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10 Bits: The Data News Hotlist

by Joshua New
Insect Fossil

This week’s list of data news highlights covers November 8-14 and includes articles about scientists using big data to rewrite evolutionary history and a San Francisco start up that is using microsatellites to fight maritime piracy.

1. Fighting Maritime Pirates From Space with Big Data

A San-Francisco based startup called Spire is launching shoebox-sized satellites into Low Earth Orbit to provide satellite coverage to the 75 percent of the globe without it. Covering this territory, which is primarily ocean, with satellites is a valuable weapon in the fight against maritime piracy. Spire’s satellites make hourly sweeps of the Earth, detecting anomalies in signal data and tracking vessels to identify potentially piracy-related activities. Spire hopes to eventually use its satellite to tackle other problems such as illegal fishing, as well as sell its data to companies and governments that can find value in it.

2. Pennsylvania Transit Police Force Uses Data Science to Reduce Crime

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (SEPTA) police department has a team of officers that are trained in data science to fight crime. Eight SEPTA cops who regularly go out on patrol are being educated in crime mapping and analysis to better inform decision-making. As a result, violent crimes under SEPTA’s jurisdiction have fallen nearly 25 percent. The SEPTA Police Chief hopes to extend the training to more officers in the future.

3. Rewriting Evolutionary Timelines with Big Data

Thanks to powerful new DNA sequencing and data processing technologies, scientists from the Australian National Insect Collection can now prove that insects first appeared on Earth nearly 500 million years ago. By creating and analyzing a DNA sequence dataset of unprecedented size, scientists were able to redraw the insect family tree throughout evolutionary history. Based on this success, the group of researchers now plan to analyze more than 2,000 insect genomes to better understand how insects have survived and adapted over the nearly half billion years of their existence.

4. Predictive Analytics Identifies Military Suicide Risk

To address the high prevalence of suicide among current and former servicemen and women, the U.S. Army has released a study showing how improved predictive analytics can help identify and help those at risk. The Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS) revealed that the top five percent of soldiers identified in the highest risk category made up more than 52 percent of suicides, and were 15 times more likely to take their own lives than others examined by the study. The researchers that carried out the study expect the findings to help better target and help servicemembers at risk and save lives.

5. New Handheld Device can Diagnose Hundreds of Diseases with Single Drop of Blood

A team from Cambridge, MA-based startup the DNA Medicine Institute has developed a portable handheld device capable of diagnosing hundreds of diseases with a high level of accuracy from a single drop of blood. The device, known as rHEALTH, was developed over seven years with funding from NASA, the National Institutes of Health, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. rHEALTH utilizes 1,500 times less blood than traditional tests and can deliver results to a smartphone via Bluetooth. The developers of rHEALTH are in the process of adding more diagnostic capability and preparing the device for commercial production.

6. Farmers and Agricultural Companies Come to Agreement on Crop Data

Farm groups and U.S. agricultural companies have reached common ground on principles governing the companies’ use of crop data. The agreement serves to address farmers’ privacy and information-security concerns associated with the adoption of advanced farming technologies. The first-of-its-kind agreement establishes industry-wide practices for collecting and using data on planting dates, pesticide application, crop yields, and more. This data can be analyzed by farmers to develop more productive harvests and save money.

7. Wikipedia Data Can Predict Virus Outbreaks

A team of researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory has demonstrated that analyzing trends in Wikipedia page views can forecast outbreaks of influenza and tuberculosis weeks in advance. Traditional disease surveillance technologies collect data from lab tests and hospital information—methods that are accurate but cumbersome and slow. Mapping data from disease-related pages on Wikipedia revealed to researchers that people will search online before ever contacting a doctor. The team found distinct correlations between increased page views for certain disease-related pages and declarations of outbreaks by health officials four weeks later, a discovery that strengthens efforts to rely on web data to help prevent the spread of deadly disease.

8. London Public Transportation Builds Customer Profiles with RFID Analytics

Transport for London (TfL) implemented a radio frequency identification (RFID)-only payment system on busses and introduced this system to its Underground and rail services in July 2014. With data collected from these systems, TfL has been building models of the transport network that can show where people enter and exit the system, predict peak loads, and build profiles on commuters. The system TfL developed provides for the capability to analyze unusual events and potentially make the transport system more efficient.

9. Nokia Veterans Crowdfund Device to ‘Democratize’ the Internet of Things

A Finnish startup comprised of ex-Nokia staff called Haltian is relying on crowdfunding to develop a device that can lower the barrier to entry to the Internet of Things. The device, called Thingsee One, is equipped with Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-Fi, a gyroscope, and an arsenal of other sensors, and is designed to be accessible to users without programming or strong technical skills. Haltian is looking to raise $99,000 on Kickstarter to develop the Thingsee One and make it commercially available by April.

10. UK Standards Organization Releases Data Policy Guidelines to Help Create Smart Cities

The British Standards Institution (BSI) has published PAS182, its guide for the public and private sectors to share information and promote economic growth through data interoperability standards. The report, aimed at city leaders and local government policy developers, serves as a framework for data standards required for the development of smart cities that will need to be able to reference and analyze data from a wide array of sources across sectors. BIS says that this guide will eliminate costs incurred from the need to recollect and verify certain data, as well as help city leaders provide better services to their communities

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Hcrepin

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