Welcome to the June 26, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Survey Finds Only Limited Public Awareness of MOOCs
Chronicle of Higher Education (06/26/13) Sara Grossman
Just 22 percent of respondents to a recent Brodeur Partners online survey say they are familiar with massive open online courses (MOOCs), and only 4 percent say they are very familiar with them. Although college students and soon-to-be college students were the most likely to have heard of MOOCs, just 26 percent of them think MOOCs are a good idea, according to the survey, which was based on a nationwide sample of 1,042 people. However, an overwhelming majority of survey respondents were familiar with online education in general, and a majority of them were modestly in favor of colleges’ offering MOOCs. "For students who are currently in the midst of that more-traditional college experience, the idea that that might be replaced by an online experience is not particularly appealing," says Brodeur Partners' Jerry Johnson. The survey also found that making higher education more available, flexible, and affordable were the strongest arguments in support of MOOC adoption, while the failure to provide a "traditional college experience" was the biggest negative. The survey indicates that MOOCs will not be the death of traditional higher education, but will lead to technological changes, says Prime Group's Greg Schneiders.
Intel Links Many Screens into a Giant, Wireless Display
IDG News Service (06/25/13) James Niccolai
Intel researchers have developed Display as a Service (DaaS), wireless technology that enables a single screen image to be shown on a wall of displays all working in unison, so that a piece of the original image is shown on each display. Although that type of setup has been used for years at concerts and department stores, the displays all have to be connected with HDMI or DVI video cables. The Intel technology "virtualizes" the pixels on a display, separating them from the underlying hardware so that they can be sent via Wi-Fi and reassembled on other screens for viewing. DaaS also can work in reverse, taking the displays from several laptops and showing them side by side on a single larger screen. The technology uses the H.264 video compression standard to compress what is on a display so that it can be sent wirelessly to other screens. The software also includes metadata that tells the video how many screens it will be displayed on and how they are spaced relative to each other.
ROSPHERE: a Spherical Robot for Exploration Missions
Technical University of Madrid (Spain) (06/25/13)
An unconventional motion mode has enabled a robot prototype to conduct missions in wild environments. A team from the Technical University of Madrid's Robotics and Cybernetics Research Group has developed a land mobile vehicle that has no wheels or legs. ROSPHERE, a single spherical form, scrolls by itself to conduct missions and is inherently stable. A single ball, ROSPHERE seemingly moves without any external force, and its locomotion can be compared to the ball of hamsters. Spherical robots generally have numerous motion systems, and ROSPHERE has a pendulum system that has a capacity of two independent motions, and this internal mechanism can conduct straight movements as well as curvilinear motion that is similar to a car. The researchers found the robot to be suitable for rolling and gathering information on crops, and for monitoring farming techniques. Further work on its autonomous navigation and mechanical strength could increase the potential applications of the robot.
Researchers ID Thousands of Organic Materials for Use in Solar Cells
Technology Review (06/24/13) Mike Orcutt
Harvard University researchers have computationally screened 2.3 million organic molecules for properties related to photovoltaic applications and organized them into a searchable, sortable database that will help guide the search for new photovoltaic materials. The release of the database marks the second anniversary of the Materials Genome Initiative, a federal effort to double the pace of innovation, manufacture, and deployment of high-tech materials. The program aims to facilitate collaboration and data sharing between academic and private-sector materials science researchers. The project requires the use of huge amounts of computing power and machine learning to test new materials virtually and predict their properties. The Harvard project aims to use high-throughput computing to help locate materials that can be used for more efficient organic electronics. The calculations were performed using IBM's World Community Grid, which enables volunteers to donate surplus computing power from their own machines to selected projects.
New Scheme for Quantum Computing
UCSD News (CA) (06/24/13) Susan Brown
University of California, San Diego researchers have proposed an algorithm for quantum computing that would be used to more quickly conduct an unstructured search, with the goal of locating a particular item within an unsorted pile of data. The researchers focused on a computer based on a state of matter called a Bose-Einstein condensate. The equation usually used to describe quantum systems is linear, but the ones that approximate the state of a Bose-Einstein condensate has a term that is cubed. The researchers propose computing with this cubic equation because it will more rapidly converge on the answer. They have shown that their algorithm can search for a particular item among one million items in the same time it would take conventional algorithms to search among 10 items. However, the researchers note that the gains in speed have physical costs. "If we want to run this algorithm, we're going to need a certain number of atoms," Wong notes. "This is how many atoms we need for this nonlinear equation to be valid, to be a correct approximation of the underlying quantum theory. That is new."
