Campus news in brief

IBM and CMU create platform to aid blind

Last Thursday, Carnegie Mellon and IBM scientists announced the launch of the first open platform intended to facilitate the creation of smartphone navigation apps for the blind. Researchers created an app with the new program, NavCog, for use around campus.

The app works by people “whispering” into the user’s ears through headphones, aided by vibrations. According to a university press release, the app uses “signals from Bluetooth beacons located along walkways and from smartphone sensors to help enable users to move without human assistance, whether inside campus buildings or outdoors.” It was announced that updates might include notices about who is approaching, and will detect the moods of surrounding people.

Developers can access the platform online through IBM Bluemix, a cloud-based site for managing apps. Tools for navigation and map editing can be accessed through the site, including a means for the blind to find their location in real time.

Visiting faculty member and IBM fellow Chieko Asakawa, who is visually impaired herself, noted in the university press release “While visually impaired people like myself have become independent online, we are still challenged in the real world. To gain further independence and help improve the quality of life, ubiquitous connectivity across indoor and outdoor environments is necessary.”

Six Degrees of Francis Bacon launches

Earlier this week, The Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences launched a new website called “Six Degrees of Francis Bacon.” Through a partnership with Georgetown University, Carnegie Mellon has created a way for users to track the personal relationships between the likes of Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, Shakespeare, and countless others. According to the university press release, “the site currently identifies more than 13,000 individuals and highlights approximately 200,000 relationships.”

Project director Christopher Warren pointed out that site users are able to instantly learn about the relationships between prominent historical figures, regardless of how obscure their connection may be. Students, professors, and other history enthusiasts will all be able to benefit from the site’s services.

According to the university press release, Georgetown University’s Daniel Shore,and Carnegie Mellon’s Jessica Otis are spearheading the project. The two relied on Carnegie Mellon’s Department of Statistics as they mined data from 62 million words in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. “Every early modern document is a record of complex relations between authors, printers, publishers, booksellers, dedicatees, polemical opponents, and so on. Students can often add to the social network just by studying the relations documented in the title page and front matter of a single 16th-century book,” said Shore.

Through the use of the site’s meticulous color-coding system, which indicates the extent to which each figure has been studied, professionals and amateurs alike will be able to benefit from the integration of technology and the historical world.