TAU NEWS – Computers & Technology
Software measuring wrist movements could replace tablets and digital pens, say TAU and Ben-Gurion University researchers
The handwritten signature is still the most widely accepted biometric used to verify a person's identity. Banks, corporations, and government bodies rely on the human eye and digital devices such as tablets or smart pens to capture, analyse, and verify people's autographs.
New software developed by researchers at Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev now enables smartwatches, currently worn by one in six people around the world, to verify handwritten signatures.
The accompanying study was recently published on arXiv. It is available at https://arxiv.org/abs/1612.06305.
"A popular device worn by so many people should feature additional, critically useful functions," said study co-author Dr. Erez Shmueli of TAU's Department of Industrial Engineering, who added that 373 million of these devices will be in use by 2020. "Considering how dependent we are on signatures, we decided to develop software that would verify the smartwatch device wearer's handwritten signature."
The next step in signature verification
Signing on a digital pad or using a special electronic pen has replaced pen and paper in many instances, but these alternatives often require cumbersome dedicated devices. The new software developed by Dr. Shmueli and his student Alona Levy, in collaboration with Prof. Yuval Elovici of BGU's Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering and his student Ben Nassi, would turn any generic smartwatch into an expert signature verifier.
The novel technology utilizes motion data — a person's wrist movements measured by an accelerometer or a gyroscope — to uniquely identify them during the signing process and subsequently classify the signature as either genuine or forged.
"Using a wrist-worn device such as a smartwatch or a fitness tracker bears obvious advantages over other wearable devices, since it measures the gestures of the entire wrist rather than a single finger or an arm," said Dr. Shmueli. "While several other recent studies have examined the option of using motion data to identify users, this is its first application to verify handwritten signatures — still a requirement at the bank, the post office, your human resources department, etc."
The team tested its system on 66 TAU undergraduates. The students, all wearing smartwatches, were asked to provide 15 signature samples on a tablet, using the tablet's digital pen. The students were then shown video recordings of people signing during the first phase, and were asked to forge five of those signatures. The students were given ample time to practice and were compensated for "exceptional forgeries."
The smartwatch, equipped with the new verification software, was able to detect forgery with an extremely high level of accuracy.
"Next we plan to compare our approach with existing state-of-the-art methods for offline and online signature verification," said Dr. Shmueli. "We would also like to investigate the option of combining data extracted from the wearable device with data collected from a tablet device to achieve even higher verification accuracy."
The researchers have applied for a patent in an initial step toward commercializing their system.
Ramot, TAU's Business Engagement Center Company, to launch i3 Equity Partners on campus
The global consortium Israel IoT Innovations-i3 Equity Partners (i3) has established an investment vehicle at Tel Aviv University with the initial sum of $20 million to develop next-generation IoT (Internet of Things) and IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) technologies.
The consortium is comprised of five global IoT industry leaders: GE Ventures, HNA EcoTech, Microsoft Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures and Tata. It will partner with Pitango Venture Capital and TAU's Business Engagement Center Company, Ramot, to launch the vehicle. Headquartered on TAU's campus, i3 will be co-managed by Noga Kap and Eran Wagner, entrepreneurs and investors well versed in early-stage investments, and chaired by Ramot CEO Shlomo Nimrodi.
"This one-of-a-kind collaboration of some of the world's largest corporations, Israel's leading academic institution and its largest venture capital fund, is a testament to the palpable confidence in the ability of Israeli entrepreneurs to come up with the next big thing that will transform our world," said Nimrodi. "The fact that we were able to bring all these leading partners to one table, providing access to their technologies, markets and clients, and to attract top venture capital talent to lead this initiative, is indicative of the highly unique differentiators we will be offering to top entrepreneurs."
Selecting the best of the best
i3 is expected to select high-potential seed and pre-seed startups with the optimal conditions for success, including financial investment of up to $1 million each and high-value in-kind contributions including technology, tools, mentoring, business development and other services. It will also provide these ventures with access to supportive multinational corporations at all stages of development: technological validation, design, proof of concept, later-stage investment and the sale of mature technologies and distribution in high-potential markets.
"The Internet of Things is the heart of a brave new world," said Wagner. "IoT brings together the various IT technologies developed over the past decades — big data and analytics, machine learning, cyber security, sensors and communications networks — to create the connected solutions that are already starting to change every aspect of our lives: from health through transportation and home appliances to aviation, agriculture, industrial manufacturing and much more. In Israel, we can find the unique combination of multidisciplinary skills and passion to innovate that is needed to create new big businesses that will impact large industries."
"This novel IoT vehicle will be the first stop for IoT-related startups hoping to access the main global players in the IoT space," said Kap. "With our unique and proprietary network, we will look for entrepreneurs who are adapting to changing markets in the IoT domain, and create products that matter. We will provide our portfolio companies with the resources they need to build great businesses by leveraging our partners' strategic experience and extensive IoT industry connections."
TAU, Israel's largest research university, consistently ranks among the world's top 10 universities with regard to graduates turned entrepreneurs (Pitchbook 2016-2017). Ramot invests in and supports the promising innovations of TAU scientists, making them attractive commercializable assets, through multiple value enhancement tools, including its $24 million Momentum Fund.
New mechanical "metamaterial" developed at TAU may revolutionize prosthetics and wearable technologies
Ill-fitting joint sockets, contact dermatitis and sebaceous cysts are just a few of the problems plaguing prosthetic patients. They are all a result of the pressure that their prosthetic devices place on the soft tissue of their bodies.
Now researchers at Tel Aviv University, FOM Institute AMOLF and Leiden University in the Netherlands have developed a new approach to manufacturing mechanical "metamaterials" — synthetic composite materials with structures and properties not usually found in natural materials — that can be programmed to deform in a uniquely complex manner.
The breakthrough may have future applications in soft robotics and wearable technologies — and may lead to more close-fitting, comfortable and user-friendly prosthetics. The research was published this week in the journal Nature.
Putting a smile on a cube
Dr. Yair Shokef of TAU's School of Mechanical Engineering and Prof. Martin van Hecke of Leiden University and AMOLF, the Netherlands, illustrated their approach through a three-dimensional printing of a metamaterial cube. A smiley-face pattern emerged on the side of the cube when it was compressed between custom-patterned surfaces.
To demonstrate that any pattern can be produced on a cube's surface, the
researchers developed a cube of 10x10x10 centimeter blocks
on which a smiley appears when the cube is compressed.
Photo: Corentin Coulais.
