Campus News in Brief

CMU grad student’s discovery sheds new light on mysterious cosmic radio waves

A detailed record of a fast radio burst (FRB), a brief, brilliant eruption of cosmic radio waves from the distant universe, has been discovered by a team of astronomers that includes Carnegie Mellon University’s Jeffrey Peterson and Hsiu-Hsien Lin. It was identified by Lin, a doctoral student in Carnegie Mellon’s Department of Physics.

Only 15 FRBs had been recorded before. The first one was reported nearly a decade ago, but none of the previous documented events has provided more than the slimmest details about the origin of these mysterious flashes of energy, until Lin’s finding. Astronomers believe thousands of FRBs occur every day in the observable universe. They last a fraction of a second, but carry an extraordinary amount of energy and appear to come from random directions.

“I feel extremely lucky to have identified the 16,” Lin said in a university press release. “Not only is this the first FRB in this frequency range, our FRB has provided us with a great deal of information that help us to better understand this astrophysical phenomenon.”

The FRB was discovered after poring through 650 hours of archival data from the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Telescope and analyzing over 6000 signals that could be possible FRBs.

Unlike previously identified FRBs, the newly discovered FRB, named FRB 110523, contained more details about its polarization than had ever previously been seen, and was in a different frequency range. With the new information, researchers were able to determine that the burst originated inside a highly magnetized region of space, possibly linking it to a recent supernova or the interior of a nebula, a star-forming region.

The results of this finding are published in the Dec. 3 issue of Nature.

Carnegie Mellon developing a wearable cognitive assistant named “Gabriel”

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are developing a wearable cognitive assistant named “Gabriel” that will be able to “see” what its person is doing and give instructions for tasks as varied as repairing industrial equipment, resuscitating a patient, or assembling IKEA furniture.

The National Science Foundation has awarded the university a four-year, $2.8 million grant to further develop Gabriel. Gabriel uses a wearable vision system like Google Glass, as well as cloud computing, through a Carnegie Mellon innovation called a “cloudlet.” Cloudlets are data centers that provide the computational power of the cloud and are situated close to users, allowing Gabriel to work in real-time.

“The experience is much like a driver using a GPS navigation system,” said Mahadev Satyanarayanan, professor of computer science and the principal investigator for Gabriel, in a university press release. “It gives you instructions when you need them, corrects you when you make a mistake and, most of the time, shuts up so it doesn’t bug you.”

The concept of Gabriel is similar to a robot in its use of sensing and task planning, except that the actuation is performed by a person instead of a machine.

In addition to Satyanarayanan, the research team includes Martial Hebert, director of the Robotics Institute and an expert on computer vision, Daniel Siewiorek, a professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute and a pioneer in wearable computing, and Roberta Klatzky, professor of psychology and human-computer interaction who specializes in human assistance technologies. “Ten years ago, people thought of this as science fiction,” said Satyanarayanan. “But now it’s on the verge of reality.”