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Yearly Archives: 2013

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Causes of Cancer Likely Found in ‘Junk’ DNA, Study Says

Even as whole-genome sequencing has become much cheaper, genetic research has continued to focus on the exome, or the tiny fraction of human DNA that codes the proteins that make up our physical structures. But according to a recent study published in Science, the sources of cancer most often lie in the rest of the genome, once referred to as junk DNA. Cancer is, in other words, a very important needle in a very large haystack. The study also helpfully provides a roadmap to the spots in the genetic haystack that are most likely to give rise to cancer.

Fetal DNA Sequencing Experiencing Revolution With New Non-invasive Testing. Goodbye Amnio?

Those who are bullish on DNA are also betting on pregnancy to take sequencing to the masses. And they just got a big bump this month when California’s prenatal screening program began including fetal DNA testing for women whose pregnancies carry a higher risk of genetic abnormalities.

Second Life Founder, Philip Rosedale, Is Quietly Creating a Next-Generation Virtual World

In Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, humanity escapes a gritty dystopia by donning VR goggles and entering a virtual world called OASIS. Back here in a comparatively rosy 2013, we don’t have a fully immersive virtual experience—yet. But virtual reality is undergoing a renaissance. And while Oculus develops a consumer-ready virtual reality headset, Second Life creator, Philip Rosedale, and his latest startup, High Fidelity, are hard at work constructing a next-generation global virtual world.

CleverCap Pill Bottle Connects to Wifi, Dispenses Only as Directed, Uploads To The Cloud

About half of all medication prescribed in the United States is not taken as directed. Some have proposed stomach acid-activated microchips. CleverCap is a less sci-fi fix: a cap that fits on standard pill bottles. It includes an alarm that tells patients when it’s time to take their medications and it only dispenses the prescribed amount.

Student Dyson Award Winners Build Titan Arm Exoskeleton for Just $2,000

Exoskeletons are fusing man and machine to reduce workplace injuries and restore freedom to the disabled or infirm—but they have yet to escape the lab, and worse, only a few folks could realistically afford one even if they did. A group of University of Pennsylvania students hope their Titan Arm exoskeleton, winner of the 2013 James Dyson Award, might change that.

New York City to Replace 250,000 Street Lights With LEDs by 2017

By 2017, the streets of New York will be bathed in the glow of microchips, Mayor Mike Bloomberg recently announced. The city plans to replace 250,000 high-pressure sodium street lights with LEDs. Bloomberg called the move a “no-brainer.”

Mobile Med-Tech Revolution Hits Hospitals

Go to a hospital intensive care unit and what you'll see are bulky machines not very different from what you saw on ER in the 1990s. But mobile vital sign monitors are at last making inroads inside the hospital walls. Sotera Wireless's ViSi mobile monitor, recently adopted a San Diego hospital and a few other sites, takes the functions of those enormous beeping bedside machines and puts them in a smartphone-sized oval the patient wears on his or her wrist.

The End of Antibiotics?

The most recent series of alarms about antibiotic resistance come in response to a growing number of bacteria, such as Klebsiella pneumoniae, that are resistant to Carbapenem antibiotics, which have long been a last line of defense for doctors against resistant bugs. Just how serious are these warnings and what developments are on the way that could quell them?

Leading Research Hospital Spins Out a For-Profit Company to Bring Gene Therapy To Market

No gene therapy treatment has yet been approved for general use in the United States and just one has been approved in Europe. But the winds may be shifting for commercial gene therapy. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has placed a $50-million bet on a spinoff company called Spark Therapeutics that will take over the testing, and hopefully marketing, of several treatments developed there.