"We started with a series of flexible building blocks, or bricks, that had deformation properties that varied with their position," said Dr. Shokef. "The blocks were able to change their shape when we applied pressure. From there, we were able to develop a new design principle to enable these bricks to be oriented and assembled into a larger metamaterial with machine-like functionalities."
The metamaterial has the unusual property that spatially-patterned compression in one direction leads to predictable spatially-patterned deformation (dents and protrusions) in other directions.
"A pattern of specific bulges appears when our seemingly normal cube is compressed," said Dr. Shokef. "Using metamaterials, we can 'program' the material's behavior by carefully designing its spatial structure."
"For example, a pattern of holes in a sheet of material produces a mechanical response that is completely different than in the same material without holes," said Prof. van Hecke. "We also wanted to investigate this phenomenon for a three-dimensional pattern of holes."
One cube atop another
The researchers calculated the number of possible stacks for different cubes of building blocks. They then developed a cube of 10x10x10 centimeter blocks on which a smiley face appears when the cube is compressed. This demonstrated that any given pattern can be produced on a cube's surface.
"For each possible stack, the deformation within the cube results in a specific pattern on the sides of the cube," said Dr. Shokef. "We can carefully combine the building blocks in a way that any desired pattern can appear on the sides of a compressed cube. We can also use the cube to analyze these patterns."
There are many applications on the horizon for this new basic research. "This type of programmable 'machine material' could be ideal for prostheses or wearable technology in which a close fit with the body is important," Dr. Shokef said. "If we can make the building blocks even more complex or produce these from other materials, the possibilities really are endless."
Novel skin electrode is comfortable and has endless commercial and medical applications, says TAU researcher
A new temporary "electronic tattoo" developed by Tel Aviv University that can measure the activity of muscle and nerve cells researchers is poised to revolutionize medicine, rehabilitation, and even business and marketing research.
The tattoo consists of a carbon electrode, an adhesive surface that attaches to the skin, and a nanotechnology-based conductive polymer coating that enhances the electrode's performance. It records a strong, steady signal for hours on end without irritating the skin.
The electrode, developed by Prof. Yael Hanein, head of TAU's Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, may improve the therapeutic restoration of damaged nerves and tissue — and may even lead to new insights into our emotional life.
Prof. Hanein's research was published last month in Scientific Reports and presented at an international nanomedicine program held at TAU.
"Stick it on and forget about it"
One major application of the new electrode is the mapping of emotion by monitoring facial expressions through electric signals received from facial muscles. "The ability to identify and map people's emotions has many potential uses," said Prof. Hanein. "Advertisers, pollsters, media professionals, and others — all want to test people's reactions to various products and situations. Today, with no accurate scientific tools available, they rely mostly on inevitably subjective questionnaires.
"Researchers worldwide are trying to develop methods for mapping emotions by analyzing facial expressions, mostly via photos and smart software," Prof. Hanein continued. "But our skin electrode provides a more direct and convenient solution."
The device was first developed as an alternative to electromyography, a test that assesses the health of muscles and nerve cells. It's an uncomfortable and unpleasant medical procedure that requires patients to lie sedentary in the lab for hours on end. Often a needle is stuck into muscle tissue to record its electrical activity, or patients are swabbed with a cold, sticky gel and attached to unwieldy surface electrodes.
"Our tattoo permits patients to carry on with their daily routines, while the electrode monitors their muscle and nerve activity," said Prof. Hanein. "The idea is: stick it on and forget about it."
Applications for rehabilitation and more
According to Prof. Hanein, the new skin electrode has other important therapeutic applications. The tattoo will be used to monitor the muscle activity of patients with neurodegenerative diseases in a study at Tel Aviv Medical Center.
"But that's not all," said Prof. Hanein. "The physiological data measured in specific muscles may be used in the future to indicate the alertness of drivers on the road; patients in rehabilitation following stroke or brain injury may utilize the 'tattoo' to improve muscle control; and amputees may employ it to move artificial limbs with remaining muscles."
The electrode is the product of a European Research Council (ERC) project and received support from the BSMT Consortium of Israel's Ministry of Economy.
Cyber defense cooperation enables two nations to compile and share sensitive cyber security information in "real time"
Representatives from Israel and the United States signed an agreement for a real-time information-sharing platform to thwart cyber security threats on Tuesday, June 21, 2016. The occasion was Cyber Week, the Sixth Annual International Cybersecurity Conference held at Tel Aviv University. The conference is organized by TAU's Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center, the Israeli National Cyber Bureau, and Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Alejandro Mayorkas, Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security, announced the news of a joint declaration on Monday in his opening remarks at the weeklong conference, which drew some 5,000 government, industry, and academic representatives from 45 countries.
"One of the lessons we learned is to go it alone is precarious, and working together makes us stronger," Mayorkas told an audience of cyber experts. "The cybersecurity threat is borderless. Information must be shared."
"We believe in sharing information between companies, sectors, and countries because the threat is so global," said Eviatar Matania, a signatory of the agreement and Head of Israel's National Cyber Bureau. "If we share information, we can prevent the threat from propagating." Matania said the agreement would allow the two countries to automatically compile, screen, and share information, all in "near real time."
Conference welcomes entrepreneurs, investors, and academics
During Cyber Week, cybersecurity professionals from around the world convene with policymakers, entrepreneurs, investors, and academics to discuss cybersecurity threats facing the international community and the latest advances in cyber technology.
"Along with its interdisciplinary scope, TAU offers a unique mix of conditions for success," said TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter at the opening ceremony. "It has a proven record of innovation and entrepreneurship, deep-rooted connections with the high-tech industry and defense agencies, and an extensive national and international network of partner organizations."
"We are moving to an era in which almost all of our lives are handled online, so cyber threats will become more complex and more integrated in our lives," said Dr. Eran Toch of the Department of Industrial Engineering at TAU's Faculty of Engineering at a symposium on academia's contribution to cyber security. "Cyber threats will go beyond the idea of hackers. It will include governments, companies, our social networks, and so forth. Cyber security will be more than just protecting computers and networks. It will ask complex multidisciplinary questions, like how to protect genetic information while still being able to use it.
"TAU has an enormous opportunity to help humanity understand cyber threats and protect against them. It is truly a unique place to investigate these questions, as it is a major center of multidisciplinary thinking and engineering," Toch added.
Among the week's events were the first-ever Cyber Storm Startup Competition, as well as individual roundtable discussions on commercial, academic, and governmental cybersecurity cooperation between Israel and Spain, Singapore, China, India, Italy, and the United Kingdom.
