Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Japan Looks to Taiwan to Disaster-Proof Telecom

Photo: Francois Lochon/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
LINES DOWN: A mobile phone left in the rubble in Yamada, Japan after the 11 March 2011 earthquake was just one sign of how hard the country's telecommunications systems were hit.

In the shadow of the catastrophic Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 2011, Japanese information and communication technologies experts have been working on developing technology that might lead to communications systems that are, in their words, “robust, resilient, and dependable” in disasters and emergencies.
According to Japanese researchers, vulnerable communication networks in Japan left many victims and emergency responders in digital isolation for several days following the earthquake. Mobile-call volume was 50 to 60 times as high as usual, forcing operators to restrict traffic by 70 to 95 percent. In addition, base stations were damaged and backhaul cables were cut. Even if those assets had remained intact, they couldn’t function normally for long because blackouts and road damage made it impossible to recharge batteries or refuel of emergency power generators.
There has been some progress on that last front, points out Fumiyuki Adachi, professor of electrical and communication engineering at Tohoku University. His mobile-phone signals were gone just 2 hours after the earthquake, he says, even though the nearby base station just outside the Tohoku University campus appeared intact. “In the past, the batteries used as backup power supplies can only last 2 hours. Now they’ve been replaced by more powerful ones, which can sustain a base station for 24 hours,” Adachi says.
Adachi is part of a project in Japan called the multilayered communications network. [PDF] Tohoku University, KDDI R&D Laboratories, KDDI Corporation, OKI Electric Industry, the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, and Yokosuka Research Park are all involved in this government-funded project, which seeks to build a communications infrastructure that works well during disasters. Their idea of a reliable disaster-resilient multilayered communication network would consist of a combination of cellular and regional networks such as WiMax, Wi-Fi, and satellite networks.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Mind Reading to Predict the Success of Online Games

Engineers devise a way to predict an online game’s success by gamers’ initial emotional response

Researchers in Taiwan recorded the electrical signals of muscles involved in positive and negative emotions
Photo: Multimedia Networking and Systems Lab/Institute of Information Science, Academia Sinica
I THINK HE LIKES IT: Researchers in Taiwan recorded the electrical signals of muscles involved in positive and negative emotions when subjects played a new online game. They used it to predict whether people would find the game addictive.

On a first date, couples scrutinize each other’s facial expressions for a clue as to whether the date will turn into a long-term relationship. Game publishers and designers might start doing the same thing. By analyzing the movements of gamers’ smile and frown muscles in the first 45 minutes of play, Taiwanese researchers have found a way to predict a game’s addictiveness.

“Such forecast results might give game designers the green light to complete a new potential game or advise they drop a hopelessly doomed one,” says Kuan-Ta Chen(now known as Sheng-Wei Chen), an associate research fellow at the Institute of Information Science, Academia Sinica, in Taipei.

The online gaming industry sees a game that is played by a large number of fanatics and survives more than two years as a success, says Chen. But that success comes at a cost. Blizzard Entertainment, for example, reportedly spent 4.5 years and US $63 million to develop its popular online video game World of Warcraft, which was released in 2004. For upkeep and expansion, it invested tens of millions more.

Of course, not every online game makes it. According to Chen, more than 200 online games are released each year, globally. The cost of developing a game, jointly brainstormed by dozens of designers, ranges from less than $1 million to as much as $200 million. However, the humbling fact is that most games survive only four to nine months, says Chen.