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Mobile Technology News, March 2, 2015

As developers for tablets and smartphones we like to keep abreast of the latest mobile technology developments . This is a daily digest of mobile development and related technology news gathered from the BBC, the New York Times, New Scientist and the Globe and Mail to name a few. We scour the web for articles concerning, iPhone, iPad and android development, iOS and android operating systems as well as general articles on advances in mobile technology. We hope you find this useful and that it helps to keep you up to date with the latest technology developments.

  • Google camera zips along rainforest
    Google flew one of its Street View cameras down a zip wire in the Amazon rainforest to capture new images of the forest canopies.
  • VIDEO: Samsung pins hopes on curvy phone
    Samsung unveils a new flagship smartphone, with a screen that curves at both sides, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
  • VIDEO: 3D mapping Christ the Redeemer
    Drones and mapping software have been used to create an exact digital version of the famous Brazilian landmark.
  • 'Flying donkeys' coming to Africa
    Can cargo drones help plug Africa’s transport gap?
  • Fugoo Speaker Review
    The Fugoo is marketed as a “go anywhere speaker” and it’s probably true. This is a shockproof, waterproof speaker that would be safe indoors, outdoors, in the shower, on a surf board, dirt biking, in the mud (just wash it off!), snow, sand, getting dropped on concrete, even plopped underwater for up to a half hour at 1 m. It boasts an IP67 rating (which means 6 out 6 for dust resistance and 7 out of 8 for water resistance) and doesn’t even need port covers for the USB and aux in jacks. Plus, if you’re so inclined, you can run the thing over, at least in one of its incarnations. Yes, this speaker is safe anywhere – except perhaps on your desk plugged into a computer – more on that later.

    But about those incarnations first. This speaker is actually a choice of three speakers: Fugoo+Style, Fugoo+Sport and Fugoo+Tough. Having a thing for tough guys, I reviewed the Fugoo+Tough. In all three, the speaker core is the same. All that differs is the jacket – and, in fact, the jackets are interchangeable and can be purchased separately and swapped out.

    Why you’d want to do this is less clear: uninstalling and installing the jackets is a bit of a process. But perhaps you bought the Style model – a nice looking but only moderately rugged aluminum grill – for indoors use, then decided you’d like to be able to take the puppy outside and get a bit rough, so you upgrade to the somewhat beefier black/teal Sport model. Maybe you already have a Sport jacket but it’s gotten beat up. Wear those bruises with pride, I say, but if you’re fussier, you can replace it with a new Sport jacket.

    Or perhaps you’ve graduated from wussy sports to xtreme ones and it’s time to go from the Sport to the Tough. Now you’re my kinda guy. That jacket is made out of machined aluminum pieces, some with thick rubber bumpers, that bolt together with hex nuts. It looks a bit like a Jeep with nerf bars (external bumpers). Properly installed on the core, it’s the version you can drive over.

    Note that qualifier – “properly installed.” That’s somewhat your responsibility, and it relates to the out of box experience.

    Now, I don’t fetishize unboxing the way some reviewers do – when I get a product I usually just open the package, admire the contents, huff the VOCs that signal “new electronics” and take it from there, pausing only to read the manual if there is one and I’m in the mood.

    But the Fugoo is a “some dis/assembly required” product.

    The jacket is already installed, but the whole unit is bolted into its packaging with two thumbscrews. You have to remove them and then, for the Sport and Tough, you need to replace them with two Phillips turn screws. This isn’t hard, of course, but it is a requirement, warns a notice on the packaging. Finger tightening isn’t quite enough, so you’ll need a Phillips screwdriver – but don’t overtighten or you’ll strip the metal socket from the plastic housing. And don’t try to install the Phillips screws using the included hex wrench – that won’t get you anywhere: it doesn’t fit the Phillips screws (not surprisingly), since it’s intended for removing the hex nuts and disassembling the Tough jacket, should you decide to replace it with the Sport (wuss!) or if you need to replace a Tough jacket you’ve managed to thrash (with what, a firearm? An axe?).