TAU study highlights how smartphone technology is leading to diminished privacy
Private v. public, virtual v. real have converged in a world saturated by information technology. It seems impossible to divide the public from the personal. But when and where do we choose to share information about ourselves? How do we perceive public space and virtual space? And how do these perceptions influence our practices of seeing and being seen?
A Tel Aviv University study recently published in Urban Studies argues that "dynamic visibility," in which technological surveillance is combined with personal information volunteered by individuals online, has led to diminished overall privacy. "Technology is not only used top-down but also bottom-up, with individuals using their own technological devices to share and enhance their visibility in space," said Dr. Tali Hatuka, Head of the Laboratory for Contemporary Urban Design at TAU's Department of Geography and Human Environment.
"Whenever we use 'location-aware' devices, or tap on Waze or dating apps, like Tinder, or check-in on Facebook, we are really diminishing our own privacy," Dr. Hatuka said.
"This combination of secret surveillance and voluntary sharing contributes to a sense of 'being exposed' in a public space that normalizes practices of sharing personal data by individuals," Dr. Hatuka continued. "The result is diminished overall privacy."
Dr. Hatuka co-authored the study with Dr. Eran Toch, co-director of the Interacting with Technology Lab of the Department of Industrial Engineering at TAU's Faculty of Engineering.
Using "Smart-Spaces" to measure sharing
A survey conducted in 2013 by Google and Ipsos MediaCT in dozens of countries found that the Israeli population had the world's highest smartphone saturation (57%) and some of the highest rates of mobile internet usage and mobile email usage. The new TAU study found some differences among sharing preferences in different types of spaces, but these paled in comparison to the overwhelming willingness of participants to share their locations with their social networks.
The researchers developed an Android application called Smart-Spaces to collect information for the study. The app combines smartphone-based surveys with the online tracking of locations and phone application usage. The Smart-Spaces application was installed for 20 days on the phones of TAU students, who answered context-based surveys in the course of their daily routines. Each participant was interviewed before and after the installation of Smart-Spaces.
"More than 73% of the participants shared their locations as they answered the surveys," said Dr. Hatuka. "Moreover, there was a correlation between the kind of space they were in — private home, library, street, square etc. — and their willingness to provide information, with a higher willingness to share location and other information when the subject was in public spaces."
The results were analysed according to different activities, locations and number of people present at the time.
A look to the future
"While the sample is not representative of the general population, our results can be considered predictors for future phenomena," Dr. Hatuka observed. "Students are early adopters of smartphone technology, and their practices may predict those of the more general population."
The researchers are continuing to study the link between smartphones, urban space and social behavior to develop a comprehensive picture of current practices and produce concrete suggestions of how to approach emerging challenges.
"Our next objective is to understand what we actually see among an overload of images in an age of digital information," Dr. Hatuka concluded. "We assume that we are less sensitive to our physical environment — that is obvious. But the question is: What do we actually notice?"
Researcher engineers a cutting-edge solution for radiologists and other medical staff
Some 2 billion X-rays are performed around the world every year. But the average radiology clinic is understaffed. Radiologists are burdened with a growing workload, allowing little time to comprehensively evaluate images — leading to misdiagnoses and more serious consequences.
Now a Tel Aviv University lab is engineering practical solutions to meet the demands of radiologists. Prof. Hayit Greenspan's Medical Image Processing Lab in the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the TAU Faculty of Engineering has developed a wide variety of tools to facilitate computer-assisted diagnosis of X-rays, CTs and MRIs, freeing radiologists to attend to complex cases that require their full attention and skills.
"There is a shortage of radiologists, and their workload continues to grow. This means that some X-rays are never read or are only read following a long, life-endangering delay," said Prof. Greenspan. "Our goal is to use computer-assisted 'Deep Learning' technologies to differentiate between healthy and non-healthy patients, and to categorize all pathologies present in a single image through an efficient and robust framework that can be adapted to a real clinical setting."
"Deep learning" for accurate diagnosis
Prof. Greenspan discussed her lab's plan to implement "Deep Learning," a new area of Machine Learning research that harnesses artificial intelligence for various scientific fields, at the Israeli Symposium on Computational Radiology held at TAU last December. Her goal is to use Deep Learning to develop diagnostic tools for the automated detection and labelling of pathologies in radiographic images.
Prof. Greenspan's lab is one of only a few labs in the world dedicated to the application of Deep Learning in medicine. She and her team have already developed the technology to support automated chest X-ray pathology identification using Deep Learning, liver lesion detection, MRI lesion analysis and other tasks.
"We have developed tools to support decision-making in radiology with computer vision and machine learning algorithms. This will help radiologists make more accurate, more quantitative and more objective decisions," said Prof. Greenspan. "This is especially crucial when it comes to initial screenings. Such systems can improve accuracy and efficiency in both basic and more advanced radiology departments around the world."
Prof. Greenspan is also exploring the use of "transfer learning" in her research on the medical applications of Deep Learning. "Crowdsourcing was essential for the application of Deep Learning on general image searches such as Google search," said Prof. Greenspan. "But when it comes to medical imaging, there are privacy issues and there’s very little comprehensive data available at this point.
"In 'transfer learning,' we use networks originally trained on regular images to categorize medical images. The features and parameters that represent millions of general images provide a good signature for the analysis of medical images as well."
Prof. Greenspan's work is supported by the INTEL Collaborative Research Institute for Computational Intelligence (ICRI-CI) and the Israeli Finance Ministry, in collaboration with Sheba Medical Center. She is also head co-editor of a special issue on "Deep Learning in Medical Imaging," which will be published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Medical Imaging in May.
TAU researcher develops locust-inspired robot capable of jumping twice as high as existing robots of its kind
Since the 1980s, advanced robotic platforms have provided assistance to crisis intervention teams in the wake of man-made and natural disasters. The objective of such robots, in various sizes and shapes, has been to intervene where humans cannot and send life-saving data to rescue teams in the field.
A new miniature robot is poised to make a major contribution to the field of advanced robotics. The new locust-inspired robot, dubbed "TAUB" (for "Tel Aviv University and Ort Braude College"), is five inches long and weighs less than one ounce. It can jump 11 feet high — more than twice the height of similar-sized robots — and cover a horizontal distance of 4.5 feet in one leap. The researchers believe the TAUB will perform well in search-and-rescue missions and in reconnaissance operations in rough terrain.
The robot is the result of a collaboration between Prof. Amir Ayali of the Department of Zoology at Tel Aviv University's Faculty of Life Sciences, Dr. Gabor Kosa of TAU's Faculty of Engineering and Dr. Uri Ben-Hanan of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Ort Braude College. The research for the study was primarily conducted by TAU engineering students Valentin Zeitsev and Omer Gvirsman, as well as Dr. Avi Weiss of Ort Braude College. The research was recently published in Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.
