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10 Bits: The Data News Hotlist

by Joshua New
Air Traffic Control

This week’s list of data news highlights covers June 27 – July 3, 2015 and includes articles about Jamaica starting work on its new open data policy and an Internet of Things solution to make bicycles safer.

1. Health Data Goes to Court

The Supreme Court of the United States has agreed to hear Gobeille v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., which will determine whether a self-funded insurer is required to turn over data that could potentially help lower healthcare costs and improve outcomes to a state government. In this case, Liberty Mutual maintains that the Employer Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) exempts it from having to submit such data to the state of Vermont. While ERISA would trump any state laws, states would be significantly hampered in their ability to develop health policy and improve healthcare outcomes without this data. The Supreme Court will likely hear the case at the end of 2015.

2. Boosting Children’s Wellbeing with a Database

Tasmania’s Minister for Children has announced the development of a new database called Kids Come First to house child welfare statistics that could help shape policies aimed at improving children’s wellbeing. Much of the data that will populate Kids Come First already exists in various locations, but advocacy groups expect that centralizing the data in one database will help government administrators better understand and report on children’s issues.

3. Saving Money with Smarter Homes

Insurance companies Liberty Mutual and American Family Insurance Co. have partnered with home automation company Nest to offer discounts of at least five percent to customers that opt to share data from Internet-connected smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. The data from Nest devices will inform insurance companies about whether or not the devices are performing well, have batteries, and have a reliable Wi-Fi connection—factors that could reduce the risk of fires in the home, which account for about 30 percent of all insurance losses.

4. Jamaica Embraces Open Data

Jamaica’s Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy, and Mining has announced it will lead the development of an open data policy for the government. The policy will direct agencies to increase the availability and accessibility of government data, with a particular focus on data that could add substantial value to the country’s economy, in accordance with a Jamaican initiative to support the growth of small and medium-sized businesses. Once complete, the ministry will submit the policy to the Jamaican Cabinet for approval.

5. Opening Data on 11.4 Million Healthcare Transactions

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has published data on the 11.4 million financial transactions it made to healthcare providers in 2014, totalling $6.5 billion. This is the second year CMS has made such data available as part of its Open Payments program, designed to help consumers and regulators evaluate the potentially fraudulent or wasteful financial relationships between healthcare providers and government-subsidized healthcare programs. The new data also includes a portion of 2013 payments that could not be verified for the first Open Payments publication in 2014.

6. Making Bikes Smarter and Safer

A police officer in Chattanooga, Tennessee has convinced city leaders to pilot a bicycle-handlebar mounted sensing device to help enforce laws designed to reduce potentially fatal car-bike collisions. Many states have laws requiring cars maintain three feet of space between bikers when passing them on the road, but police officers have traditionally had difficulty enforcing this rule. The device, called BSMART, was developed specially for the city by engineering firm Codaxus and relies on ultrasonic waves to measure the proximity to a nearby car. Paired with a GoPro camera, the device warns police officers when a car comes too close to their bikes and captures video of the distance violation. The officer behind the project hopes it will make drivers, many of whom are unaware of the three feet law, pay more attention to others on the road and prevent accidents.

7. Visualizing Data to Improve Government Diversity

Nashville, Tennessee’s Human Relations Commision and Code for Nashville, a civil society group that promotes open data and builds civic apps, have developed a data visualization tool to help the public assess diversity in the Nashville and Davidson County Metro Government. The government recognized the need for such a tool after a January 2015 study of their workforce revealed low levels of diversity and a gap in pay equity. This demographic information was available on the city’s open data portal, but its lack of usability prevented the public from acting on this data. The new visualization platform pulls these demographic datasets, updated quarterly, to create easy-to-interpret graphs, charts, and trend analyses.

8. NASA Data Tech Will Help Organize the Skies

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has offered its data technology to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to help make air travel more efficient. The NASA technology, called Terminal Sequencing and Spacing (TSAS), is designed to improve how air traffic controllers coordinate planes as they land at airports, which will reduce fuel consumption, decrease emissions, and reduce congestion in airways. TSAS will monitor data from incoming airplanes, develop optimized descent profiles,  and automate the procedures and communication flight crews need to land.

9. Building Better Flood Maps with Supercomputers

California-based catastrophe modeling company KatRisk is tapping supercomputers to improve flood maps provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA maps indicate how prone areas are to flooding, but don’t include more detailed information valuable for risk modeling, such as indicating the severity of a flood rather than just indicating an area is flooded. KatRisk is using the Department of Energy’s Titan supercomputer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to create highly detailed models for individual areas to assess flood risk on a more granular level. The Titan supercomputer is made available to researchers on the condition that their results are made publicly available.

10. Connecting Emergency Responders with Geospatial Data

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is using a cloud-based image hosting service developed by Amazon Web Services to provide first responders an emergency with fast access to massive amounts of geospatial data. The platform allows DHS administrators to compile and search geospatial data from its own sources and from other agencies to give first responders from local and state governments a more accurate understanding of the emergency to help speed relief efforts.

Image: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


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