Welcome to the April 5, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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The robot guide dog. Robot Guide Dog Could Help People Who Are Blind Navigate
New Scientist
Matthew Sparkes
April 5, 2021

University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) researchers have programmed a four-legged robot dog to guide blind people with a lead. The team outfitted an existing robot with a laser-ranging system to generate an environmental map, and a rotating camera that stays pointed at the person the robot is guiding to pinpoint their relative position. When a start point and an end point are inputted, the robot's software maps a route with waypoints, then calculates movement on the fly based on obstacles and the behavior of the person it is leading. UC Berkeley's Zhongyu Li said, "As time goes by and the hardware becomes more affordable, we can actually use this kind of dog to help, to serve, humans."

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Members of a retirement community take part in a virtual birthday celebration. Technology Keeps Senior Center Residents Connected During Pandemic
The Wall Street Journal
Angus Loten
March 30, 2021

Senior living facilities, whose residents live in their own rooms or apartments but share common areas, are looking to balance the benefits of technology by promoting social interactions as the pace of coronavirus vaccinations increases. PA-based Acts Retirement-Life Communities Inc., for instance, has rolled out robot assistants that can deliver meals or serve as mobile devices for visual and audio communications. It also has inked a deal with software firm K4Connect to employ motion-detection sensors to alert staff to residents getting out of bed and voice-activated controls to allow residents to control their lights, thermostats, and televisions. K4Connect's Scott Moody said, "What we really want to do is foster that physical engagement."

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AI Tool 85% Accurate at Recognizing, Classifying Wind Turbine Blade Defects
Loughborough University (U.K.)
March 31, 2021

An artificial intelligence (AI) tool developed by researchers at the U.K.'s Loughborough University can analyze images of wind turbine blades to identify defects that could affect their efficiency. The system uses images captured from manual or drone inspections, image enhancement and augmentation methods, and AI algorithms like the Mask R-CNN deep learning algorithm to highlight defects and classify them by type, including crack, erosion, void, or "other." A dataset of 923 images was used to train the AI system. In a subsequent test of 223 new images, the researchers determined the system was about 85% accurate in recognizing and classifying defects. Researcher Georgina Cosma said, "Using AI, we can automate the process of identifying and assessing damages, making better use of experts' time and efforts."

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A picking robot that combines vision with radio frequency (RF) sensing to find and grasps objects, even if they’re hidden from view. Robot Senses Hidden Objects
MIT News
Daniel Ackerman
April 1, 2021

A robot developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University, and the Georgia Institute of Technology can locate and grasp hidden objects using radio waves in combination with traditional computer vision. The robot, called RF-Grasp, uses a camera, a radio frequency (RF) reader, and a robotic arm attached to a grasping hand to find and grab RF-tagged items. MIT's Fadel Adib said, "It starts by using RF to focus the attention of vision. Then you use vision to navigate fine maneuvers." RF Grasp was able to locate and grab a target object with about half as much total movement as a similar robot equipped only with a camera.

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Study Shows Promise of Quantum Computing Using Factory-Made Silicon Chips
University College London (U.K.)
April 1, 2021

U.K.-based University College London (UCL) spinout company Quantum Motion has demonstrated a single quantum-capable bit (qubit) on a standard silicon transistor chip. In a study led by UCL and Oxford University researchers, the team isolated and measured the qubit's quantum state in a silicon transistor manufactured using complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology similar to that used to fabricate standard chips. The researchers found the qubit’s spin remained stable for up to nine seconds. UCL's John Morton said, "We need millions of qubits and an ultra-scalable architecture for building them. Our discovery gives us a blueprint to shortcut our way to industrial-scale quantum chip production."

