Welcome to the August 9, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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'Flippy' the robot that can make French fries and onion rings is working alongside the workers in a White Castle. Amid the Labor Shortage, Robots Step in to Make the French Fries
The Wall Street Journal
Christopher Mims
August 7, 2021

Restauranteurs are implementing robots to automate food production amid a labor shortage and soaring demand for takeout and delivery. Entrepreneur Doug Foreman said increasingly affordable sensors and actuators and more accessible software, combined with automated food-handling systems, adds momentum to this trend. Barney Wragg at London-based robotics company Karakuri said, "The real challenge is, how do you make machines that can manipulate this peculiar, non-conformative, multi-dimensionally deformative substance." Startups are addressing this problem either by automating just one food-preparation step, or preparing one simple meal type, like a bowl. Many restaurateurs and executives considering kitchen automation are attracted to the technology's potential for consistency, reliability, and cost savings.

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Computational Study Identifies Key Areas of SARS-CoV-2 Genome Prone to Mutation
News-Medical Life Sciences
Tomislav Mestrovic
August 9, 2021

Scientists at the Quantori software company in Cambridge, MA, and Russia's Mental Health Research Center defined the genetic variability of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) via a computational assessment. The researchers analyzed 329,942 SARS-CoV-2 records from the GISAID database, the world's most comprehensive publicly accessible archive of influenza and SARS-CoV-2 sequence data. The team obtained genomic coordinates from the open source University of California, Santa Cruz Genome Browser, and executed separate sequence alignments for every gene. Analysis determined that high-frequency mutations are few, constituting 155 changes when factoring in all genes, while many mutations exhibited concomitant changes that could alter the effects for the virus or a human host. The researchers said the study's results could inform future investigations in different scientific fields.

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Smart Parking Lab, hosted in Detroit’s Bedrock Assembly Garage: A real-world environment to test future autonomous technologies that could be used to refine autonomous valet parking into a product. Detroit Lets Automakers Test Smart Parking Technology in Real Garage
D. Cooper
August 6, 2021

The city of Detroit, MI, has partnered with Ford and Bosch to establish a Smart Parking Lab in the city's Bedrock Assembly Garage to test autonomous technologies in a real-world environment. The facility, slated to open next month, will test autonomous valet parking and the possibility of incorporating automatic smart charging into the system. Ford and Bosch used the same garage last summer to demonstrate a self-parking Ford Escape, which drove autonomously through the car park, located a space, and reversed parked into it. This work will be continued by the Detroit Smart Parking Lab. The technology also will be tested by car rental company Enterprise, with the potential for vehicles to drive autonomously to a valet station, recharge themselves, and park on the lot for the next rental.

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These Algorithms Look at X-Rays—and Somehow Detect Your Race
Tom Simonite
August 5, 2021

Algorithms designed to read x-rays and other medical scans can also identify the patient's race, according to a multi-institutional team of researchers. The researchers ran tests on five types of imagery used in radiology research, which included patients identifying as Black, White, and Asian. The researchers trained algorithms on images tagged with a patient's self-reported race, then tasked them to predict the race of patients in different, unlabeled images; the algorithms could correctly identify for most scan types, which of two images was from a Black individual with over 90% accuracy. The algorithms' developers are themselves uncertain what cues the programs use to make racial predictions. Emory University's Judy Gichoya said this ability makes the algorithms susceptible to also learning inappropriate associations.

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Young People Get Their Knowledge of Tech From TV, Not School
Liam Tung
August 6, 2021

A survey of 1,000 16- to 21-year-olds in the U.K. by consultancy Accenture found movies, TV, and social media—not school—are their main source of knowledge about technology careers. Social media was the leading source for respondents (31%) compared to parents (29%) and teachers (24%), while TV and film were cited by 27% and school by 19%. Meanwhile, 44% of young women said they had good digital skills, versus 40% of young men; yet fewer than 25% felt confident about obtaining a tech job. Accenture's Shaheen Sayed said this "indicates a worrying disconnect between young people, particularly girls, and a changing jobs market." Respondents interested in tech jobs said they would most likely pursue careers in artificial intelligence, data analytics, and cybersecurity, which are the top three subjects in online tech media for now.

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A new touch-sensing glove that can “feel” pressure and other tactile stimuli. This Touchy-Feely Glove Senses, Maps Tactile Stimuli
MIT News
Jennifer Chu
August 5, 2021

A team of engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and China's Southern University of Science and Technology has designed a touch-sensing glove capable of "feeling" tactile stimuli. An array of pressure-detecting sensors inside the glove can detect weak vibrations across the skin, such as from someone's pulse. The sensors operate similarly to humidity-measuring sensors but use human perspiration in place of a dielectric layer; two thin, flat electrodes on the skin form a circuit, and ions from moisture build on the underside of the sensing electrode in response to pressure, changing capacitance between both electrodes. The researchers enhanced the sensing electrode's sensitivity by lining it with thousands of gold bendable "micropillars." The researchers believe the tactile glove could help to retrain motor function and coordination in people who have lost fine motor skills and could be modified to enhance virtual reality and gaming.