Inspired by nature
"Our locust-inspired miniature jumping robot is a beautiful example of bio-inspired technological innovation," said Prof. Ayali. "Miniature robots are of special interest in the robotics field, attracting a lot of attention and research. The manufacture of tiny robots is cheap and efficient; their small size allows them to traverse difficult and unknown terrain; and many can be used in any given situation."
The scientists printed out the body of the robot on a 3D printer harnessing ABS plastic (the same material Legos are made of). The robot's legs were composed of stiff carbon rods, and its torsion springs of steel wire. A small on-board battery powers the robot, which is remotely controlled through an on-board microcontroller.
"Our research is a true interdisciplinary biology-engineering collaborative effort," said Prof. Ayali. "Biological knowledge, gained by observing and studying locusts, was combined with state-of-the-art engineering and cutting-edge technologies, allowing biological principles to be implemented in a miniature robotic jumping mechanism."
The same, but different
Researchers did not attempt to produce an exact mechanical replica of a locust. They focused instead on some of the specific biomechanical features of the locust's highly successful jump mechanism.
A locust catapults itself in a three-stage process. First, the legs are bent in the preparation stage. Then the legs are locked in place at the joint. Finally, a sudden release of the flexor muscle on the upper leg unlocks the joint and causes a rapid release of energy. This creates a fast-kicking movement of the legs that propels the locust into the air.
Like the locust, which uses stored mechanical energy to enhance the action of its leg muscles, the robot's "high-jump" is due to its ability to store energy in its torsion springs.
The researchers are currently working on a gliding mechanism that will enable the robot to extend its jumping range, lower its landing impact, execute multiple steered jumps and stabilize while airborne, expanding the possible field applications of the robot.
TAU alums develop app to build skills for emotional resilience and lasting happiness
Having a bad day? Log in and cheer up — now you can join more than a million users of the new smartphone app Happify, developed by two Tel Aviv University alumni.
Tomer Ben-Kiki (BSc Mathematics and Computer Science) and Ofer Leidner (BA Economics and Information Technology) say that happiness is a combination of how satisfied you are with your life and how good you feel on a day-to-day basis. According to the pair, it is actually possible to train your brain to be happier.
Happify's STAGE framework helps users develop five key happiness skills. They include savoring individual moments, appreciating the things that other people do for you, and caring about others. Ben-Kiki and Leidner launched Happify in New York City in 2012 and hope that Happify becomes the online destination platform for science-based emotional well-being — the single go-to place for data that can generate actionable behavioral and emotional insights.
Backed by $12 million in equity from investors, their company has already grown to more than 30 people, and is one of the most popular Health and Fitness apps in Apple and Google stores.
For more, read the story in the July 28 Huffington Post: "Happify: The Science of Emotional Wellbeing in a Mobile App"
A new device developed at TAU demonstrates the vulnerability of computers to data theft
The list of paranoia-inducing threats to your computer's security grows daily: Keyloggers, trojans, infected USB sticks, ransomware — and now even the rogue falafel sandwich.
Researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Technion Institute of Technology, led by Dr. Eran Tromer of TAU's Blavatnik School of Computer Science, have developed a new palm-sized device that can wirelessly steal data from a nearby laptop based on the radio waves leaked by its processor's power use. Their spy bug, built for less than $300, is designed to allow anyone to "listen" to the accidental radio emanations of a computer's electronics from 19 inches away and derive the user's secret decryption keys, enabling the attacker to read their encrypted communications.
The device, described in a paper the team is presenting at the Workshop on Cryptographic Hardware and Embedded Systems in September, is both cheaper and more compact than similar contraptions from the past — so small, in fact, that the researchers demonstrated it can fit inside a pita round.
"The result is that a computer that holds secrets can be readily tapped with such cheap and compact items without the user even knowing he or she is being monitored," said Dr. Tromer. "We showed it's not just possible, it's easy to do with components you can find on eBay or even in your kitchen."
For more, read the article at Wired.com: "This Radio Bug Can Steal Laptop Crypto Keys, Fits Inside a Pita"
New innovation center will focus on cyber security, authentication, and security checks
Tel Aviv University and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) have announced a landmark deal to collaborate on technological solutions to airplane and airport safety challenges. The partners will tackle threats to big data, cyber security, authentication, security checks, and general aviation security.
IATA representatives said they planned to work with Ramot, TAU's technology-transfer company, and TAU's Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center to open a joint innovation center to identify solutions and develop technology to contend with international aviation threats.
The IATA was among the sponsors of the International Conference on Cyber Security held at the university in June.
TAU Vice President Prof. Raanan Rein, who signed the agreement on behalf of the university, called it an important step in the university's relationship with international companies and industry, demonstrating its leading role in entrepreneurship, innovation, and research.
The IATA global organization comprises 260 airlines and represents about 83 percent of all passenger and cargo transport worldwide. It deals with a wide range of areas in airports including safety, security, financial issues, regulation, environment, and a variety of processes aimed at simplifying and streamlining procedures on the ground and in the air.
For more, read the story in the Jerusalem Post:
Cyber Week 2015: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro Discuss the Emerging “Cyber Revolution”
Leading international cyber experts, policymakers converge at annual TAU cybersecurity conference
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Israel's technological and cybersecurity prowess but stressed the urgency for constant, consistent progress in the field at Cyber Week, the 5th Annual International Cybersecurity Conference, which took place June 22-25 at Tel Aviv University.
"We are in the throes of great change," said Netanyahu. "We're moving from atoms to bits, from place to space. I don't want to say that we’re walking in the clouds, but we sort of are. And it requires that we be at the cusp, the edge, of innovation all the time."
Cyber Week, held jointly by TAU's Yuval Ne'eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security, TAU's Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center (ICRC), the National Cyber Bureau, and the Prime Minister's Office, brings together leading international cyber experts, policymakers, researchers, security officials, and diplomats every year for an exchange of knowledge, methods, and ideas concerning evolving cyber technologies.
Israel at the forefront of cyber innovation
Last year, Israel attracted $5-7 billion of the global cybersecurity market ($60-80 billion), roughly double the figure from the previous year. This increase places Israel firmly on the map as a leader in the digital arena.
"Israel is in a unique place. We have a large number of talented people in this field, but it's not only numbers," Netanyahu told the thousands of delegates from 45 countries gathered at TAU's Smolarz Auditorium. "We need to make the cyber culture not only a vehicle for national defense, but also for business."