Doctors Faced With Rare or Difficult Cancers Can Just ‘Google’ Genetic Treatments

Sequencing cancer genes has become easy and cheap, but information on which drugs might or might not work on particular mutations remains buried in PDF files and in a range of medical journals. So twin researchers Malachi and Obi Griffith, of Washington University in St. Louis, recently launched a drug-gene interaction database that makes the emerging research about as easy to find as a plane reservation on

Robotics Investors Can Now Buy the Market With New Nasdaq ETF

Investing in emerging technologies can be a risky endeavor. Of the hundreds or thousands of “revolutionary” ideas out there, a significant fraction will fail. For most of us, it’s probably wisest to cheer from the sidelines. But Frank Tobe, founder and editor of the Robot Report, wanted to get in on the action without getting too caught up in the details of every company he owned—that is, he wanted to diversify by investing in the robotics market as a whole.

Google’s Motorola and Dutch Designer Developing Open Source, Modular Smartphone Hardware

Google's Motorola recently joined forces with viral sensation, Phonebloks, to develop open source, modular devices. They hope to provide a single universally compatible base (or endoskeleton) onto which every other component, from battery to camera, attaches and can be easily swapped out. Components may be made by a giant corporation or a maker on a shoestring budget—users will be free to choose.

Tesla’s Rapidly Expanding Network of Charging Stations Form Unbroken Chain up the West Coast

Tesla Motors manufactures electric cars. There's just one small item missing—charging stations. You can travel anywhere in the US and never be further than a tank of gas from the next gas station. Tesla wants the same for electric cars, and they can't afford to wait for someone else to make it happen. So, they're building their own charging network.

RoboKind’s Expressive ZENO R25 Robot Brings Prices Down, But Is It Enough?

Developers of social robots believe their creations will one day help educate and entertain. The robots are coming, but so far, they’re damn expensive—which is where the new ZENO R25 Kickstarter comes in. In the words of its maker, robotics firm, RoboKind, ZENO is “the first affordable advanced social robot.”

Pacemaker Okayed in Europe Is One-Tenth the Size of Those Used Now

Developed by Silicon Valley startup Nanostim, a device about the size of a AAA battery, or one-tenth the size of a conventional pacemaker, was recently approved for use in Europe. It is installed through a catheter in the femoral vein in a minimally invasive procedure. Then, for about 10 years it sits inside the ventricle of the heart and delivers its regulatory electrical pulses wirelessly.

Flying Spherical Robot Gimball Collides With Objects, But Keeps On Flying

The simplest solution tends to be the best solution. As sensors and microchips get smaller, cheaper, and more powerful—it’s tempting to use them for everything. But instead of stereoscopic cameras, radar, and complicated algorithms, an EPFL team equipped their latest flying robot, GimBall, with the equivalent of a seeing-eye cane to help it navigate tight, cluttered spaces.

Power Storage, Missing Link in Path to Renewables, Gets a Mandate in California

The inability to store electrical power has become more important as the developed world has begun to try to adopt cleaner energy sources, such as solar and wind power. The sun isn’t always shining and the wind isn’t always blowing, but people and factories always need electricity. But energy storage is getting its mainstream debut in California. The state has mandated that by 2024, its major utilities provide 1,325 megawatts of storage, which is slightly more than what a single major power plant produces and about a fifth of a percent of what the state used on average per day, according to the most recent state statistics.

Toyota Joins Slew of Major Automakers Promising Self-Driving Technology This Decade

Toyota was the latest to step onboard the self-driving car hype machine this week when they announced they would offer a car with “automated driving technologies” by the mid-2010s. In recent months, several carmakers—Tesla, Nissan, BMW—have published forecasts of robot cars inside the next decade.

Much-Hyped, MOOCs Maneuver Toward Version 2.0

As even major universities began invested in MOOC platforms, it seemed clear that the future of education would be in the massive, open platforms. But more recently research on their effectiveness has painted a grim picture of their ability to educate students. Can the courses iterate to overcome the challenges?

Tiny AI Startup Vicarious Says It’s Solved CAPTCHA

Vicarious, a Bay Area-based flexible purpose corporation founded in 2010, is today attempting to prove its mettle as an artificial intelligence venture by demonstrating that its algorithms can break a series of text-based CAPTCHA systems that include Google’s reCAPTCHA, the most widely used system.