    Now that we’ve unboxed, it’s time to … play some tunes? No! Don’t be so eager, it’s a turnoff. Now it’s time to update the firmware, which can bring you new capabilities.

    Or grief. Since I’m not the xtreme sports type (now who’s the wuss?), I can’t tell you how this thing survives rough use, but I can offer a cautionary note on firmware updating: be very careful to plug the USB cable securely into your computer and the speaker. If you have the Tough model, you must use the USB cable supplied with the unit. That’s because the Tough jacket’s thick rubber bumpers constrict access to the micro USB jack and leave very little clearance. The Fugoo-supplied cable has a tapered plastic plug that fits within this clearance, whereas the more common boxy rectangular plug on most USB cables may not fit.

    Or worse, it may seem to fit, but the plug may not actually be tightly plugged in. It could even come loose during firmware updating. That’s what happened to me, and …

    … bricked! Yes, I bricked my Fugoo. The hard reset procedure wouldn’t bring it back to life, and the firmware upgrader (a downloadable program you run on your PC or Mac, only) couldn’t either. The company had to send me a new speaker. The company told me that if this happens to a customer during the one year warranty period, the swap would be under warranty and the company would provide a return label as well, so the customer wouldn’t have to pay return shipping. They also said they were working on making the PC upgrader more robust (as the Mac software already is, said the company), so that re-running the upgrader would be more likely to fix a bricked unit. But, really, don’t let this happen to you.

    Working unit in hand, we power up and, hello, he’s talking to me! Yes, the unit includes rather masculine voice prompts for powering up, pairing, connecting, powering down and battery check (for that last, you press the power button briefly and the speaker will say something like “Battery is almost full” or whatever the case may be). Pairing was easy, and reconnecting was automatic. Unlike some, the speaker does not include NFC – which would simplify pairing slightly – but it’s scarcely missed. Pairing is a once-only step. The real win is automatic reconnection, which not all speakers offer, but this one does.

    If you don’t like the voice prompts, the speaker can be toggled into modes that lower their volume or suppress them altogether. This too is a one-time only task, unless you change your mind and choose to re-enable the prompts.

    And now, finally, we can talk about the sound. Mostly, the Fugoo sounds great. With six separate drivers – two tweeters, two mids and two passive radiators for bass – the speaker offers great separation and a full sound stage (there are drivers on all four sides of the speaker for omni-directional sound). Mids and highs were crisp. Bass was bassy and relatively clean – at mid-volume.

    So, yes, there is a caveat: I found I got decent volume without distortion, but the speaker wasn’t as loud as its fierce looks suggest. Thanks to a firmware mod a few months ago, you can toggle the unit into Loud mode – yes, some assembly still required! – which is a one-time operation achieved by powering the speaker on while holding down the O button. (You can toggle back to Normal mode the same way.) But this was only a partial fix: heavy bass in some tunes suffered a rubbery distortion when cranked to the top in the Loud mode. Amazingly, I got slightly better volume – and no distortion – from a smaller unit I tested, the Harman/Kardon Esquire Mini. But it’s not rugged (and has bass problems to boot).

    The company said that volume limitations were more a problem with streamed sources than stored music and that it was working to improve the situation with a firmware update (not yet scheduled, however).

    Another weird thing: when the battery was very low and the speaker was plugged in and recharging, I found that playing music from Spotify would suddenly stop and be replaced by a series of clicks, like a metronome. Very odd. When I switched back to the Koss BTS1 that I was also testing, I would get momentary silent patches as Spotify buffered, but no metronome. In fairness to the Fugoo, this didn’t happen when I streamed using Milk (a Slacker derivative)

    Also in the sound category, this time on the plus side: the Fugoo is the best speakerphone I’ve tested so far. The other party sounds great, and my testers said I sounded great to them too – and without any echo, a frequent problem when using Bluetooth speakers as speakerphones.

