Creating New Technology to Understand Cancer Growth


Engineers at the University of Toronto are “unrolling” the mysteries of cancer… literally. They have developed a way to grow cancer cells in the form of a rolled-up sheet that mimics the 3D environment of a tumor, yet can also be taken apart in seconds. The platform offers a way to speed up the development of new drugs and therapies and ask new questions about how cancer cells behave.

The difficulties of studying cancer cells in a traditional petri dish are well known. Growing tumors in petri dishes is a standard approach for this kind of work, but it has a problem: in a real tumor, cells near the center of the mass have less access to oxygen and nutrients, and these subtle differences are tough to replicate in a flat dish. Another approach, growing cancer cells on building blocks made of porous sponge, results in a 3D model with differing oxygen levels but leaves researchers with discontinuous blocks of cells to keep track of.

The rolled-up cancer strip, on the other hand, is essentially a 3D model that can be laid out in 2D. Its cells get less and less oxygen along the strip on a smooth gradient towards the center of the device, making it easier to analyze. Because of this, it can also be a boon for basic research into what makes a normal cell turn cancerous.

Personalized cancer treatment is a growing field. At Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, fruit flies are being modified to have the same genetic defects as individual cancer patients, so they can be tested for cancer treatments that might work on the patient.

Social Media’s Benefit Magnified in Wake of Paris Attacks


Following the horrific attacks in Paris that has claimed more than 100 lives, people around the world took to social media looking for their loved ones. Social media has put forth tools to help people in times of crisis.

Facebook activated its Safety Check tool, which allows users in an area affected by a crisis to mark themselves or others as safe. Facebook created the tool to help in times of crisis, and it has activated it five times in the past year after natural disasters.

Twitter kept followers informed by highlighting top news tweets, as well as well wishes posted by people around the world. It also turned into a message board Friday night with information to help people in Paris get to safety. The hashtag #PorteOuverte or “open door,” became a vehicle for offering shelter to those in Paris who needed it. Twitter has revealed that 1 million tweets were associated with the hashtag in 10 hours. The hashtag #StrandedInUS gained a lot of traction in the United States to help French people whose flights had been canceled.

Google’s Machine Learning TensorFlow Is Now Open-Sourced


Machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence that employs software to interpret and make predictions from large sets of data, is in popular demand in Silicon Valley. Some of the largest of those companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple have thrown their hat into the ring. But it was Google that started the trend, and in order to remain innovative, Google needed to keep looking like the cutting-edge leader.

Hence TensorFlow, a machine-learning system that Google has used internally for a few years. Today, Google is taking it open source, releasing the software parameters to fellow engineers, academics and hacks with enough coding skills. There is no denying that learning systems have made it possible to create and improve apps when it comes to speech and image recognition technologies.

For example, Google Photos have benefitted from their own machine learning system, called DisBelief. Developed in 2011, DisBelief has helped Google build large neural networks, but it has its limitations, including difficult configurations and its inability to share code externally. As a result, the company has open-sourced TensorFlow, which was designed to fix the shortcomings of DisBelief. However, it’s important to note that it only allows for part of the AI engine to be open-sourced.

By releasing TensorFlow, Google aims to make the software it built to develop and run its own AI systems a part of the standard toolset used by researchers. It may also help Google identify potential talent for the future.

Google Investing in African Wind Power


Recently, Google announced its newest investment: a wind power project in Kenya that, when completed, will be the continent’s biggest wind farm. The agreement includes buying a 12.5% stake in Africa’s largest wind project, Kenya’s Lake Turkana, from Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas Wind Systems A/S.

The 310-megawatt Lake Turkana wind park is set to about 15% of Kenya’s electricity needs, based on current generation capacity. The nearly $1 billion wind project offers the scale of infrastructure that international organizations say Africa needs for the continent to unleash its vast economic potential. Annual economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa has averaged 5% in the past decade, and an increased energy production would boost growth even more.

Google so far has committed $2 billion to 22 clean energy projects, including the continent’s largest solar project in South Africa. The company sees a big opportunity in fast-growing markets with rich renewable energy resources, and the Lake Turkana project would help reduce Kenya’s reliance on fossil fuels and emergency diesel generation.

Google and Vestas have previously cooperated on the 270-megawatt Alta Wind Energy Centre in southern California and the powering of a Google data center in Finland.

FAA Will Likely Require Drone Registration Soon


The Federal Aviation Administration is getting closer to announcing rules for using recreational drones, and will likely start with the requirement to register every drone once it is purchased. However, the registration will only be able to help the FAA keep count of how many there are purchased, and to identify drones that cause collisions and break rules.

Will this signal the start of other laws to follow? Will previous owners of drones need to also register? Surely, registering the hundreds of thousands of drones already in the U.S. that are used for recreational purposes will not be an easy feat.

The number of drones has been steadily increasing over the years, as the FAA has reported pilot sightings of drones over 650 times this year. This number has jumped greatly in one year as pilots reported sighting a drone 238 times for most of 2014. An even greater influx of drones in the sky are expected shortly after the holidays as the FAA has estimated that 1 million drones are expected to be sold for Christmas.

