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Welcome to the July 25, 2022, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A drone pilot delivers aid to people in the Catapilco, Valparaiso Region of Chile during the COVID-19 lockdown. Are Drones the Optimal Way to Distribute COVID-19 Tests?
Texas A&M Today
Rae Lynn Mitchell
July 22, 2022

A new COVID-19 test distribution framework developed by researchers at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health and the University of Houston uses trucks and aerial drones to deliver tests to individuals. The framework determines a feasible set of truck and drone routes, then applies a heuristic algorithm that attempts different route combinations to improve the initial solution. The researchers used a real-world situation to find a good routing schedule within roughly 60 minutes of computing time, then devised a measure of effectiveness based on total delivery time, number of participants, and virus transmission rate versus face-to-face testing. They found the proposed truck/drone delivery method could reduce transmission during testing 7.5-fold.

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Robots Learn Household Tasks by Watching Humans
Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science
Aaron Aupperle
July 20, 2022

Carnegie Mellon University's Shikhar Bahl, Deepak Pathak, and Abhinav Gupta developed the In-the-Wild Human Imitating Robot Learning (WHIRL) algorithm to teach robots to perform tasks by observing people. WHIRL enables robots to gain knowledge from human-interaction videos and apply that data to new tasks, making them well-suited to learning household chores. The researchers outfitted a robot with a camera and the algorithm, and it learned to complete more than 20 tasks in natural environments. In each case, the robot watched a human execute the task once, then practiced and learned to complete the task by itself. "Instead of waiting for robots to be programmed or trained to successfully complete different tasks before deploying them into people's homes, this technology allows us to deploy the robots and have them learn how to complete tasks, all the while adapting to their environments and improving solely by watching," Pathak explained.

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Patrick Perdue used to shop online for radio equipment before his preferred website’s new accessibility software made it harder — not easier — to navigate, he said. For Blind Internet Users, the Fix Can Be Worse Than the Flaws
The New York Times
Amanda Morris
July 18, 2022

Many people with disabilities say automated accessibility tools have made websites harder to navigate. In some cases, these tools have hidden widgets or incorrectly coded labels for images and buttons. Over 400 businesses using automated accessibility tools or overlays from companies like AudioEye, accessiBe, and UserWay were sued last year over accessibility issues. Further, an open letter from more than 700 accessibility advocates and Web developers has called on organizations to cease their use of accessibility tools given that the "overlays themselves may have accessibility problems" and that many who are blind or low vision already use screen readers or other software to navigate sites. Although the companies offering such tools say their products will improve over time, blind and low vision people argue that it is not fair for them to have to wait when everyday tasks increasingly require them to visit websites.

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Zero-Day Used to Infect Chrome Users Could Pose Threat to Edge, Safari Users
Ars Technica
Dan Goodin
July 21, 2022

Researchers at security firm Avast said a cyberattack software vendor exploited a previously undiscovered Chrome vulnerability and two other zero-day attacks in campaigns that infected Mideast journalists and other targets with spyware. The exploit is rooted in memory corruption flaws in Web Real-Time Communications, an open-source project that provides JavaScript programming interfaces to facilitate real-time voice, text, and video communications between Web browsers and devices. Google patched the vulnerability on July 4 after the Avast researchers alerted them to its exploitation in malware attacks against Websites intended to spread to frequent users. The DevilsTongue malware used in these watering hole attacks is sold by the Israel-based company Candiru. Google and Microsoft's patching likely means most Chrome and Edge users are already protected, but Apple's more recent patching means Safari users should ensure their browsers are updated.

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Computational Method Can Improve Explosion Detection
University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute
Rod Boyce
July 22, 2022

The University of Alaska Fairbanks' Alex Witsil and colleagues have developed a method to better detect explosions by training computers on artificial explosion signals. Witsil explained, "We used modeling software to generate 28,000 synthetic infrasound signals, which, though generated in a computer, could hypothetically be recorded by infrasound microphones deployed hundreds of kilometers from a large explosion." The signals reflect atmospheric variances, which can change an explosion's signal regionally or globally as sound waves spread, complicating the ability to detect a remote blast's origin and type. The machine learning technique uses hundreds of single-element infrasound microphones already deployed worldwide, enabling them to detect more nuanced signals in real time.

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Hong Kong Baptist University’s symphony orchestra performs “Pearl of the Orient” against a video backdrop created by artificial intelligence. An AI choir and dancers also accompanied its playing. AI Choir, Dancers Accompany Human Orchestra in Hong Kong Concert
South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)
Mabel Lui
July 21, 2022

Artificial intelligence (AI)-powered virtual ballet dancers and a 320-voice choir accompanied human musicians in a Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) symphony orchestra concert. The digitally generated voices sang under music director Johnny Poon Ming-lun's guidance, accompanied by an AI-produced video backdrop based on the lyrics. HKBU researchers trained algorithms on voice samples of the late pop singer Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing and eight other singers, then used human voices as reference to assemble the choir. Poon wore a motion capture suit so the AI "singers" could follow his movements and perform appropriately, and a similar approach was used to generate the virtual dancers. HKBU's Guo Yike said the goal of such research is not to create artistic technology that mimics humans, but to develop technology that can tap its own creativity and "understand humanity."