The need for constant change — a "revolution" — served as a theme of the conference, which featured workshops, lectures, and discussions on methods and ideas concerning evolving cyber technologies. "TAU is at the academic and entrepreneurial center of the rapidly growing Israeli cyber market," said TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter. "At any given time, over 100 cyber researchers and business practitioners are working together, leveraging the unique set of advantages that TAU brings to the cyber security arena.
"These advantages include a proven track record of innovation and entrepreneurship; a wide interdisciplinary scope; deep-rooted connections with the high-tech industry and defense agencies; an extensive national and international network of research partner organizations; and one more factor — which is harder to quantify — and that's a campus culture of imaginative boldness, of a willingness to not only think out of the box but to throw the box out," Prof. Klafter said.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro spoke of the importance of U.S.-Israel cooperation on cybersecurity issues. "We're also working with other countries to help us combat cyber crime," said Ambassador Shapiro. "And I expect the U.S. and Israel to continue working together to support global economic prosperity."
Other guests in attendance included Maureen Ohlausen, Commissioner of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission; internationally renowned security technologist Bruce Scheier; former Cyber Advisor to Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, and former CSO at Microsoft, Howard Schmidt; and dozens of global and domestic leaders from the political, military, technology, economic and academic arenas.
Speakers repeatedly stressed the need for new cyber security solutions due to the ever-changing nature of cyber threats themselves. "We know that international cooperation is key," Schmidt said. "Since 1998, we’ve talked about it — but we need to execute it. We need to start trusting in our friends, in our colleagues, even though we have national interests."
In his closing remarks, PM Netanyahu made it clear that the world's No. 1 destination for cyber solutions was Israel. "I'm here to tell you — if you’re not in Israel, you should be. If you are, do more."
TAU researcher harnesses pulsed electric fields to rejuvenate epidermal function and appearance
Americans spend over $10 billion a year on products and surgery in their quest to find a "fountain of youth," with little permanent success. Botulinum toxin — notably Botox — which smoothes lines and wrinkles to rejuvenate the aging face has been the number one nonsurgical procedure in the U.S. since 2000. But injections of this toxic bacterium are only a temporary solution and carry many risks, some neurological.
A team of Tel Aviv University and Harvard Medical School researchers has now devised a non-invasive technique that harnesses pulsed electric fields to generate new skin tissue growth. According to their research, the novel non-invasive tissue stimulation technique, utilizing microsecond-pulsed, high-voltage, non-thermal electric fields, produces scarless skin rejuvenation and may revolutionize the treatment of degenerative skin diseases.
The study, published recently in Scientific Reports, was led by Dr. Alexander Golberg of TAU's Porter School of Environmental Studies and the Center for Engineering in Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Shriners Burns Hospital in Boston, in collaboration with Dr. William J. Austen, Jr. from the Department of Plastic Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital and Dr. Martin L. Yarmush at the Center for Engineering in Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Shriners Burns Hospital in Boston, along with other prominent researchers.
An (effective) shock to the system
"Pulsed electrical field technology has many advantages, which have already proved effective — for example, in food preservation, tumor removal, and wound disinfection," said Dr. Golberg. "Our new application may jumpstart the secretion of new collagen and capillaries in problematic skin areas. Considering that, in the modern era of aging populations and climate change, degenerative skin diseases affect one in three adults over the age of 60, this has the potential to be an healthcare gamechanger."
Current therapies to rejuvenate skin use various physical and chemical methods to affect cells and the extracellular matrix, but they induce unsightly scarring. Pulsed electric fields, however, affect only the cell membrane itself, preserving the extracellular matrix architecture and releasing multiple growth factors to spark new cell and tissue growth. By inducing nanoscale defects on the cell membranes, electric fields cause the death of a small number of cells in affected areas. The released growth factors increase the metabolism of the remaining cells, generating new tissue.
"We have identified in rats the specific pulsed electric field parameters that lead to prominent proliferation of the epidermis, formation of microvasculature, and secretion of new collagen at treated areas without scarring," said Dr. Golberg. "Our results suggest that pulsed electric fields can improve skin function and potentially serve as a novel non-invasive skin therapy for multiple degenerative skin diseases."
The researchers are currently developing a low-cost device for use in clinical trials in order to test the safety and efficacy of the technology in humans.
TAU researchers move Star Trek's fictional "Tricorder" into the real world
For the crew of the Starship Enterprise, Star Trek's "Tricorder" was an essential tool, a multifunctional hand-held device used to sense, compute, and record data in a threatening and unpredictable universe. It simplified a number of Starfleet tasks, scientific or combat-related, by beaming sensors at objects to obtain instant results.
The Tricorder is no longer science fiction. An invention by Tel Aviv University researchers may be able to turn smartphones into powerful hyperspectral sensors, capable of identifying the chemical components of objects from a distance. Prof. David Mendlovic of TAU's School of Electrical Engineering and his doctoral student, Ariel Raz, have combined the two necessary parts of this invention: an optical component and image processing software.
"A long list of fields stand to gain from this new technology," said Prof. Mendlovic. "We predict hyperspectral imaging will play a major role in consumer electronics, the automotive industry, biotechnology, and homeland security."
Putting a camera and a database together
Prof. Mendlovic and Raz, together with a team of researchers at the Unispectral Technologies firm, patented an optical component based on existing microelectromechanical or "MEMS" technology, suitable for mass production and compatible with standard smartphone camera designs. The combination of this optical component and newly designed software go further than current smartphone cameras by offering superior imaging performance and hyperspectral imaging capabilities.
"The optical element acts as a tunable filter and the software — an image fusion library — would support this new component and extract all the relevant information from the image," said Prof. Mendlovic. The imaging works in both video and still photography, he says.
Every material object has a hyperspectral signature, its own distinctive chemical fingerprint. Once the camera acquires an image, the data would be further analyzed to extract the hyperspectral content at any location in the image. "We are close to producing a prototype, which is scheduled for release in June," says Prof. Mendlovic. "We unveiled the demonstration system at the MWC Barcelona conference this month and received excellent feedback."
A device for everyone
Unispectral is in talks with other companies to analyze data from its cameras' images. This back-end analyzer would need a large database of hyperspectral signatures at its disposal. Applications of the sensor include remote health monitoring and industrial quality control. "Agricultural applications may also benefit because hyperspectral imaging could be used to identify properties of crops, vegetables, and other types of foods," Mr. Raz says. "Its hyperspectral platform is also suitable for wearable devices."
