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From the Labs: Information Technology

New publications, experiments and breakthroughs in information technology–and what they mean.

3-D Without Glasses
A new kind of ­display can deliver 3-D images directly to multiple users

Easier 3-D: A new display directs different patterns of light to each eye to create a 3-D image.

Source: “Backlight for View-Sequential Autostereo 3D”
Adrian Travis et al.
Society for Information Display 2010 Digest, 215-217

Results: Researchers at Microsoft created a thin TV display that can show a 3-D image simultaneously to two viewers, who don’t need to wear special glasses. The display can also send each of the viewers a different image.

Why it matters: Researchers and companies have been trying to develop 3-D displays that are more realistic, comfortable, and practical than the current technologies, most of which require cumbersome or expensive eyewear. Better ways to deliver 3-D images could lead to new consumer devices and more realistic teleconferencing.

Methods: The Microsoft researchers simplified an existing method of directing light to a particular viewer. The display is made of a plastic wedge with a liquid-­crystal display screen in front of it. A camera on top of the display tracks each viewer’s gaze. Depending on where the viewer is looking, 30 light-emitting diodes in a row along the bottom of the display switch on and off to direct light into the wedge, which in turn directs it out of the LCD screen and toward a particular eye. The system can quickly send out light signals representing as many as four images. The images arriving at each of a viewer’s eyes differ slightly, making the video appear three-­dimensional.

Next steps: The group is looking at other ways to use the display. If integrated into the backlight of a laptop screen, it could provide a way to toggle instantly between a private view, in which the backlight steers the images toward a single person’s eyes, and a shared view, in which the images shine out in all directions.

Car Hacking
Computer systems in modern autos can pose a security risk

Source: “Experimental Security Analysis of a Modern Automobile”
Karl Koscher et al.
IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, May 16-19, 2010, Oakland, CA

Results: A group of researchers at the University of Washington and the University of California, San Diego, have demonstrated that it’s possible to take unauthorized control of a car’s embedded computer systems. After gaining access through the federally mandated onboard diagnostics port–located under the dashboard in almost all cars today–they could disable a vehicle’s brakes, stop its engine, or take control of its door locks, among other things.

Why it matters: A typical luxury sedan now includes 50 to 70 embedded computers controlled by about 100 megabytes of code. The researchers wanted to demonstrate the need for added security at a time when more of these computer systems are gaining wireless capabilities. For the most part, however, the hacks they’ve performed so far required physical access to the car. The possibility of interfering with a car’s computer remotely is a concern mainly for future models.

Methods: Without any special knowledge from the manufacturer, the researchers pulled the hardware from a car and ran standard security analyses such as fuzzing, which tests software to see if it’s possible to induce any glitches or strange behavior. They used this information to craft attacks that could take over and control systems on the car’s internal network. They tried out their attacks on a parked car and then in road tests to ensure that they were practical in the real world.

Next steps: Many of the techniques commonly used to protect electronic devices won’t transfer well to cars: a corrupted braking system, for example, can’t just shut down. The researchers hope to work with manufacturers to develop more appropriate security features.

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