New Worlds: Making the smartphone even smarter

A novel application for predictive speed dialing and the manner in which a wise owl rotates its head by as much as 270 degrees.

Motorola Android smartphone 311 (photo credit: Brendan McDermid / Reuters)
Motorola Android smartphone 311
(photo credit: Brendan McDermid / Reuters)
Imagine the following scenario: you are on your way to a workout with your personal trainer. Finding parking, as always, is impossible. And also, as always, you are late. While maneuvering in heavy traffic, you try to search for your personal trainer amid the hundreds of contacts on your smartphone, to let her know you are running late, but it is not an easy task. You give up, arrive an hour late and become the first person to have been fired by their personal trainer.
Now Yissum, the Hebrew University’s research and development arm, introduces SEER – a novel application for predictive speed dialing for smartphones. It is based on an innovative machine-learning algorithm that utilizes the user’s past behavior and the context of the call to predict the next outgoing call.
The contacts the user is most likely to call next are displayed on the home screen and are constantly updated, enabling the user to easily make a call with just one click. The mobile app is available for all android smartphones devices. The technology is also designed to be easily integrated into any smartphone operating system.
The machine-learning algorithm was invented by Assif Ziv and Ohad Assulin as part of their studies in the university’s cognitive science department. The mobile application was developed by Assif Ziv, Tomer Weller and Yinon Masad; Yissum is now seeking a business partner for further development and commercialization of the technology.
“As our mobile phones get smarter, the basic action of making a call is becoming tedious. With hundreds of contacts, searching for the right contact is complicated, or even not possible while driving,” said Yissum CEO Yaacov Michlin. “SEER makes your smartphone even smarter. It integrates information about our calling habits and location, and can predict who the user would like to call next. With SEER, there is almost no need to search for a contact and it takes only one click to make a call. SEER will dramatically upgrade the operating system and user experience for the use of cell phones.”
SEER is based on a patented machine-learning algorithm which has been proven successful in predicting outgoing calls. SEER’s predictions are based on the users’ call log, their location, and the context of the call (day, time and proximity to other calls). The algorithm continues to learn the user’s habits and searches for patterns. The more a person uses SEER the better the application predicts outgoing calls. The application can be downloaded at
How does the “wise” owl rotate its head by as much as 270 degrees without damaging delicate blood vessels and stopping the blood supply to its brain? In what may be the first use of angiography, CT scans and medical illustrations to examine the anatomy of a dozen of the big-eyed birds, a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine team – led by medical illustrator Fabian de Kok-Mercado – found four major biological adaptations designed to prevent injury from rotational head movements. The variations are all to the bird’s bone structure and vascular network needed to support its top-heavy structure.
“Until now, brain imaging specialists like me who deal with human injuries caused by trauma to arteries in the head and neck have always been puzzled as to why rapid, twisting head movements did not leave thousands of owls lying dead on the forest floor from stroke,” said study senior investigator and interventional neuroradiologist Dr. Philippe Gailloud. “The carotid and vertebral arteries in the neck of most animals – including owls and humans – are very fragile and highly susceptible to even minor tears of the vessel lining,” adds Gailloud.
Sudden gyrations of the head and neck in humans have been known to stretch and tear blood vessel linings, producing clots that can break off and cause a deadly embolism or stroke. Researchers say these injuries are commonplace, often resulting from whiplashing car accidents, but also from jarring roller coaster rides and chiropractic manipulations gone awry.
To solve the puzzle, the scientists studied the bone structure and complex vessel structure in the heads and necks of snowy, barred and great horned owls after their deaths from natural causes. An injectible contrast dye was used to enhance X-ray imaging of the birds’ blood vessels, which were then meticulously dissected, drawn and scanned to allow detailed analysis.
The most striking finding came after researchers injected dye into the owls’ arteries, mimicking blood flow, and manually turned the animals’ heads. Blood vessels at the base of the head, just under the jaw bone, kept getting larger and larger as more of the dye entered, and before the fluid pooled in reservoirs. This differs from human anatomy, in which arteries tend to get smaller and smaller, and do not balloon as they branch out.
Researchers say these contractile blood reservoirs act as a trade-off, allowing owls to pool blood to meet the energy needs of their large brains and eyes while they rotate their heads.
The supporting vascular network, with its many interconnections and adaptations, helps minimize any interruption in blood flow.
“In humans, the vertebral artery really hugs the hollow cavities in the neck. But this is not the case in owls, whose structures are specially adapted to allow for greater arterial flexibility and movement,” says de Kok-Mercado. The team also found that the owl’s vertebral artery enters the neck higher up than in other birds – going in at the owl’s 12th cervical vertebrae instead of the 14th cervical vertebrae, allowing for more vessel room and slack.
Researchers next plan to examine hawk anatomy to see if other bird species possess the same adaptive features.