Tesla’s Automatic Driving Capabilities Rolling Out


“Autopilot” features such as steering and parking will be available for newer Tesla Model S sedans today, but CEO Elon Musk cautions that drivers should still keep ahold of the steering wheel. If the steering wheel has no hands on it during the automatic driving, a notice displaying “hold steering wheel” will illuminate on the dashboard. Also, in more difficult navigating conditions, an audio alert will come on and if that also is ignored, the car will slow and eventually stop.

Tesla, which this month unveiled its Model X SUV, has been the U.S. pioneer in luxury electric cars charged by batteries. Its expertise in software has made it a leader in self-driving features, which more traditional carmakers have been slower to develop. Musk estimated that within three years, cars will be able to drive “from your driveway to work without you touching anything,” but regulatory approval could take years. He added that regulators would need data showing that self-driving cars work.


Is the “iRing” On Its Way?


With increasing pressure to diversify its products, Apple seems to be doing just that as evidence of a patent application has been spotted recently.

Of course, it is important to note that Apple issues patents on a regular basis, and some of the most publicized and plausible of these patents have never been included in any form of Apple technology. So this latest patent shouldn’t be seen as stone evidence that Apple is about to release a Smart Ring in the foreseeable future, but it does indicate that the company has at least considered the possibility.

The “iRing” is based around a finger-mounted gadget packed with motion sensors, microphones, cameras and a tiny display. With Apple having releasing the first Apple Watch earlier this year, they are likely expected to update the smartwatch next year. And if the Apple Watch never sees the success that Apple was hoping for, it has still come to almost completely dominate the smartwatch market.

An Apple Smart Ring may seem to be pretty limited in terms of its capabilities, but it certainly seems that Apple is considering such a gadget. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published the application for what appears to be such a device, and the title of the patent provided a further clue into Apple’s thinking on the subject. Titled “Devices and methods for a ring computing device,” it seems certain that Apple is thus considering an Apple Smart Ring at some point in the future.

Virtual Reality Becoming More Mainstream


Virtual reality is taking a few steps closer to the mainstream with Samsung unveiling a headset that brings the technology to its latest smartphones at half the price of its previous model, Facebook launching support for 360-degree video, and online video services like Netflix and Hulu jumping into the format.

Samsung said its new virtual reality headset will be 22% lighter and cost $99, half the price of its previous model. The Gear VR requires users to insert the latest version of a Samsung smartphone into the headset, and will ship in November.

Netflix content is available to be viewed in Oculus or Samsung headsets now, while Hulu said it would also bring its app to the Oculus platform where users can stream 2-D content. Meanwhile, Oculus said it would begin a certification program so consumers can look for a sticker that will identify which computers support its Oculus Rift headset, which is due to come out early next year.


Ding Dong the Fire Phone is Dead

As Apple demonstrated its brand new lineup of smartphones, it looks like Amazon was quietly killing off its own.

Amazon had been rumored to be working on a smartphone for years before the Fire Phone was unveiled. Just over a year ago we got our first look at the device, and all the predictions about Amazon’s phone being inexpensive were wrong; the high price tag and gimmicky features kept consumers away and the phone flopped. Now even Amazon has admitted defeat by ending sales of the device.

You would have to really dig for the Amazon Fire Phone now as most links to the phone in Amazon’s Fire device pages have been removed. When you do find them, both the AT&T and unlocked Fire Phone show up as unavailable and no more stock is expected. This isn’t just a question of running out, they just aren’t being offered for sale on Amazon’s website anymore.

Amazon’s move to stop producing the phone is no surprise. Despite all the buzz, it failed to become the success the company hoped. Only a few months after shipping, Amazon admitted last October that it took a $170 million charge mostly associated with the Fire phone and related supplier costs, and $83 million worth of phone inventory surplus.

While Amazon blamed the phone’s flop on badly pricing the device, some in the industry pinned the failure on the phone’s concept. Like Amazon’s other Fire devices, the Fire Phone ran a heavily customized version of Android without Google’s services. Amazon supplied the apps, music, video, and everything else. This was the Fire Phone’s greatest weakness as Amazon’s services lacked many of the features that make Android phones great. Fire OS is fine for a content consumption device like a tablet, but not a phone. The Fire Phone had a feature called “Dynamic Perspective” that used head tracking to adjust the UI, but it didn’t really make up for the missing features.

YouTube Gaming Launches Today


One year and one day after Google lost Twitch to Amazon, YouTube is taking gaming to the public. Launched today, users can head down Youtube’s gaming site to check out the new interface, see who’s streaming, or start a stream themselves. A slick interface, huge user base, and tons of content might have Twitch worried a bit.

YouTube calls YouTube Gaming the “go-to destination for anything and everything gaming.” It not only shows who is live streaming, but serves as a collection point for all gaming content on YouTube. YouTube Gaming automatically categorizes YouTube’s gaming content and sorts it by game and by the content of video.

The new dashboard makes streaming less of a scheduled event and more of a casual thing that streamers can do whenever they want. Streaming on YouTube Gaming is done on HTML5, and, unlike Twitch, streamers can enable a “DVR Mode” that buffers the last four hours of a stream and allows viewers to rewind.

YouTube Gaming will give Twitch the biggest competition in the live streaming space it has ever seen. Almost every Twitch streamer also uses YouTube for archival purposes and as an additional revenue stream, and now YouTube is a one-stop-shop for every kind of gaming video on the Web. It will be interesting to see how the battle of the game streaming service plays out.