Docomo Shows Glasses That Translate Foreign Languages Right In Front Of Your Eyes

If Star Trek or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy have the right of it, language will be a negligible barrier when we begin fraternizing with aliens. But before jumping to extraterrestrial translators, it might behoove us to work on the terrestrial sort first—and Japanese telecommunications firm, Docomo, is doing just that.

A Vertical Forest Is Growing in the Middle of One of Europe’s Dirtiest Cities

Denizens of Florence, Italy will have a brand new 2.5 acre forest smack in the middle of their city by the end of 2013. You might think that’s a city with its priorities straight. But the forest didn’t require the sacrifice of precious commercial real estate—it’s of the vertical variety. Brainchild of Italian architecture firm, Stefano Boeri Architetti, the Bosco Verticale (literally, “vertical forest” in English) is two residential apartment buildings peppered with cantilevered terraces. Each terrace is specially designed and engineered to support a small community of trees, shrubs, and other greenery.

Dick Cheney Took Heart Defibrillator Offline in 2007 to Guard Against Hackers

In a recent “60 Minutes” interview, former Vice President Dick Cheney said his cardiologist turned off his defibrillator’s wireless functionality to protect against a potential attempt on his life—by hacking his heart.

Chris Wicher of IBM Watson at the 2013 Graduate Studies Program

Chris Wicher of IBM Watson explains the artificial intelligence behind the computer that competed on Jeopardy and is now tackling some of the world's greatest problems.

Healing Damaged Hearts With Stem Cell Implants Gets New Technique

Stem cells aren't just good for growing new organs, they can also heal old or damaged ones from the inside. Thousands of patients whose hearts were damaged in a heart attack have undergone some form of stem cell therapy worldwide, and the results are promising. But there's a problem. Once in the heart, the cells don’t tend to stay put.

Willow Garage Spinoff Launches UBR-1 One-Armed, Mobile Robot

Unbounded Robotics, a spinoff of Willow Garage, recently debuted its first machine, UBR-1, a multi-joined robotic arm on wheels that runs on the open-source Robot Operating System, or ROS. The startup hopes UBR-1 will support the development of further applications for dexterous, mobile robots.

No More Lying About Your Age: Tissue Test Can Tell

What causes human to age? A study published recently provides a tool that may help future researchers answer that question. It’s a biological clock that can date the age of a cell by measuring methylation, a chemical modification that affects certain parts of DNA. Using the clock, any piece of tissue identified with the biological age of its human source.

Brain Training Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be, Study Finds

The scientific literature offers few answers, with some studies arguing that programs designed to build working memory provide long-lasting memory benefits and even improve overall intelligence, while others claim brain-training programs are little more than snake oil. A recent study by Georgia Institute of Technology psychological scientist Randall Engle concludes that training designed to build working memory capacity can improve cognitive function in that particular area, but that it does not translate to general intelligence.

CastAR Augmented Reality Glasses Blow Up on Kickstarter

There are all kinds of companies experimenting with augmented and virtual reality right now. Google Glass projects a screen onto your retina. Oculus Rift straps a display to your face. Meta SpaceGlasses beam a hologram out in front of you. Now you can add another player to the game—castAR. CastAR is a headmounted augmented reality engine that projects a 3D image on a surface and allows users to interact with it—while playing virtual games like Dungeons and Dragons or Risk, for example.

US Army to Build Armored Talos Suit That Merges Man and Machine

The US Army recently put out a call for proposals to build a futuristic climate-controlled suit of armor that would make soldiers smarter, stronger, and tougher.

Wearable Device GIST Helps the Blind ‘See’ What’s Around Them

Wearable computers have generated a lot of excitement and buzz based almost exclusively on their novelty. Sure it’s easier to wear a video camera on your face than to hold it up, what if wearable devices performed useful functions that smartphones can’t? Meet GIST, a gesture-controlled wearable device that helps the visually impaired navigate the world around them.

