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First ever drone-delivered kidney is no worse for wear

November 20, 2018 No Comments

Drone delivery really only seems practical for two things: take-out and organ transplants. Both are relatively light and also extremely time sensitive. Well, experiments in flying a kidney around Baltimore in a refrigerated box have yielded positive results — which also seems promising for getting your pad thai to you in good kit.

The test flights were conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland there, led by surgeon Joseph Scalea. He has been frustrated in the past with the inflexibility of air delivery systems, and felt that drones represent an obvious solution to the last-mile problem.

Scalea and his colleagues modified a DJI M600 drone to carry a refrigerated box payload, and also designed a wireless biosensor for monitoring the organ while in flight.

After months of waiting, their study was assigned a kidney that was healthy enough for testing but not good enough for transplant. Once it landed in Baltimore, the team loaded it into the container and had it travel 14 separate missions of various distances and profiles. The longest of these was three miles, a realistic distance between hospitals in the area, and the top speed achieved was 67.6 km/h, or about 42 mph.

Biopsies of the kidney were taken before and after the flights, and also after a reference flight on a small aircraft, which is another common way to transport organs medium distances.

Image credit: Joseph Scalea

The results are good: despite the potential threats of wind chill and heat from the motors of the drone (though this was mitigated by choosing a design with a distal motor-rotor setup), the temperature of the box remained at 2.5 degrees Celsius, just above freezing. And no damage appeared to have been done by the drones’ vibrations or maneuvers.

Restrictions on drones and on how organs can be transported make it unlikely that this type of delivery will be taking place any time soon, but it’s studies like this that make it possible to challenge those restrictions. Once the risk has been quantified, then kidneys, livers, blood, and other tissues or important medical supplies may be transported this way — and in many cases, every minute counts.

One can also imagine the usefulness of this type of thing in disaster situations, when not just ordinary aircraft but also land vehicles may have trouble getting around a city. Drones should be able to carry much-needed supplies — but before they do, they should definitely be studied to make sure they aren’t going to curdle the blood or anything.

The specifics of the study are detailed in a paper published in the IEEE Journal of Translational Engineering in Health and Medicine.

Gadgets – TechCrunch


Best Cookbooks (Fall 2018): José Andrés, Anissa Helou, Simone Klabin

November 18, 2018 No Comments

This year’s best food books reflect the importance of community, whether it’s about saving the world or just understanding it a little better.
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Stoop aims to improve your news diet with an easy way to find and read newsletters

November 17, 2018 No Comments

Stoop is looking to provide readers with what CEO Tim Raybould described as “a healthier information diet.”

To do that, it’s launched an iOS and Android app where you can browse through different newsletters based on category, and when you find one you like, it will direct you to the standard subscription page. If you provide your Stoop email address, you’ll then be able to read all your favorite newsletters in the app.

“The easiest way to describe it is: It’s like a podcast app but for newsletters,” Raybould said. “It’s a big directory of newsletters, and then there’s the side where you can consume them.”

Why newsletters? Well, he argued that they’re one of the key ways for publishers to develop a direct relationship with their audience. Podcasts are another, but he said newsletters are “an order of magnitude more important” because you can convey more information with the written word and there are lower production costs.

That direct relationship is obviously an important one for publishers, particularly as Facebook’s shifting priorities have made it clear that they need to “establish the right relationship [with] readers, as opposed to renting someone else’s audience.” But Raybould said it’s better for readers too, because you’ll spend your time on journalism that’s designed to provide value, not just attract clicks: “You will find you use the newsfeed less and consume more of your content directly from the source.”

“Most content [currently] is distributed through a third party, and that software is choosing what to surface next — not based on the quality of the content, but based on what’s going to keep people scrolling,” he added. “Trusting an algorithm with what you’re going to read next is like trusting a nutritionist who’s incentivized based on how many chips you eat.”

Stoop Discover

So Raybould is a fan of newsletters, but he said the current system is pretty cumbersome. There’s no one place where you can find new newsletters to read, and you may also hesitate to subscribe to another one because it “crowds out your personal inbox.” So Stoop is designed to reduce the friction, making it easy to subscribe to and read as many newsletters as your heart desires.

