Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for February 7, 2020

in rsslog •  2 months ago  (edited)

A "smart surface" may improve WiFi performance by a factor of 10X; An artist created a virtual traffic jam with a wagon and 99 smart-phones; Genetic analysis reveals Neanderthal ancestry in Africans; Entertainment company uses drones to create smoke-screen background for an airborne laser show; and a Steem essay describing a new AI and mapmaking initiative

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First posted on my Steem blog: SteemIt, SteemPeak*, StemGeeks.


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  1. MIT's 'smart surface' could improve your WiFi signal tenfold - One problem with the miniaturization of technology for wireless communication is that it reduces the availability of space for antennas. To address this problem, MIT researchers have developed the RFocus "smart surface". This surface is capable of acting as a lens or a mirror, according to need, in a way that focuses a wireless radio signal into the ideal physical location. With this mechanism, the researchers report improvements in "median signal strength by nearly 10 times," and "doubling the median channel capacity in an office environment" The technology relies upon the use of 3,000 tiny antennas along with software that arranges them in a way that will optimize reception. The technology is expected to cost just $0.02 per antenna, and to consume little power - in comparison to a conventional system. In order to make the technology available to the use, however, the team needs to learn how to produce it at scale and further refine the design. When it might be available to consumers remains unknown. -h/t Communications of the ACM: Artificial Intelligence

  2. An artist created Google Maps traffic jams by pulling a wagon full of smartphones - The artist put 99 second-hand smartphones into a wagon and pulled them, on foot, through a largely empty section of road. The exercise managed to turn that section of road red inside the Google Maps application, which is normally understood as an indication of a traffic jam. Google issued a light-hearted response, saying,
    "Traffic data in Google Maps is refreshed continuously thanks to information from a variety of sources, including aggregated anonymized data from people who have location services turned on and contributions from the Google Maps community. We’ve launched the ability to distinguish between cars and motorcycles in several countries including India, Indonesia and Egypt, though we haven’t quite cracked traveling by wagon. We appreciate seeing creative uses of Google Maps like this as it helps us make maps work better over time."
    But this glosses over the reality that the scenario also suggests the possibility that people may be able to find Google Maps hacks that can impede transportation in the physical world.

    Here is a video

  3. A new genetic analysis reveals that modern Africans have some Neandertal DNA too - According to a January 30 article in Cell, people who emigrated out of Africa 60,000 to 80,000 years ago interbred with Neanderthals and then their descendants made their way back to Africa. The Neanderthal genes were apparently useful, because they spread from there to modern Africans across the continent. The team of researchers included Princeton's Joshua Akey, and they identified genes from Neanderthals that bolster the immune system and modify sensitivity to ultra-violet radiation. Research involved analysis of DNA from 2,504 modern Europeans, Africans, and Asians, and the conclusions were made possible by the use of a new statistical process that was developed by Akey and his team for detecting the existence of ancient genes in modern DNA. Akey is quoted as, "Our work highlights how humans and Neanderthals interacted for hundreds of thousands of years, with populations dispersing out of and back into Africa." On average, the study finds that Neanderthal DNA accounts for about 0.5% of DNA in Africans, 1.7% in Europeans, and 1.8% in Asians. The ratio between Asians and Europeans is also surprising because previous estimates have put Asians at about 20% higher than Europeans. One cautionary note is that Akey's statistical technique has not yet received independent validation. Sarah Tishkoff, from the University of Pennsylvania, is paraphrased saying that, "The new findings call for the reevaluation of fossils and archaeological discoveries both in and out of Africa, as well as more intense searches for ancient genes in modern Africans" -h/t

  4. Drone Swarm Generates Smoke Screen for Huge Laser Displays - CollMot Entertainment's traditional line of business is using drones that are carrying lights to create a visual show in the sky. In a new video, the company reveals the existence of a new technique for sky shows with drones. It appears that the drones release smoke into the sky, and the smoke acts as a screen back-drop where ground-based lasers can be projected. Collmot is based in Budapest, and they collaborated with German firms, Phase 7 and Laser Animation Sollinger in creating the technique, the details of which are still secret. According to Csilla Vitályos, CollMot's Head of Business, the video shows how much more can be visualized through the use of lasers than by using drones as pixels, including the generation of continuous lines and curves. Vitályos notes that the images in the video are 50 to 150 meters in width, and they're generated with a fleet of 10 through 50 smart drones.

    Here is a video:

  5. STEEM A.I. and Maps - Building Better Navigation for Everyone - In this post, @lockhart discusses the changing nature of mapping technology. The author points out that following a pre-planned route is important for safety, and that modern mapping technologies make this much easier to accomplish. However, the author adds that maps are less reliable in some parts of the world, and collecting the data to create them is very expensive. As a result, @lockhart notes that researchers are working on building maps by applying machine learning models to satellite imagery, which reduces the cost because it's much easier and less expensive to collect photos from a satellite than it is to send a car, especially in remote locations. One example of such a project is given as a reference to Project RoadTagger and the work is further described in a paper that will be presented at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence conference. (A 10% beneficiary setting has been assigned to this post for @lockhart.)

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"The technology relies upon the use of 3,000 tiny antennas along with software that arranges them in a way that will optimize reception. The technology is expected to cost just $0.02 per antenna..."

So, $60/chip. Not an insignificant cost. The advance in communications capability is surely worth it, IMHO.

Gratified to see the new research that reveals what I have expected, that hybridization across humans has certainly involved Africa.


So, $60/chip. Not an insignificant cost. The advance in communications capability is surely worth it, IMHO.

Agreed. Especially considering that the antennas that they would be replacing also have a cost. So, at least a portion of that $60 would be offset by the elimination of the existing antennas in the wifi devices of the future. No idea how much of an offset that would be, though. I could be wrong, but I don't think it was included in the article.

Gratified to see the new research that reveals what I have expected, that hybridization across humans has certainly involved Africa.

I also would have been surprised if this had not turned out to be the case.

Supporting the #posh initiative. Shared on Twitter and Facebook.