Welcome to the June 6, 2022, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Virtual reality is being used in aged care facilities across Queensland, Australia. VR Helping Residents with COVID Isolate in Aged Care Centers
ABC News (Australia)
Melanie Vujkovic
June 1, 2022

Researchers at Australia's Queensland University of Technology tested virtual reality (VR) technology at three aged care centers in Queensland and found that it helped residents "travel" to bucket-list destinations during their COVID isolation. Arcare Aged Care Centre's Vicki Cain called the technology a "game-changer." Said Cain, "It takes them away from that [feeling of being anxious] and takes them somewhere nice." Cain said VR helped improve residents' physical strength and mobility as well. The researchers plan to expand the program to Victoria and have created an online toolkit, which can be tailored to residents' individual needs, to help more aged care centers implement VR.

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Dr. Marvin Andujar (right) watches a test subject using the prototype brain-computer interface to try to create abstract art. USF Researcher Harnesses Brain Power to Create Art
The Catalyst
Mark Parker
June 2, 2022

The University of South Florida's Marvin Andujar has developed a prototype brain-computer interface (BCI) that permits users to create abstract art with their thoughts. He said the technology's core function is intended to help people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) improve their ability to concentrate, and to decrease their reliance on Adderall. The BCI enables users to employ brain painting to train their attention. Users sit at a computer wearing an electroencephalogram "hat," concentrating on an object or color; the BCI's machine learning component translates brain signals into a specific action, generating "art" on a blank computer "canvas." Participants in a recently concluded two-year study showed improvement.

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Connection Found Between Genetic Coding, Protein Structure
The Jerusalem Post (Israel)
June 4, 2022

Researchers at Israel's Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have found surprising connections between protein structure and genetic coding, suggesting proteins may recall the instructions from which they were synthesized. The researchers integrated computer science techniques, machine learning, and statistics to compare the distributions of angles formed in thousands of three-dimensional protein structures under different synonymous genetic codes. They determined certain codons possess a statistical dependence between the codon's identity and the protein's local structure at the position of the amino acid encoded by that codon. Explained Technion's Ailie Marx, "If we find in subsequent research that the codon indeed has a causal effect on protein folding, this is likely to have a huge impact on our understanding of protein folding, as well as on future applications, such as engineering new proteins."

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A close-up view of a printed scaffold for a heart valve. 3D-Printed Bio-Inspired Heart Valves
Technical University of Munich (Germany)
June 2, 2022

A group of researchers from Germany's Technical University of Munich and the University of Western Australia collaborated on the use of melt electrowiring to three-dimensionally (3D) print artificial heart valves. Melt electrowiring, which uses high voltage to produce accurate patterns of thin polymer fibers, can mimic the heterogeneous structure of heart valve tissue. The application of a high-voltage electric field during the 3D-printing process allows for the production of fibers ranging from 5 to 50 micrometers. A computer-controlled moving collector gathers the fiber along a programmed pathway, with software assigning different patterns to different regions of the scaffold. The heart valves are printed using medical grade polycaprolactone (PCL), with the goal of the enabling the patient's own cells to grow on the porous scaffold and form new tissue.

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Great Timing, Supercomputer Upgrade Lead to Successful Forecast of Volcanic Eruption
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign News Bureau
Lois Yoksoulian
June 3, 2022

A multi-institutional team of scientists led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) successfully predicted the June 2018 Sierra Negra volcanic eruption on Ecuador's Galapagos Islands with a forecasting modeling program. The researchers used Sierra Negra as a test case for their high-performance computing upgrade, which ran on UIUC's Blue Waters and iForge supercomputers. During the winter break of 2017-2018, UIUC's Patricia Gregg and colleagues ran the Sierra Negra data through the new model, completing the run in January 2018. Gregg said the model anticipated magma instability setting in sometime between June 25 and July 5, possibly leading to mechanical failure and eruption; the volcano erupted on June 26. Said former UIUC graduate student Yan Zhan, "The advantage of this upgraded model is its ability to constantly assimilate multidisciplinary, real-time data and process it rapidly to provide a daily forecast, similar to weather forecasting."

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6G Component Provides Speed, Efficiency for Next-Gen Network
UT News
June 2, 2022

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin), working with researchers at Frances’ University of Lille and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, have developed components that will support higher speeds for next-generation wireless communication. The researchers demonstrated radio-frequency switches that maintain connections between devices by jumping between networks and frequencies while receiving data. These memristors are composed of energy-efficient two-dimensional materials, which enable faster transmission speeds and extended battery life. The researchers hope to improve how well the switches can jump between frequencies, which would give devices better connections on the fly. Although 6G deployment is unlikely before 2030, UT Austin's Deji Akinwande said, "a lot of the components, a lot of the architecture, needs to be resolved years in advance so that system-level integration and execution can happen in time for the rollout."

