December 5, 2005

3D video for the rest of us

Now that digital cameras are a dime a dozen, it's no longer far-fetched to imagine the average person installing a dozen digital cameras to support three-dimensional videoconferencing. Today's computer processors and displays will also support tele-immersive environments. Handling and transporting all that time-sensitive data, however, is still a stretch for ordinary desktop operating systems and the Internet.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of California at Berkeley have developed software, dubbed Tele-immersive Environments for EVErybody (TEEVE), that aims to bridge this gap.

The system captures and coordinates video streams from three or more sets of four cameras, each of which generates a stream of three-dimensional video data. The system generates macro video frames made up of the frames from all of the cameras at one time interval, and sends them over a network in a way that evenly distributes the data so that it does not overload the network.

The system could make three-dimensional videoconferencing more affordable.

(TEEVE: The Next Generation Architecture for Tele-immersive Environments, IEEE International Symposium on Multimedia, Irvine, California, December 12-14, 2005)

Infectious antivirus protection

One way to curb computer viruses is to beat them at their own game.

Researchers from Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University in Israel and the Institute for Scientific Interchange (ISI) in Italy have showed that a good way to defeat computer viruses is to make immunization software that spreads like viruses.

The researchers' scheme uses traps, dubbed honey pots, that are spread across the Internet and become infected as a virus spreads. The traps analyze the virus, generate immunization software and spread the immunization code across the network. To ensure that the immunization code spreads faster than the virus, the system uses special links that only carry the immunization code.

The system is one of several ongoing efforts to develop the equivalent of an immune system for the Internet. Current immunization strategies require individuals to protect their own computers -- by all accounts an inefficient and burdensome approach.

(Distributive Immunization of Networks against Viruses Using the 'Honey-Pot' Architecture, Nature Physics, December, 2005)

Energy-free communications

According to the laws of physics, you have to expend energy to communicate. It turns out, though, that you don't have to send that energy to the other party. This is useful because communications that happen without sending energy to another party are theoretically impervious to eavesdroppers.

A study by a Texas A&M University researcher shows that two parties can communicate without putting energy into the communications channel by modulating and monitoring the channel's natural noise.

In ordinary communications, signals are transmitted using light or electricity. In contrast, the researchers' scheme uses ever present temperature fluctuations or zero-point energy. Zero-point energy consists of virtual particles like photons that pop in and out of existence in a vacuum. Because eavesdropping on such a signal either alters the characteristics of the noise in the channel or throws off the timing of signals, it is always possible to detect any eavesdroppers.

The method could eventually be used to provide potentially perfectly secure communications.

(Stealth Communication: Zero-Power Classical Communication, Zero-Quantum Quantum Communication and Environmental-Noise Communication, Applied Physics Letters, December 5, 2005)

A motivated room

Intelligent rooms aim to track movement, recognize gestures and understand spoken commands in order to control lights, project information on the walls and tell you who called while you were out.

The complicated collections of equipment involved -- computers, cameras, pressure sensors, projectors, microphones -- can be tricky to coordinate and calibrate, however. Intelligent rooms will never be practical if they require a team of technicians to adjust them every time someone moves a camera or behaves in a way the room doesn't expect. With this in mind, many teams of researchers are working on giving intelligent environments the ability to learn and adapt.

Researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia have come up with a scheme that uses artificial intelligence software dubbed intrinsically motivated learning agents to make intelligent environments more intelligent. Agents are autonomous pieces of software that can react to and affect their digital environments. Intrinsically motivated learning agents reward themselves for making discoveries.

In the initial tests of learning agent-enabled intelligent rooms the rooms learned to associate different behaviors with people's locations, which shows they are capable of learning patterns of use. The researchers have not yet tested the system's ability to adapt to changes in equipment.

(Intrinsically Motivated Intelligent Rooms, Second International Symposium on Ubiquitous Intelligence and Smart Worlds, Nagasaki, Japan, December 6-7, 2005)

Bits and pieces

A microfluidic bubble blower shows the way complex behavior emerges from simple environments; genetically engineered bacteria form biological photographic film; silicon nanowires are grown with chemically-altered regions that promise small, easy-to-manufacture computer circuits.

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