Welcome to the July 14, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
First Major Redesign of Rasberry Pi Unveiled
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (07/14/14)
The Raspberry Pi Foundation has released the first major redesign of Raspberry Pi, its credit card-sized computer. The new model, known as B+, features four USB ports and extra sensors to enable users to create bigger projects. "We've been blown away by the projects that have been made possible through the original B boards and, with its new features, the B+ has massive potential to push the boundaries and drive further innovation," says Raspberry Pi Trading CEO Eben Upton. The Raspberry Pi B+, which will sell for 20 British pounds, is based on the same chipset and 512 MB of RAM as the previous model. The new model is powered by micro USB with AV connections through either HDMI or a new four-pole connector, which replaces the analog audio and composite video ports. In addition, the SD card slot has been replaced with a microSD slot, and the B+ board now uses less power than the Model B board when running. The Raspberry Pi is designed and built in the United Kingdom as a way of promoting computer science to young people.
Survey Finds Math, Science Grads Earn Top Dollar
Associated Press (07/09/14) Anne Flaherty
A new report released by the U.S. Education Department features a survey of the class of 2008 by the National Center for Education Statistics. The poll found that just 16 percent of students earned degrees in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) disciplines, but those who did were paid significantly better, averaging $65,000 a year compared with $49,500 for graduates of other degrees. More than 95 percent of the graduates who studied computer science and information science were employed full-time at the time of the survey, and earned $72,600 on average; engineering students reported similar job and salary prospects. Asian graduates reported earning more than other ethnicities, averaging $62,500 in full-time jobs compared with $47,300 earned by Hispanics, $48,800 by blacks, and $52,400 by whites. However, University of Massachusetts at Amherst's C.N. Le notes Asian students may be facing higher unemployment rates--almost 12 percent compared with 5.5 percent of white graduates--due to visa issues or policies by U.S businesses favoring U.S. citizens. "In a lot of cases, STEM jobs have fewer promotion ladders than other positions" in areas such as finance or advertising, creating a glass-ceiling effect, Le says.
Your Next Opponent in Angry Birds Could Be a Robot
Georgia Tech News Center (07/10/14)
A combination robot/smart-tablet system could become a future rehabilitation tool for children with cognitive and motor-skill disabilities. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) have paired a small humanoid robot with an Android tablet, enabling children to easily program the robot to play Angry Birds. The robot observes how the child plays the game and then mimics the movements, celebrates when it scores points, and even adjusts its playing strategy. "One way to get robots more quickly into society is to design them to be flexible for end users," notes Georgia Tech's Hae Won Park. "If a robot is only trained to perform a specific set of tasks and not able to learn and adapt to its owner or surroundings, its usefulness can become extremely limited." A clinician could program the robot to address a child's needs, such as hand-eye coordination tasks, and then send the tablet home. During testing, the researchers say grade-school children played Angry Birds nearly three times as long with the robot when an adult was not watching, and interacted nearly 40 percent of the session with the robot and only 7 percent with the adult.
Drone Lighting: Autonomous Vehicles Could Automatically Assume the Right Positions for Photographic Lighting
MIT News (07/11/14) Larry Hardesty
A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Cornell University are developing algorithms that enable photographers to use camera-mounted controls to guide drone-mounted lights into just the right position for the perfect shot. The team started by tackling a major challenge: developing algorithms that would enable the airborne lighting robots to create a lighting effect known as "rimming lighting" in which only the edge of the subject is strongly lit. The photographer starts by positioning the drone until the desired effect is achieved, and then algorithms take over that measure light on the subject and use images transmitted by the photographer's camera and data from the drone's ranging systems to change its position to maintain the lighting effect as the subject, photographer, or both move around. The researchers tested the technique in a motion-capture lab and found it worked very well. Manohar Srikanth, who worked on the project as a graduate and post-doctoral student at MIT, says the precision of the rim lighting effect means the technique should generalize to less complicated lighting effects. The team will present its current prototype at the International Symposium on Computational Aesthetics in Graphics, Visualization, and Imaging in August.