    Another common problem with Bluetooth speakers is play time. Inevitably, the batteries die just when the party gets good For a rugged speaker, that would be an especial problem, since oceans and forests are populated with sharks and bobcats, not USB outlets.

    Lucky for you, jocky reader, the Fugoo advertises an astonishing 40 hours of battery life when played at 50% loudness. When cranked to 100%, the company told me to expect 10-15 hours. I didn’t test for battery life, but other reviewers have, and report usage at or about the claimed 40 hours. I played a lot but didn’t get below 75% battery level.

    Standby time is a different issue. I found that the battery drained itself in a few days when the speaker was off, a problem that they company said affected some units.

    Another distinguishing factor for the Fugoo is mounting options. If you’re doing something active, you may want to mount the speaker somewhere. The Tough jacket has aluminum rods that you can snap a carbineer to or run 1/4″ rope through, but if that doesn’t do the trick or if you have the Sport jacket, you can choose from any of the three snap-in / snap-out mounting plates, sold separately (and compatible only with the Sport and Tough, not the Style):

    * a bike mount that accommodates 7/8″ – 1-1/4″ diameter handlebars,

    * a rotatable strap mount that includes a 3′ Velcro strap, good for trees, fence posts and the upright posts of volleyball nets, basketball hoops, goal posts and other stationary items (like teammates without hustle),

    * and a rotatable multi-mount, which has several features, as its name suggests. A 1/4″ threaded socket lets you attach the speaker to tripods, the Joby GorillaPod and perhaps to suction mounts (depending on weight limitations; the speaker is 1.1 lbs. (Sport) or 1.4 lbs. (Tough)). A loop allows easy attachment to a carabineer or threading a rope up to 1/2″ diameter. And a clip can hold the speaker to a belt or strap (this probably wouldn’t be very secure while in motion though).

    At this writing, those accessories are $10 less expensive on Fugoo’s own website (whereas the speakers are priced identically on Amazon as of this writing), where you can also find (coming in 2015 Q1) a waterproof wireless (Bluetooth LE) remote to control your speaker. You can wear it on a lanyard or strap it around your wrist. The lanyard option is ideal, because the back of the remote features – yes! – a bottle opener.

    A preproduction remote worked flawlessly with stored music on an iPod Touch and a streaming source on a Galaxy S4. What other toy lets you keeps both music and beer flowing? You’re a party animal, you are, and the Fugoo just might be your speaker.

    Full disclosure: the manufacturer provided review product.

    Check out “The New Zealand Hobbit Crisis,” available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle and audiobook. Visit my website (jhandel.com), follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook or LinkedIn. If you work in tech, take a look at my book How to Write LOIs and Term Sheets

  • Here's How Samsung's Apple Pay Competitor Will Work
    NEW YORK (AP) — Last fall, Apple launched Apple Pay, bringing mobile-payment technology to the iPhone. Samsung now wants to get that on Android phones — at least the ones it makes.

    The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge phones announced Sunday will come with mobile-pay capabilities. Samsung’s payment service won’t come until this summer, and will launch only in the U.S. and South Korea at first. Here’s what’s known about Samsung Pay and how it compares with Apple Pay and Google’s own efforts for Android. ___

    Q. How does Samsung Pay work?

    As with Apple Pay, customers will simply tap their phone on a retail store’s payment machine. Apple and Samsung phones use a wireless technology known as near-field communication, or NFC. The payment machine also needs NFC, something many merchants won’t have until this fall.

    Samsung is supplementing NFC with a technology from LoopPay, a startup it’s buying. LoopPay replicates the magnetic-strip signals on plastic cards, so it works with more merchants. While NFC transactions can be authorized through the phones’ fingerprint sensors, LoopPay transactions might still require a physical signature.