Raybould said the team has already curated a directory of around 650 newsletters (including TechCrunch’s own Daily Crunch) and the list continues to grow. Additional features include a “shuffle” option to discover new newsletters, plus the ability to share a newsletter with other Stoop users, or to forward it to your personal address.

The Stoop app is free, with Raybould hoping to eventually add a premium plan for features like full newsletter archives. He’s also hoping to collaborate with publishers — initially, most publishers will probably treat Stoop readers as just another set of subscribers, but Raybould said the company could provide access to additional analytics and also make signing up easier with the app’s instant subscribe option.

And the company’s ambitions go beyond newsletters. Raybould said Stoop is the first consumer product from a team with a larger mission to help publishers — they’re also working on OpenBundle, a bundled subscription initiative with a planned launch in 2019 or 2020.

“The overarching thing that is the same is the OpenBundle thesis and the Stoop thesis,” he said. “Getting publishers back in the role of delivering content directly to the audience is the antidote to the newsfeed.”

Mobile – TechCrunch


Why Amazon’s HQ2 Search Backfired

November 15, 2018 No Comments

Amazon’s year-long pursuit of new office space highlighted just how much billion-dollar companies can get from taxpayers.
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Pandora’s Podcast Genome Project Wants to Find Your Next Favorite Show

November 13, 2018 No Comments

The company hopes to do for podcasts what its Music Genome Project did for streaming songs.
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SpaceX’s Starlink aims to put over a thousand of its communications satellites in super-low orbit

November 11, 2018 No Comments

SpaceX’s planned communication satellite constellation, known as Starlink, will now be targeting a much lower orbit than originally planned, at least for over a thousand of the satellites, the company revealed in an FCC filing. The move should help mitigate orbital debris and provide better signal for the company’s terrestrial users as well.

Starlink plans to put 1,584 satellites — about a third of the 4,409 the company aims to launch — in an orbit just 550 kilometers about the surface of the Earth. For comparison, many communications satellites are in orbits more than twice as high, and geosynchronous orbits are more than 20 times farther out (around 36,000 miles).

At that distance orbits decay quickly, falling into the atmosphere and burning up after a handful of years. But SpaceX isn’t daunted; in fact, it writes in its application, lower orbits offer “several attractive features both during nominal operation and in the unlikely event something goes wrong.”

In the first place, orbital debris problems are naturally mitigated by the fact that anything in that low orbit will fall to Earth quickly instead of cluttering up the orbit. Second, it should shorten the amount of time it takes to send and receive a signal from the satellites — ping time could be as low as 15 milliseconds, the company estimated. And 500 fewer kilometers means there will be less spreading for beam-based communications, as well.

The satellites will have to do more work to stay at their optimal altitude, as atmospheric drag will be higher, and each one will be able to see and serve less of the planet. But with thousands working together, that should be manageable.

The decision was informed by experimental data from the “Tintin” test satellites the company launched earlier this year. “SpaceX has learned to mitigate the disadvantages of operating at a lower altitude and still reap the well-known and significant benefits discussed above,” it wrote.

This change could lead to competitive advantages when satellite communications are more widely used, but it will also likely lead to a more intensive upkeep operation as Starlink birds keep dropping out of the air. Fortunately a third benefit of the lower orbit is that it’s easier to reach, though probably not so much easier that the company breaks even.

Starlink is aiming for the first real launches of its systems early next year, though that timeline may be a little too ambitious. But SpaceX can do ambitious.

Gadgets – TechCrunch


Limiting social media use reduced loneliness and depression in new experiment

November 10, 2018 No Comments

The idea that social media can be harmful to our mental and emotional well-being is not a new one, but little has been done by researchers to directly measure the effect; surveys and correlative studies are at best suggestive. A new experimental study out of Penn State, however, directly links more social media use to worse emotional states, and less use to better.

To be clear on the terminology here, a simple survey might ask people to self-report that using Instagram makes them feel bad. A correlative study would, for example, find that people who report more social media use are more likely to also experience depression. An experimental study compares the results from an experimental group with their behavior systematically modified, and a control group that’s allowed to do whatever they want.

