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10 Bits: The Data News Hotlist

by Joshua New
Autonomous Car

This week’s list of data news highlights covers May 16-22, 2015 and includes articles about how the Internet of Things will improve road safety in New Jersey and a video game graphics company working to improve how autonomous cars see the road.

1. Obama Launches Police Data Initiative

President Obama has unveiled the Police Data Initiative, a program designed to use open data to improve transparency, reduce the use of force, and identify ways innovative technology can solve problems in policing. The 21 cities participating in the initiative will publicly release 101 datasets on sensitive policing issues, such as instances of the use of force and shootings involving police officers. The initiative includes several strategies to increase accountability and improve public trust in policing, such as creating an open data portal to make police data more accessible, implementing early warning systems that can identify patterns of officer misconduct, and supporting community hackathons that will use police data.

2. Israel to Build a National Genetic Database

Israel’s Chief Scientist has announced plans to establish a genetic database using medical records from the country’s national health insurers. The database will associate genetic data with clinical data to reduce the logistical, budgetary, and regulatory burden of collecting and analyzing genetic data. The Israeli government is consulting with various think tanks to explore the challenges of setting up the database before it finalizes the details of the project.

3. The Internet of Things for Developing Nations

A new initiative led by charitable organization UNICEF and British microchip company ARM will attempt to increase the use of Internet-connected wearable devices to assist mothers and children in impoverished nations. The project, called Wearables for Good, issued a challenge for innovative, connected-device concepts with ideal features for deployment in developing countries, such as cost-effectiveness, high durability, and low power consumption. Challenge winners will receive a cash prize and assistance to turn their concept into a real product or company.

4. Modernizing Financial Regulation

U.S. Representatives Darrell Issa (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Mike Quigley (D-IL) have introduced the Financial Transparency Act of 2015, which would require financial regulatory agencies to adopt modern, searchable data standards for information they collect from the private sector. Additionally, these agencies would be required to abandoned outdated and often redundant requirements to collect text-based and paper documents and to make this information publicly available.

5. Making Roads Safe with the Internet of Things

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority (NJTA) and IBM have announced a new project that will use the Internet of Things to improve road safety and better manage traffic. The project, called the Advanced Traffic Management Program (ATMP), will incorporate data from over 3,000 sensors installed along the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway that can detect shifts in traffic speeds, which can indicate an accident or increasing road congestion. ATMP will act as a dashboard for NTJA employees to quickly interpret changing road conditions and manage approximately 900 roadway safety systems, such as traffic cameras and messaging programs.

6. Teaching Cars to See

Graphics processor company Nvidia, primarily known for video gaming graphics, has developed a hardware and software kit designed to make autonomous cars more observant of the world around them. The kit will help cars’ onboard computers better recognize objects in their surroundings—critical information necessary to make real-time decisions such as when to brake or swerve to avoid a collision. The kit relays data from 12 car-mounted cameras to a remote server that uses deep learning techniques to identify objects in the car’s field of view.

7. A Robot that Learns and Performs Like a Human

Researchers at University of California, Berkeley have built a two-armed robot that utilizes deep learning techniques to learn and complete mechanical tasks with human-level dexterity and speed. The researchers combined several pattern recognition algorithms to enable a robot to quickly teach itself how to solve a task, such as how to screw on a bottle cap or remove a nail from a piece of wood, using machine vision and touch—a process that would otherwise require months of programming. The researchers liken their approach to a baseball player visually tracking a ball through the air to catch a ball, rather than using complex calculations to determine the ball’s trajectory.

8. A Massive Database to Understand Ocean Organisms

An international team of researchers have created a database of thousands of bacteria, viruses, and single-celled plants and creatures, many of which were previously undocumented, collected in their three-year long expedition in oceans around the world. The database enables insights into underwater ecosystems such as how the physical characteristics of a bacteria are reliable indicators of the temperature of the water they live in. The database is one of the largest of its kind in existence and researchers have only analyzed the DNA of approximately 2 percent of the samples it contains.

9. Going Car-Free with Data

Arlington County, Virginia has developed a website called CarFreeAtoZ to make it easier to plan trips in the Washington, D.C. metro area without having to rely on cars. CarFreeAtoZ combines data on bikes shares, bus and subway routes and schedules, maps, and public transportation pricing to present car-free transportation options available for a user’s route to encourage car-free commuting. The site indicates the cost, time, and distance of each option, as well as the calories burned and productivity time—such as time that could be spent checking email on a bus—each option provides.

10. 98 Percent of the World’s Economy in One Database

Purdue University’s Center for Global Trade Analysis (GTAP) has released the ninth version of its GTAP database, detailing the complete economic transactions of 120 countries that make up 98 percent of global economic output. The database, which GTAP  last updated in 2012, provides policymakers with data useful in crafting regional and global trade and environmental agreements. The database details how dollars flow around the globe, and how a variety of factors, such as trade patterns, consumption and intermediate use of commodities, and export subsidies, affect this flow. The 2015 GTAP database contains information on 11 more countries than the previous version, including Jordan, the Dominican Republic, and Rwanda.

Image: flickr user Steve Jurvetson.

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