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Singapore Ups Quantum Investment to Outpace Security Threats
Eileen Yu
May 31, 2022

Singapore's government has launched two new projects to boost its quantum computing development, in the hope of outpacing security threats. The government announced plans to reserve SG$23.5 million ($17.09 million) to support multiple platforms under its Quantum Engineering Program for up to 3.5 years. One of the platforms, the National Quantum Computing Hub, would strengthen relevant skillsets and international partnerships by tapping expertise and resources from the Center for Quantum Technologies (CQT), local universities, and research institutions. Scientists at CQT and A*STAR's Institute of High Performance Computing also would engineer quantum computing hardware and middleware, while the National Supercomputing Center would build and train quantum computing algorithms.

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A sensor attached to a man’s forearm allows him to control the robotic system with his own muscle movements. Artificial Skin Gives Robots Sense of Touch and Beyond
California Institute of Technology
Emily Velasco
June 1, 2022

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have developed artificial skin that allows robots to sense temperature, pressure, and toxic chemicals through touch. Called M-Bot, the multimodal robotic-sensing platform integrates the artificial skin with a robotic arm and sensors that attach to human skin. Interfacing the two is a machine learning system that enables the human user to control the robot through their muscle movements and to receive feedback through their skin via mild electric stimulation. The printable skin is comprised of a gelatinous hydrogel to feel more like human skin, and sensors that are printed onto the skin and embedded in the hydrogel to enable the sense of touch. Caltech's Wei Gao described the development as a proof of concept, adding, "By optimizing new inks and new materials, we hope this can be used for different kinds of targeted detections."

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Researchers Develop Algorithm to Divvy Up Tasks for Human-Robot Teams
Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science
Aaron Aupperle
May 24, 2022

Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute created the Act, Delegate, or Learn algorithmic planner to help delegate tasks to human-robot teams. The researchers based the tool on consideration of when a robot should act to complete a task, when a task should be delegated to a human, and when a robot should learn a new task. The planner weighs a list of tasks based on the costs associated with the decisions made, and decides how best to assign them. The planner renders the problem as a mixed integer program—an optimization algorithm often used in scheduling, production planning, or designing communication networks—that off-the-shelf software can solve efficiently. In tests, the planner outperformed traditional models in all cases and reduced the cost of completing tasks by 10% to 15%.

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California regulators gave the Cruise robotic taxi service the green light to begin accepting passengers for driverless rides in San Francisco. California Regulators Approve First Driverless Taxi Fleet
Associated Press
Michael Liedtke
June 3, 2022

The California Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved General Motors' Cruise’s bid to offer a driverless ride-hailing service in San Francisco. The robotic taxi service will begin with a fleet of 30 electric vehicles accepting passengers from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. in less-congested areas of the city, giving regulators the opportunity to assess the technology before allowing expanded service. The driverless service will not operate in heavy rain or fog, restrictions imposed to reduce the potential for property damage, injuries, or deaths. Cruise's Gil West said the approval is "a giant leap for our mission here at Cruise to save lives, help save the planet, and save people time and money."

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Reno, NV, is rolling out a new blockchain-based program that promises to preserve digital records. Reno Trusting the Blockchain with Building Records
Lucas Ropek
June 2, 2022

Reno, NV, has launched a blockchain-based program for storing records in order to improve "clarity and transparency" in record-keeping. The Web portal will let residents more easily engage with the city's government, and the site records interactions using blockchain software. The platform initially will be used to enhance access to Reno's Historic Registry records system, so users can file requests for repairs or modifications to historic buildings; the portal will record and validate the requests, along with the government's responses. The program is built on the STRATO application from the BlockApps software company. The city said in a press release that STRATO is "purpose-built for permanent record-keeping and is not a significant source of energy usage or greenhouse gas emissions."

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Actively Exploited Microsoft Zero-Day Flaw Still Has No Patch
Lily Hay Newman
June 3, 2022

A zero-day flaw in Microsoft's Support Diagnostic Tool that researchers said could be exploited to remotely hijack targeted devices remains unpatched. Hackers can pass malicious Word documents through the Follina vulnerability using a remote template that retrieves a malicious HTML file and enables execution of Powershell commands within Windows. Tom Hegel at security company SentinelOne said, "After public knowledge of the exploit grew, we began seeing an immediate response from a variety of attackers beginning to use it." Hackers have been seen exploiting Follina through malicious documents, but Hegel warned less-documented exploits, including manipulating HTML content in network traffic, also remain unpatched. Microsoft proposed disabling a protocol within Support Diagnostic Tool and using Microsoft Defender Antivirus to monitor for and block the flaw’s exploitation; incident responders are urging more action.

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