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10 Bits: The Data News Hotlist

by Morgan Stevens

This week’s list of data news highlights covers October 30, 2021 to November 5, 2021 and includes articles on sailing autonomous boats and learning about extinct animal species in an augmented reality zoo.

1. Sailing Autonomously

Researchers with MIT and the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions have launched autonomous robotic boats in Amsterdam’s canals. Known as Roboats, the boats use GPS, cameras, and lidar technology to determine safe travel routes, and can carry up to 5 passengers, deliver goods, and collect trash and other waste.

2. Analyzing Meteor Travel

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University and Boston University used a supercomputer to model the aftermath of meteor impacts on Earth’s upper atmosphere. When meteors reach the Earth’s upper atmosphere, they frequently explode into molecules upon impact due to air pressure and the high velocity of their travel. The team developed three simulations that model a meteor’s breakup, predict the travel path of resultant molecules, and identify what current radar systems could see in the aftermath.

3. Answering Moral Dilemmas

Researchers at the Allen Institute for AI in Seattle, Washington have developed an AI system that can answer crowdsourced questions on moral issues. The team trained the system by asking it moral dilemmas and recruiting workers from Mechanical Turk, Amazon’s platform for hiring remote workers for on-demand tasks, to assess the system’s answers. In tests, the workers agreed with the system’s judgment on 92 percent of questions.

4. Predicting Crop Production

Researchers at NASA used a supercomputer to investigate the effects of climate change on global agricultural production. The team’s climate simulations suggest that maize and wheat fields would likely face the biggest threat, with maize production expected to decline by 24 percent over the next 10 years.

5. Assessing Car Accidents

U.S.-based automobile insurance company USAA has partnered with CCC Intelligent Solutions, a U.S.-based software company, to launch an AI platform that can assess the financial cost of repairs after automobile collisions. Insured car owners can upload pictures of their vehicle to the platform and the AI system will return a cost estimate within seconds.

6. Visiting an Augmented Reality Zoo

Snapchat has launched a new feature that uses augmented reality to help users learn about extinct animals. The feature, known as the Zoo of Extinct Animals, displays 3D representations of animals like the Baiji dolphin and Formosan clouded leopard in users’ environments. 

7. Solving Math Problems

OpenAI, a U.S.-based AI company, has created an AI system that can finish math problems requiring multi-step reasoning. The team trained the model to recognize mistakes in computation and reassess its reasoning until finding the correct answer. In tests, the system answered 55 percent of math questions correctly while a group of elementary students answered 60 percent correctly.

8. Evaluating Higher Education

The Gates Foundation has launched an interactive tool to help students and higher education professionals evaluate colleges and universities. The tool uses data from the federal College Scorecard, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, and the University of Texas system to display factors such as completion rates, the price of attendance, the racial composition of the student body, and median earnings after enrollment.

9. Paying for Concessions

Operators at McKale Center, the stadium for the Arizona Wildcats’ basketball team, have launched a cashless concessions stand for patrons. The stand uses an AI system to recognize purchases and enable customers to pay for their food.

10. Finding Precancerous Polyps

Gastroenterology of the Rockies, a U.S.-based healthcare system, has partnered with Cosmo Pharmaceuticals, a pharmaceutical company based in Ireland, to use an AI system to identify polyps during colonoscopies. In practice, the system identifies 14 percent more precancerous polyps than doctors.  

Image credit: Flickr user Timothy J

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