New Algorithm Finds Best Routes for One-Way Car Sharing
MIT News (06/24/13) Jennifer Chu
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a vehicle-routing algorithm designed to help rebalance one-way vehicle-sharing systems. One-way systems enable drivers to pick up vehicles near their departure point and drop them off near their destination, but an imbalance arises, for example, when stations close to cities fill up with cars while stations near the suburbs are depleted. Some programs, such as Car2Go, attempt to resolve this by employing drivers to shift vehicles to high-demand locations, but this imposes an expense and also tends to become unbalanced. MIT professor Emilio Frazzoli and his colleagues wrote an algorithm involving a driver who returns a car to a depleted station while taking a customer along like a taxi service. The algorithm identifies the most efficient means of balancing taxi and shuttle trips and reduces wasted trips. The group found that at least one shuttling driver is necessary for every three fleet vehicles to maintain adequate vehicle availability. Autonomous vehicles would further improve car-sharing, Frazzoli notes. "It would save money and it would decrease the cost of using a vehicle, and allow you to reduce congestion," he says. "So this can have a tangible benefit to people, especially those living in large cities."
How Information Design Eases Our Understanding of the World
Northeastern University News (06/24/13) Jason Kornwitz
Northeastern University recently hosted the Information Design and Data Visualization: Boston 2013 symposium, at which information design experts gathered to discuss the confluence of their field with big data. Experts at the symposium described how information design and data visualization can aid in understanding challenging problems. For example, science and technology documentary director Mark Davis discussed the use of digital models to provide a realistic representation of landing for the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Curiosity Mars Rover. Gershon Dublon, a research assistant at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, discussed the use of spatial data to analyze activities, systems, and relationships in an environment with sensor data visualizations, in which, for example, icons such as blue flames represent cold rooms. "Like Galileo's telescope, data visualization lets us see things that were previously invisible to us," says Northeastern associate dean Peter Wiederspahn. This fall Northeastern will begin offering a two-year interdisciplinary Master of Fine Arts degree in Information Design and Visualization that will teach analytical communication of information.
An Active Approach to Digital Archives
European Union researchers working on the PRESTOPRIME project are exploring solutions for problems that make digital archiving vulnerable to corruption, change, and loss. Changes to even one digit of digital content, for example, due to the bit-rot that occurs when a hard drive loses magnetic properties, can damage data quality and accessibility. Software and hardware changes, inadvertent modification, and compression mishaps also can threaten digital content. To address these problems, the European Commission is funding the PRESTOPRIME project, involving 14 organizations from six nations. PRESTOPRIME researchers have developed open source tools to help archives manage and monitor content, analyze long-term preservation risks, verify integrity, and illuminate the time and expense involved for archivists. '"Archiving in the digital era can no longer be a passive process, it requires an active approach," says PRESTOPRIME coordinator Daniel Teruggi. "Archived content needs to be analyzed, monitored, and checked regularly to ensure its integrity and long-term preservation." The researchers also created tools to help archivists include metadata and to merge different sets of metadata applied to the same content through a metadata mapping process.
How to Fit 1,000 Terabytes on a DVD
ScienceAlert (Australia) (06/20/13) Min Gu; Yaoyu Cao; Zongsong Gan
Researchers at the Swinburne University of Technology and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) have developed a technique that increases the data capacity of a single DVD from 4.7 gigabytes to one petabyte. The researchers had to break Abbe's limit, which was a barrier to producing extremely small dots, in the nanometer region, to use as binary bits. The team used a two-light-beam method, with different colors, for recording onto discs. The first beam was used to activate the recording and the second was used to play an anti-recording function. The beams were then overlapped, with the technique producing an effective focal spot of nine nanometers. The researchers say their work will have a significant impact on the development of super-compact devices, as well as on nanoscience and nanotechnology research. The exceptional penetration capacity of light beams permit three-dimensional recording or manufacturing, which can dramatically boost the data storage of a single optical device. The researchers note the technique is cost-effective and portable, and it could be ideal for big data because it allows for the development of optical data storage with long life and low energy consumption.
