Faster technique to remotely operate robots

The traditional interface for remotely operating robots works just fine for roboticists. They use a computer screen and mouse to independently control six degrees of freedom, turning three virtual rings and adjusting arrows to get the robot into position to grab items or perform a specific task.

But for someone who isn’t an expert, the ring-and-arrow system is cumbersome and error-prone. It’s not ideal, for example, for older people trying to control assistive robots at home.

A new interface designed by Georgia Institute of Technology researchers is much simpler, more efficient and doesn’t require significant training time. The user simply points and clicks on an item, then chooses a grasp. The robot does the rest of the work.

“Instead of a series of rotations, lowering and raising arrows, adjusting the grip and guessing the correct depth of field, we’ve shortened the process to just two clicks,” said Sonia Chernova, the Georgia Tech assistant professor in robotics who advised the research effort.

Her team tested college students on both systems, and found that the point-and-click method resulted in significantly fewer errors, allowing participants to perform tasks more quickly and reliably than using the traditional method.

“Roboticists design machines for specific tasks, then often

SMS texting could help cut internet energy use

Researchers looking more closely than ever before into everyday mobile device habits — and in particular the impact smartphone and tablet apps have on data demand — are suggesting ways that society can cut back on its digital energy consumption.

European smartphone data growth is relentless, with data traffic predicted to rise from 1.2GB to 6.5GB a month per person. Although precise energy estimates are difficult, and depend on the service and network conditions, for video streaming each gigabyte of data can be estimated to consume 200 watt-hours of energy through Internet infrastructure and datacentres.

Following a detailed study on Android device users, and comparing observations with a large dataset of almost 400 UK and Ireland mobile devices, computer scientists at Lancaster University and the University of Cambridge identified four categories of data-hungry services — watching video, social networking, communications and listening. These four categories equate to around half of mobile data demand.

Watching videos (21 per cent of daily aggregate mobile data demand) and listening to music (11 per cent) are identified as the two most data-intensive activities. They are popular during the peak electricity demand hours of between 4pm and 8pm (when carbon emissions due to generation on UK National Grid

How to catch a phisher

Computer science professors Rakesh Verma, Arjun Mukherjee, Omprakash Gnawali and doctoral student Shahryar Baki used publicly available emails from Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin as they looked at the characteristics of phishing emails and traits of the email users to determine what factors contribute to successful attacks. The team used natural language generation — a process used to replicate human language patterns — to create fake phishing emails from real emails. It’s a tactic used by hackers to execute “masquerade attacks,” where they pretend to be authorized users of a system by replicating the writing styles of the compromised account.

Using the Clinton and Palin emails, the research team created fake emails and planted certain signals, such as fake names, repetitive sentences and “incoherent flow.” Study participants were then given eight Clinton emails and eight Palin emails — four were real, four were fake. Volunteers were asked to identify which emails were real and explain their reasoning. The study took into account the reading levels of the Clinton and Palin emails as well as the personality traits, confidence levels and demographics of the 34 volunteers who participated.

The results of the study showed that:

  • Participants could not detect the real emails with any

Delineates breast cancers on digital tissue slides

Looking closer, the network correctly made the same determination in each individual pixel of the slide 97 percent of the time, rendering near-exact delineations of the tumors.

Compared to the analyses of four pathologists, the machine was more consistent and accurate, in many cases improving on their delineations.

In a field where time and accuracy can be critical to a patient’s long-term prognosis, the study is a step toward automating part of biopsy analysis and improving the efficiency of the process, the researchers say.

Currently, cancer is present in one in 10 biopsies ordered by physicians, but all must be analyzed by pathologists to identify the extent and volume of the disease, determine if it has spread and whether the patient has an aggressive or indolent cancer and needs chemotherapy or a less drastic treatment.

Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved software that allows pathologists to review biopsy slides digitally to make diagnosis, rather than viewing the tissue under a microscope.

“If the network can tell which patients have cancer and which do not, this technology can serve as triage for the pathologist, freeing their time to concentrate on the cancer patients,” said Anant Madabushi, F. Alex Nason professor II of

Bitcoin to prevent identity theft

At the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy this week, researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory are presenting a new system that uses Bitcoin’s security machinery to defend against online identity theft.

“Our paper is about using Bitcoin to prevent online services from getting away with lying,” says Alin Tomescu, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science and first author on the paper. “When you build systems that are distributed and send each other digital signatures, for instance, those systems can be compromised, and they can lie. They can say one thing to one person and one thing to another. And we want to prevent that.”

An attacker who hacked a public-key encryption system, for instance, might “certify” — or cryptographically assert the validity of — a false encryption key, to trick users into revealing secret information. But it couldn’t also decertify the true key without setting off alarms, so there would be two keys in circulation bearing certification from the same authority. The new system, which Tomescu developed together with his thesis advisor, Srini Devadas, the Edwin Sibley Webster Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, defends against such “equivocation.”