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How Fortnite, Zelda Can Up Your Surgical Game (No Joke!)
University of Ottawa (Canada)
April 1, 2021

Researchers at Canada's universities of Ottawa (UOttawa) and Toronto (U of T) suggest video games could be a beneficial tool for training surgeons. UOttawa's Arnav Gupta and colleagues at U of T reviewed 16 studies involving 575 participants; Gupta said video-game expertise was associated with improvements in time to completion, economy of motion, and overall performance during robotic surgery. Video game-based training also was linked to improvement in duration on certain tasks, economy of motion, accuracy, and overall performance in laparoscopic surgery. Said Gupta, "While video games can never replace the value of first-hand experience, they do have merit as an adjunctive tool, especially when attempting to replicate important movements to surgery."

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Bo Cao, a member of the computational psychiatry group at the University of Alberta. AI-Based Tool Detects Bipolar Disorder at Earlier Stages
Folio (University of Alberta, Canada)
March 30, 2021

A machine learning (ML) model developed by researchers at Canada's University of Alberta (UAlberta) and Chinese colleagues can help to identify subtle cognitive deficits that signify early-stage or first-episode bipolar disorder. The team trained the model by comparing patients with chronic bipolar disorder to healthy controls, then showed that the model could differentiate first-episode bipolar disorder patients from controls with 76% accuracy. The researchers think a cognitive test that uses ML analysis is a far less expensive and time-consuming technique for diagnosing bipolar disorder than brain imaging, and it can also monitor symptoms over time.

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Japan is preparing to launch a digital vaccine passport that can be accessed through an app on a mobile phone. Japan to Join EU, China in Issuing Digital Vaccine Passport
Nikkei Asia
March 28, 2021

Like China and the European Union, Japan will issue digital vaccine passports to citizens who have been immunized against the coronavirus, in order to facilitate international travel. The Japanese government could add the digital health certificate to an app slated for release in April that would hold digital certificates for negative test results and connect to a new system that tracks progress in the government's vaccination program. The app would allow citizens to provide proof of vaccination to board a plane or check into a hotel. The Japanese government will consider EU vaccination certificates and the "CommonPass" universal digital certificate in crafting its certification standards.

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Robots Could Replace Hundreds of Thousands of Oil, Gas Jobs by 2030
March 29, 2021

Norwegian energy research firm Rystad Energy predicted robotics and automation could replace hundreds of thousands of oil and gas workers worldwide and sharply slash the industry’s labor costs by 2030. The company said at least 20% of drilling, operational support, and maintenance jobs could be automated in the next decade, replacing more than 140,000 workers in the U.S. alone. Rystad calculated robotic drilling systems can potentially cut the number of roughnecks on drilling platforms by 20% to 30%, with U.S. wage costs reduced by more than $7 billion by 2030. Rystad expects technical issues like long-term reliability, and labor organizations' opposition, will delay full robotic adoption.

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Computer Model Shows Early Death of Nerve Cells Is Crucial to Form Healthy Brains
University of Surrey (U.K.)
March 29, 2021

A computer model developed by scientists at the U.K.'s University of Surrey, Newcastle University, and Nottingham University can simulate cell division, cell migration, and cell death (apoptosis), and showed how slight changes in the performance of cell division and apoptosis induce development of cortical structures in neurodevelopmental disorders. Surrey's Roman Bauer said the goal is to create a comprehensive computational model of the cerebral cortex and its development, accounting for neuronal behavior and organization. Nottingham's Marcus Kaiser said, "The team's results showed that cell death plays an essential role in developing the brain, as it influences the thickness of the cortex's layers, variety, and layer cell density."

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Skoltech Scientists Use ML to Help Doctors Find Veins for No-Fuss Blood Draws
Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Russia)
March 29, 2021

A prototype medical imager developed by scientists at Russia's Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) employs machine learning to analyze near-infrared images of veins and project their patterns onto a patient's body, to make the drawing of blood samples easier. Skoltech’s Dmitry Dylov said, "This is the first [infrared vein scanner] that does everything entirely by virtue of modern AI [artificial intelligence]: one neural network cleans and processes the infrared signal, the second one detects contours of the veins, and the third one continuously 'worries' about alignment to assure the contours projected to a patient's arm overlap with the actual veins."

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IUI 2021
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