Welcome to the May 3, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
New Research Could Let Vehicles, Robots Collaborate with Humans
MIT News (05/03/13) Helen Knight
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers are developing robotic systems that can negotiate with people to determine the best way to achieve their goals. "We’re trying to allow people to interact with these increasingly autonomous systems in the same way that they would interact with another human," says MIT professor Brian Williams. In the future, these systems could be used to control autonomous vehicles. Currently, Williams and researcher Peng Yu are working to create an algorithm to allow conventional vehicles to work with their drivers to plan routes and schedules. Williams and Yu describe the use of their algorithm in car-sharing networks such as Zipcar. The system, which is equipped with speech-recognition technology, first asks the user what the goal is and how much time there is to achieve it. Then it uses digital maps to develop the most time- and energy-efficient plan. If the system determines that the user cannot achieve the goal in the time available, it analyzes the plan to detect which items on the schedule are problematic. The algorithm also could be used in robots, to allow them to collaborate with humans more effectively.
Emerging Protocol Can Help Manage the Internet of Things
Government Computer News (05/01/13) Kevin McCaney
Addressing the significant challenge of enabling all types of smart devices to communicate with one another in an Internet of Things, the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) has proposed using the Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT) protocol as a standard. MQTT is a protocol for telemetry messaging designed to be open, simple, and lightweight for use in constrained networks and multiplatform environments. Sensors and other devices, typically low-power and low-bandwidth, can use MQTT to communicate. IBM, which is already using MQTT in its newly-released MessageSight appliance, predicts that by 2020 there will be 22 billion devices connected to the Internet that will produce 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day, capable of filling 7 million DVDs per hour. MQTT should enable bi-directional messaging as well as reliable messages on networks with limited bandwidth, and should have connectivity awareness for intermittently connected devices and networks, OASIS says. Furthermore, the standard should support high-volume bursts of data and an increasing variety of devices.
It’s Not the Jetsons, But It May Be Coming Soon
Washington Post (04/30/13) Emi Kolawole
Advances in technologies such as robots, multidimensional printers, and cutting-edge polymers are ushering in a new era of manufacturing. These technologies will transform what manufacturers can produce, the worker's role, and the products available to consumers. 3D printing creates three-dimensional objects using plastics, metals, and other materials in a device that extrudes the material in thin layers onto a flat surface. Substances can be added at precise points with 3D printing to make objects more or less flexible as required, offering an advantage over traditional manufacturing. These 3D technologies are already hitting the market, with some dentists printing permanent crowns for damaged teeth and some expectant mothers in Japan receiving 3D models of their fetuses instead of ultrasound photos. Researchers are looking to take technology into the fourth dimension, time, as well. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Self-Assembly Lab director Skylar Tibbits says 4D printers would create objects that change over time in a process called self-reconfiguration. The process involves integrating a black, static material with a white, active material in 3D printing, and submerging the material in water. The white material expands in a manner determined by the black material’s pre-programmed range of motion, with movement and its limits programmed into the material itself.
Kinect Plus Projector Makes Anything a Remote Control
New Scientist (04/25/13) Paul Marks
Carnegie Mellon University researchers are developing WorldKit, a system that combines cameras, projectors, and computers to allow everyday surfaces to host interactive controllers for electronic devices. The system uses a Microsoft Kinect depth camera to pinpoint which surface the user wants to turn into a controller. The user says out loud what device the surface should turn into while moving his hand back and forth, and WorldKit's voice recognition software relays the information to a digital projector on the ceiling that beams an image of the chosen controller onto the surface. The Kinect camera then works out which buttons the user is pressing. Carnegie Mellon's Chris Harrison says the system will be useful when small pico projectors have become sufficiently cheap and efficient to be dotted around the home. "No one has yet come up with the killer app that will drive projector prices down," he says. "WorldKit might be that app." WorldKit also could beam interactive cooking instructions onto a kitchen counter, creating a space for each ingredient to be placed. Worldkit "will help the field move forward and bring smart home applications a step closer to reality," says Hasso Plattner Institute researcher Patrick Baudisch.