New York Manhole Covers To Deliver Power to Electric Vehicles

New York startup HEVO has come up with a clever way to make EV charging more convenient in urban environments. Reserved parking spots feature what look like manholes in the pavement, but are in fact wireless charging devices that will give the trucks a little more juice while they sit.

Hot Silicon Valley Startup Anki’s Robotic Car Game To Hit Apple Stores: Interview With The Founders

Every year, the media flocks to Apple’s WWDC to witness whatever magic Apple has up its sleeve. But this June, the first performer was a previously unknown startup, Anki, showing off their iPhone-controlled car racing game, an intriguing blend of consumer robotics and artificial intelligence. Four months on Anki Drive is ready to launch. Singularity Hub visited the firm’s San Francisco office to play the game and talk to co-founders Hanns Tappeiner (president) and Mark Palatucci (chief product officer).

Eyeglass-Mounted Computing Becomes Crowded Field As Glass Competitors Ramp Up

Google Glass has generated a lot of buzz, but the eyeglass-mounted, touch- and voice-operated computer is still not available to the general public. And while Google has hyped and beta-tested, competing “point-of-view” devices have begun to emerge. With competitors’ approaches ranging from conventional eyeglasses with an embedded digital camera to glasses that allow users to manipulate three-dimensional holograms in the air, point-of-view computing is becoming a crowded and diverse field in which Glass will have to compete.

Ambitious Billion-Euro Human Brain Project Kicks Off in Switzerland

The Human Brain Project, which just kicked off with an initial round of meetings in Lausanne, Switzerland, has promised to build a functional computer model of the brain to expand scientific understanding of the all-important organ. The project will also bring together the scientific literature on mouse and human brains to focus future inquiry. It will be no small task.

Spin App Creates Buzz, Brings New Video Chat Paradigm To Smartphones

Why don’t we use video more? Unless it’s a special communication (someone’s birthday or a long overdue catch-up call with a parent), many of us prefer convenience over connection. But there also isn’t a killer video app yet—which is where the new video conference app, Spin, comes in. Spin hopes to fill a few holes in video chat.

Samsung Now to Sell Curved Display Galaxy Round Smartphone in Korea

We very recently wrote Samsung was promising a curved screen phone in the coming months. Ask and ye shall receive. The electronics behemoth released the details of a curved display smartphone called the Galaxy Round—and if you live in Korea, you’re in luck. That’s the only place the firm is offering the Round.

The Secret To Einstein’s Genius? Brain Study Notes Unusually Well-Connected Hemispheres

We now know that Einstein, one of history’s greatest physicists, had an unusually well-connected brain. The new insight was gleaned from a recently discovered set of 14 photographs of Einstein’s brain taken just after his autopsy.

Algorithm Tracks Literary Emotion in Shakespeare, the Brothers Grimm

Computers are excellent at crunching numbers, looking for words, following a logical set of instructions. But our machines are still highly literal beasts. The subtleties of human emotion largely escape them. Which is why Saif Mohammad—a Research Officer at the Institute for Information Technology, National Research Council Canada (NRC)—wants to inject emotional color into algorithms for research, search, and maybe more.

General Electric Expands Internet of Things to More Industrial Equipment

General Electric recently took a big step toward realizing the long overdue promise of the Internet of Things, when it more than doubled the industrial analytical software systems it offers to connect machines and handle their data. The company hopes to make its mark by significantly reducing the amount of “unplanned downtime” that industrial equipment undergoes, thereby bringing about economic benefits.

MIT’s M-Blocks: A New Class Of Robot Cubes That Self Assemble

What if robots could reassemble themselves at will? The liquid metal cyborg in Terminator was terrifyingly useful. It could look like anyone, repair shotgun blasts, even turn its hand into a murderous icepick. And then of course, you've got Transformers, wherein alien robots morph from cars and trucks into giant humanoid fighting machines. It isn't liquid metal nor is it extraterrestrial, but MIT's John Romanishin, Daniela Rus, and Kyle Gilpin think they’ve found a promising precursor to a similar technology.

