Welcome to the June 1, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Man leaving black footprints on white carpet AI Footstep Recognition System Could Be Used for Airport Security
University of Manchester
May 29, 2018

The University of Manchester in the U.K. and the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in Spain have collaborated on an artificial intelligence (AI)-based biometric verification system for identifying a person by their specific gait. The researchers estimate the system can authenticate individuals with near-perfect accuracy, and only a 0.7% error rate. The AI was trained to learn gait patterns using the world's biggest footstep database, SfootBD, which contains 20,000 footstep signals from 127 distinct individuals. Manchester's Omar Costilla Reyes says every human's walking pattern features about 24 separate variables and movements, so "monitoring these movements can be used, like a fingerprint or retinal scan, to recognize and clearly identify or verify an individual." The researchers tested their data by using a large number of "impostors" and a small population of users in three real-world security scenarios: airport security checkpoints, the workplace, and home settings.

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Amazon's Virtual Assistant Becomes a Personal Assistant to Software Developers
University of British Columbia
May 24, 2018

Computer scientists at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada are using Amazon's virtual assistant Alexa to handle routine programming tasks for software engineers, who rely on multiple independent tools to edit, build, and test systems for a single project. UBC's Nick Bradley and his team tested whether Alexa could facilitate this process by allowing software engineers to use conversational language to ask Alexa to complete some tasks. Beyond teaching Alexa key phrases and mapping different commands to the work, the researchers had to identify common multi-step tasks that engineers perform and create a system that could automate those tasks. Engineers who evaluated the system found it useful, but Bradley says using voice commands in an office environment is distracting. The team plans to create a chatbot that would allow engineers to type minimal requests instead of speaking them aloud.

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Walk This Way: Novel Method Enables Infinite Walking in VR
Association for Computing Machinery
May 29, 2018

A team of computer scientists from Stony Brook University, Nvidia, and Adobe has developed a computational architecture to give virtual reality (VR) users the perception of infinite walking in a small physical space without disorientation or real-world collisions. The researchers tapped humans' involuntary quick-eye movements, or saccades, to refine the system. "We realized that if we rotate the virtual camera just slightly during saccades, we can redirect a user's walking direction to simulate a larger walking space," says Stony Brook's Qi Sun. The team used a VR headset that tracks head and eye movements to recognize saccadic suppression and redirect users during the temporary blindness. When additional redirection is needed, the researchers encourage saccades via customized subtle gaze direction. Tests showed that users generally did not notice virtual camera rotation during instances of saccadic suppression. The team will present their work in August at ACM SIGGRAPH 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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Overhead view of a two car collision A Classical Math Problem Gets Pulled Into Self-Driving Cars
Kevin Hartnett
May 27, 2018

Princeton University's Amir Ali Ahmadi and Anirudha Majumdar are applying a classical math problem to ensure with compete certainty that self-driving cars will avoid collisions. The "sum of squares" problem--determining whether a polynomial can always be expressed as a sum of two separate terms, each raised to the second power--is the focus of their research. Ahmadi and Majumdar describe a way to circumvent attempts to find a sum of squares decomposition by solving a single, slow semidefinite program, instead using a sequence of simpler equations, or linear programs, that can be computed more rapidly. The resulting tool can check for nonnegativity and explain sum of squares decompositions quickly. For self-driving autos, a polynomial can be a mathematical barrier around objects to be avoided, and the Princeton researchers' method could accelerate the calculations needed to separate the vehicles from spaces and objects to avoid.

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Computer Science Programs to Increase in Hawaii Schools
Associated Press
May 30, 2018

Hawaii's Board of Education has adopted K-12 Computer Science Standards developed by the Computer Science Teachers Association, and along with the state Legislature and University of Hawaii, is working to boost computer science (CS) programs in the state’s schools. State lawmakers on May 1 passed legislation allocating $500,000 for educator training in CS and requiring every public high school to offer the subject by 2021. The U.S. National Science Foundation has given the University of Hawaii at Manoa a three-year, approximately $1-million grant to train public-school instructors to teach CS courses, with the first group to be trained this summer. Another grant to the same university will provide scholarships for students pursuing degrees in cybersecurity for eventual government employment. "The myth is that computer science is just coding, but it is beyond coding," says the Hawaii Department of Education's Hilary Apana-McKee. "It is promotion of skill sets that we want our students to have when they graduate, versus just computer science."

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Rubber duck floating on soapy water Researchers Develop Battery-Free Smart Toys for Kids
Design News
Elizabeth Montalbano
May 29, 2018

A team from Jeju National University in South Korea embedded triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs) in toys so they can operate without batteries. Jeju's Arunkumar Chandrasekhar says toys work well with the technology because children's natural movements trigger the TENGs. The devices were created with an eco-friendly silicone film sandwiched between aluminum electrodes, which produce electricity as they rub against or move away from each other as users shake or squeeze the toys. The activated TENGs can harvest sufficient biomechanical energy to illuminate several light-emitting diodes on each toy. "TENG devices are one of the best solutions to meet low-power electronics requirements because they can scavenge energy from various sources--water wave, wind, biomechanical, vibration, rain drops, and so on," Chandrasekhar notes.

