MIT and Harvard create cheap artificial muscles with super strength

 MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has teamed up with Harvard’s Wyss Institute to create a super strong, affordable artificial muscle that could be used to create soft robots with “superpowers,” including the ability to lift up to 1000 times their weight. The new soft robotic artificial muscles are inspired by origami, and can be constructed in… Read More

TechCrunch Include Office Hours with Cavalry Ventures

 TechCrunch December Include Office Hours will be hosted in Berlin, Germany on December 1st. We’re partnering with Calvary Ventures. From 2-3pm,  Founding and Managing Partner Rouven Dresselhaus and Managing Partner Stefan Walter will be giving key feedback and valuable guidance for underserved and underrepresented founders. Apply now! In 2014, TechCrunch launched Include program… Read More

Apple could use machine learning to shore up LiDAR limitations in self-driving

 Apple has a new paper published in Cornell’s arXiv open directory of scientific research, describing a method for using machine learning to translate the raw point cloud data gathered by LiDAR arrays into results that include detection of 3D objects, including bicycles and pedestrians, with no additional sensor data required. The paper is one of the clearest looks yet we’ve had… Read More

With Dispatch, Here Be Dragons pushes narrative VR storytelling in bold new directions

 As VR takes its trip through the hype cycle of technology adoption, I keep returning to the early days of film as a corollary for the medium’s progress and a good benchmark for its evolution. When they first arrived on the scene, movies must have had the same thrilling and disorienting visual jolt. And just as film developed, so too will VR evolve. Read More

Five ways Asian countries are pushing ahead in health technology

Despite being home to more than half the world’s population and some of its most dynamic economies, Asia hasn’t traditionally been at the forefront of health-care innovation. Sure the continent has some of the largest markets for pharmaceuticals. But when it comes to blazing new trails on the treatments of tomorrow, Asia has lagged.

There are signs, though, that’s starting to change. Increasingly affluent — and rapidly aging — populations are demanding better care and investors are becoming more adventurous. Although many of Asia’s health-care innovations are at a nascent stage, and their success isn’t guaranteed, they do have the backing of governments keen to build cutting-edge medical technologies.

Here are some of the big health-care trends and innovations in Asia that are worth tracking in 2018 and beyond.

The DNA Hunt

Chinese researchers are tapping vast troves of data to make strides in precision medicine, an emerging science that customizes treatments to a patient’s genetics and characteristics. That’s putting the country ahead in the hot field of genomics.

Genomics is the mapping of genes to provide information like a person’s risk for a disease, or how they’ll take to particular medicines. Trouble is, detecting patterns requires analyzing the genomes of large numbers of people. That’s where the Chinese have an advantage.

Where the British government is working to sequence 100,000 of their citizens’ whole genomes, and the U.S. is sequencing 1 million genomes, China is sequencing 100 million, points out Laura Nelson Carney, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. “What’s a little different in China is that there’s no big brother fear of who has my data,” she said. “People assume, of course the government has it, and owns it, and I want to know.”

That comfort and an interest in tapping genetic sequencing for preventative medicine has helped private companies like Shenzhen-based BGI to amass huge databases of their own, Nelson Carney says. Another Chinese firm, iCarbonX, is working on layering data from medical records and behavior on top of its analysis of a person’s genome to provide more personalized medical advice, she notes.


When it comes to health care, the future of robotics may lie in the human brain rather than an artificial one. Scientists are hunting for ways to create robotic body parts that can be controlled as reflexively as biological ones to help amputees and others with disabilities.

Research at the University of Melbourne, for instance, has resulted in the spinoff of a startup called Bionic Vision Technologies. The company is looking to commercialize a method to restore sight to the blind. It uses a device consisting of a camera, a pair of glasses, an externally worn vision processing unit, and an electrode array that would be implanted behind the retina. Another Australian startup, Monash Vision Group, is developing a bionic eye system which interfaces directly with the brain.

Another technology to come out of the University of Melbourne could be a step toward creating a full cyborg. It involves an electrode implanted in a blood vessel next to the part of the brain that controls movement. The method could be used to control a robot exoskeleton that would allow paralyzed people to walk again.

Biologic Drugs

These days, the world’s most sophisticated therapies for diseases like cancer and arthritis are biologics — drugs made from living cells or proteins. Asia is emerging at the forefront of manufacturing these medicines as well as their cheaper versions, called biosimilars. In South Korea, companies like Samsung BioLogics Co., an arm of the country’s most famous conglomerate, have sprawling plants with the high-tech capabilities needed to mass produce such complex therapies for international pharma companies. China’s Wuxi Biologics (Cayman) Inc. is another big player in the space.

Smart Hospitals

Some Asian countries are going further than anyone else in harnessing the power of big data for medical care. For instance, Taiwan has been a leader in Asia in digitizing medical records and that’s allowed researchers at the Taiwan National University Hospital to leverage reams of data in interesting ways, according to Isaac Ho, chief executive officer of venture capital fund Venturecraft Group. He says the researchers can analyze records of patients’ treatment as they are generated to decide on nutritional supplements that can be targeted by age, disease and medical history.

In China, meanwhile, health-care apps like WeDoctor and Ping An Insurance Group’s Good Doctor are expanding into brick-and-mortar hospitals to provide end-to-end coverage for patients, from their first online inquiries to a hospital stay. That allows companies to collect data along the way and provide more personalized care.

