25 leading-edge IT research projects

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Separately, a team of engineers at Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) is taking a new approach to phased-array antennas that the developers say could enable an ultra-wideband device to do the job of five regular antennas.

The Fragmented Aperture Antenna has already demonstrated a 33-to-1 bandwidth, blowing by the 10-to-1 ratio of conventional systems. Researchers say a 100-to-1 ratio might not be far off for use in radar and communications environments.

13. Real bandwidth management

University of California at San Diego computer scientists say they have developed a TCP-based bandwidth management system that works across global networks.

The "flow proportional share" algorithm created by Barath Raghavan and his teammates is designed to enable a group of rate limiters to work together, providing better availability of network applications, including Web sites.

"With our system, an organization with mirrored Web sites or other services across the globe could dynamically shift its bandwidth allocations between sites based on demand. You can't do that now, and this lack of control is a significant drawback to today's cloud-based computing approaches," said Raghavan, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at UCSD's Jacobs School of Engineering.

The work is described in a paper called "Cloud Control with Distributed Rate Limiting".

14. Doing away with digital clutter

MIT researchers have come up with a way to measure visual clutter, a breakthrough that could help everyone from fighter pilots to Web site designers.

The scientists published a paper in the Journal of Vision that explains their work. The impetus for the work was that "we lack a clear understanding of what clutter is, what features, attributes and factors are relevant, why it presents a problem and how to identify it," says Ruth Rosenholtz, principal research scientist at MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

Another issue is that clutter is perceived differently by different people, so coming up with a universal measure of what's hard or easy to pick out in a display is challenging. The model devised takes into account such factors as color, data and contrast.here .

The researchers tested their model on people looking at a map, trying to find an arrow saying "You are here," for example.

Rosenholtz plans to offer the MIT team's visual clutter tool to designers as part of a continuing study. You can test out the level of clutter in a display yourself by going

15. Finding pictures of needles in haystacks

Penn State researchers have developed software they say tags images upon uploading to Yahoo's Flickr or other photo systems but also automatically updates those tags based on how people interact with the photos.

This could greatly improve searching for images, the researchers say.

"Tagging itself is challenging as it involves converting an image's pixels to descriptive words," said James Wang, lead researcher and associate professor of information sciences and technology, in a statement. "But what is novel with the 'Tagging over Time' or T/T technology is that the system adapts as people's preferences for images and words change."

In recent tests the system was shown to correctly annotate four of every 10 images. It still needs work, but is an improvement over an earlier Penn State-developed system dubbed Automatic Linguistic Indexing of Pictures-Real Time that analyzed pixel content to suggest tags. The new software, which relies on machine-learning, is described in more detail in a paper called "Tagging Over Time: Real-world Image Annotation by Lightweight Meta-learning." The researchers say accuracy of the new system can grow from 40% to 60% as it learns from user behavior.

16. Videoconferencing made for Dr. Phil

While videoconferencing has proven its worth for corporate meetings and distance learning, researchers say the technology could also play a big role in mediating disputes between coworkers, neighbors and family members.

Researchers from the University of Bath in the United Kingdom interviewed a dozen conciliators to determine their views on what it would be like to use video technology in their jobs. The researchers say video holds the promise of being useful because it can better translate the emotional state of the parties involved and reduces possible intimidation when parties are in the same room.

"Most of the conciliation to sort out disputes between employees is done by phone because for the conciliator, who may have as many as 70 or 80 cases to deal with at once, it can be difficult, costly and slow to arrange to see people in person," said Department of Computer Science Director of Studies Leon Watts in a statement. "In situations of high conflict, it can be hard to get to the real issues, to judge what people really care about, on the phone. So using a video link, in which the conciliator can in addition see each of the disputing parties, is a step forward: it gives them new options for appreciating parties' depth of concern about different issues."

The increased availability of broadband services and improved video quality combine to make widespread videoconferencing feasible, the researchers said. The researchers plan to work with a conciliation training organization to spread the word on videoconferencing.

17. Vocal Joystick

University of Washington researchers have developed software designed to let those who can't work a handheld mouse use their voice instead to navigate the Web.

"There are many people who have perfect use of their voice who don't have use of their hands and arms," said Jeffrey Bilmes, an associate professor of electrical engineering, in a statement. "There are several reasons why Vocal Joystick might be a better approach, or at least a viable alternative, to brain-computer interfaces."

The Vocal Joystick detects sounds 100 times a second, relying on vowel sounds to move in one direction or another and moving faster or slower depending on voice volume. "K" and "ch" sounds are used for mouse clicks and releases. Some wonder why speech recognition technology might not be better, but the University of Washington researchers say it would be too slow since it would rely on drawn-out, discrete commands. ( Watch a video of how Vocal Joystick works here.)

The tool can be used for Web browsing, as well as for playing video games and even drawing on a screen.

18. Measuring boredom

The National Science Foundation is funding research that could enable computers to respond to your levels of frustration or boredom. In other words, we're talking about "mind reading" technology.

Tufts University researchers are exploiting near-infrared spectroscopy technology that uses light to pick up on your emotional cues by monitoring brain blood flow.