    Q. If there’s LoopPay, why bother with NFC and the equipment that entails?

    A. As a retrofit for older, magnetic technology, LoopPay has its limitations. Some parking meters and transit-fare machines require you to insert a card into a slot. You can’t just stick a phone with LoopPay into that slot. At some stores, the place for swiping the card is behind the counter — out of the customer’s reach.

    LoopPay is meant as a transition. Bill Gajda, a senior vice president at Visa, says LoopPay will help get customers more comfortable with mobile payments, as more merchants will accept them. As merchants see customers make such payments, they would be more likely to upgrade equipment to NFC.


    Q. How secure is Samsung Pay?

    Samsung Pay, like Apple Pay, promises to be more secure than plastic. With both services, the merchant gets a substitute 16-digit card number stored on the device. A verification code is created for each transaction, based in part on unique keys on the phone. Even if hackers get that substitute number, they need the actual phone for the verification code.

    That said, LoopPay’s stand-alone technology uses the regular card number, and magnetic signals are easy to detect and replicate. Samsung is working with both Visa and MasterCard to make substitute numbers available with LoopPay on the phones to boost security. James Anderson, a senior vice president for mobile at MasterCard, says the bank issuing the card needs to participate. If they don’t, some card holders might not be able to make mobile payments, even with the right phone. Samsung says participating banks will include American Express, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase, and U.S. Bank.


    Q. Will merchants be able to block Samsung Pay as CVS, 7-Eleven and a few others have done with Apple Pay?

    A. Yes, but not easily. With NFC transactions, it was a matter of turning off the NFC chip. Samsung Pay has the magnetic backup, so it will be tough to turn that off without rejecting plastic cards, too. Merchants could potentially work with their payment processors to deny ranges of card numbers assigned as substitute account numbers, Gajda says. That’s unlikely, but not impossible.


    Q. What about Google’s own payment service?

    Google recently teamed up with Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile to have its Google Wallet payment service built into Android phones sold by those carriers. Google also is buying some technology from Softcard, a payment venture owned by the three wireless carriers. Both Google Wallet and Softcard use NFC.

    Unlike Samsung Pay, Google Wallet will work on Android phones sold by other manufacturers. Samsung phones sold by those three carriers will have both services. Customers must pick one to use — so that they won’t end up paying for everything twice.

    So far, Google Wallet uses regular card numbers, without the added security from substitute numbers used by Apple Pay or planned with Samsung Pay.


    Q. Will Samsung Pay work with other phones?

    A. Future phones will likely get it, too. Older models likely won’t work, though. Although they have NFC, they don’t have LoopPay.

  • Samsung Announces New Galaxy S6 Phones, Opens Fire On Apple
    iPhones might bend, but they sure don’t curve.

    Samsung announced two new Galaxy S6 smartphones Sunday at the Mobile World Congress, an industry exhibition held in Barcelona, Spain.

    There’s the Samsung Galaxy S6, the newest iteration of the company’s popular line of Android phones, and there’s the Galaxy S6 Edge, which features a curved screen not unlike the one seen on the Galaxy Note Edge phablet.

    They will be on sale April 10 and will feature 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB storage options, according to TechCrunch — no teensy 16GB offerings here.

    Unlike previous Galaxy devices, which had plastic bodies, the S6 devices feature a metal design, bringing them closer to the iPhone’s aluminum back.

    After the iPhone 6 launched last fall, Apple weathered some bad press when a video surfaced showing the device bending in response to a stress test. Samsung’s Younghee Lee, executive vice president of the company’s mobile division, seemed to relish the opportunity for a jab during Sunday’s press event.

    “This stuff will not bend,” Lee said.

    The Samsung Galaxy S6 will come in five colors: Gold Platinum, White Pearl, Black Sapphire, Green Emerald, Blue Topaz

    In another shot at Apple, which has pioneered a walletless payment system with Apple Pay, the Korean electronics maker announced Samsung Pay, a service that allows people to use their phones instead of physical credit cards for contact-free payments at participating retailers.

