Glimpses of the Future April 2015

Children Learn To Write By Teaching Robots

Researchers at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne have developed a new teaching tool called CoWriter based on the pedagogical principle of “learning by teaching.”

When children experience difficulties in writing, they can easily lose confidence, begin to shut down, or even gradually lose interest in the learning process. Eventually, their entire education can be affected.

But when students put themselves in the place of a teacher and pass on what they know to their peers, they can regain their self-esteem and motivation.

The researchers’ idea was to make a robot play the role of the peer who needs to be taught. “Essentially, the goal is to provide a tool for teachers — a student who knows even less than the slowest student in the class,” explains Séverin Lemaignan, one of the researchers.

The robots can play the role of a naive learner, which neither adults nor peers (because of the social effects it would induce) can convincingly play.

Google’s Ambitious Plans For Virtual Reality Suggest It May Be A Very Big Thing

Google is reworking its Android smartphone system to power virtual reality headsets after the unexpected success of its Cardboard VR viewer.

The move will take Google into head-on competition with Facebook’s Oculus VR, which has partnered with Samsung, the leading maker of Android smartphones, on the Gear VR headset.

After the early popularity among games developers of Oculus, which is yet to release a consumer version of its PC-based Rift device, several other players have entered the nascent virtual-reality market including Sony and Valve, the gaming software maker which is partnering with smartphone manufacturer HTC on its Vive headset for release later this year.

Meanwhile, VR Makers Struggle To Solve One Important Issue

For the last couple of years, the companies building virtual reality headsets have begged for patience from content creators and the public. The companies’ biggest concern: that unpolished virtual reality products could make people physically sick.

The public’s wait for virtual reality is nearing an end. In recent days, several of the most prominent companies making headsets offered rough timetables for consumer versions of their products, ending the guessing game about when virtual reality would get its first real test.

Makes me want to throw up.

If You’ve Had Your Exome Analysed, Run The Data Through Promethease

23andme has been prohibited from offering consumers health interpretation of their genome by the American Food and Drug Association.

Now the company will analyse your DNA SNP exome for $99 (£125), but will only provide information related to ancestry and the most general health indicators.

But the data generated is yours to do as you like with and a service called Promethease will run your raw data against the master library of genetic health indicators for $5.

This efficient service allows you to get more health indications from your genes than 23andme ever provided, but it comes with a health WARNING. The results are only indicative, they are NOT diagnoses. But using the service is like stepping into the future.

A Network Of Bluetooth Beacons To Guide The Blind Through London’s Underground System

Wayfindr is a new system of Bluetooth-equipped beacons that guide the visually impaired through London’s Underground using audio directions.

The development team has just finished a successful four-week test at Pimlico Station in West London. The goal is to eventually roll the system out to larger stations, creating a citywide network that will help the blind navigate the Tube independently.

The system’s designers figured they’d have to install upward of 50 beacons to provide the play-by-play directions they first thought were necessary. After testing, they realised 25 beacons were sufficient. Visually impaired people already are good at sensing their surroundings, with canes, guide dogs and extensive experience listening closely to their environment.

ResearchKit Is the Real Health Revolution Ushered In By Apple

I thought the launch of the AppleWatch was deeply underwhelming, mainly because Apple was obliged to omit any blood-pressure and glucose measurement functions from the device.

These crucial omissions may be because the company couldn’t get accurate results from its technology, or because the FDA refused permission for the functions (reportedly after intense lobbying from the healthcare industry).

But what was remarkable was the announcement at the same launch event of ResearchKit, an open source software platform that allows health researchers to plug into the iPhone community to gather data that will help find treatments and cures.

Apple says it will never see the health data generated by the public and apps are already available to gather data from those with Parkinson’s, asthma, heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer. Apps for more conditions will rapidly follow.

The iPhone’s built-in accelerometer, microphone, gyroscope, GPS sensors, touch screen and other features turn the device into a super health data gatherer.

This is a very important announcement with far-reaching implications for big pharma.

Take that, US health monopolies!

Google Patents A Wrist Band That Could Fight Cancer, Parkinson’s, etc.

Google has provided details of a novel medical treatment that would involve sending tiny magnetic particles into patients’ bloodstreams.

The magnetic particles, activated by a smart wristband, would attack cancer cells and pathogens linked to other diseases.

A patient would first inject, ingest, inhale, or otherwise absorb tiny magnetic particles into their bloodstream. These nanoparticles, as they’re also known, would be designed to selectively bind with or recognize the targeted molecules. For example, they might be designed to stick to proteins that appear to foster the development of Parkinson’s disease, according to Google’s patent documents.

The patient would wear a wristband a few millimetres from an artery or vein, although it could also be worn on the ankle, waist, chest, or elsewhere on the body, according to Google’s patent application. The device would then transmit energy, such as a as radio frequency pulses, that would cause the magnetic particles to vibrate and heat up, and destroy or handicap the targeted pathogen.

The Energy-Generating Cloth That Could Power Wearable Computers

Scientists in Korea and in Australia have announced the development of the first durable, flexible cloth that can harness human motion to generate energy, allowing for self-powered smart clothes.

The new technology avoids the need for batteries — a current limitation in wearable electronics.

The new textile can also charge batteries or supercapacitors without an external power source, making new applications possible, such as health care monitoring and batteryless personal electronics.

The cloth is based on triboelectric nanogenerators (TNGs). TNGs use two materials with different “triboelectric” polarities.

In a manner analogous to static electricity, when the two materials are contacted or rubbed together, then separated, electrons are generated and can flow through a connected device.
TNG devices are usually constructed on plastic materials; it’s been difficult to make them wearable until now.

Expect it to be attached to a smartphone.

Stem-cell and Gene Therapy For Lung Cancer Patients Being Tested In UK

The first UK clinical trial of a combined stem cell and gene therapy for lung cancer will go ahead with National Health Service patients later this year, the British Medical Research Council has confirmed.

The experimental procedure – which uses stem cells to deliver a potent anti-cancer gene that induces a self-destruct pathway in diseased cells, leaving healthy tissues untouched – has been shown to reduce or even clear tumours in early tests with mice.

A research team will now test the treatment in human volunteers, first to check safety and then efficacy compared with standard care. Each patient in the trial will receive almost a billion cells over three infusions, three weeks apart (injected one day after they receive chemotherapy).

Another Alzheimer’s “Breakthrough” – This Time With Ultrasound

A new way of treating Alzheimer’s disease with ultrasound has been demonstrated in mice, clearing the amyloid plaques in 75% of the animals.

Researchers at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), part of Australia’s University of Queensland, have shown that non-invasive ultrasound technology can be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease and restore memory in mice. This innovative, drug-free method breaks apart the neurotoxic amyloid plaques that result in memory loss and cognitive decline.

Worldwide, there are 50 million people with dementia, a figure projected to hit 135 million by 2050, with Alzheimer’s among the leading causes.

Over 7.7 million new cases are reported globally each year (equivalent to about one new case every four seconds) and the rate is accelerating as people live longer.

Leave a Reply