Two-Dimensional Atomically-Flat Transistors Show Promise for Next-Generation Green Electronics
UC Santa Barbara (06/20/13)
Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and the University of Notre Dame have demonstrated the highest reported drive current on a transistor made of a monolayer of tungsten diselenide. The discovery also is the first demonstration of an n-type WSe2 field-effect transistor (FET), showing the potential of this material for future low-power and high-performance integrated circuits. "In addition to its atomically smooth surfaces, [WSe2] has a considerable band gap of 1.6 eV," notes UCSB professor Kaustav Banerjee. The researchers developed a methodology using ab-initio Density Functional Theory (DFT), which established the key criteria needed to evaluate such interfaces leading to the best possible contacts with the monolayer transition metal dichalcogenide (TMD). The DFT technique was pioneered by UCSB professor Walter Kohn. "At a recent meeting with professor Kohn, we discussed how this relatively new class of semiconductors is benefiting from one of his landmark contributions," Banerjee says. The new transistors achieved ON currents as high as 210 uA/um, which are the highest reported value of drive current on any monolayer TMD based FET to date, says UCSB's Wei Liu.
New Stanford Software Helps Identify Cost-Effective Ways to Invest in Clean Water
Stanford Report (CA) (06/20/13) Elizabeth Rauer
Stanford University researchers have developed the Resource Investment Optimization System (RIOS), an open source program designed to help discover cost-effective investments for clean and reliable water. Working with partners in Latin America as part of the Nature Capital Project, the researchers deployed RIOS in Colombia and realized improvements in return on watershed investment by up to 600 percent over previous methods. Using local knowledge and preferences, RIOS prioritizes the most effective investments within a given budget, with suggestions such as reducing deforestation or paying farmers not to cultivate near a stream. RIOS uses hydrological computer models that assign values to water quality and other environmental factors and takes various requirements into consideration. "This problem of where to invest in watersheds used to be so hard that people just paid any landowners who were willing to participate in water fund programs," says Stanford researcher Heather Tallis. "With RIOS, we can bring science and practicality into the picture." The Latin American Water Funds Partnership is funding RIOS as part of its goal to develop 32 new water funds and restore over 7 million watershed acres.
Gauging the Risk of Fraud From Social Media
University of Twente (Netherlands) (06/20/13) Juliette Fhij
Maurice van Keulen, a researcher at the University of Twente’s Center for Telematics and Information Technology, is working to enable more accurate predictions of a person's risk of fraudulent behavior by linking social media data with government data. The first challenge is to link a person's social media account definitively to data compiled by the Netherlands' Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment. University of Twente's Henry Been has shown that it is possible to link people to their Twitter accounts using personal data such as name, language spoken, and address, although he has not actually linked anyone to a Twitter account yet, maintaining that it is only a question of time and additional research. Been co-authored a paper on the ethical aspects of his research, concluding that "people’s privacy is reduced, but the purpose makes it ethically justifiable, as combating fraud is in everyone’s interests.” Van Keulen intends to expand the research by appointing a Ph.D. student to work with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment on fraud prediction.
Robots Hallucinate Humans to Aid in Object Recognition
IEEE Spectrum (06/20/13) Evan Ackerman
After teaching robots how to use their imaginations to picture how a human would want a room organized, researchers at Cornell University are working to label three-dimensional point-clouds obtained from RGB-D sensors by leveraging contextual hallucinated people. A year ago, the research of Ashutosh Saxena's lab was a success, with algorithms that used hallucinated humans to influence the placement of objects performing significantly better than other methods. The team has been investigating the relationships between objects and other objects. A traditional semantic-mapping algorithm could look at all the objects on a desk and determine that it is a desk area, but some objects do not necessarily fit into the desk semantic category. The other concept involves object affordances, or characteristics of an object that allow a human to do something with it. The researchers note that much can be learned about the function of an object by how a human uses it, and hallucinating a human can serve this purpose when no one is around to interact with the object for the robot.
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