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10 Bits: the Data News Hotlist

by Michael McLaughlin
Cloud overs over a blue ocean.

This week’s list of data news highlights covers March 7-13, 2020, and includes articles about reducing the workloads of teachers and using a supercomputer to combat the coronavirus.

1. Creating an “Ocean of Things”

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has created an “Ocean of Things” project, which aims to use floats equipped with Internet of Things sensors to enable the continuous monitoring of the world’s oceans. The sensors will enable researchers to detect not only water temperatures and wave heights, but also ship and wildlife movements. The project will start deploying one sensor for every 3 square kilometers in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of California this spring.

2. Using Data to Improve Crop Yields

OneSoil, a startup based in Belarus, has developed machine learning algorithms that help farmers manage their crops. The algorithms analyze satellite and soil data to forecast the spread of diseases, the optimal amount of fertilizer to use, and the optimal time to plant and harvest. OneSoil’s service allows farmers to monitor the health of their crops without having to walk through their fields.

3. Reducing Teachers’ Workloads

Century Tech, a startup based in London, has developed a learning platform that uses AI to lighten teachers’ workload. The platform automatically marks each student’s work and provides teachers data that indicate which students are understanding or struggling with a concept. This platform can also tailor content and assessments to students’ particular needs.

4. Making Health Data More Valuable

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has finalized rules to make it easier for individuals to access their health data. The rules allow individuals to digitally access their health records, which could enable consumers to organize their health data from doctor and hospital visits on their phones. In addition, the rules require both public and private entities to send medical data to third-party apps at patients’ requests and include a provision that creates standards for application programming interfaces (APIs) to facilitate the sharing of data. 

5. Using a Supercomputer to Combat the Coronavirus

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy have used Summit, the world’s fastest supercomputer, to simulate which existing drug compounds could block the coronavirus from infecting humans. Summit simulated 8,000 compounds, which include medications and natural compounds, finding that 77 may be able to impair the coronavirus. This process, which took roughly two days, narrowed the number of compounds scientists would likely need to test.

6. Creating Semi-Autonomous Construction Equipment

Built Robotics, a startup in San Francisco, has developed technology that enables construction equipment such as excavators and bulldozers to pilot themselves. The technology includes motion and angle sensors, LiDAR, and a high-performance computer. This system allows workers to specify the GPS coordinates for a project, and an excavator, for example, can then drive itself to the beginning point and dig thousands of feet a day without a human in the cab. 

7. Combining Machine Learning and Quantum Computing

Google has released TensorFlow Quantum, an open-source software library that makes it easier to develop quantum machine learning applications. The software allows developers to create quantum apps without needing to know the details of the hardware they are using, and to switch back and forth between using a quantum computer and a classical machine. It can also help individuals develop quantum applications, such as those that model the natural world.

8. Creating Robots That Can Adapt to New Situations

Vicarious, a startup based in the San Francisco Bay Area, has developed AI software that enables robotic arms to pick up and move objects to their desired location. For example, the software-enabled robots have helped makeup company Sephora assemble sampler packs. Vicarious trained its software to be able to pick up objects that are in different positions each time, which means the robots do not need the expensive feeders that typically accompany such robots to position each object identically. 

9. Using Open Data to Connect Coronavirus Cases

Open data helped scientists from Nexstrain, a project to track the evolution of pathogens in real time, discover that the coronavirus had been spreading for weeks in Seattle after its first confirmed case on January 20. Researchers from the Seattle Flu Study uploaded the genetic data of a strain found in a Seattle-area teenager on February 27 to a platform for sharing genetic data. The data sharing allowed researchers from Nextstrain to analyze the teenager’s strain, finding that it was a direct descendent of the strain found in the previously unrelated patient on January 20. 

10. Combating Locust Swarms

Researchers at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Climate Prediction and Applications Center in Kenya are using a supercomputer to predict the movements of giant locust swarms that are devastating crops. The computer uses satellite data to track the swarms and produces weather forecasts for high-winds, rainfall, and humidity to determine the breeding conditions for locusts. The system allows the researchers to alert at-risk communities, who can then allocate their resources more effectively to combat the swarms. 

Image: Tiago Fioreze

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