Flexible, Networked E-Ink Displays Mimic Physical Documents
IDG News Service (04/30/13) Nick Barber
Queens University researchers at the Computer Human Interaction (CHI) conference unveiled electronic ink displays that can bend as a form of input. Called Paper Tab, the display comprises three wired, flexible grayscale e-ink displays that allow users, for example, to respond to an email by bending the top left corner of the display and then typing a message with a Bluetooth keyboard. Computers and tablets are limiting because "you're stuck with this portal through which you have to do all your interactions," says Queens University Media Lab student Annesh P. Tarun, who created PaperTab. He hopes to make a thinner, wireless version of PaperTab, which currently must be wired together. The researchers demonstrated how one screen could function as an email inbox, with the second screen loading full-screen messages that are tapped on the first screen. A photo displayed on the third screen was attached to the email when the third screen was tapped on the second screen, and the top left corner of the second screen was folded to send the message. At the CHI conference two years ago, Queens University displayed the Paper Phone, a flexible, e-ink smartphone that was controlled in a similar way.
Algorithms Find Genetic Cancer Networks
Brown University (05/01/13)
The most complete genetic profile yet of acute myeloid leukemia has been assembled using powerful data-sifting algorithms. Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis were able to make sense of large datasets, and their work could lead to new treatments for the aggressive form of blood cancer based on the genetics of each patient's disease. Computer scientists at Brown University developed the HotNet and Dendrix algorithms to find networks of genes that are important in creating cancerous cells. HotNet plots mutation data from patients onto a map of known gene interactions, looks for connected networks that are mutated more often than would be expected, and represents frequently mutated genes as heat sources. The algorithm examines the way heat is distributed and clustered across the map, and finds the hot networks involved in cancer. Dendrix goes a step further by looking for mutations in networks that are unknown to researchers. “For us as computational people, it’s fun to push these algorithms and apply them to new datasets,” says Brown professor Ben Raphael. “At the same time, in analyzing cancer data we hope that the algorithms produce actionable information that is clinically important.”
Intel, OHSU Use Supercomputing to Analyze Genomic Data
eWeek (04/24/13) Brian T. Horowitz
Intel and Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) researchers are developing a diagram of the human genome to identify genetic mutations that lead to cancer. The diagram would provide a better understanding of an individual's genetic makeup, allowing researchers to develop personalized cancer treatment that kills only the cancer-causing mutating cells. The organizations will use supercomputing to analyze patients' genetic profiles with increased speed, precision, and cost-effectiveness. "By combining Intel's computing expertise with what we know about how to analyze genomes and to create images of how cells change over time, we believe we have the capability to develop the right tools to make significant progress in making the promise of personalized cancer medicine a reality for more patients," says OHSU researcher Joe Gray. The researchers will use Intel's Xeon E5 HPC CPU, which offers Intel Trusted Execution Technology (TXT) and Intel Node Manager Server power-management technology. Intel and OHSU also will create new educational programs in quantitative bioscience. "Together, Intel's engineers and OHSU's biomedical experts are optimizing supercomputing clusters and software to isolate the genetic variations that contribute to the root causes of illness," says Intel researcher Eric Dishman.
Tracking Gunfire with a Smartphone
Vanderbilt University (04/25/13) David Salisbury
Vanderbilt University researchers have developed an inexpensive hardware module and related software that can transform an Android smartphone into a simple shooter location system. Six years ago, Vanderbilt professor Akos Ledeczi developed a system that turns soldiers' helmets into mobile smart nodes in a wireless network that can quickly identify the location of enemy snipers. Recently, the Vanderbilt researchers have adapted the system so it will work on a smartphone. Similar to the military version, the smartphone system needs several nodes in order to pinpoint a shooter's location. The system also consists of an external module that contains the microphones and the processing capability required to detect the acoustic signature of gunshots, log their time, and send that information to the smartphone. The smartphones then transmit that information to the other modules, allowing them to obtain the origin of the gunshot by triangulation. Two versions have been devised: One employs a single microphone per module and uses both the muzzle blast and shockwave to determine the shooter location. Six modules are needed to obtain accurate locations. The second version uses a slightly larger module with four microphones and relies only on the shockwave, requiring just two modules to accurately detect a shot's direction.