Because Bitcoin is completely decentralized,

The research of quantum technologies

A central concept in quantum mechanics is that of energy level. When a quantum mechanical system, such as an atom, absorbs a quantum of energy from light, it becomes excited from a lower to a higher energy level. Changing the separation between the energy levels is called frequency modulation. In quantum devices, frequency modulation is utilized in controlling interactions, inducing transitions among quantum states and engineering artificial energy structures.

“The basis of quantum mechanical frequency modulation is known since the 1930s. However, the breakthrough of various quantum technologies in 2000s has created a need for understanding and better theoretical tools of quantum systems under frequency modulation,” says Matti Silveri, presently a postdoctoral researcher from University of Oulu.

Understanding and utilization of frequency modulation is important for developing more accurate quantum devices and faster quantum gates for the near-future small scale quantum computers. The research field of quantum devices and computing is rapidly growing and it has recently attracted also investments from major technology companies, such as, from Google, Intel, IBM and Microsoft.

“We wanted to review the recent

Comparing student performance

Elementary school students scored marginally higher on the computer-based exam that allowed them to go back to previous answers than on the paper-based exam, while there was no significant difference for middle school students on those two types of tests.

In contrast, high school students showed no difference in their performance on the three types of tests. Likewise, previous research has found that the option to skip, review, and change previous responses also had no effect on the test results of college students.

For the study, tests were given to students in grades 4-12 that assessed their understanding of energy through three testing systems. Instructors elected to administer either the paper-and-pencil test (PPT) or one of two computer-based tests (CBT) based on the availability of computers in their classrooms.

One CBT (using TAO, an open source online testing system) allowed students to skip items and freely move through the test, while the other CBT (using the AAAS assessment website) did not allow students to return to previous test items. In addition, on the TAO test, answers were selected by directly clicking on the text corresponding to an answer. On the AAAS exam, answers were chosen more indirectly, by clicking on a letter (A,

Electronic healthcare systems

Information security and protection of privacy are some of the most important factors in the development of high-quality tools in the healthcare sector. If no attention is paid to these aspects, there is substantial risk that individuals may come to harm in healthcare situations. Leonardo Iwaya, PhD student in computer science at Karlstad University, explores ways of securing information and protecting privacy when using mobile applications in healthcare (mHealth).

“Mobile apps are for example used in developing countries to increase the coverage and the access to public healthcare,” says Leonardo Iwaya. “But many projects fail because issues related to data security and privacy cannot be successfully integrated in the systems.”

For instance, in Brazil, mHealth tools have been used by community health workers to improve patients’ treatment in poor and rural areas, strengthening the link between the society and the public health system. These patients often have limited possibilities to visit healthcare clinics and the project instead involved healthcare workers visiting patients at home. Smartphones are, for example, used to streamline the handling of journals. Information gathered during a visit is also used to analyse the impact of the conditions in the specific areas on people’s health, so that more prevention work

Spans drop when online ads pop up

Rejer and Jankowski’s direct, objective and real-time approach extends current research about the effect of intrusive marketing on internet users. So far, most studies on this topic have been subjective in nature, and have typically analysed only the impact of online advertisements on brand awareness and memory. Other researchers have investigated web users’ visual attention, recorded their behaviour, or relied heavily on subjective information provided in questionnaires.

In Rejer and Jankowski’s experiment five Polish men and one woman, between 20 and 25 years years of age, were instructed to read ten short pages of text on a computer screen, after which they had to answer questions about the content. During the reading process, their attention was distracted when online advertisements randomly appeared on screen. The brain activity of each participant was measured using an electroencephalogram (EEG). The researchers did not only take note of each participant’s brain signal patterns, but also analysed how consistent these were across the different trials, and how they correlated with those of others.

Two main effects were observed for most subjects. First, the presence of online advertisements influenced participants’ concentration. This was deduced from the significant drop in beta activity that was observed in the frontal/prefrontal cortical

A new route to molecular wires

As conventional silicon-integrated circuits reach their lower size limit, new concepts are required such as molecular electronics — the use of electronic components comprised of molecular building blocks. Shuo-Wang Yang at A*STAR Institute of High Performance Computing together with his colleagues and collaborators, are using computer modeling to design electric wires made of polymer chains.

“It has been a long-standing goal to make conductive molecular wires on traditional semiconductor or insulator substrates to satisfy the ongoing demand miniaturization in electronic devices,” explains Yang.

Progress has been delayed in identifying molecules that both conduct electricity and bind to substrates. “Structures with functional groups that facilitate strong surface adsorption typically exhibit poor electrical conductivity, because charge carriers tend to localize at these groups,” he adds.

Yang’s team applied density functional theory to a two-step approach for synthesizing linear polymer chains on a silicon surface. “This theory is the best simulation method for uncovering the mechanism behind chemical reactions at atomic and electronic levels. It can be used to predict the reaction pathways to guide researchers,” says Yang.

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