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10 Bits: The Data News Hot List

by Travis Korte

This week’s list of data news highlights covers May 3-9 and includes articles on the White House U.S. Open Data Action Plan and an overview of crowdsourced crime reporting efforts in Latin America.

1. White House Releases U.S. Open Data Action Plan

This week, the White House released the U.S. Open Data Action Plan. The plan follows President Obama’s 2013 executive order on open data and includes data releases planned for 2014 and 2015. These include improvements to the Small Business Administration’s database of small business suppliers, a new cache of data from the Smithsonian American Art Museum collection, and a data set of adverse drug events from the Food and Drug Administration.

2. NOAA on Target to Launch Satellite as Data Gap Looms

Although the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is on schedule to launch the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) in early 2017, it still risks a gap in satellite coverage in the polar orbit of months or years, as the satellite JPSS will replace may malfunction or degrade before the new system is launched. This would reduce the quality of NOAA’s satellite weather data, on which many weather forecasts in the public and private sector depend. NOAA is considering alternative data sources to fill the gap, including the Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate system, a partnership with Taiwan.

3. Sony’s New Tape Technology Breaks Storage Record

Sony has developed a small tape-based data storage technology that can hold up to 185 terabytes of data, a new record for storage density. Although storage tape is less well-suited to time-sensitive applications than common hard drives, tape is more stable and less prone to failure, making it ideal for storing large quantities of data for long periods of time. Data-heavy scientific endeavors, such as the European Organization for Nuclear Research, have historically been among the largest consumers of tape-based storage technology.

4. Smart Snowplows Could Leverage GPS, Computer Vision

The Federal Highway Administration is seeking prototypes for smart snowplows that integrate GPS, radar, and computer vision technology. The systems, which would produce data useful to drivers and city administrators alike, could improve driver performance and help cities deploy vehicles more efficiently after blizzards. Cities such as Chicago, Washington, and New York have already deployed GPS to track snowplows, and cities in Minnesota have piloted a radar-based collision-detection system for their snowplow fleets.

5. Algorithms to Inform Computer-Aided Design

Autodesk, a firm known for its computer-aided design software, wants to take automation a step further and create software that can design objects on its own. The company has been working on a research initiative called Project Dreamcatcher to generate designs based on a list of requirements, producing a large set of possible results that can then be further refined to produce the most efficient design possible. The company hopes its research will find applications in mechanical and aerospace engineering, where material selection and design are often a grueling and costly process. The goal of the project is not to take humans entirely out of the equation, but rather to present a designer with a variety of options that meet certain requirements.

6. Federal Big Data Spending Projected to Increase

A forecast this week from enterprise software firm Deltek predicts that federal spending on big data technologies will begin to increase in 2016 and rise steadily in 2018. The reason this will not happen sooner is the sequester, which has kept many agencies from increasing spending. The combined category of data storage, services, and software, is projected to increase from $4.99 billion this year to $5.77 billion in 2018. The Department of Defense and science agencies such as NASA and NOAA will drive much of the increase.

7. What Big Data Can Do for the Global Food Supply

Big data will be a key resource in increasing the productivity of global agriculture to meet the demands of a growing population. One survey found 15 percent annual savings on seed, fertilizer, and chemicals, among companies that deployed data-related technologies. Many companies are contributing to this effort including relative newcomers such as the Climate Corporation, which uses weather data to provide crop insurance, as well as established industry players such as John Deere, which integrates data into its agricultural machinery.

8. Crowdsourcing Crime Reporting in Latin America

Law enforcement agencies in crime-ridden cities are beginning to deploy crowdsourcing platforms that enable citizen to report crimes. The practice has attracted particular attention in Latin America where the prevalence of cell phones has enabled real-time reporting. Services like Alertos.org in Guatemala or CityCop.org in Uruguay allow individuals to post geo-tagged information about crime incidents. Although these systems function mainly as informational tools for citizens, they may someday be adopted by understaffed law enforcement agencies.

9. How the Internet of Things Can Reduce Energy Use

Electricity costs have doubled for businesses over the last decade, increasing the demand for technologies that use data to improve efficiency. Devices that make up the Internet of Things (IoT), such as smart meters, thermostats, and other sensors, can help businesses rapidly identify wasted energy, as demonstrated in Microsoft’s 88 Acres project. The project surveyed 125 buildings and 30,000 pieces of equipment that generated 500 million daily data transactions and found that using sensors and analytics the building owners could save up to 10 percent per year in total energy costs.

10. Mother’s Day: a Facebook Analysis

The Facebook data science team released a short research report this week on U.S. mothers in time for Mother’s Day this Sunday. Working with over 27 million Facebook users who identify as moms, the team noticed that its population was disproportionately in the 30s-50s age range, with mothers in their 20s being more difficult to track because their children are not old enough to use Facebook. States with the largest percentage of moms included Wyoming, West Virginia, and Iowa, while states with the smallest percentage of moms included New York, California, and Virginia. The group also found that mothers’ geographical distances to their children increased at an irregular rate as their children aged; distance first increases until about age 30, then levels out, and finally increases again starting around age 40.

Photo: Jeroen Kransen, Creative Commons

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