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Welcome to the October 30, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Stanford Increasing Access to 3D Modeling Through Touch-Based Display
Stanford News
Taylor Kubota
October 29, 2019

Stanford University researchers have developed a tactile display engineered to imitate the geometry of three-dimensional (3D) objects and make 3D printing and computer-aided design accessible to the blind and visually impaired. The display was co-designed by blind or visually-impaired researchers, and utilizes vertically moving pins that configure into shapes. Users enter specifications of their desired shape in a 3D modeling program to be tactilely rendered through the display, which can reconfigure the shape to reflect any alterations. The device can 3D-model, zoom in and out on an object, and display the object in split sections, while also allowing users to sense shapes with multiple fingers or their entire hand. Stanford's Joshua Miele said, "It opens up the possibility of blind people being, not just consumers of the benefits of fabrication technology, but agents in it, creating our own tools from 3D modeling environments that we would want or need."

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Teaching Cars to Drive with Foresight
University of Bonn (Germany)
October 28, 2019

Researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany have developed an algorithm designed to teach self-driving cars to anticipate hazards. The algorithm completes and interprets data collected via LiDAR, and is trained on a dataset culled from sequences derived from several dozen LiDAR scans, superimposed to encompass both present and future readings. "These superimposed point clouds contain important information such as the geometry of the scene and the spatial dimensions of the objects it contains, which are not available in a single scan," said Bonn's Martin Garbade. Each point is tagged with objects like other vehicles, pedestrians, and sidewalks; the researchers feed the software one LiDAR scan as input, and the associated overlay data desired as output, repeated for several thousand pairs.

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Zuckerberg at a press conference Tech Giants Have Hijacked the Web. It's Time for a Reboot
The Wall Street Journal
Paul Vigna
October 26, 2019

Experts warn technology giants like Facebook and Google have transformed the Internet into a corporate monopoly, but a growing industry aims to decentralize the Web, ensuring free and open information. World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee launched a "Contract for the Web" campaign through his World Wide Web Foundation, to codify an online ‘Bill of Rights’; he also co-founded a company developing a protocol to give users control over their personal online data by storing that information, along with data to confirm their identity. This strategy also might de-incentivize the construction of massive cloud data-storage facilities that reinforce monopolism. One concept, Blockstack, employs blockchain to share computing power network-wide, with software on users' devices comprising the network, storing all user-generated data on their devices.

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A trajectory-planning model System Prevents Speedy Drones from Crashing in Unfamiliar Areas
MIT News
Rob Matheson
October 25, 2019

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a trajectory planning model that helps aerial drones safely fly at high speeds through new geographies. The FASTER model estimates the quickest possible path from a starting point to a destination point across all areas the drone can and cannot see, without considering safety. As the drone flies, the model continuously logs collision-free "back-up" paths that slightly deviate from the original flight path, so the drone can cruise at high speed along the quickest trajectory while occasionally slowing down to ensure safety. In forest simulations, FASTER-powered virtual drones safely completed flight paths about twice as quickly as traditional models.

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Japan's Technology Leads the Way in Caring for Elderly
Claudia Rosmino
October 29, 2019

New technologies are driving Japan's public and private sectors to improve care for seniors, with a digital care system a core component; key to this effort is a new regulation allowing the public and private sectors to employ anonymously processed medical data. At Kyoto University Hospital, nurses pass patient data to servers for processing, to facilitate more accurate and efficient healthcare. Kyoto University Hospital CIO Tomohiro Kuroda said, "Through this system, the private sector can use the data in order to create new drugs and treatments." Digital care innovation also supports new business opportunities for private medical firms developing solutions to accommodate Japan's elderly. Examples include an autonomous artificial intelligence-powered wheelchair, and a virtual reality headset that simulates the experience of dementia, to train caregivers to better understand and treat patients suffering from the malady.

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Jensen Sun who developed Geoweaver How Scientists Are Using Machine Learning to Study the Planet
Kelly McSweeney
October 28, 2019

Ziheng Sun of the Center for Spatial Information Science and Systems at George Mason University developed a program that addresses earth scientists’ big data issues. Geoweaver, a Web-based system for deep learning on multiple datasets, helps geoscientists make sense of public and private data. The system helps earth scientists use machine learning (ML) to manage data as they strive to understand what is going on with the planet. Sun's research team is using Geoweaver for traditional geoscience research, such as studying crop yield production, agricultural droughts, flooding damage assessment, and air quality predictions. Geoweaver "allows scientists to combine their legacy programs and datasets with the cutting-edge deep learning algorithms to create AI (artificial intelligence) models which can more accurately and more automatically understand and predict our environment," said Sun.

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Compact Depth Sensor Inspired by Spiders
Harvard University John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Leah Burrows
October 28, 2019

Researchers in Harvard University’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have designed a compact depth sensor modeled on jumping spiders' depth perception that could be used in microrobots, small wearable devices, or virtual reality headsets. While many current depth sensors measure distance with integrated light sources and multiple cameras, the new sensor applies a modified version of jumping spiders' model of distance calculation through the use of metalenses. Metalenses split light into two distinctly defocused images side by side on a photosensor; an algorithm reads both images, and constructs a depth map to embody object distance. SEAS' Federico Capasso said, "Fusing breakthroughs in optical design and computational imaging has led us to this new depth camera that will open up a broad range of opportunities in science and technology."