This study, led by Melissa Hunt at Penn State’s psychology department, is the latter — which despite intense interest in this field and phenomenon is quite rare. The researchers only identified two other experimental studies, both of which only addressed Facebook use.

One hundred and forty-three students from the school were monitored for three weeks after being assigned to either limit their social media use to about 10 minutes per app (Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram) per day or continue using it as they normally would. They were monitored for a baseline before the experimental period and assessed weekly on a variety of standard tests for depression, social support and so on. Social media usage was monitored via the iOS battery use screen, which shows app use.

The results are clear. As the paper, published in the latest Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, puts it:

The limited use group showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression over three weeks compared to the control group. Both groups showed significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out over baseline, suggesting a benefit of increased self-monitoring.

Our findings strongly suggest that limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being.

It’s not the final word in this, however. Some scores did not see improvement, such as self-esteem and social support. And later follow-ups to see if feelings reverted or habit changes were less than temporary were limited because most of the subjects couldn’t be compelled to return. (Psychology, often summarized as “the study of undergraduates,” relies on student volunteers who have no reason to take part except for course credit, and once that’s given, they’re out.)

That said, it’s a straightforward causal link between limiting social media use and improving some aspects of emotional and social health. The exact nature of the link, however, is something at which Hunt could only speculate:

Some of the existing literature on social media suggests there’s an enormous amount of social comparison that happens. When you look at other people’s lives, particularly on Instagram, it’s easy to conclude that everyone else’s life is cooler or better than yours.

When you’re not busy getting sucked into clickbait social media, you’re actually spending more time on things that are more likely to make you feel better about your life.

The researchers acknowledge the limited nature of their study and suggest numerous directions for colleagues in the field to take it from here. A more diverse population, for instance, or including more social media platforms. Longer experimental times and comprehensive follow-ups well after the experiment would help, as well.

The 30-minute limit was chosen as a conveniently measurable one, but the team does not intend to say that it is by any means the “correct” amount. Perhaps half or twice as much time would yield similar or even better results, they suggest: “It may be that there is an optimal level of use (similar to a dose response curve) that could be determined.”

Until then, we can use common sense, Hunt suggested: “In general, I would say, put your phone down and be with the people in your life.”

Mobile – TechCrunch


Netflix’s hackathon produces a way to navigate its iOS app with ARKit and Face ID

November 8, 2018 No Comments

Netflix’s internal hackathons have consistently produced fun and often silly hacks, from that “Netflixtendo” hack a few years ago that let you run Netflix on the original NES to the more recent “audiobook mode” that turned Netflix series into old-school radio shows by way of Audio Descriptions. This year’s hackathon doesn’t disappoint either, with new hacks that are both as goofy and interesting as in years past, including an AR and Face ID-powered hack that lets you navigate Netflix with just your eyes, another designed for “Sharknado” fans and more.

“Jump to Shark” lets viewers skip right to the good parts of the so-bad-it’s-good “Sharknado,” so they can watch the bloody action sequences with sharks, instead of having to sit through the movie’s actual plot. It’s pretty great, as the video shows.

The AR hack, Eye Nav, is fairly impressive, too.

The hack uses Apple’s ARKit and the technology that enables Face ID for tracking eye position and facial expressions. It tracks your eye position to move a pointer around the screen, then measures the time spent on the same area to trigger a “tap.”

If you want to dismiss a screen, you can just stick your tongue out.

While the resulting hack is definitely fun, there are also implications for accessibility use cases in the future.

The hack was produced in 24 hours, so it may not be stable enough for real-world use, but it’s definitely an interesting idea.

A third hack doesn’t involve Netflix, but rather the productivity software Slack, used by Netflix employees.

“LunchBot” connects co-workers who are too busy to go to lunch, by inviting them to eat lunch together — virtually, while in a Slack chat. The app also checks everyone’s calendars to make sure they’re free.

Other hacks this year included those for product improvements, enhancements to its internal tools and some that were just for fun. A few of these were showcased in its Hackday 2018 video, such as a map for locating studio production resources, an “easy login” system and a version of Animoji using Netflix characters.