Columbia Engineers Generate World-Record mmWave Output Power from Nanoscale CMOS
Columbia University (04/24/13) Holly Evarts
Columbia University researchers have generated a record amount of power output using silicon-based nanoscale complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology for millimeter-wave power amplifiers. "We have devised a way to use multiple nanoscale CMOS transistors in carefully-aligned synchrony to ‘share the load’ and generate nearly a watt of power at millimeter-wave frequencies--nearly five times greater than what was currently possible," says Columbia professor Harish Krishnaswamy. This breakthrough could lead to extremely high-bandwidth communication over extremely long distances for the first time. The researchers achieved the world record power output level by developing a chip design methodology that stacks several nanoscale CMOS devices on top of each other so that they can handle larger voltages without compromising their speed. The researchers achieved output power levels of nearly 0.5 W at 45 gigahertz by stacking four 45-nanometer CMOS transistors within a power amplifier and then combining eight such amplifiers on a single chip. "High-frequency nanoscale electronics is exciting to me because it is the confluence of many different aspects of science and engineering," Krishnaswamy says.
Voice-Based Web Access Helps Illiterate Get Online
New Scientist (04/25/13) Hal Hodson
The European Commission is sponsoring the Voices project, a voice-based Web system that could make it easier for illiterate people in Africa to use the Internet. The system is based on a programming language called VoiceXML, which allows users to vocally control specially created Web content. Last year, Al Jazeera worked with Voices to get vox pops from underrepresented, illiterate rural communities during election campaigns in Ghana and Kenya. "We were trying to plug into communities that you didn't hear that much from," says Al Jazeera's Cynara Vetch. The system is Web-based and linked to the cellphone network, which means that it can also push voice messages out to individual handsets, creating a voice-Twitter called Tabale, which launched last year. World Wide Web Foundation engineers are developing an index that links all the data on the platform. The database will be distributed across small servers, which automatically update across the whole network whenever anything changes. This design will make the information accessible without having to log on to the Internet itself. The ultimate goal is for users to search just by speaking.
FlipperBot: Sea Turtles and Flipper-Driven Robot Reveal Principles of Moving on Sand and Other Granular Media
Georgia Tech News (04/23/13) John Toon
Georgia Tech researchers are developing FlipperBot, a robot designed to help researchers understand locomotion on complex surfaces, and to help biologists understand how animals use their flippers. "We are looking at different ways that robots can move about on sand," says Georgia Tech professor Daniel Goldman. He notes, "We’ve learned that the flow of the materials plays a large role in the strategy that can be used by either animals or robots." FlipperBot measures about 19 centimeters in length, weighs about 970 grams, and has two flippers driven by servo-motors. The robot also has flexible wrists that allow variations in its movement. "The flexible wrist also allows both the robot and turtles to maintain a high angle of attack for their bodies, which reduces performance-impeding drag from belly friction," Goldman says. The researchers found that the robot often failed when limbs encountered material that the same limbs had already disturbed, which led them to re-examine the data collected on the hatchling turtles. "When they interacted with materials that had been previously disturbed, they tended to lose performance," Goldman says. The research could provide clues to how turtles evolved to walk on land with appendages designed for swimming.
Study: High-Volume Bitcoin Exchanges Less Likely to Fail, But More Likely to Suffer Breach
SMU Research (TX) (04/24/13) Margaret Allen
Southern Methodist University and Carnegie Mellon University researchers held a study applying survival analysis to examine the factors that prompt Bitcoin currency exchanges to close. The study analyzed 40 exchanges that buy and sell Bitcoins to identify factors that trigger or prevent closure. The researchers found that online exchanges that trade traditional currency for Bitcoins have a 45-percent chance of failing, and that exchanges that buy and sell a higher volume of Bitcoins are less likely to shut down, but more likely to suffer a security breach. The researchers identified 40 Bitcoin exchanges worldwide that convert the cyber money into various hard currencies, and 18 of those exchanges have gone out of business. Additionally, nine of the 40 experienced security breaches, forcing five of them to close, and another 13 closed without any publicly announced breach. "Bitcoin is expressly designed to be completely decentralized with no single points of control, yet currency exchanges have become de facto central authorities, and their success or failure drives Bitcoin’s success or failure," says Southern Methodist researcher Tyler W. Moore. He also notes that drastic fluctuations in the exchange rate of Bitcoins can be attributed to the role of digital middlemen, including currency exchanges that buy and sell Bitcoins.
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