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Welcome to the October 28, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Cars in the parking lot Helping Autonomous Vehicles See Around Corners
MIT News
Rob Matheson
October 27, 2019

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineers have created a system that perceives tiny fluctuations in ground shadows to ascertain whether an unseen object is coming around a corner. MIT's Daniela Rus said, "The big dream is to provide 'X-ray vision' of sorts to vehicles moving fast on the streets." The ShadowCam system employs computer vision to detect and categorize changes to such shadows. The system receives sequences of video frames from a camera focused on a specific area, and identifies changes in light intensity over time, image to image, that may signal something approaching or moving away; ShadowCam classifies each image as containing a stationary or moving object, and reacts accordingly.

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Researchers Visualize Climate Change with AI-Generated Images
Kyle Wiggers
October 23, 2019

Researchers at Stanford University and Canada's University of Montreal (U of M) have detailed several evaluation methods that begin to bridge the gap between automated and human-based generative quantification. The research, co-authored by U of M's Yoshua Bengio, a recipient of the ACM A.M. Turing Award, aims to establish a metric to quantify the veracity of synthetic climate change images. The team evaluated eight different automated methods and found that the best used embeddings from an intermediary artificial intelligence model layer with Fréchet Inception Distance, a metric that takes photos from both the target distribution and the model being evaluated and uses an object recognition system to find similarities among important features. Wrote the researchers, "The ultimate vision of this work is to create an ML (machine learning) architecture which, given an image from Google StreetView based on a user-chosen location, is able to generate the most realistic image of climate-change-induced extreme weather phenomena, given the contextual characteristics of that given image."

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Drones flying in the air The Drones Are Coming! How Amazon, Alphabet, Uber Are Taking to the Skies
The Wall Street Journal
Sebastian Herrera; Alberto Cervantes
October 25, 2019

Companies including Amazon, Alphabet's Wing, and Uber, are launching more advanced trials of drone delivery. Wing started tests in Christiansburg, VA, this month, while Uber will set up experiments in San Diego before the end of the year. Amazon said last June it would begin delivering packages to consumers via drone "within months." The companies have to overcome a number of obstructions and concerns before drone delivery can become widespread. Amazon uses machine learning algorithms and infrared sensors to detect obstacles like birds and wires, and programs its drones with scenarios (such as when a delivery location cannot be detected), and commands to follow in such scenarios. Wing, meanwhile, has tested its drone north of Helsinki under snowy and windy conditions; its drone has built-in wind sensors and is waterproof. A challenge that remains is that no standard exists on how drones can identify and communicate with each other while in flight, so drone delivery by multiple companies in the same area is not currently possible.

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Spotting Cutting-Edge Topics in Scientific Research Using Keyword Analysis
University of Tsukuba (Japan)
October 24, 2019

Researchers at the University of Tsukuba in Japan have created a technique to identify emerging topics in life science research. Bibliometric analysis of 30 million papers in the PubMed database allowed the researchers to predict likely persistent research trends by identifying keywords associated with emerging topics that tend to appear together with keywords affiliated with other emergent or recently manifested topics. Said Tsukuba's Aiko Hibino, "Emerging topics tend to generate emerging topics. Emerging keywords that achieved great success in the long run first appeared with other preceding emerging keywords."

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Smart cart Tired of Long Lines? Canadian Grocery Chain Debuts Smart Carts with Self-Checkout
The Washington Post
Peter Holley
October 25, 2019

Nova Scotia, Canada-based grocery chain Sobeys has launched a pilot program using intelligent shopping carts that scan and weigh items, and help customers skip long checkout lines by allowing them to pay on the spot. Sobeys' Smart Cart fleet features touchscreens that display a running count of purchases as shoppers scan and place their items in bags within the cart; customers can pay as soon as their shopping is completed. Sobeys says that as the carts are upgraded, their screens will help customers navigate stores, fill out shopping lists, and suggest products for recipes. The carts are equipped with high-resolution cameras which, when combined with scales, enable shoppers to add items to their purchase without entering information or scanning bar codes.