But the larger goal of Netflix’s hackathon, as you can probably tell, isn’t necessarily about creating features that will later be productized (although, c’mon…Jump to Shark!), but they sometimes serve as inspiration for features further down the road, the company says.

Mobile – TechCrunch


Midterm Elections 2018: All the Hoaxes and Viral Misinformation

November 6, 2018 No Comments

WIRED is looking out for the biggest stories, the most common hoaxes, and the likeliest sources of confusion as they emerge throughout the day.
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Sequoia leads $10M round for home improvement negotiator Setter

November 5, 2018 No Comments

You probably don’t know how much it should cost to get your home’s windows washed, yard landscaped or countertops replaced. But Setter does. The startup pairs you with a home improvement concierge familiar with all the vendors, prices and common screwups that plague these jobs. Setter finds the best contractors across handiwork, plumbing, electrical, carpentry and more. It researches options, negotiates a bulk rate and, with its added markup, you pay a competitive price with none of the hassle.

One of the most reliable startup investing strategies is looking at where people spend a ton of money but hate the experience. That makes home improvement a prime target for disruption, and attracted a $ 10 million Series A round for Setter co-led by Sequoia Capital and NFX. “The main issue is that contractors and homeowners speak different languages,” Setter co-founder and CEO Guillaume Laliberté tells me, “which results in unclear scopes of work, frustrated homeowners who don’t know enough to set up the contractors for success, and frustrated contractors who have to come back multiple times.”

Setter is now available in Toronto and San Francisco, with seven-plus jobs booked per customer per year costing an average of over $ 500 each, with 70 percent repeat customers. With the fresh cash, it can grow into a household name in those cities, expand to new markets and hire up to build new products for clients and contractors.

I asked Laliberté why he cared to start Setter, and he told me “because human lives are made better when you can make essential human activities invisible.” Growing up, his mom wouldn’t let him buy video games or watch TV so he taught himself to code his own games and build his own toys. “I’d saved money to fix consoles and resell them, make beautiful foam swords for real live-action games, buy and resell headphones — anything that people around me wanted really!” he recalls, teaching him the value of taking the work out of other people’s lives.

Meanwhile, his co-founder David Steckel was building high-end homes for the wealthy when he discovered they often had ‘home managers’ that everyone would want but couldn’t afford. What if a startup let multiple homeowners share a manager? Laliberté says Steckel describes it as “I kid you not, the clouds parted, rays of sunlight began to shine through and angels started to sing.” Four days after getting the pitch from Steckel, Laliberté was moving to Toronto to co-found Setter.

Users fire up the app, browse a list of common services, get connected to a concierge over chat and tell them about their home maintenance needs while sending photos if necessary. The concierge then scours the best vendors and communicates the job in detail so things get done right the first time, on time. They come back in a few minutes with either a full price quote, or a diagnostic quote that gets refined after an in-home visit. Customers can schedule visits through the app, and stay in touch with their concierge to make sure everything is completed to their specifications.

The follow-through is what sets Setter apart from directory-style services like Yelp or Thumbtack . “Other companies either take your request and assign it to the next available contractor or simply share a list of available contractors and you need to complete everything yourself,” a Setter spokesperson tells me. They might start the job quicker, but you don’t always get exactly what you want. Everyone in the space will have to compete to source the best pros.

Though potentially less scalable than Thumbtack’s leaner approach, Setter is hoping for better retention as customers shift off of the Yellow Pages and random web searches. Thumbtack rocketed to a $ 1.2 billion valuation and had raised $ 273 million by 2015, some from Sequoia (presenting a curious potential conflict of interest). That same ascent may have lined up the investors behind Setter’s $ 2 million seed round from Sequoia, Hustle Fund and Avichal Garg last year. Today’s $ 10 million Series A also included Hustle Fund and Maple VC. 

The toughest challenge for Setter will be changing the status quo for how people shop for home improvement away from ruthless bargain hunting. It will have to educate users about the pitfalls and potential long-term costs of getting slapdash service. If Laliberté wants to fulfill his childhood mission, he’ll have to figure out how to make homeowners value satisfaction over the lowest sticker price.


Startups – TechCrunch