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10 Bits: The Data News Hotlist

by Joshua New
March Madness

This week’s list of data news highlights covers March 14-20, 2015 and includes articles about Dubai’s new open data policy and how data analytics can be used to perfect barbecue.

1. UK Treasury Pledges Funds for The Internet of Things, Smart Cities

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced £140M ($151M) in funding to make the UK a leader in the Internet of Things, smart cities, and intelligent transportation. A portion of the funding—£40M—will support a smart cities competition to showcase new Internet of Things technologies, and the remaining £100M will support the development  of technology necessary to support autonomous vehicles. The investments are designed to create new opportunities for job creation and economic growth, as well as to foster collaboration between cities, universities, and the private sector to accelerate the development of these technologies.

2. Studying Climate Change with a New Lake Database

Researchers from York University and their international partners have developed a database of lake surface temperatures to better understand the ecological effects of climate change. The database catalogues data on air temperature, solar radiation, and cloud cover for 291 lakes from 1985 to 2009. The database is a product of the Global Lake Temperature project, which is an international effort to share and analyze data on lake temperatures.

3. Crowdsourcing Asteroid Discovery at NASA

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has released a new program that taps amateur astronomers to help discover asteroids. The freely available program, called Asteroid Data Hunter, was built by a team from Harvard University, the University of Arizona, and Planetary Resources, a firm researching asteroid mining, in a response to a challenge launched at last year’s South by Southwest festival. Asteroid Data Hunter allows amateur astronomers to analyze images from their own telescopes and helps them to report any new asteroid discoveries.

4. Lawmaker Proposes Database to Reduce Asbestos Exposure

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) has proposed legislation that would help protect the public from potentially deadly exposure to asbestos. The Reducing Exposure to Asbestos Database (READ) Act would update the Asbestos Information Act to require manufacturers, importers, and others who handle products with asbestos to report data about their products to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on an annual basis. The database of these reports would also include information on public places that have been exposed to asbestos in the past year. The READ Act would also direct the EPA to make this database publicly accessible and easily searchable.

5. Finding Valuable Information from Satellite Images with Machine Learning

A new startup called Orbital Insight is using machine learning to develop financial insights from satellite imagery. Orbital Insight analyzes satellite imagery of the parking lots of 60 different retail chains to assess their economic performance. The company’s machine learning algorithms predict the performance of a store based on the density of parked cars in its lot and the frequency with which cars come and go. Orbital Insight is also focusing its analysis on the change in shadows of certain structures over time, which can help identify and track construction and deforestation rates.

6. Making Consumer Complaints Public

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will allow consumers to make their complaints about problematic financial institutions publicly viewable. The CFPB runs the consumer complaint database to monitor unsavory practices in the consumer financial marketplace. The change allows financial institutions to respond to specific complaints, though identifying information will be stripped from all public comments.

7. Improving the Government’s Geospatial Data

Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced legislation to improve how the government invests in and manages geospatial data. The Geospatial Data Reform Act would require agencies to report information on how much they spend on geospatial data as well as what geospatial data they collect so that agencies on all levels of government do not duplicate efforts. Senators Warner and Hatch proposed the legislation to help government agencies better coordinate on geospatial data collection and investment to reduce wasteful spending and promote transparency in the investment process.

8. Dubai Makes Open Data Mandatory

Dubai announced plans to make all government data, excluding sensitive data, available in the public domain. The Dubai Open Data Committee, which formed last year to ensure Dubai residents could easily access government data, is drafting the policy and the government is expected to sign it into law later this year.

9. Making March Less Mad with Data Science

As March Madness kicks off, basketball fans have an increasing amount of data science tools at their disposal to make their brackets more accurate. FiveThirtyEightSports, run by statistician Nate Silver, forecasts the NCAA tournament by analyzing both computer generated data and human rankings to give fans the odds of each potential matchup. Software company SAP is offering fans the chance to use their predictive analytics software to predict winners and share their data-driven insights.

10. SXSW Gets Data-Driven Barbecue

General Electric (GE) built a sensor-laden meat smoker to cook the best possible barbecue for attendees at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. The 12-foot-tall smoker relied on five separate temperature sensors to monitor cooking progress in real time. GE built the smoker to demonstrate the data analytics principles used in its industrial systems, which rely on networked sensors and real-time analytics.

Image: flickr user Jeff Turner.


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