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This is What Techies Talked about in September

September 23, 2020

In this issue of the Tech Digest: a newly detected security flaw lets cybercriminals bypass Bluetooth encryption, mind-reading wearables pull energy out of thin air, and digital signage solutions help businesses reopen safely during the pandemic. All that and more in a 10-minute read.

Wearable devices learn to read our thoughts and scavenge energy from ambient sources

A couple of months ago, we told you about AI algorithms that level out the neural activity of a human brain and allow people to control connected devices with just their thoughts. A new collaborative project from Johannes Kepler University (JKU), G.tec, and a FashionTech designer Anouk Wipprecht brings us even closer to a sci-fi future. During the Ars Electronica Festival, the team presented the cutting-edge Pangolin dress equipped with 1,024 head-mounted electrodes that capture brain activity. Custom low-power chips analyze the biometric data, convert the electrical signals into colors, and visualize the palette using miniature LEDs. According to IEEE Spectrum, it is these chips that make the dress so special. Measuring just 1.6 millimeters, the devices incorporate amplifiers, analog-to-digital converters (ADCs), and digital signal processing modules, and require less than five microwatts (µW) to operate. Because the chips use so little power, they can harvest radiofrequency (RF) energy from a nearby base station using wireless communication protocols.

Meanwhile, researchers from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology proposed their own way to keep wearable devices operating indefinitely. The scientists created ultrathin, flexible solar panels using an inkjet printer. Although the novel photovoltaic cells are so small that they can rest on a soap bubble, they have achieved a power conversion efficiency of 4.73%, beating the previous record of 4.1% for fully-printed solar cells.

The FDA is likely to create unnecessary hurdles for companies working on fitness trackers

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 94% of US patients who have died from COVID-19 had underlying medical conditions, including diabetes and heart disease. It’s no wonder 80% of Americans intend to keep healthy habits after the pandemic. Their growing interest in health and wellness is driving the adoption of wearable devices across the country. Wellness-focused wearables like Fitbit, Apple Watch, and Amazon Halo are helping people get more exercise, eat healthily, and maintain consistent sleep schedules. SharpHealthcare, a San Diego-based health system, even announced plans to distribute Amazon’s new trackers among their health plan members and integrate the biometric data into electronic health records (EHRs). And other healthcare providers and insurance companies are likely to follow suit. As more medical organizations are jumping on the wearable technology bandwagon, fitness trackers will move into the medical device territory, ending up on the FDA’s radar. In his recent article for The Hill, Joe DeSantis argues that the reason we’ve seen so much innovation in the commercial health wearable space is the relatively light regulatory burden. The decision to standardize the development, production, and distribution of fitness trackers may undermine innovation within the consumer electronics sector.

Choosing the wrong IoT architecture pattern may lead to the loss of critical data and higher infrastructure costs

When designing complex IoT systems that include a large number of sensor nodes, companies should choose an appropriate method of wireless communication between the connected devices. There are two common ways to organize sensors into a wireless network—i.e., star and mesh networks. In the first case, sensors capture data and send it straight to an IoT gateway, which then relays sensor readings to the cloud. In mesh networks, sensing devices pass the data between each other until the information reaches the gateway. In our recent blog post, the Softeq team discusses the pros and cons of these approaches and highlights viable use cases for both architecture patterns.

The BLURtooth vulnerability allows hackers to bypass Bluetooth encryption

There’s a newly discovered security flaw that haunts millions of Bluetooth devices. According to security experts from the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) and CERT Coordination Center at the Carnegie Mellon University (CERT/CC), the vulnerability lets cybercriminals overwrite Bluetooth/BLE authentication keys and launch man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks. The attacks typically occur when two Bluetooth devices that have been previously connected are trying to reconnect again. In particular, reconnections are common in Industrial IoT environments, where sensor nodes send telemetry data to an IoT gateway at preset intervals and then go back to sleep or monitoring mode. At the moment of writing, the security patches are not yet available. If your company uses Bluetooth devices, the only way to protect your IT infrastructure from BLURtooth attacks is to control the environment in which your gadgets are paired.

Sophisticated AI models are on track to drown the world in fake news

Mere months have passed since OpenAI, an Artificial Intelligence research laboratory from San Francisco, launched an API that allows companies to deploy pre-trained OpenAI language models—namely, GPT-3. The advanced model features 175 billion parameters and is capable of correctly answering SAT questions, finding synonyms, and generating news articles. But as the US presidential election nears, more scientists are voicing their concerns about AI’s potential usage in fake news campaigns. In 2019, a study conducted by Oxford Internet Institute found evidence of bots spreading propaganda in 50 countries. However, bots’ cognitive abilities have been limited to upvoting and retweeting false information. With the advent of self-learning language models like GPT-3, AI algorithms can now generate convincing extremist texts in multiple languages.

Proximity-aware digital signage offers a sign of hope for businesses looking to reopen safely

The COVID-19 pandemic is not showing signs of slowing down, and public spaces including offices, healthcare facilities, and entertainment venues must find a way to adapt to the new reality. Here’s where proximity-aware digital signage could play a pivotal role. Unlike regular digital displays, proximity-triggered digital signage solutions leverage facial recognition, geofencing, and Bluetooth to detect human presence. Besides delivering contextual messages to passersby, such displays can spot individuals neglecting social distancing rules, measure body temperature, and navigate visitors around a building. Check out our latest blog post to learn how proximity-triggered digital signage works under the hood and in what ways it could benefit your company.

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