The Year of the Smartwatch? Not So Far, But It’s Just the Beginning of Wearable Devices

Since the Pebble Kickstarter dropped last spring, smartwatch rumors and releases have abounded. Even as Samsung released its Galaxy Gear, Apple was rumored to be working on their own smartwatch model. It always seems to be the year of something in tech—and some hailed 2013 as the year of the smartwatch.

Is Gmail Wiretapping? Federal Court Considers How Internet Companies Can Read Our Email

If you had learned in 1980 that the Postal Service was opening your letters (postage cost 15 cents) and skimming them for keywords in order to send you more relevant advertising flyers, you probably would have blown a gasket. And yet, come 2004, you may have been among the flood of users who eagerly signed up for Google’s new email service, where all of your missives would be read by a computer in order to show you targeted online advertising. Are the two situations similar? That is what a Northern California federal district judge is trying to determine in a class action lawsuit that alleges that Google essentially wiretapped all Gmail users in violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

Designer Baby-Making System Patent Stirs Controversy

The Silicon Valley personal genetics company 23andMe has created a wave of controversy about “designer babies,” following its recent receipt of a patent for a system through which prospective parents could select sperm or egg donors most likely to give them children with specific characteristics, such as blue eyes or low risk of heart disease.

Steve Jurvetson on the Future of Design

Steve Jurveston -- the Managing Director of Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson -- offers insight into design, specifically calling out the errors of focusing on products rather than process. This 15-minute...

Boston Dynamics’ Atlas Robot Walks Like a Human Over Field of Rubble

In movies, robots look like us and can do everything we can—only they’re smarter, stronger, faster, and have questionable motives. Robotics firm, Boston Dynamics, may have a lot to do with whether or not such a future comes to be. The firm’s Atlas robot is one of the most human-like robots out there.

Life Is Short – Our Time on Earth Visualized In Jelly Beans

The average human lives 28,835 days. We all know exactly what a day feels like, how long it takes, and how variable its passing can feel. But 28,835 days is just a number—unless you count it out in jelly beans.

Boston Dynamics’ 4-Legged Robot, WildCat, Gallops at 15 mph Outside

Boston Dynamics has been a wealth of video fun of late. Fresh footage includes their fast new outdoor robot, WildCat, and an update of their robotic workhorse, LS3. LS3 is a plodding junker in comparison to the zippy WildCat—but it’s a heck of a lot quieter these days, more autonomous, and much closer to seeing field duty.

Pill-Sized Implant Enters Clinical Trials as Vaccine Against Deadly Cancer

A diverse team of Boston-based doctors and scientists has developed an approach that lets the patient’s own body serve as a bioreactor to nurture an powerful immune reaction to cancer. The process recently began a two-year clinical trial on 25 patients at the Dana-Farber Cancer Center after it resulted in a 90 percent survival rate in an earlier study on mice with otherwise fatal cancer.

Healthcare is ‘Ripe for Disruption’ – Join the Future of Medicine Executive Program This November

Last February, at Singularity University’s FutureMed, I talked to Dr. Peter Diamandis about medical tricorders and mining asteroids, got a guided tour of a surgical robot from Dr. Catherine Mohr (head of research for Intuitive Surgical), and watched 16-year-old phenom and International Science Fair Grand Champion, Jack Andraka, bring down the house with a talk on how to diagnose pancreatic cancer with carbon nanotubes. What does all this say about FutureMed? One, the event attracts some of the best and brightest. Two, both the participants and faculty span disciplines and specialties. Three, there’s this amazing synergy that only happens at FutureMed—great moments tend to materialize. Like the previous two FutureMeds, the February event sold out early—so, the team decided to put on a sequel at San Diego’s historic Hotel Del Coronado in November. If you missed the February FutureMed, it's not too late for 2013.

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