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Researchers Uncover DNA Data Security Flaws on Popular Genealogy Website
Kurt Schlosser
October 29, 2019

University of Washington (UW) researchers have found that the GEDmatch genealogy website has security flaws that threaten the security of users' sensitive genetic data. The site lets users compare their DNA sequences to those of others, and the UW team learned a hacker only needs a small number of comparisons to extract someone's genetic markers, or to build a counterfeit genetic profile to masquerade as another user's relative. The researchers created a GEDmatch account, and uploaded experimental genetic profiles produced by mixing and matching data from multiple databases of anonymous profiles. They then tested the site to ascertain whether a malefactor could learn through a target's profile whether or not the individual carries a mutation that makes them vulnerable to a disease, and whether a hacker could obtain a target's complete profile. The team shared its findings with GEDmatch, which reportedly is attempting to patch the flaws.

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Moving Agricultural Data from Silos to Cloud
Government Computer News
Stephanie Kanowitz
October 29, 2019

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has launched a program to de-silo data and move it to the cloud, in order to make it more useful and effective. The Data Innovations project is aimed at eliminating inefficient, error-prone, and time-consumer processes for handling such data. The project includes the deployment of sensor networks and data collection and sharing systems that stream data into a centralized cloud database, as well as last year's creation of a centralized data repository called the Agricultural Collaborative Research Outcomes System. ARS and other researchers can publish any data from their projects into this cloud-based network of networks system. ARS also produced customized apps with AgVoice, a mobile voice-interaction service for food and agriculture professionals. Said Michael Buser of ARS, “Now I can collect the data hands-free, eyes-free. Really, the key in any of these apps, it’s got to be functional for the people entering the data, otherwise it’s never going to get used.”

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Team Hope with their supervisor Team of Syrian Refugees Wins Robotics Event
Khaleej Times
October 27, 2019

Five Syrian teenaged refugees working together as Team Hope led a four-team alliance to win the grand finale of the FIRST Global Challenge 2019, in Dubai. The third annual robotics competition drew more than 1,500 students from 191 countries. Team Hope presented two robots, one that educates people on the struggles of refugees, and the other designed to help clean the oceans. Members of the team said the difficulties they faced in war-torn Syria had motivated them to make the world a better place through robotics and artificial intelligence.

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Using Computational Chemistry to Produce Cheaper Infrared Plastic Lenses
UA News (AZ)
Mikayla Mace
October 29, 2019

Researchers at the University of Arizona (UA), University of Delaware, and Seoul National University in South Korea have refined a plastic material derived from fossil fuel processing waste to produce next-generation infrared (IR) lenses, with the help of computational simulations. The material has greater strength and temperature resistance than first-generation sulfur plastics, is transparent to a wider spectral range that extends into long-wave IR, and is more affordable than industry-standard germanium-based plastics. The researchers used computational simulations to design organic molecules that were not IR-absorbing, and to predict the transparency of candidate materials. Said UA's Tristan Kleine, "It could have taken years to test these materials in the laboratory, but we were able to greatly accelerate new materials design using this method.”

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New Model of Irregular Heartbeat Could Boost Drug Efficacy
The Source (Washington University in St. Louis)
Beth Miller
October 29, 2019

Washington University in St. Louis (WashU) researchers have developed the first computational simulation to detail molecular mechanisms of the drug mexiletine in treating arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). WashU's Jonathan Silva led a team that employed a model with two genetic mutations that induce arrhythmia in patients with long QT type 3 syndrome: the R1626P mutation that allows arrhythmia treatment mexiletine to work, and the M1652R mutation that changes the heart's sodium channel to block the medication. The team incorporated mathematical equations describing how the channel opens and closes, governing the drug's arrhythmia-blocking action, into a model of a booster that improved mexiletine's ability to reduce the amount of electrical current entering via the sodium channel, even with the M1652R mutation. Silva said this should mitigate or halt the arrhythmia triggers.

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A savanna elephant Elephants Under Attack Have an Unlikely Ally: AI
Dina Temple-Raston
October 25, 2019

Researchers at Cornell University are using artificial intelligence to find patterns in enormous volumes of information about elephant behavior, as well as human poacher behavior. The researchers divided the rainforest in Central Africa into 25 square kilometer grids and placed a custom recorder in the tree tops in each square. The recorders collected hundreds of thousands of hours of jungle sounds over the course of three months. The team ran the audio data through a software program that converted it into spectrograms, then used a neural network to analyze the jungle sounds and identify those made by elephants. The researchers found elephants do not visit some parts of the forest during specific times of the year, information that can be used by park rangers to help manage their resources.

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Microsoft 2020 Imagine Cup
Northeastern University Institute for Experiential AI

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