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Robots Can Learn How to Support Teachers in Class Sessions
University of Plymouth (UK)
Alan Williams
October 23, 2019

Robots can learn techniques supportive of teachers in classrooms in only three hours, according to researchers at the universities of Plymouth, Lincoln, and the West of England in the U.K. The researchers programmed the Supervised Progressively Autonomous Robot Competencies (SPARC) robot to progressively learn autonomous behavior from human demonstrations and guidance, under a teacher's control. Afterwards, the robot could autonomously support students in the activity demonstrated, providing advice that was consistent with that of the educator. SPARC employed actions with a different frequency than the teacher, but it only used actions already shown, and learned the novel dynamics associated with each type of action; the robot also learned techniques to support pupils with social interactions, like praise and encouragement. The researchers think future human-robot interactions could benefit from this approach, which would allow end-users to directly train robots.

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Voice Assistants Follow Inaudible Commands
Ruhr-University Bochum
Julia Weiler
October 23, 2019

Researchers at Germany's Horst Gortz Institute for Information Technology Security (HGI) at Ruhr-University Bochum have developed exploits against voice assistants by encoding inaudible commands in songs and other audio content. HGI's Lea Schonherr concealed inaudible commands in different audio signals and tracked how the Kaldi speech-recognition software integrated in many voice assistants decoded the data, to confirm whether Kaldi understood the clandestine directions. Such exploits could only be conducted if the doctored files were fed directly to assistants as data in the speech-recognition software, but now the attack works even when files are played through speakers. The team now is developing countermeasures, by teaching the speech-recognition system to eliminate any parts of the audio signals that are inaudible to humans. Said HGI's Thorsten Eisenhofer, "Essentially, the recognition is meant to work rather like the human ear, rendering it more difficult to conceal secret messages in audio files."

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A team of RIT researchers RIT Researchers Win 1st Place in Facebook Research International Eye-Tracking Challenge
Rochester Institute of Technology
Luke Auburn
October 22, 2019

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) researchers took the top prize in Facebook Research's OpenEDS Challenge for developing a real-time eye-tracking technique that considers the eye’s iris, pupil, and sclera separately. "When we talk about doing eye tracking on a device such as your cellphone, you need models that are small, that can run in real time," said RIT's Rakshit Kothari. "You need to be able to just take out your cellphone and have it work right away, without much computation." The team donated its $5,000 prize money to the newly established Willem “Bill” Brouwer Endowed Fellowship to support graduate student research in the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science.

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Bioprinting: Living Cells in a 3D Printer
Vienna University of Technology
Florian Aigner
October 21, 2019

Researchers at the Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien) in Austria have developed a high-resolution bioprinting process with completely new materials, involving the use of a special "bio ink" for three-dimensional (3D) printing. The technique allows cells to be embedded in a 3D matrix printed with micrometer precision, at a speed of one meter per second. Depending on how the structure is built, it can be made stiffer or softer; even fine continuous gradients are possible. As a result, it is possible to define the structure to allow the desired kind of cell growth and cell migration. Said TU Wien's Aleksandr Ovsianikov, "Using these 3D scaffolds, it is possible to investigate the behavior of cells with previously unattainable accuracy."

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Picture of French fries Would You Like Fries With That? McDonald's Already Knows the Answer
The New York Times
David Yaffe-Bellany
October 28, 2019

McDonald's is acquiring companies that develop artificial intelligence and machine learning to make the company more like Amazon. Its incorporation of technology is aimed at reversing its recent loss of customers, resulting in restaurants closing and sales declining. The company is incorporating technologies such as digital boards that promote its products, taking into account environmental factors like the weather and the length of the wait for service. The company has tested algorithms at its drive-throughs that capture license-plate numbers, so the restaurant can list recommended purchases personalized to a customer's previous orders, as long as the person agrees allow the fast-food chain to store that data. McDonald's also recently tested voice recognition at certain outlets, with the goal of deploying a faster order-taking system. Regarding the use of new technologies, the company’s CIO, Daniel Henry, said, “You just grow to expect that in other parts of your life ... We don’t think food should be any different than what you buy on Amazon."

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Microsoft 2020 Imagine Cup
Northeastern University Institute for Experiential AI

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