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TUM Team ASIC Implements Post-Quantum Cryptography
Electronics Weekly
David Manners
August 5, 2021

A team of researchers at Germany's Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed and commissioned an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) that deploys post-quantum cryptography efficiently. The researchers engineered the chip using a hardware/software co-design approach that paired complementary components and control software. TUM's Georg Sigl said this approach made the chip about 10 times faster than wholly software-based chips when using the lattice-based Kyber post-quantum cryptography algorithm, while reducing energy consumption by approximately eightfold. He also said four unique hardware trojans have been installed in the ASIC, with the goal of evaluating post-quantum cryptography evasion techniques. Said Sigl, "Combined with effective post-quantum cryptography, this could help us make hardware more secure—in industrial facilities as well as in cars."

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Real scenes are compared with a semi-dense depth map obtained by EOMVS in which blue represents nearby objects and red represents distant objects. These data are contrasted with LiDAR measurements. This Camera Can 'See' the Bigger Picture
IEEE Spectrum
Michelle Hampson
August 2, 2021

Two cameras can better track fast-moving objects and create three-dimensional (3D) maps of complex environments, when integrated by engineers at South's Korea's Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). The device combines an event-based camera that records fast-moving objects with an omnidirectional camera that captures very wide angles. The researchers mated these capabilities into an event-based omnidirectional multi-view stereo (EOMVS) system, in conjunction with software for reassembling 3D scenes from data captured by the event camera. They tested the system against Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) measurements, with the field of view set at 145 degrees, 160 degrees, and 180 degrees. KAIST's Kuk-Jun Yoon said the EOMVS system could map 3D spaces with an error rate of 3%, and he thinks 3D mapping with drones is the most promising application for the technology.

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A Machine Learning Approach for Predicting Risk of Schizophrenia Using a Blood Test
Baylor College of Medicine
Homa Shalchi
August 3, 2021

Researchers led by the Baylor College of Medicine used a machine learning algorithm to analyze specific regions of the human genome in an effort to detect epigenetic markers for schizophrenia. In developing their model, the researchers used DNA from blood samples to find epigenetic markers that differ between people with schizophrenia and those without the disease. The researchers previously identified specific genomic regions, CoRSIVs (correlated regions of systemic interindividual variation), in which DNA methylation, a common epigenetic marker, is consistent across an individual's tissues but differs between people. The model achieved 80% accuracy in identifying schizophrenia patients in tests on an independent dataset. Baylor's Robert A. Waterland said, "Because methylation patterns in CoRSIVs are the same in all the tissues of one individual, we can analyze them in a blood sample to infer epigenetic regulation on other parts of the body that are difficult to assess, such as the brain."

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The UK is set to speed up the construction of its High Speed 2 (HS2) rail network with the aid of on-site 3D reinforced concrete printing carried out by robots. 3D Concrete Printing Robots Cut Rail Construction Carbon Emissions by 50%
Interesting Engineering
Chris Young
August 4, 2021

Britain will employ robotic three-dimensionally (3D) reinforced concrete printing to expedite the assembly of the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail network while also reducing its carbon emissions, according to a press release. The Printfrastructure technology was engineered by the HS2's London tunnels contractor SCS JV, and its remotely controlled robots can 3D-print structures on-site and in tight spaces, without suspending services in order to keep human workers safe. SCS JV's partner, 3D mortar printing company ChangeMaker 3D, reinforced the concrete with microscopic graphene strands that replace steel rods. The concrete structures are printed with a strengthening internal lattice pattern that cuts the volume of material required, yielding less waste. SCS JV said this process could potentially cut carbon emissions for rail construction by up to 50%.

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Researchers Use AI to Unlock the Secrets of Ancient Texts
Notre Dame News
Jessica Sieff
August 3, 2021

University of Notre Dame (ND) researchers are developing an artificial neural network to interpret ancient handwriting based on human perception to enhance deep learning transcription. ND's Walter Scheirer said the documents are written in long-unused styles dating back centuries in archaic languages; the project aims "to automate transcription in a way that mimics the perception of the page through the eyes of the expert reader and provides a quick, searchable reading of the text." Scheirer's team combined traditional machine learning techniques with visual psychophysics, the measurement of links between physical stimuli and mental phenomena. The researchers studied digitized ninth-century Latin manuscripts written in Switzerland's Cloister of St. Gall, with readers inputting manual transcriptions into a software interface while their reaction times were measured. Said Scheirer, "We then inform the network of common difficulties in the perception of these characters and can make corrections based on those measurements."

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Kaseya Ransomware Attack Sets Off Race to Hack Service Providers
Joseph Menn
August 3, 2021

Cybersecurity experts warn that July's ransomware attack on technology-management software from Kaseya, which crippled as many as 1,500 organizations, has ignited a race by criminals to uncover similar flaws. Investigators said an affiliate of REvil, the Russian-speaking hacker gang, exploited two vulnerabilities in the software to infiltrate about 50 managed services providers (MSPs). Victor Gevers at the nonprofit Dutch Institute for Vulnerability Disclosure said his team found similar bugs in other MSPs, which he did not disclose as not all the flaws have been fixed. MSPs are an efficient ransomware vehicle due to their broad access inside client networks, and the sheer number of MSPs Kaseya's software served caused attacks to multiply before the company could alert everyone. Eric Goldstein at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said the agency is trying to make MSPs and their customers aware of the danger and remedial strategies.

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