Here's a whirlwind look at some of the wildest and potentially most useful technology research projects from university and vendor labs related to computer networking.
Time travelers, where are you?
Michigan Technological University has published a paper "Searching the Internet for evidence of time travelers” in which they used three search implementations for signs of content that should not have been known about at the time it was posted. This search for “prescient knowledge” hasn’t located any full-fledged time travelers yet on Twitter, email or Facebook, though the researchers did note that it’s possible such people could cover their tracks. "Although the negative results reported here may indicate that time travelers from the future are not among us and cannot communicate with us over the modern day Internet, they are by no means proof." More here.
+ MORE ON NETWORK WORLD: 25 of today’s coolest network research projects +
A group of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have devised a potentially more effective way of helping computers solve some of the toughest optimization problems they face.
Their new algorithm is more computationally effective than other approaches, because it scales in a "near-linear" fashion, according to Jonathan Kelner, an associate professor of applied mathematics at MIT and a member of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, who co-authored the new algorithm.
"The running times for previously known algorithms scaled substantially worse than linearly," Kelner wrote by email, meaning that as a problem becomes more complex, the performance of the computer undertaking the problem slows dramatically.
One day, an airline might want to use this optimization algorithm to find the most efficient way of scheduling its flight crews, for instance. Or a router may use it to calculate the fastest path through a busy network. More here.
Microsoft: We know you’re driving
Microsoft researchers are working on a smartphone app that can tell whether the device is being used by a driver or passenger (today it’s pretty easy to lie to apps like Waze).
“While the core problem can be solved relatively easily with special installations in new high-end vehicles (e.g., NFC), constraints of backward compatibility makes the problem far more challenging. We design a Driver Detection System (DDS) that relies entirely on smartphone sensors, and is thereby compatible with all automobiles,” the researchers state.
Not showing any Windows Phone bias, the researchers’ initial prototypes work on Android NexusS and Apple iPhones, and have shown greater than 85% accuracy.
Leave our utilities alone!
The U.S. Department of Energy has doled out some $30 million to 11 security vendors and organizations to help devise systems to detect and nix cyberattacks on critical infrastructure such as utilities and power grids. Georgia Tech Applied Research Corp., Grid Protection Alliance and Schweitzer are among those outfits on the job. A government report issued last year indicated that U.S. power companies are under frequent attack.
The right time for cyber conflict
University of Michigan researchers have published a paper regarding the timing of cyber conflict, looking at things from the perspective of a cyber attacker but providing information that might be used to sniff out such attacks. The researchers looked at past cyber attacks such as Stuxnet to build their mathematical model, which weighs things such as the reason for attack vs. the optimal timing. "The heart of our model is the trade-off between waiting until the stakes of the present situation are high enough to warrant the use of the resource, but not waiting so long that the vulnerability the resource exploits might be discovered and patched even if the resource is never used," the authors wrote.
Robots get a Web of their own
After four years of research, the European team behind the cloud-based RoboEarth project demoed their World Wide Web for robots, showing four robots working together in a hospital setting. The robots, including both the classic R2-D2 type and more humanoid C-3PO type, used RoboEarth as a combination Wikipedia-like database, but also as a communications network and computer processing system. The goal is for robots to learn from each other to get smarter.
Self-driving cars bring Ford, techie schools together
Ford is enlisting top U.S. universities to make self-driving cars a reality, hoping researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology can come up with advanced algorithms to help vehicles learn where pedestrians and other automobiles will be located.
"We're using data from the sensors both on board and off board," said Jonathan How, director of the MIT-Ford Alliance and a professor of aeronautics at MIT. He said that the system isn't just using the car's Lidar system, which captures a 3D view of its surroundings using spinning cameras, but crosswalk signs and traffic lights. Near term, How hopes MIT will have driverless shuttles on its campus ordered up via smartphone apps.
On the West Coast, Stanford University researchers are tasked with helping cars see around obstacles. More here.
RFID is bee’s knees
Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) is fitting up to 5,000 honey bees with tiny RFID sensors to monitor the insects in hopes of helping improve pollination and productivity on farms and to try to get to the bottom of widespread colony collapse that so far has spared Australia.
"Using this technology, we aim to understand the bee’s relationship with its environment,” says CSIRO Science Leader Paola de Souza. "Bees are social insects that return to the same point and operate on a very predictable schedule. Any change in their behaviour indicates a change in their environment. If we can model their movements, we'll be able to recognise very quickly when their activity shows variation and identify the cause. This will help us understand how to maximise their productivity as well as monitor for any biosecurity risks.”
Mosquitos and fruit flies listen up: even smaller sensors are being prepped for you.
Whale-friendly underwater communications breakthrough
University of California, San Diego researchers have shown that an artificial material made from nanopatterned layers of silver and silicon can speed up the blinking of LED systems used for underwater communications. An 80-fold increase in brightness, as demonstrated, could even pave the way for wireless optical communications systems under water, a development that might be welcomed by whales and other sea life that is possibly bothered by current acoustical communications systems used for ship-to-ship and other maritime interactions. More here.
Facebook out-researches Princeton University
After Princeton University researchers published a paper in January in which it uses epidemiological models to suggest that Facebook’s fast rise could be followed by a fast decline, too. The conclusion really got Facebook’s attention: “Extrapolating the best ﬁt model into the future suggests that Facebook will undergo a rapid decline in the coming years, losing 80% of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017.”
So much so, in fact, that Facebook cheekily responded to Princeton’s “innovative use of Google search data” with some research of its own about Princeton’s prospects for survival. Facebook’s findings: “In keeping with the scientific principle ‘correlation equals causation,’ our research unequivocally demonstrated that Princeton may be in danger of disappearing entirely.”
While it might seem as though microprocessors have shrunken so much over the years that they practically have disappeared, they’re still around. But the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has handed IBM $3.4 million to come up with disintegrating processors under DARPA’s Vanishing Programmable Resources program. The idea is that if these things fall into the wrong hands, there won’t be anything left of them to worry about.
According to a synopsis in the award document, DARPA states: “A trigger, such as a fuse or a reactive metal layer will be used to initiate shattering, in at least one location, on the glass substrate. An external RF signal will be required for this process to be initiated.” More here.
Sadists and psychpaths
A new research paper from three Canadian universities is titled “Trolls just want to have fun,” but the researchers’ conclusion is in fact that trolling on the Internet “correlated positively with sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.”
For those of us who aren’t researchers or trolls, the conclusion that these anonymous troublemakers aren’t quite normal comes as no surprise.
Five years of work by California Institute of Technology researchers seems to have paid off: They’ve developed a new laser they claim has the potential to boost data transmission rates on optical fiber networks by orders of magnitude vs. existing laser technology with its beginnings in the 1970s.
The breakthrough comes from the lab of Amnon Yariv, a professor of applied physics and electrical engineering, and was led by postdoctoral scholar Christos Santis (PhD '13) and graduate student Scott Steger. Their work focused on creating a purer laser light emitting just one frequency and they did so in large part by coming up with a way to store light in a layer of silicon that doesn’t absorb light.
The work has been funded by the Army Research Office, the National Science Foundation, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. More here.
IDG News Service and Network World staff contributed to this report.