Stem Cells

Japanese companies are attempting to build on a Nobel Prize-winning discovery by Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka, who found that any human cell can be genetically reprogrammed to an embryonic state. Firms like Fujifilm Holdings Corp. and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. have been developing banks of such “universal” cells.

Businesses and scientists have clinical trials planned to try out new therapies using this technology, targeting everything from Parkinson’s disease to spinal cord injuries.

–With assistance from Hui Li


Identity theft alert: ‘Free’ airline ticket phone scams can trip up even seasoned travel agents

Lorey Valdron joined Facebook in 2015, but it wasn’t until March this year that she started using the social media site to catch up on friends and post photos of her home renovations.

In August, two friends shared a Facebook post ostensibly from WestJet, offering a chance for 235 people to win two free airline tickets. Valdron clicked on the post, and was taken to a short survey that she filled out before she shared the post with the hashtag Thanks #Westjet Airlines.

Valdron, a travel agent in Dartmouth, N.S., never heard another word, and figured she wasn’t one of the lucky ones.

Her luck ran out after Labour Day when she got a call from the Royal Bank of Canada asking if she had been using her WestJet RBC MasterCard in B.C. and Alberta. There were several charges from Original Joe’s restaurant and a store called Epic Brands in Dawson Creek, B.C., a grocery store in Ground Birch, B.C., and the Mink Lake Resort in Carvel, Alta., totalling $1,500. When the thieves tried to take out a cash advance of $400, that’s when the bank was alerted.

Once the bank confirmed she had been in Nova Scotia, they shut down her account and issued a new card. “They never did call me back to let me know the root cause. I figured it out two or three days later, because (Facebook) is the only thing I ever do online,” says Valdron, who has no cellphone and only uses Facebook on her iPad.

A variation of the WestJet Facebook scam has been circulating since 2104, and in August 2016 the company wrote a blog about it. “We aren’t sure what the scammers’ endgame is with this particular scam,” emerging media manager Greg Hounslow wrote on the airline’s Facebook page. “Whatever it is, it can’t be good.” He went on to note the poor grammar in the survey — “have you ever fly with us?” — and the use of the anachronistic “air hostess.”

When Valdron scrolled through her Facebook feed looking for a place where her identity might have been stolen, she found the Westjet post and realized, too late, that the logo wasn’t right.

“I was mortified, because I am smarter than that,” she says. “I’m a travel agent for God’s sake. I just got caught up in all the free stuff.” 

With nothing to go on but conjecture, Valdron figures the survey somehow mined her personal data and was maybe linked to WestJet RBC MasterCard holders. But after checking with the company’s fraud team, Robert Palmer, WestJet’s manager of public relations, reports no scams around the branded credit card. And since Valdron has never used her credit card to buy anything online, let alone on her iPad, she can’t figure out how the fraudsters got her number.

Palmer says it’s impossible to say for sure that the survey and the credit card identity theft are related. If Valdron used her card on the iPad previously, one scenario is that a bot was scraping her banking data from the device as she filled out the survey. Another possibility is her credit card was captured in a completely different way, including a false swiping device stuck to a keypad at a gas station or ATM. 

“We truly hope that nobody gets taken in in these scams, but … sadly, it happens sometimes,” Palmer said in an email. The company name was used again in 2014, both in a phone and a Facebook free-ticket phone scam, but many of the world’s major airlines have been similarly targeted.  

Palmer encourages people to scrutinize social media posts carefully, as this one had the wrong logo, misspelled the company name with a lower-case J and included a “deceptive” website page that included the company name with a ridiculously long URL. 

At the University of Calgary, computer security researcher and professor Tom Keenan says because most credit card scams are noticed — and righted— by financial institutions, they are rarely tracked to the criminals. 

“They’re a lot of work to investigate thoroughly,” he says. “It’s not worth the time for the bank or police to get involved, and the victim doesn’t have the skills to do the investigation.”

Keenan, an IT security expert who taught Canada’s first computer security course in 1974, is also the author of the bestselling book Technocreep: The Surrender of Privacy and the Capitalization of Intimacy.

“My book says basically you should be info-stingy. When a store wants your postal code, give them H0H OH0, or make one up. If you give your real birthdate on Facebook, you’re a real dummy. That’s asking for trouble.”

For Valdron, who doesn’t have a cellphone and has been using a shredder at home for important papers for years, the WestJet post is a constant reminder to be vigilant. She has tried to delete it from her feed, but it sits there, taunting her. 

“I’m 55 years old, and I’ve never been caught up. There is a sense of embarrassment. What was I thinking?” She tells the story in the hope that she can help others avoid the trap. Her advice? “Don’t share anything. If you don’t recognize it, don’t touch it.”


DeepMind now has an AI ethics research unit. We have a few questions for it…

 DeepMind, the U.K. AI company which was acquired in 2014 for $500M+ by Google, has launched a new ethics unit which it says will conduct research across six “key themes” — including ‘privacy, transparency and fairness’ and ‘economic impact: inclusion and equality’. Read More

DeepMind now has an AI ethics research unit. We have a few questions for it…

 DeepMind, the U.K. AI company which was acquired in 2014 for $500M+ by Google, has launched a new ethics unit which it says will conduct research across six “key themes” — including ‘privacy, transparency and fairness’ and ‘economic impact: inclusion and equality’. Read More