devices such as surface scanners can convert the exterior of a fossil into digital data so that robots can measure their size.
This Haptic Snowboard Teaches You How to Carve
MIT Technology Review (12/20/12) Nidhi Subbaraman
Vibrating sensors on the body could aid beginning snowboarders in refining their technique and cementing their stance after they practice new moves a few times, according to Daniel Spelmezan from the Universite Paris-Sud. Spelmezan's custom sensor setup involves mounting sensors on a snowboard to detect which way the boarder faces when traveling down a slope and when the user turns to face the other way and continue their way down. The motion sensors are designed to trigger vibrating actuators taped to arms and legs in real time. Spelmezan tested the system with 10 snowboarders and a snowboarding instructor in an indoor ski resort. The run up to the turn would trigger the sensors to buzz in sequence to remind the boarder which body parts to bend or where to shift their weight. The snowboarders said the vibrating guides were a distraction on their first attempt at a move because they were too busy focusing on their coach's instruction, but later said when performing a familiar move they helped remind them to keep the posture and stance. Spelmezan presented his work at the MobileHCI conference in October.
Free Search Engine Connects Classrooms With Science and Technology
Office of Naval Research (12/20/12) Eric Beidel
A mobile version of the Gooru educational search engine, which is funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR), is now available. The Gooru Collections iPad app is designed to provide thousands of assorted multimedia resources to teachers and students with smartphones. Gooru is a free service that brings together science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) educational materials on the Web. The search engine serves as a one-stop shop for fifth- to 12th-graders and their teachers to discover and share videos, games, digital textbooks, quizzes, and other interactive products related to STEM and eventually other subjects. Gooru curates, auto-tags, and contextualizes millions of STEM-related Web resources to extract maximum value from searches. It ranks and suggests items for students and teachers according to usage data, user input, search query logs, and social signals. "ONR's STEM efforts are looking for ways to inspire, engage, and educate current and future STEM leaders," says Joseph Cohn, ONR's deputy director of research for STEM.
Who Needs Magic Carpet? TMU Has Virtual Body Chair
Virtual body technology developed at the Tokyo Metropolitan University (TMU) uses the five senses to recreate experiences such as feeling the wind, stepping on the ground, or smelling food. The team of researchers at the Ikei Laboratory and from the Graduate School of System Design developed a system that includes a three-dimensional monitor, headphones, a fan to create a breeze and spread scents, a chair that leans back and forth and vibrates partially, and foot pedals. The components work together as a unified system to stimulate the senses of the individual sitting in the seat, to provide the ultimate virtual experience. The chair moves to provide directional and vestibular sensations, and the legs will move to create a sense of walking, running, and moving up and down. "When you walk in the city there are various scents and breezes, and these are also recreated," says TMU professor Yasushi Ikei. The team is targeting the virtual body system as a suitable application for the elderly. In a video presentation, the narrator says "in these modern times the population is aging, so Ikei Laboratory would like for seniors who find it burdensome to go outside to be able to experience traveling around the world by using this equipment."
Obama Administration Outlines National Information Sharing Strategy
eWeek (12/20/12) Brian Prince
The White House recently released the National Strategy for Information Sharing and Safeguarding, which aims to help government agencies develop polices, processes, and standards to promote the secure exchange of information between other agencies and authorized individuals. The document outlines five overall goals, including improving discovery and access through common standards and encouraging collective action collaboration and accountability. Federal agencies can take several steps to accomplish these and other goals, the document says. For example, the document points out that improving identity and authentication controls and encouraging data-level tagging to ensure the secure sharing of data can help improve discovery and access through standards. The document also describes the Obama administration's main priorities with regard to its strategy for sharing and protecting information. Among the priorities outlined in the document are the extension and implementation of the Federal Identity, Credential, and Access Management road map across all security domains and the sharing of the management of risks to improve both classified and unclassified information protection efforts.
Researchers Use Liquid Metal to Create Wires That Stretch Eight Times Their Original Length
NCSU News (12/18/12)
Conductive wires developed at North Carolina State University (NCSU) can stretch up to eight times their original length while still functioning. Researchers used a thin tube made of an extremely elastic polymer and filled it with a liquid metal alloy of gallium and indium, which is an efficient conductor of electricity. Previous efforts to create stretchable wires involved embedding metals or other electrical conductors in elastic polymers, says NCSU professor Michael Dickey. He notes that increasing the amount of metal improves the conductivity of the composite but also diminishes its elasticity. "Our approach keeps the materials separate, so you have maximum conductivity without impairing elasticity," Dickey says. "In short, our wires are orders of magnitude more stretchable than the most conductive wires, and at least an order of magnitude more conductive than the most stretchable wires currently in the literature." He says manufacturing should be relatively straightforward, but the researchers must first determine how to minimize leakage of the metal if the wires are severed. Once this issue is addressed, the wires could be used in everything from headphones to phone charges, and potentially in electronic textiles.
Computer Network Upgrades Will Put Wayne State University Researchers in the Fast Lane
Wayne State University (MI) (12/21/12) Tom Tigani
Wayne State University (WSU) researchers recently received a U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to develop an upgraded computer network infrastructure. The project is split into two components, the first of which will build a dedicated, very high-speed network, called "Science DMZ," which will enable WSU researchers to transmit and receive large amounts from across the campus or around the world. The upgrade will include specialized monitoring equipment on each end of a connection to identify bottlenecks and help keep data moving. "This upgrade will greatly speed up our researchers’ ability to work, moving their research forward," says WSU's Patrick Gossman. The second project component will upgrade the local network infrastructure in the WSU physics building. This aspect of the project will provide the necessary on-off ramps to the new Science DMZ and help accelerate researchers' daily work. In addition to the development of the Science DMZ, NSF officials were interested in the WSU project because it includes research into software-defined (virtual) networking. "This is a great way to enable us to do more science--not just more of what we’re already doing, but new kinds of things--and collaborate more directly in data-intensive activities," says WSU professor David Cinabro.
European Commission Wants to Create an 'Airbus for Chips'
IDG News Service (12/18/12) Jennifer Baker
If the European Union (EU) wants to be a global power in chip production, then collaboration and cooperation is the only way toward meeting that goal, according to Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes. Such a program could be based on Airbus but for the chip sector, Kroes suggests. Airbus, a subsidiary of European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, was created from national defense and aerospace companies across Europe to compete with Boeing on a global commercial level. The Digital Agenda Commission is planning an electronics industrial strategy with the goal of increasing Europe’s attractiveness for investment in design and production. “It doesn’t mean we would structure a venture in the exact same way as Airbus, but the point is that Airbus didn’t materialize by magic, it was planned and it took national and EU coordination, and we see value in achieving something similar with chips,” says Digital Agenda representative Ryan Heath. However, the European manufacture of chips has been in decline for a number of years, according to the World Semiconductor Trade Statistics. To reverse this trend, Europe must correct a patchy pan-European policy framework. “The digital economy is growing seven times faster than the rest of the economy, but we need to take risks,” Kroes says.
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