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10 Bits: The Data News Hotlist

by Joshua New

This week’s list of data news highlights covers January 17-23, 2015 and includes articles about how mobile apps can be used to help veterans with their mental health and a startup that bills itself as the “Uber for trucks”.

1. Japan to Increase Focus on Data Science Education

To address the shortage of workers with data science skills, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry of Japan is launching a free online data science course targeting corporate workers. The initiative follows in the footsteps of a similar effort launched by the Japan Data Scientist Society, an industry group aiming to increase the number of workers trained in data analysis. Professors from the University of Tokyo will teach this course which will be available starting in March.

2. Using Apps to Support Veterans’ Mental Health

The National Center for Telehealth and Technology, a group focused on developing innovative health technology solutions for psychological health of servicemembers, is developing mobile apps to help veterans outside of the doctors’ office. One such app, called PE Coach, helps those suffering with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder track their symptoms, coaches them on treatment activities, and provides valuable feedback that can be used by mental health professionals. The organization hopes that such apps can help veterans whose treatment needs are not met with just a few hours spent with a clinician once a week.

3. Obama Announces Precision Medicine Initiative

President Obama announced during the State of the Union address a new precision medicine initiative. Precision medicine, which typically refers to the use of genomic data to create personalized treatments, has been a focus of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s 21st Century Cures project, which is expected to recommend investment and regulation changes to promote the development of this research. The White House has yet to specify which agencies will receive funding for this new initiative.

4. Los Angeles to Join the Open Data Movement

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors authorized the creation of a publicly accessible online portal for county information, ranging from budget data to crime statistics. The board called on the county’s chief information officer to aggregate these datasets, some of which are already publicly available through disparate channels, convert them to machine-readable formats, and add to the new portal. The county’s decision makes Los Angeles the largest municipal government in the United States to embrace open data.

5. Targeting Illegal Fishing with Satellite Data

The Pew Charitable Trusts and the UK Satellite Applications Catapult, a satellite technology company, have partnered to create “Project Eyes on the Seas,” a system that monitors shipping vessels and raises alarms when it detects illegal fishing. The project relies on algorithms that factor in boat movement, sea conditions, satellite radar data, fish locations, and other historical data to help fight illegal fishing, which is expected to be responsible for one in five fish caught. Chile and Palau, a Pacific island nation, will be among the first to use Project Eyes on the Seas.

6. Tracking Snow Plows in Real Time

Pittsburgh residents can now track the city’s snow plows in real time thanks to the city’s new online portal that monitors plows as well as provides information about the city’s snow resources. Pittsburgh’s new system monitors 175 vehicles involved in snow removal and lets residents not only track progress but also provides insight into what neighborhoods get treated and when. According to Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, this marks the first time Pittsburgh residents can monitor city operations in real time and drive more effective, equitable services.

7. Measuring Heart Disease Risk with Tweets

University of Pennsylvania researchers have identified Twitter trends than can help predict likelihood of heart disease by location. Researchers found a correlation between places with lower rates of heart disease death and places where people tweet with happy language about happy topics. The researches analyzed nearly 150 million geo-tagged tweets along with data from the Centers for Disease Control to find that this sentiment difference is actually a better predictor of heart disease than traditional metrics like income, smoking, and hypertension. The researchers hope that their findings will be used to improve community health efforts and spur interventions.

8. Improving the Australian Open with Data Analytics

The chief information officer of Tennis Australia and IBM unveiled an array of innovative data technologies to improve services at the 2015 Australian Open in Melbourne. The technologies will use Watson, IBM’s cognitive computing platform, to improve fan engagement, help the Tennis Australia team better manage crowds, and improve operations. For example, fans can use an interactive tool to navigate the sports venue, identify the most popular spots, and discover real-time information about the matches underway in each court.

9. Ford Opens Research Center in Silicon Valley

Automaker Ford opened its new research lab in Silicon Valley to spur the integration of connected technologies into vehicles as well as advance the development of autonomous vehicles. The new lab comes after Ford’s presentations at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show where the company touted its “smart mobility” plan to improve problems like gridlock with networked sensors.

10. Startup Wins Contest to Improve Trucking Industry

The transportation startup Transfix took first place at a pitch contest held by the Transportation Research Board, an organization devoted to promoting innovation in the transportation industry. Transfix, which calls itself the “Uber for trucks,” relies on a smartphone app to pair truckers with freight and charts the most efficient route for delivery. Currently, truckers are matched with freight over the phone with a broken process that takes hours and results in large inefficiencies. Transfix automates this process to eliminate wasted miles traveled, ease the burden on truckers, and reduce the impact of trucking on traffic.

Image: Flickr user Faramarz Hashemi

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