Colleges Work to Engage Women, Minorities in STEM Fields
U.S. News & World Report (07/10/14) Delece Smith-Barrow
The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) recently announced that 20 schools have been selected to participate in Teaching to Increase Diversity and Equity in STEM (TIDES), a new initiative designed to help faculty learn how to better engage women and underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), as well as create curricula that are more inclusive for these students. The program focuses on fostering change for students interested in computer science. "We had an interest in computer science because the data was saying that the numbers of women in computer science were declining," says AAC&U vice president for undergraduate STEM education Kelly Mack. As part of the program, 14 schools will receive up to $300,000 for work completed over the next three years. Women and underrepresented minorities also should find out what resources colleges offer students who are interested in STEM degrees. For example, the Center for Women in Technology at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County provides mentoring services, seminars that discuss topics such as networking and time management, and several other resources, according to Center for Women in Technology director Penny Rheingans. At the University of California, Berkeley, the Association of Women in EECS provides women in computer science with a sense of community.
A Speech Synthesizer Direct to the Brain
Technology Review (07/09/14) Courtney Humphries
Although his findings are preliminary, University of California, San Francisco neurosurgeon Edward Chang says he is working toward building a wireless brain-machine interface that could translate brain signals directly into audible speech using a voice synthesizer. Chang has been conducting speech experiments in connection with brain surgeries he performs on patients with epilepsy. A sheet of electrodes placed under the patients' skulls records electrical activity from the surface of the brain. Patients wear a device called an electrocorticography array for several days to enable doctors to locate the exact source of seizures. In a paper published in the journal Nature last year, Chang and his colleagues described how they used the electrode array to map patterns of electrical activity in an area of the brain called the ventral sensory motor cortex as subjects pronounced sounds like "bah," "dee," and "goo." The aim of the technology is to record the electrical activity in the motor cortex that causes speech-related movements of the lips, tongue, and vocal cords. By mathematically analyzing these patterns, Chang says his team showed that "many key phonetic features" can be detected.
European Information Systems Will Be More Secure Thanks to CIPHER
Basque Research (07/10/14)
The European CIPHER Consortium has developed the first draft of a framework that offers recommendations for preventing cybercrime and responding to cyberattacks. The Cybersecurity Framework is a set of guidelines intended to help improve the security of European information systems that store or process the personal information of users. The four partners in the 24-month project, including Tecnalia and the Delft University of Technology, are conducting an in-depth analysis of the security of information systems in Europe. CIPHER will address the technological aspects of actual information systems, as well as social concerns and ethics involving the systems, in addition to the policies and regulations that affect them at the national level. European experts in security engineering, regulations and data protection, and critical infrastructure protection evaluated the framework at the Cipher International Workshop run by Tecnalia. The draft has been posted on the CIPHER website.
'Nano-Pixels' Promise Thin, Flexible High-Res Displays
University of Oxford (07/10/14)
A team led by Oxford University researchers say they have developed a phase change material composed of germanium-antimony-tellurium (GST) that could eventually lead to low-energy, thin, flexible displays. The researchers sandwiched a 7-nanometer-thick layer of GST between two layers of a transparent electrode, and used a tiny current to "draw" images within the sandwich stack. The researchers were able to demonstrate that multiple tiny stacks could be turned into prototype pixel-like devices, or nano-pixels measuring just 300 by 300 nanometers that could be electrically switched on and off to create colored dots. The findings suggest flexible paper-thin displays based on the technology could have the capacity to switch between a power-saving color e-reader mode and a backlit display capable of showing video. Such displays could be made with inexpensive materials yet be reliable and easy to manufacture because they would be solid-state. Potential applications for the nano-pixels include smart glasses, where an image would be projected at a larger size, as well as synthetic retinas and foldable screens, says Oxford professor Harish Bhaskaran.