Ramot, TAU's tech transfer company, consolidated key intellectual properties and financed the engineering team to proceed with R&D and the business development. Unispectral's funders include the Momentum Fund, which is backed by Tata Group Ltd. and Temasek, an investment company based in Singapore. Another key investor is the flash memory firm SanDisk.
According to Prof. Mendlovic, Unispectral is currently in advanced discussions with major smartphone makers, automotive companies, and wearable device makers to move the technology forward.
TAU researchers develop molecular backbone of super-slim, bendable digital displays
From smartphones and tablets to computer monitors and interactive TV screens, electronic displays are everywhere. As the demand for instant, constant communication grows, so too does the urgency for more convenient portable devices — especially devices, like computer displays, that can be easily rolled up and put away, rather than requiring a flat surface for storage and transportation.
A new Tel Aviv University study, published recently in Nature Nanotechnology, suggests that a novel DNA-peptide structure can be used to produce thin, transparent, and flexible screens. The research, conducted by Prof. Ehud Gazit and doctoral student Or Berger of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology at TAU's George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, in collaboration with Dr. Yuval Ebenstein and Prof. Fernando Patolsky of the School of Chemistry at TAU's Faculty of Exact Sciences, harnesses bionanotechnology to emit a full range of colors in one pliable pixel layer — as opposed to the several rigid layers that constitute today's screens.
"Our material is light, organic, and environmentally friendly," said Prof. Gazit. "It is flexible, and a single layer emits the same range of light that requires several layers today. By using only one layer, you can minimize production costs dramatically, which will lead to lower prices for consumers as well."
From genes to screens
For the purpose of the study, a part of Berger's Ph.D. thesis, the researchers tested different combinations of peptides: short protein fragments, embedded with DNA elements which facilitate the self-assembly of a unique molecular architecture.
Peptides and DNA are two of the most basic building blocks of life. Each cell of every life form is composed of such building blocks. In the field of bionanotechnology, scientists utilize these building blocks to develop novel technologies with properties not available for inorganic materials such as plastic and metal.
"Our lab has been working on peptide nanotechnology for over a decade, but DNA nanotechnology is a distinct and fascinating field as well. When I started my doctoral studies, I wanted to try and converge the two approaches," said Berger. "In this study, we focused on PNA — peptide nucleic acid, a synthetic hybrid molecule of peptides and DNA. We designed and synthesized different PNA sequences, and tried to build nano-metric architectures with them."
Using methods such as electron microscopy and X-ray crystallography, the researchers discovered that three of the molecules they synthesized could self-assemble, in a few minutes, into ordered structures. The structures resembled the natural double-helix form of DNA, but also exhibited peptide characteristics. This resulted in a very unique molecular arrangement that reflects the duality of the new material.
"Once we discovered the DNA-like organization, we tested the ability of the structures to bind to DNA-specific fluorescent dyes," said Berger. "To our surprise, the control sample, with no added dye, emitted the same fluorescence as the variable. This proved that the organic structure is itself naturally fluorescent."
Over the rainbow
The structures were found to emit light in every color, as opposed to other fluorescent materials that shine only in one specific color. Moreover, light emission was observed also in response to electric voltage — which make it a perfect candidate for opto-electronic devices like display screens.
The study was funded by the Momentum Fund of Ramot, TAU's technology transfer company, which also patented the new technology. The researchers are currently building a prototype of the screen and are in talks with major consumer electronics companies regarding the technology.
TAU doctoral student launches encyclopedia app that feeds the curiosity of 21st century kids
Over the last decade, educators veered away from rote learning as the dominant technique for children's education. New curriculum standards call for a greater emphasis on active learning, critical thinking, and communication, rather than the recall of facts to instill a greater love of learning in students and to improve test results in mathematics and science-related subjects.
Now a new encyclopedia application designed and launched by Yoav Meyrav of Tel Aviv University's Philosophy Department and co-founder Inbal Miron-Bershteyn aims to channel a child's natural curiosity toward fun to enrich learning. Wiki-Kids, available now on the Apple App Store, is a tablet-formatted encyclopedia that offers curious kids a platform they can use to independently explore the world.
The kids choose what they want to see next. "When I sat down to design the app, I was dreaming about my own kids," said Meyrav, who previously worked on the Hebrew Encyclopedia team. "The project isn't limited to one app. We are trying to spark a larger trend, a major change in the way we educate our children. Rather than encouraging their 'grade-digging,' we should be fostering their natural curiosity."
Exploring the world with an iPad
Meyrav, who with TAU alumna Sharon Arad wrote the 240 entries in the ten categories featured on the app, did so with independent exploration — as opposed to information-dumping — as the single guiding objective. The entries contain carefully crafted text, friendly narration, colorful images, and bright sounds, offering four-to-eight-year-old children a unique tool with which to independently explore the world. The ten categories featured are animals, nature, countries, landmarks, food, space, the human body, musical instruments, occupations, and transportation.
According to Miron-Bershteyn, whose idea it was to initially launch Wiki-Kids, almost anything can be explained to young children in fewer than 80 words (or 30 seconds of narration). What's more, said Meyrav, the app contextualizes any information presented. For example, a light tap on a tiger icon leads to one main descriptive entry and three accompanying engaging images — the countries in which tigers reside, the animals that tigers prey on, and tiger-related species.
Meyrav worked closely with psychologists and literacy education experts when drafting the entries, which contain neither ads nor irrelevant links. The app was also certified by the kidSAFE Seal Program and Momswithapps.
"This is not an encyclopedia that answers questions but rather leads to more questions," said Meyrav. "We want to inspire curiosity. The principles governing reference material for adults and kids are very different — just ask your own kids. They have to experience something to really understand it.
"Once I relieved myself of the need to be relevant and to the point, my imagination let loose. Every entry became a challenge — to supply an entry point to more information instead of a mere fact. Ours is a 'tapas' encyclopedia, offering users a chance to sample all sorts of interesting things. We don't want to satisfy kids' appetite for learning. We want to encourage them to keep exploring," Meyrav said.
Wiki-Kids, available now in English, will be launched in a Hebrew-language version soon.
TAU researcher discovers novel nanoscale "metamaterial" could serve as future ultra-high-speed computing units
From computers, tablets, and smartphones to cars, homes, and public transportation, our world is more digitally connected every day. The technology required to support the exchange of massive quantities of data is critical. That's why scientists and engineers are intent on developing faster computing units capable of supporting much larger amounts of data transfer and data processing.