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Carbon dioxide (CO2) monitors (as shown in photo) are useful for assessing a building’s ventilation. NIST's Indoor CO2 Tool Can Help Assess Ventilation, Indoor Air Quality
July 19, 2022

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) developed a free online tool that calculates a building's target carbon dioxide (CO2) levels based on the desired ventilation rate and building and occupant information. The Quick Indoor CO2 (QICO2) tool considers the size of the building, indoor temperature, and the occupants' age, weight, and physical activity level. It can be used to check ventilation periodically and identify conditions that could result in the buildup of harmful contaminants. Users can input information manually or select predefined scenarios for schools, residences, and commercial buildings. Said NIST's Andrew Persily, "By measuring CO2, you can verify that you're achieving the ventilation rate that your space was designed for, but you need to consider all the factors that impact CO2 levels."

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ML Gives Material Science Researchers a Peek at the Answer Key
Aalto University (Finland)
July 21, 2022

The XPS Prediction Server developed by researchers at Finland's Aalto University uses machine learning to improve x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS)-facilitated material analysis. The computational method can predict the binding energy spectrum of a material based on a computer-generated structural model, allowing experimentally observed binding energies to be matched against computational forecasts. The team trained an affordable algorithm to anticipate the outcome of a computationally expensive reference method based on an efficient mix of computationally costly and inexpensive quantum mechanical data. The end product can predict the spectrum of any unstructured material composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.

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Tinycade controllers can come in many different shapes and sizes. This project, the brainchild of Gyory and his colleagues at ATLAS, brings a do-it-yourself spirit to the world of video games. Turning Throwaway Cardboard into a DIY Arcade Game
CU Boulder Today
Daniel Strain
July 20, 2022

Researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder founded Tinycade, a project enabling anyone to build a do-it-yourself arcade game from junk. Gamers must first download a set of stencils for cutting out and assembling an arcade machine from spare cardboard, then insert their smartphone to function as the screen. Controllers also are fashioned from cardboard, and can be arranged into standard videogame D-pads and joysticks, knobs, sliders, and switches. Mirrors in the Tinycade platform allow the smartphone camera to observe the controls' inner workings, using digital markers that trigger game action. The researchers hope users will soon be able to use Tinycade to configure new types of controllers for any game they can imagine.

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Coding Mistake Made Intel GPUs 100X Slower in Ray Tracing
Tom's Hardware
Mark Tyson
July 22, 2022

A coding error in an Intel Linux graphics processing unit (GPU) driver update designed to boost ray tracing 100-fold has slowed performance commensurately, amid news that drivers for Intel's Arc GPUs are riddled with issues in Windows. Intel's open-source Mesa Vulkan driver usually would guarantee temporary memory used for Vulkan ray tracing would be in local memory, but a missing line of code omitted this memory allocation task. This caused the driver to shift ray tracing data to slower offboard system memory and back. Linux-focused news site Phoronix says Intel Linux graphics driver engineer Lionel Landwerlin deployed the Mesa 22.2 patch incorporated into the Vulkan driver, which should be available to end-users by the end of August.

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Molten salts are used in solar towers and in the next generation of nuclear reactors. UC chemists, like Yu Shi as shown in photo, are studying their thermodynamic properties. Deep Learning Method Worth Its Salt
UC News
Michael Miller
July 22, 2022

A multi-institutional team of researchers led by the University of Cincinnati's Yu Shi has developed a novel technique for modeling the thermodynamic properties of molten salts via deep learning artificial intelligence. Shi said the researchers trained a neural network on data produced by quantum simulations, which they used to estimate the free energy of molten sodium chloride. The research, according to Shi, offers a reliable way of studying the conversion of dissolved gas to vapor in molten salts, helping to understand how impurities and solutes affect corrosion. He added that the method also could help scientists analyze the emission of potentially toxic gas into the atmosphere, which will be useful for fourth-generation molten salt nuclear reactors.

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Scientists Expand Entomological Research Using Genome Editing Algorithm
Hiroshima University (Japan)
July 22, 2022

A team of scientists from Japan's Hiroshima University (HU), the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, and the RIKEN Center for Integrative Medical Sciences has developed an algorithm that uses genome editing to broaden entomological research. The Fanflow4Insects workflow method annotates functional information of insect genes; the researchers use it to transcribe sequence information, as well as genome and protein sequences. The team applied the algorithm to generate a functional annotation pipeline for the silkworm and the Japanese stick insect. "Using Fanflow4Insects, we are going to annotate insects that produce useful substances," said HU's Hidemasa Bono. "The ultimate goal of this study is to make it possible to design molecular networks in insects using computer simulation."

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