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10 Bits: The Data News Hotlist

by Joshua New

This week’s list of data news highlights covers September 12-18, 2015 and includes articles about the White House’s new smart cities initiative and how Montgomery County, Maryland is testing how the Internet of Things can help farmers make smarter decisions.

1. Making U.S. Cities Smarter

The Obama administration announced its “Smart Cities Initiative” this week that aims to improve how communities address social challenges and foster economic growth through the use of new technologies, including the Internet of Things. The initiative outlines $160 million in new and ongoing research funding to develop the Internet of Things and smart city applications, to be distributed by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Additionally, over 20 cities will participate in multi-city collaborations as part of the initiative to help city leaders work with academia and the private sector to develop and deploy smart city applications.

2. Making Better College Choices with Open Data

The U.S. Department of Education has developed an updated version of its “College Scorecard” tool, an online applications designed to help prospective college students and their families make better planning decisions about where to attend based on data about college costs, graduation rates, student debt, and post-college earnings. The agency has also made this data publicly available for download for the first time through an open application programming interface to allow the public, researchers, and policymakers to easily conduct their own analysis.

3. Big Data for Better Intensive Care

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston has developed a new analytics system to help caregivers better assess risk levels for patients in the intensive care unit (ICU). The system, called Risky States, combines standardized data from ICU clinical information systems that collect patients’ vital-sign data in real time with hospital staffing data, such as the training and experience levels of nurses on duty, to calculate a patient’s risk level, which could guide treatment decisions. Beth Israel will begin deploying Risky States this fall.

4. Machine Learning Masters Chess

Matthew Lai, a researcher at Imperial College London, has created an artificial intelligence program he calls Giraffe capable of rapidly teaching itself how to play chess at masterful levels. By analyzing possible positions and moves, Giraffe can play chess with a skill level equivalent of the top 2.2 percent of tournament chess players. After just 72 hours of playing against itself, Giraffe achieved a skill level that matched the most advanced chess engines in the world.

5. Promoting Cycling with Data-Driven Infrastructure Planning

The United Kingdom’s Department for Transportation and Cambridge University have built the Propensity to Cycle Tool (PCT) to better understand the infrastructure needs of cyclists. PCT uses transportation and geospatial data, such as the UK’s National Travel Survey and data on terrain, to help officials identify which regions have the highest predisposition to cycling. With this analysis, officials hope they can make better infrastructure planning decisions that encourage bicycle use.

6. Growing the Internet of Things on the Farm

Montgomery County, Maryland is partnering with Microsoft to better understand how farmers could use data from the Internet of Things to make better decisions. They will develop a testbed for agricultural applications to explore how granular data on things like ground temperature and local weather conditions could improve decisions about pesticide and fertilizer use. Additionally, the testbed will be used to identify strategies for efficiently collecting compliance data farmers need for government reporting requirements. The project will begin deploying the first sensors this winter.

7. Helping Drones Avoid Each Other

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has successfully tested a navigation system for autonomous drones that allows them to detect and avoid other aircraft, to prevent midair collisions. NASA and defense contractor General Atomics programmed the drones with flight maneuvers that could respond to 200 different scenarios involving potential collisions. NASA will refine the navigation systems with data collected from these tests to  match the avoidance capability of manned aircraft.

8. The Middle East Gets its First Smart City

Dubai will install networks of connected sensors throughout the city for applications such as smart street lighting, waste management, and parking, to become the first smart city in the Middle East. Dubai will work with the LoRa Alliance, a network standards association, to help deploy the necessary telecommunications infrastructure, and the city expects to finish the first phase of the project by the first quarter of 2016.

9, Tracking Fitness in the Workplace

Wearable fitness tracker company Fitbit has announced that its corporate wellness program, which rely on the wrist-worn sensors to monitor employee wellness, is now compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Now, Fitbit’s wellness program is accessible to HIPAA-covered entities, such as health insurance plans and self-insured employers.

10. Building a Database for the Future of Medicine

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will begin development of a national database to house the genetic data of one million volunteers as part of President Obama’s precision medicine initiative. NIH will determine the best practices for building this database, such as how to accurately represent diverse populations’ genetic data, though it is still waiting to learn about funding for the project, which will be decided by Congress. NIH will decide which hospitals will participate in the project within the next few months.

Image: Ricardo360.

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