Of course, for now you need to wear a funky headband to make it work (the headband "uses laser diodes to send near-infrared light through the forehead at a relatively shallow depth - only two to three centimeters - to interact with the brain's frontal lobe," according to Tufts.)

19. Better computer building blocks

A University of Maryland researcher has come up with a method that he says could one day be used by companies to build nanoscale computer and cell phone components faster and less expensively.

Ray Phaneuf , associate professor of materials science and engineering at the A. James Clark School of Engineering, compares his idea to self-assembly processes in nature such as crystallization.

Phaneuf has built a photolithography- and etching-based template that nature can use to assemble atoms into predefined patterns for creating things such as laptop semiconductors, wearable device sensors and cell phone components. His work has focused on silicon, typically used for computer components, and gallium arsenide, which is common in cell phone parts.

"While we understand how to make working nanoscale devices, making things out of a countable number of atoms takes a long time," Phaneuf said in a statement . "Industry needs to be able to mass-produce them on a practical time scale." Such devices could even be used some day in building the "qubits" that serve as the basis of advanced quantum computing machines, Phaneuf said.

Phaneuf's work focuses on silicon and gallium arsenide components. Silicon is the prevalent material for components in computers while gallium arsenide is used more often in cell phones.

20. Good Samaritans

Dartmouth researchers say they were surprised to find that Good Samaritans - those people who update the online Wikipedia encyclopedia when just passing by - are actually as reliable as regular, registered users of the site.

The researchers examined the quality of Wikipedia content based on how long it persisted before being changed or corrected. Wikipedia's archive of edits and user reputation allowed for the research to be done.

"This finding was both novel and unexpected," said Denise Anthony, associate professor of sociology, in a statement. "In traditional laboratory studies of collective goods, we don't include Good Samaritans, those people who just happen to pass by and contribute, because those carefully designed studies don't allow for outside actors. It took a real-life situation for us to recognize and appreciate the contributions of Good Samaritans to Web content."

Sean Smith, associate professor of computer science, added: "Wikipedia is a great example of how open-source contributions work for the greater good."

The researchers' findings are presented in a paper called "The Quality of Open Source Production: Zealots and Good Samaritans in the Case of Wikipedia."

21. Honeybees and the Internet

Honeybee intelligence can be used to improve the speed and efficiency of Internet servers by up to 25%, according to Georgia Institute of Technology researchers.

Honeybees somehow manage to efficiently collect a lot of nectar with limited resources and no central command. Such swarm intelligence of these amazingly organized bees can also be used to improve the efficiency of Internet servers faced with similar challenges, researchers said. A bee dance-inspired communications system developed by Georgia Tech helps Internet servers that would normally be devoted solely to one task move between tasks as needed, reducing the chances that a Web site could be overwhelmed with requests and lock out potential users and customers.

Compared with the way server banks are commonly run, the honeybee method typically improves service by 4% to 25% in tests based on real Internet traffic, researchers said. Internet servers typically have a set number of servers devoted to a certain Web site or client. When users access a Web site, the servers provide computing power until all the requests to access and use the site have been fulfilled. Sometimes there are a lot of requests to access a site -- for instance, a clothing company's retail site after a particularly effective television ad during a popular sporting event -- and sometimes there are very few. Predicting demand for Web sites, including whether a user will access a video clip or initiate a purchase, is extremely difficult in a fickle Internet landscape, and servers are frequently overloaded and later become completely inactive at random.

Bees tackle their resource allocation problem (such as a limited number of bees and unpredictable demand on their time and desired location) with a seamless system driven by "dances." Here's how it works: The scout bees leave the hive in search of nectar. Once they've found a promising spot, they return to the hive "dance floor" and perform a dance. The direction of the dance tells the waiting forager bees which direction to fly, the number of waggle turns conveys the distance to the flower patch; and the length conveys the sweetness of the nectar. The bee/Internet research was published in the Bioinspiration and Biomimetics journal.

22. Pushing 100Gbps copper networks

Penn State engineers are trying to push relatively short Category-7 copper cables to support digital data speeds up to 100Gbps.

The idea would be to enable copper cables within a room or building, perhaps being used to interconnect servers, to handle data rates typically reserved for fiber-optic links. The trick has been coming up with a transmitter/receiver that uses error correcting and equalizing methods to can cancel interference better than traditional systems.

"A rate of 100 gigabit over 70 meters is definitely possible, and we are working on extending that to 100 meters, or about 328 feet," said Ali Enteshari, graduate student in electrical engineering, in a statement. "However, the design of a 100 gigabit modem might not be physically realizable at this time as it is technology limited. We are providing a roadmap to design a high-speed modem for 100 gigabits."

Mohsen Kavehrad , a professor of electrical engineering at Penn State, says his team is working with NEXANS, the company that makes the cable. "These are the current, new generation of Ethernet cables," he says.

23. Drivers wielding cell phones

We've seen or heard about drivers on cell phones causing accidents. But research from the University of Utah also shows that such drivers are also responsible for slowing traffic flows.

Those talking on cell phones tend to drive more slowly on freeways, pass slowgoing vehicles less frequently and generally take longer to get from one point to another, the researchers found. This can cost society in terms of lost productivity, fuel costs and more, the researchers concluded.

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