A new study published in Nature Photonics by Tel Aviv University researchers finds that new optical materials could serve as the nuts and bolts of future ultra-high-speed optical computing units. According to the research, led by Dr. Tal Ellenbogen and conducted by group members Nadav Segal, Shay Keren-Zur, and Netta Hendler, all of the Department of Physical Electronics at TAU's School of Electrical Engineering and TAU's Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, these "nonlinear metamaterials," which possess physical capabilities not found in nature, may be the building blocks that allow major companies like IBM and Intel to move from electronic to optical computing.
At his TAU lab, Dr. Ellenbogen studies the interaction between light and matter at the nanoscale level in order to explore underlying physical mechanisms, which can be used to develop novel optical and electro-optical components. "Optical metamaterials have been studied for their intriguing and unusual properties for the last 15 years," said Dr. Ellenbogen. "Our work shows that, with the proper design, they can also be used to develop new types of active optical components essential to the manufacture of ultra-high-speed optics-based computer chips."
Light and matter
In natural materials, the interaction between light and the material is governed by the chemical composition of the material. In the new optical materials, however, through the creation of fine nanostructures, the interaction can be controlled and new optical phenomena can be observed. When the strength of the interaction is not directly proportional to the strength of the light field, nonlinear optical effects kick in. These effects can be used to make active optical devices.
These artificial optical materials are sometimes referred to as optical metamaterials and their nanoscale building blocks are sometimes referred to as "optical meta-atoms." "Future on-chip communications systems are expected to change from relying solely on electronics to relying on photonics — that is, the qualities and mechanics of light — or hybrid electronic-photonic systems," said Dr. Ellenbogen. "These photonic on-chip communications systems will consist of active nonlinear nanoscale optical elements. Our research opens the door to consider nonlinear metamaterials as the active nanoscale components in future on-chip communications.
"By merging two disciplines in optics — metamaterials and nonlinear photonic crystals — we are opening the door to constructing novel active nonlinear devices based on metamaterials and to new fundamental studies altogether," said Dr. Ellenbogen. The researchers are currently exploring how to make the nonlinear interaction more efficient by using multilayered metamaterial structures and by examining different metamaterial building blocks.
All of the research was conducted at the Laboratory for Nanoscale Electro-Optics at TAU's Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, and was supported by the Israel Science Foundation, the European Commission Marie Curie Career Integration Grant, and the Tel Aviv University Center for Renewable Energy. For this research Nadav Segal won the The Feder Family Award for Best Student Work in Communications.
"Big data" expert will continue to head Google's R&D Center in Israel in addition to new leadership role
Prof. Yossi Matias of Tel Aviv University's Blavatnik School of Computer Sciences, the Managing Director of Google's R&D Center in Israel, has been appointed a Vice President at Google. He will keep leading global efforts within Google Search team, while continuing to lead Israel's R&D Center.
"We've made good progress from the ten blue links Search showed in response to queries. Today, we all carry powerful smartphones and expect them to help us throughout our lives — from where we're supposed to be in 15 minutes, to which school is the best fit for our kids. In response, Google has changed a lot. Typing on your phone is slow and cumbersome, so now you can talk to Google and get answers to an increasing range of questions. But we're still far from our goal of getting you just the right information at the exact moment you need it with almost no effort," said Prof. Matias. "My team and I are focusing on new products and technologies to further this end."
After joining Google eight years ago to start an R&D center in Tel Aviv, Prof. Matias merged Google's Tel Aviv and Haifa centers to form a single strategic Israel R&D Center, which has since grown rapidly to include over 400 engineers. Under Prof. Matias' leadership, Israel's R&D Center has developed core technologies in the areas of Search, Data Analytics, Gmail, YouTube, and Internet scale infrastructure, as well as pioneered an initiative to bring online worldwide heritage collections.
Creating the next generation of tech entrepreneurs
Prof. Matias was also instrumental in founding Google's Campus Tel Aviv, a tech hub aimed at supporting the next generation of Israeli tech entrepreneurs. "For the past few years, I and my team have held a class at TAU in Cloud and Web Development, in which students develop new products, study new technologies, and learn how to work well in teams," said Prof. Matias. "This is de facto a class in entrepreneurship, combining technology development and innovation with real-world operations. The success of the class was one of the inspirations for establishing Campus Tel Aviv and its Launchpad."
On the faculty of TAU's Blavatnik School of Computer Science, Prof. Matias has published over 100 scientific and technological research papers, and has over 30 patents registered in his name. He is a recipient of the Gödel Prize for his pioneering work on Big Data (with Prof. Noga Alon, also from TAU, and Prof. Mario Szegedy) and was elected a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).
"The roles of academic research and education are more important today than ever, and I was fortunate to have worked over the years at TAU, where there is exceptional work on cutting-edge research and an amazing faculty," said Prof. Matias. "I remain close to my academic roots, teaching various courses over the years. I'm a strong believer in the benefits of cross-pollination between excellent academic research and education and innovative product and technology development. While my primary role is to lead the development of some of our global products and technologies, I also help oversee our university relations program across Europe and Israel."
According to Prof. Matias, "For both academic research and technology development, it's important to take on big challenges of high impact, and focus on the long term."
Cyber Week 2014: PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Antivirus Guru Eugene Kaspersky, and Iron Dome Mastermind Dr. Danny Gold Tackle Cyber "Game-Changers"
Industry leaders from around the world explore cybersecurity at annual TAU forum
"I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that cyber defense solutions will serve as the essential basis for human development and economic growth in this century — I think it's happening before our very eyes," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told leading policymakers and cybersecurity experts at the 4th Annual International Cybersecurity Conference, held at Tel Aviv University on September 14-15, 2014.
The signature event of Cyber Week 2014, one of the most important annual cyber events in the world, the TAU conference series presented the full spectrum of knowledge, methods, and ideas about emerging cyber technologies and challenges. The event was held jointly by TAU's Yuval Ne'eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security, the National Cyber Bureau, the Prime Minister's Office, and the Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center (ICRC).
Boasting over 400 guests from 40 countries, the conference was chaired by Prof. Isaac Ben Israel, head of the Ne'eman Workshop, which has been providing reports to the prime minister, defense minister, IDF, chief of staff, and many more of Israel's decision makers for the past 12 years.
Security guru Kaspersky applauds TAU efforts
During one session, Eugene Kaspersky, head of Kaspersky Lab, one of the best known and fastest growing IT security vendors in the world, discussed the growing threats and demand for experts in the field, citing TAU as one of the singular institutions rising to the challenge.
