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10 Bits: The Data News Hotlist

by Joshua New

This week’s list of data news highlights covers July 11-17, 2015 and includes articles about how satellite data can help predict wildfires and a new imitative to bring smart cities to the United Kingdom.

1. Saving Rhinos with Drones and Data

The Lindbergh Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to using technology to address conservation issues, is spearheading a new project called the Air Shepherd Initiative, which uses data analytics and drones to crack down on rhino poachers in South Africa. The project uses predictive analytics technology originally designed to predict the location of roadside bombs for the Department of Defense and applies the same algorithms to predict where poaching is likely to occur. The project’s team then deploys drones to monitor these areas to track and deter poachers. In six months of testing, the project was able to prevent all poaching in an area that previously lost 12-19 rhinoceroses per month.

2. Crowdsourcing a Cure for Blindness

An online patient registry called My Retina Tracker is attempting to fast-track cures for blindness-causing diseases by connecting researchers with patient-provided health data. The sheer number of genetic conditions that can cause vision loss, combined with the difficulty in reaching significant numbers of patients with some of these rare diseases, has historically made it difficult for researchers to compile sufficient data for in-depth analysis and medical trials. My Retina Tracker allows patients to contribute their medical records in exchange for certain incentives and allows researchers to comb through these records to identify patients for clinical trials.

3. Fighting Wildfires from Space

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have announced plans to use space-borne sensing technology to help detect and combat wildfires, which the U.S. spends an average of $1.5 billion per year to fight. NASA satellites will help USDA monitor soil moisture data to map moisture levels in wildfire-prone areas, such as drought-stricken California. With this data, firefighters will be able to better forecast where wildfires will occur and predict their behavior.

4. Tracking a City’s Fitness
Researchers from New York University have launched a study to examine citywide exercise habits based on data city residents share with RunKeeper, a fitness tracking app. The researchers hope to reveal how public spaces influence a city’s fitness habits and other health indicators. Open Humans Project, a website designed to connect researchers with the personal data they want to study, will facilitate sharing deidentified RunKeeper data with the researchers.

5. Open Data Can Find the Best Doctors

Consumers’ Checkbook, a consumer advocacy nonprofit, has launched SurgeonRatings.org, a website that allows users to find the best surgeons for various procedures. The site pulls information on over four million major surgeries and 50,000 doctors from publicly available Medicare data to score surgeons on their performance. Users can examine rates of death or major complications for specific surgeries, and the site will only list surgeons that perform these operations with higher-than-average scores.

6. Predicting Sustainable Energy Production

IBM has developed an algorithm called Self-Learning Weather Model and Renewable Forecasting Technology (SMT), which can predict how much energy solar and wind farms will produce weeks in advance. SMT analyzes over one terabyte of data per day generated from 1,600 weather-monitoring stations and satellites to predict how future forecasts will impact energy production, 30 percent more accurately than existing systems. Highly accurate forecasting enables utilities to operate more efficiently and better plan capacity needs.

7. Open-Sourcing Geospatial Intelligence

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) has developed an open source software toolkit called Hootenanny to help communities map and share large amounts of geospatial data. Hootenanny, now available on the online public code repository GitHub, allows users to create maps based on data from satellites, drones, and mobile devices. NGA hopes that the prevalence of open source geospatial data will improve how quickly the United States can respond to emerging security threats.

8. Improving Kenyan Schools with Data Analytics

RTI International, a nonprofit research organization, and IBM Research – Africa have partnered to deploy and test data capture and decision-support technologies in classrooms in Mombasa, Kenya. In the first round of projects, 100 schools will receive systems designed to improve accountability and transparency in school administration and help monitor student progress. The partnership is part of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Education Data for Decision Making project, designed to promote evidence-based decision making in education around the world.

9. Jumpstarting Smart Cities

The UK government has announced a competition to spur the development of large-scale smart city applications. The competition will pit teams of local authorities, enterprise partnerships, and businesses against each other to develop two- to four-year projects that use the Internet of Things to deliver a variety of economic and social benefits. The projects must be able to work across multiple sectors, such as transportation and housing. The Department for Culture, Media, and Sport and Innovate UK, formerly the government’s Technology Strategy Board, will award £10 million (approximately $15 million) to the projects that best demonstrate the capability of the Internet of Things to improve cities.

10. Data-Driven Firefighting Comes to Boston

A group of Boston City Hall staffers called the Citywide Analytics Team is developing a platform to improve how city firefighters assess and respond to emergency situations. The platform, called Building Intelligence, will present data such as floor plans, code violations, and nearby fire hydrants, in interactive, easy-to-interpret digital dashboards. The city’s fire command cited the need for such a system after firefighters have died in other cities as a result of a lack of access to data on building safety.

Image: MrPanyGoff.

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