July Research Picks

Fuzzy asthma detection

Fuzzy logic can be used to interpret heart rate (HR), respiration rate (RR) and blood oxygen saturation in order to determine whether a patient being monitored in hospital, care home or elsewhere is undergoing an asthma attack. The fuzzy approach removes the rigid threshold values usually associated with monitoring of individual values and so can detect the onset of an attack when any one reading has not passed a risk threshold. The approach could be particularly useful in remote environments where a qualified healthcare worker may not be nearby. The team suggests that their decision-making algorithm, which currently distinguishes between the normal state, severe breathing problems and asthma attack, could be extended to take other variables into account and so make an even more precise decision.

Gharaibeh, K.M. and Al-Momani, O. (2014) ‘Fuzzy logic-based decision-making system for asthma attack detection’, Int. J. Biomedical Engineering and Technology, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp.155–172.


It’s a dirty job…

Waste material management – its re-use, recycling and disposal – are increasingly important especially in rapidly developing parts of the world with high population densities. One particular group of people that is currently involved at an essentially ad hoc levels at many dump sites in major towns such as Mirzapur, in Uttar Pradesh, India, are the rag pickers. These people scour vast piles of waste, often subject themselves to significant disease and injury risk in order to extract textiles from the collected rubbish. The rag pickers, commonly children, barely subsist nor feed their families on the profits from this trade and yet it is a convenient and essential part of many communities. Researchers in India studying the socio-economics of this scenario suggest that at the very least, governments should be offering to vaccinate rag pickers to ward off tetanus and other potentially lethal effects of the work. Additional facilities such as shelter and sanitation might also make this grey world a little more bearable.

Ojha, V.K., Tripathi, V. and Krishna, V. (2014) ‘Role of rag pickers in solid waste management: a case study of Mirzapur, U.P.’, Int. J. Environmental Technology and Management, Vol. 17, Nos. 2/3/4, pp.134–142.


Fads and fashion

Electronic technology that rides ahead of societal change often becomes the fashionable, must-have device, either because it is ahead of the curve or because it is the technology that is drawing the curve itself. As the fad ebbs and recedes so the company developing a particular device will see its profits wax and wane. The fad-like ascendancy of the smart phone, of which the seminal example is the Apple iPhone. is a case in point. US researchers have investigated the micro and macroscopic behavior of consumers buying and using such products. They suggest that adopter behavior can track the lifecycle of a particular technological fashion and can be manifest at the individual or mass consumer level. As fashions come and go on a whim, so manufacturers and their marketing departments must be aware of the waves they hope to ride so that they can avoid a watery demise.

Tomasino, A.P. and Fedorowicz, J. (2014) ‘Fad-like technology adoption as a social action’, Int. J. Information Systems and Management, Vol. 1, Nos. 1/2, pp.37–59.


The bee’s knees in cryptography

Code makers are always on the lookout for simple and secure ways to encrypt data, it is a vital industry for international banking, e-commerce and straightforward privacy online. Researchers in China have turned to the humble bee in order to develop a novel, visual cryptographic system that allows them to apply copyright protection to an image without distorting the image or otherwise reducing its quality. The approach is based on the behavior of a colony of bees seeking out flowers and bring pollen and nectar back to their hive. The encryption involves breaking an image down into lossless “wavelets” and then using an artificial bee colony algorithm (ABCA) to find the “flowers”, sub-blocks among the wavelets that can be altered without disturbing the data contained within an image. This allows them to add encoded copyright ownership information to the image transparently. Tests show that the system works well and resists software that would otherwise remove the copyright protection from an image. The approach might be extended to moving images and other digital goods.

Chen, Y.C., Yu, W.Y. and Feng, J.C. (2014) ‘A visual cryptography copyright protection method based on artificial bee colony algorithm’, Int. J. Computer Applications in Technology, Vol. 49, Nos. 3/4, pp.297–305.

Author: David Bradley

Award-winning, freelance science writer based in Cambridge, England.