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'Nobel Prize' of Robotics Recipients Announced
Greg Nichols
May 25, 2018

Universal Robotics' Esben H. Østergaard has been named to receive the Award for Technology, while Gudrun Litzenberger, general secretary of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), will receive the Award for Leadership, as part of the 2018 Joseph F. Engelberger Robotics Awards, considered the most prestigious honor in robotics. Østergaard will be honored for his work in collaborative robotics technology, which has helped to bring advanced industrial robots outside safety cages, enabling humans and robots to safely work side by side. Litzenberger's work, focused on measuring and analyzing the spread of automation, "has established the IFR as the leading source of global robotics statistics during an era when the interest in robotics is growing exponentially," says Jeff Burnstein with the Robotic Industries Association, which oversees the awards.

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Antiferromagnetic Materials Allow for Processing at Terahertz Speeds
Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz (Germany)
May 24, 2018

A collaboration between the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in Germany and the Czech Academy of Sciences in the Czech Republic has found a way to boost data processing rates approximately 100 times by using antiferromagnetic memories. "Our antiferromagnetic memory concept is now capable of working directly with data sent at rates in the terahertz range," says JGU's Jairo Sinova. The researchers passed an electric current through antiferromagnets to align the storage units, using a laser pulse to generate an electric current and facilitate a wireless connection. This innovation enabled the team to dramatically increase speeds, and satisfy the requirements for future computer and TV users to see ultra-high definition images that are free of judder.

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Man holding ingestible sensor developed by MIT researcher Ingestible 'Bacteria on a Chip' Could Help Diagnose Disease
MIT News
Anne Trafton
May 24, 2018

A new ingestible sensor can help diagnose gastrointestinal (GI) problems, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers. The approach uses sensors made from living cells, combined with ultra-low-power electronics that translate the bacterial response into a wireless signal that a smartphone can read. Focusing on bleeding in the GI tract, the team created a probiotic strain of E. coli to express a genetic circuit that causes the bacteria to emit light when it encounters heme, a component of blood. The bacteria filled four wells on a custom-designed sensor, covered by a semipermeable membrane. A phototransistor underneath each well measured the light produced by the bacterial cells, sending the information to a microprocessor that transmitted a wireless signal to a nearby computer or smartphone. In tests on pigs, the ingestible sensor correctly determined whether blood was present in the stomach. The new sensor could prevent an unnecessary endoscopy by quickly revealing whether a bleeding event had occurred. As a next step, the researchers plan to reduce the sensor's size and develop sensors for additional GI conditions.

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3D representation of the Minato Ward (Tokyo) A Genetic Algorithm Predicts the Vertical Growth of Cities
SINC (Information and Scientific News Service)
May 23, 2018

Researchers from the University of A Coruña in Spain worked with architect Ivan Pazos have create genetic algorithms that predict how the number of skyscrapers and other buildings in an urban area will increase. "We operate within evolutionary computation, a branch of artificial intelligence and machine learning that uses the basic rules of genetics and Darwin's natural selection logic to make predictions," says Pazos. The team developed algorithms that learn urban growth patterns using historical data from the construction sector and economic parameters. The study focused on the Minato Ward in Tokyo, Japan, one of the neighborhoods with the highest vertical growth worldwide in recent years. In 2015, the researchers developed maps and three-dimensional representations of Minato to predict the number of buildings that would be erected, and their probable locations, in the 2016-2019 period. The algorithm's predictions have been very accurate for 2016 and 2017, and initial evaluations indicate the algorithm's accuracy for 2018 and 2019 will be 80%. Pazo said the study concluded that evolutionary computation can find growth patterns that are not obvious in complex urban systems.

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How Close Are We, Really, to Building a Quantum Computer?
Scientific American
Larry Greenemeier
May 30, 2018

In an interview, Intel Labs' Jim Clarke notes the race to develop the first practical quantum computer is fraught with challenges. "The goal with quantum computing is to keep [quantum bits/qubits] spinning in the superposition of multiple states for a long time," he says. There are currently at least six or seven distinct qubit types, their performance shaped by how they are manipulated and induced to communicate with each other. Varieties of qubits currently considered for use in quantum computing include superconducting systems and trapped ion systems, but Clarke says Intel is exploring a third variety called silicon spin qubits, which resemble a conventional silicon transistor but use one electron whose spin in controlled by microwave pulses. He thinks spin qubits offer an easier path toward scalability, since they are 1 million times smaller than superconducting systems. "Until we have physical systems that are a few hundred to a thousand qubits...it's unclear exactly what types of software or applications that we'll be able to run," says Clarke.

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