Computing Applications News track

News Track

  1. Moon Match
  2. Billboard Ratings
  3. StAIRway to Heaven
  4. Google Eyes
  5. Owning to Nano Unknowns
  6. What's the Buzz?
  7. Author

NASA will sponsor the Telerobotic Construction Challenge—a competition to award $250,000 to teams developing technologies that enable robots to perform complex tasks with minimal human intervention. The contest will be conducted in an arena containing scattered structural building blocks; the task will be to assemble the structure using multiple robotic agents remotely controlled by humans. The operators may only see and talk to the robots through communications equipment that simulates Earth–moon time delays and restrictions. Therefore, the robots must be intelligent enough to work together with only intermittent human direction. "The [challenge] may directly affect how exploration is conducted on the moon," said NASA’s Scott Horowitz. The competition will take place over two years, beginning in August 2007. Contest rules will be available soon at

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Billboard Ratings

Billboards and outdoor signs represented barely 2% of the $275 billion spent on advertising in the U.S. in 2005—a small drop in a big pond due in large part to the fact advertisers have never been able to gauge the effectiveness of outdoor ads in the same way they’ve had a handle on print and broadcast ads. Nielsen Media Research, best known for its service to measure TV and radio advertising, is about to change all that, having spent millions over the last three years building technology to create such a service for outdoor ads. The result is the Npod—a device the size of a cell phone and equipped with GPS capability that when worn tracks the wearer’s movements past posters and billboards, plotting their exposure to outdoor ads. Test trials have occurred in Chicago, New York, and Frankfurt; the plan is to debut an Npod-centered audience measurement system in major markets in April with the ultimate goal being a system that operates worldwide.

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StAIRway to Heaven

Genuine sound can now accompany the thrashing gyrations of air guitar licks, thanks to a team of innovative Finnish CS students from the Helsinki University of Technology. Their Virtual Air Guitar project adds real electric guitar sounds to a passionately played air guitar, reports New Scientist. Using a computer to monitor a player’s hand movements, the system adds riffs and licks to match the mid-air finger work, promising to turn even the least musically gifted air guitarist into a virtual fret-board virtuoso. The system consists of a video camera and computer hooked up to a set of speakers. A player needs to don a pair of brightly colored gloves in order to rock out. Computer vision software automatically keeps track of the hands and detects different gestures. "I wasn’t a guitarist before I started the project, but I am now," quipped team member Aki Kanerva.

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Google Eyes

Google Earth, the free software introduced by Google last summer to link satellite and aerial images with mapping capabilities, may be lauded as a teaching and navigational tool, but officials in many nations also find it offers more than it should. The New York Times reports that foreign officials have expressed alarm over its detailed display of government buildings, military installations, and other sensitive sites within their borders. Officials in India have been particularly outspoken, claiming Google Earth can severely compromise a country’s security. Representatives from South Korea and Russia have noted similar fears. The images, which Google Earth expects to update every 18 months, are a patchwork of aerial and satellite photos with varying relative sharpness. "When you have multiple eyes in the sky, you’re creating a transparent globe where anyone can get basic information about anyone else," says Vipin Gupta, a security analyst at Sandia National Labs. "Times are changing, and the best thing to do is adapt to the advances in technology."

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Owning to Nano Unknowns

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is developing guidelines for working with nanomaterials, saying the tiny particles may raise health concerns and the risk to those who work with them. Another unknown, reports the Associated Press, is the nano risks to consumers and the environment. The ETC Group, an Ottawa-based association that studies the impact of technology on people and the environment, is calling for products that incorporate nanoparticles, such as sunscreens, food additives, and stain-resistant pants, to be pulled from the market until their safety is thoroughly studied. The U.S. government spends approximately $1 billion a year on nanotechnology research, focusing on its health and environmental effects. Still, many scientists agree that much about nano health issues is unknown. "More energy and more funding needs to go into it," said Kevin Ausman, executive director of Rice University’s Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology. "There is not going to be a simple answer to the question `Is nanotechnology dangerous?’"

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What’s the Buzz?

A new device that emits a shrill, high-frequency, pulsing sound that can be heard by most people under the age of 20 may be the salvation of store managers and café clerks bothered by groups of rowdy teenagers who overstay their welcome. The New York Times reports the Mosquito device (so named because it’s small and desperately annoying) was created by Howard Stapleton, who never forgot a visit to his father’s factory at age 12 where high-frequency welding equipment made him run from the room. The adults, he recalled, simply asked "What noise?" Realizing that humans under 20 hear sounds at higher frequencies than humans over 25, Stapelton developed (at age 39) a device that triggers trouble-causing teens to scatter. The Mosquito’s trial run was at a convenience store in Barry, Wales long plagued by teens known to perch on railings just outside the door, smoking and shouting for hours, often scaring away customers. The device was mounted at the front door and when the teens began to congregate hands flew immediately over ears, and one-by-one they ran into the store begging the owner to turn it off. The owner told them it was there to keep birds away. The teens have stayed away ever since.

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