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10 Bits: The Data News Hot List

by Travis Korte
New York City's Hudson Yards during construction.

This week’s list of data news highlights covers April 12-18 and includes articles on a data-sharing framework for the Internet of Things and an Italian initiative to crack down on mob crime using analytics.

1. New York Development Set to Become Urban Data Lab

The builders of Hudson Yards, an enormous real estate development site in Manhattan, plan to incorporate a broad range of sensors into the project’s construction, creating an “urban informatics” lab for community research. The project, which will incorporate office towers, apartments, retail stores, and a public school, will collect data on pedestrian flows, traffic, energy use, and air quality, among other variables. Researchers hope the development will serve as an experimental platform for quantitative inquiries into city dynamics.

2. Italy Cracks Down on Mafia with Analytics

Italy’s military police, the Carabinieri, are using a software tool called LogAnalysis to crack down on organized crime. The software, which takes in phone logs, mug shots, criminal records, and other information, shapes the Carabinieri’s investigations into groups suspected of robberies, extortions, and narcotics trafficking. Although LogAnalysis was designed for counterterrorism and cybercrime, its academic creators have noted that the tool is effective in investigating other kinds of crime.

3. Open Source Project Enables Data Sharing Among Connected Devices

A software framework called AllJoyn provides a common set of protocols for Internet of Things (IoT) devices to share data across manufacturers and operating systems. The project, which was originally developed at Qualcomm, has been released in open source, and developers are striving to make it accessible to even the simplest devices, such as light bulbs. One application of data sharing among IoT devices is home security; if a homeowner’s smart smoke detector knows there is a fire, it could immediately send an alert to that person’s phone or even stereo system to ensure the fastest possible response.

4. Using NASA Data Build Healthier and Safer Communities

A 2013 study from the State University of New York at Albany found that combining air quality data from NASA satellites with the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality forecasting website AirNow could deliver community and economic benefits. In addition to forecasts, AirNow provides hourly air quality data for over 300 cities in the United States, but the data has large gaps in rural areas that leave about 42 million people with incomplete information. NASA collects certain kinds of air quality data over a broad area via satellites, and the study suggests that leveraging this data source where AirNow’s coverage is limited could help local agencies issue advisories for fires and direct public health efforts.

5. Twitter Announces Data Grants Winners

Twitter announced the winners of its inaugural Data Grants competition this week. The program provides a small number of researchers with the entire Twitter corpus. Winning entries included a proposal from Harvard Medical School and the Boston Children’s Hospital to use tweets as a leading indicator of foodborne gastrointestinal illness, and a UC San Diego proposal to measure the happiness of cities using pictures Twitter users post.  The company says it received over 1,300 submissions to the program.

6. Climate Change Ushers in Flood of Apps

Government agencies on both sides of the Atlantic are using data to help citizens cope with the effects of global warming. The UK’s Environment Agency released some of its flood data earlier this year, and civic hackers quickly created flood relief apps to keep communities updated about flood warnings and evacuations. In Philadelphia, the local Code for America chapter is working the Open Climate Tracker project, which takes local air pollution and temperature data, as well as city bus-bound sensors, and quantifies the cooling effects of planting new trees in the city.

7. Data Sharing System Helps States Track Tolls

Three New England states are beginning to see a three-year-old toll collection data sharing agreement bear fruit. Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire instituted the cooperative toll system to overcome the problem of collecting from out-of-state drivers, which now make up 42 percent of revenue collected on New Hampshire’s toll roads. Recent studies have shown that state-to-state toll interoperability could increase revenues in other states as well.

8. Computer Vision for Industrial Drones

Cambridge-based data science company Via Science is experimenting with conducting automated data analysis on information collected from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The company has been able to extract patterns and anomalies from UAV-mounted cameras, and it hopes to develop applications for the technology in industry and government surveys, such as pipeline and power line inspections.

9. London’s Tube, Connected More Than Ever

The London Underground is becoming an increasingly connected environment, with smart devices that include closed-circuit TV cameras, PA systems, elevators, and air conditioning. Telent, the Tube’s equipment maintenance contractor, is implementing a cloud-based system to integrate all the data and expects to improve customer service ratings by 30 percent when the technology is fully implemented.

10. Education Department Seeks Data Developers’ Advice

The U.S. Department of Education published a request for information this week seeking feedback on how it can leverage application programming interfaces (APIs) to increase innovation, transparency, and access to data. Education officials hope APIs will encourage developers to create apps, websites, and other tools based on the agency’s public data. These applications will be used within agencies, between agencies, and by private citizens.

Photo: Flickr user Steven Severinghaus 

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