Top-Class International Research Into Tomorrow's Mobility
Fraunhofer IAO (07/10/14)
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute of Industrial Engineering and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have launched the Ambient Mobility Lab with the goal of developing, evaluating, and applying future-ready mobility concepts such as autonomous driving, new drive concepts, sharing solutions, and potential applications for augmented reality. "We are delighted to support the Ambient Mobility Lab, which draws upon the enviable talent and capabilities of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and MIT," says MIT's Maria Zuber. "The synergy between MIT's penchant for developing technology to enable practical solutions and Fraunhofer's excellence in applied science is key to shaping the future of urban mobility, with a greater goal of no less than improving the human condition." The researchers say the lab is unique because it links high-tech, interdisciplinary studies with application-oriented approaches. "We are especially excited about looking into future-proofing mobility solutions--which are now radically being impacted by the pervasive deployment of [information and communications technology]," says MIT researcher Paolo Santi. Several projects already are underway and are designed to address questions such as which mobility systems are right for the future and how can users get quick and easy access to these concepts.
'Telekinetic' App Controls Google Glass With Your Mind
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (07/10/14) Stephen Harris
A new "telekinetic" app has been launched to enable Google Glass users to control the device using only their thoughts. Free, open source software called MindRDR links Google Glass with a brainwave-reading headset that enables users to operate the device by concentrating rather than using voice commands or tilting their head. So far, the app can only take photos and publish them to the Internet, but it could eventually lead to a larger number of touch-free interfaces for consumer technology. MindRDR may enable people with limited moving or speaking abilities to more easily communicate with others. "Most interfaces require quite a high level of dexterity or for you to communicate verbally in order to use them, so a mind-control interface has the opportunity to bring digital to those who may not be able to use those," says consultant Ben Aldred. MindRDR does not actually read people's thoughts, but relies on a portable headset device developed by NeuroSky that measures the brain's electroencephalogram (EEG) activity. Google Glass collects the EEG data output via a Bluetooth connection and uses it as a signal to control a line on the device's screen. When a user concentrates hard enough, the line moves to the top of the screen and activates the camera.
Better Visualizing of Fitness-App Data Helps Discover Trends, Reach Goals
UW News (WA) (07/08/14) Michelle Ma
An increasing number of consumers are using smartphones to track various aspects of their lives, and University of Washington (UW) researchers have developed visual tools to help self-trackers better understand their daily activity patterns over a longer period and in more detail. For UW's study, 14 people ages 23 to 66 used the "Moves" app on their smartphones for one month last summer to record types of activities and locations visited. The researchers used the data generated by each person to highlight subsets of data to identify trends, which were visualized using graphs, tables, and maps. All of the participants found the information to be more helpful in achieving fitness and activity goals than if they solely used the smartphone app. "Discovery about your patterns and habits happens when you see something you weren't expecting to see," notes UW student Daniel Epstein "Some participants already had an intuition about patterns in their lives, but it hit home for them when we started showing the supporting data to them in a visual way." The researchers plan to develop tools that target specific aspects of a person's life. The research was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and UW's Intel Science and Technology Center for Pervasive Computing.
WPI Scientists on the Road to DARPA's Robotics Finals
Computerworld (07/08/14) Sharon Gaudin
Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) researchers are developing a robot they hope can win the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) robotics challenge and one day act as a search and rescue worker. "We should be ready and responsive with technology that can help people who need it," says WPI professor Taskin Padir. "As a community, we're one step closer to helping advance rescue robots." The 11 finalists in the DARPA challenge, including teams from WPI, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will compete for a $2-million prize. During the finals, the robots will not be connected to power cords or wired communications. Moreover, the robots cannot be tethered, meaning that if a robot falls, it will have to get back up without human assistance. The WPI team is focusing on this aspect of the competition. When lying on the ground, WPI's humanoid robot can roll over and get to its knees, but currently it cannot quite get back to its feet. The WPI researchers want to write code for actions that make the robot steadier, move faster, and manipulate objects better.
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