"The dangers are much greater than they ever were, the solutions are much more complicated, and there aren't enough people in the field. Unfortunately there are plenty of jobs, and the demand is only going to increase," Kaspersky said. "Since we are speaking at an educational institution, I want to emphasize the importance of education in prevention, but especially to develop professionals who can help develop the defenses we need to survive as a society. I have been doing this for 25 years, and I lie awake at night worrying about what is, and even worse, what could be."
Wide-ranging solutions to urgent problems
Addressing the attendees, Prof. Ben Israel said, "Israel is a target of so many hostile entities, which include anyone who hates the West and anyone who really hates Israel. Unfortunately, Israel has a lot of experience dealing with such threats. This conference will address these and more."
In his opening remarks, TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter noted that the conference participants were attracted by the "wide-ranging reputation and impact of the Yuval Ne'eman Workshop led by Prof. Ben-Israel and because of the broad interdisciplinary scope of the speakers and research projects presented."
Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Minister of Science & Technology Yaakov Peri, and former President Shimon Peres all took to the stage during the conference series to discuss different cyber challenges facing policymakers. Other prominent international speakers included former NSA Director Gen. (Ret.) Keith Alexander, Canadian Minister of Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness Steven Blaney, Assist. Sec. Gen. of Emerging Security Challenges Division at NATO Amb. Sorin Ducaru, Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, Director of the Office of Cyber Security and Information Assurance Cabinet Office U.K. James Quinault, Coordinator for Cyber Issues at the U.S. State Department Christopher Painter, and many others.
Inaugurating TAU's new cyber research center
TAU's new Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center was launched during the conference. In his keynote address, Prime Minister Netanyahu said the Center, established to provide solutions to growing threats in the cyber sphere nationally and internationally, would be of great importance, to both the field of cyber security and the State of Israel.
"The research center which is being launched here today, as a joint initiative of the National Cyber Bureau and TAU, under the leadership of Professor Isaac Ben Israel and with an investment of tens of millions of shekels, embodies the understanding of the unique interdisciplinary nature of the cyber field and the significance of the connection between people and computers, between this software, that hardware — it has to keep evolving and changing," the prime minister told the packed Smolarz Auditorium.
The Blavatnik Cyber Center will draw on the University's deep pool of scholars and experts to advance research and policy papers; disseminate findings among the highest echelons in government and defense; train a new generation of cyber scientists and analysts; expand cooperation between university and industry; and educate the general public. The center's breakthroughs have already attracted partners such as the U.S. Air Force, NATO, top Israeli intelligence and defense agencies, Tata Industries, and Broadcom.
Innovation Showcase ranges from Iron Dome to Cyber Dome
TAU's Cybersecurity Innovation Showcase kicked off the conference on September 14th. It presented promising Israeli entrepreneurs, innovative cyber startup companies, venture capital funds, and private equity principals.
"Pressure makes diamonds," said Keren Elazari, a researcher fellow at the Yuval Ne'eman Workshop who hosted the forum's first session. "Israel is well-known for its tendency for innovation under unmatched pressure."
At a roundtable talk, Iron Dome developer Brig. Gen. (res.) Dr. Danny Gold, who holds a Ph.D. in Engineering and Management from TAU and currently serves on the National Cyber Committee at the National Council for Research and Development, unveiled his latest project, the "Cyber Dome," a revolutionary system with the potential to protect Israel from cyber attacks.
Dr. Gold, who invented the mobile anti-missile "Iron Dome" system that has protected the Israeli home front in the face of intense rocket fire from Gaza, said that the "Cyber Dome" could become operational within three years. "It is neither top-down nor bottom-up — we have to integrate many resources, draw on many other means than cyber, to contend with threats," said Dr. Gold, who described his plan as "positive targeting" and "selective interception." By "creating a quality false target that imitates a real target," the system would draw the attention of the enemy, which would subsequently strike, allowing the technology to penetrate the hostile network to reach the source of attack.
Cyber Week also featured events at Ben-Gurion University on September 16 and concluded with roundtable forums at TAU on September 17.
TAU scientists have developed an electronic ear to judge and coach vibrato technique
Vibrato -- the pulsating change of pitch in a singer’s voice -- is an important aspect of a singer’s expression, used extensively by both classical opera singers and pop stars like Shakira. Usually, the quality of a vibrato can only be judged subjectively by voice experts.
Until now, that is. A research group from Tel Aviv University has successfully managed to train a computer to rate vibrato quality, and has created an application based on biofeedback to help singers improve their technique. Your computer can now be a singing coach.
The invention was recently showcased at an international competition in Istanbul, where it won first prize at the International Cultural and Academic Meeting of Engineering Students. Researcher Noam Amir, a senior lecturer from the Department of Communication Disorders at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, says the tool might not help record producers find the next great pop music sensation. But it could teach singers how to mimic Shakira’s signature vibrato.
Good singing is not subjective
Vibrato is a musical effect than can be used when a musician sings or plays an instrument. It adds expression to a song and is created by a steady pulsating change of pitch, characterized by the amount of variation and the speed at which the pitch is varied. TAU’s application can teach singers how to mimic the vibrato qualities most attractive to the human ear.
But mastering vibrato is no guarantee for an American Idolappearance. “Vibrato is just one aspect of a singer’s impact,” says Amir, an expert in the ways that emotions impact speech. “Singers need to arouse an emotional response, and that is a complicated task.”
Music, by the numbers
Three years ago, Amir and his colleagues decided that they would look for an objective, numerical assessment of vibrato quality. New vocal students usually don’t have good control of their vibrato, explains Amir. “Their vibrato is erratic and hard to judge subjectively, and it’s hard to find to a precise measure for this. We wanted to find a way to emulate a human expert in a computer program.”
Amir’s team input into their computer many recordings by students singing vibrato and had their vibrato judged by human teachers. Using hundreds of vocal students and expert judges, the team was able to use mathematical measurements to correlate vibrato styles to their quality as judged by the teachers.
The computer was then able to rate the vibrato quality of new voices on its own, producing ratings similar to those given by the expert vocal teachers. In effect, a machine had “learned” how to judge the quality of an individual singer’s vibrato. The researchers then added a biofeedback loop and a monitor so that singers could see and augment their vibrato in real time.
An escape from call centers
Other applications for this type of research, Amir says, could be in automated call centers, where callers communicate with computers. He hopes to be able to teach computers how to recognize a range of different emotions, such as anger and nervousness, so that a live receptionist can jump in when a caller becomes upset with the machine.
Amir’s research focuses on how emotions are expressed in speech. He collaborates regularly with speech pathologists and in this particular study worked with Dr. Ofer Amir and Orit Michaely, also from the Sackler Faculty of Medicine.
The original research was published in the journal Biomedical Signal Processing and Control.