    Samsung has partnered with companies including Visa, MasterCard and Citibank to bring its payment system to more retailers “than any other offering,” according to TechCrunch.

    Both the S6 and S6 Edge have 5.1-inch screens, which fall in between the iPhone 6 (4.7 inches) and iPhone 6 Plus (5.5 inches). The S6 Edge weighs slightly less, but the main difference between the devices is the curved screen, which essentially provides at-a-glance notifications. For instance, you can assign colors to contacts — assign green to calls from your boss, and the phone will emanate a visible green light from the curved part of the screen when the phone is face down.

    Unlike previous Galaxy models — which are some of the most popular Android phones in America — the S6 will not have a removable battery, and it won’t support microSD storage cards. In other words, you’re stuck with whatever’s built into the phone — just as you are with the iPhone.

    Samsung may be enjoying the spotlight, but expect Apple to fire back at its March event next week.

  • Microsoft’s Desperate Need for a Flagship Windows Phone

    As we come into Mobile World Congress 2015 in earnest this week, I’m reminded of a stark reality as a Windows Phone enthusiast.  That reality is that beyond two devices that are both over a year old, Windows Phone has no flagship device.  That, in itself, should not be news.  If you are reading my site then you are likely a Windows Phone user or at the very least have a morbid curiosity on how the other 3.5% live (that’s the rough market share of Windows Phone) and know that there hasn’t been a flagship worthy Windows Phone in a

    The post Microsoft’s Desperate Need for a Flagship Windows Phone appeared first on Clinton Fitch.

  • Banning Yik Yak from College Campuses Is Counterproductive
    Efforts to ban Yik Yak from college campuses violate free speech and are counterproductive.

    No doubt about it: There are some vile posts on Yik Yak and other social media platforms. But, just because some people use these platforms to intimidate and spread hate is not justification to ban them from college campuses. Instead, people should (and often do) use the same platforms to condemn bigotry and spread tolerance.

    I admit it, I’m a sucker when it comes to the First Amendment, and I’d rather err on the side of free speech than suppression of speech, however horrible it may be. And, as any free-speech advocate will tell you, it only becomes an issue when the speech is offensive: No one is clamoring to ban videos of cute kittens playing the piano, but there are many people in the world who want to see a ban on anything that resembles hate speech.

    Banning hate speech

    I’m not opposed to private companies banning hate speech from their services. Facebook, Twitter and many other social-networking sites have rules against it. Yik Yak, the latest app to be accused of allowing the spread of hateful, racist speech and harassing comments against women, also has rules that prohibit “racially or ethnically offensive language” along with posts that “defame, abuse, harass, stalk, threaten or otherwise violate the legal rights (such as rights of privacy and publicity) of others.”

    Yik Yak also has mechanisms to remove such speech, but — like other social networking apps — it mostly has to enforce those rules after the fact. Its algorithmic filters can’t prevent all negative posts.

    Still, there have been calls to ban Yik Yak from campus Internet networks at Colgate, Clemson, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and elsewhere.

    In November, Utica College in New York blocked the app from its wireless networks because, according to an open letter from the college’s president, Todd Hutton, “Some Utica College students have been employing uncivil, intolerant and bigoted language in postings,” on the app.

    A Clemson University spokesman said that a request to ban Yik Yak, “Came from a group of students who were concerned about racist comments being made anonymously on Yik Yak, but since then they realized (a ban is) not something that can happen.” The administration, he said, has not acted on those requests.

    In an interview, Yik Yak CEO Tyler Droll said the app uses filters to try to block posts that violate its terms of service. His company also has a round-the-clock team of moderators to review posts and Yik Yak users can “downvote” objectionable posts, which results in many being deleted.

    He admits that the filters are “somewhat of a blunt tool,” but said, “every day we’re working to make them better,”

    A peek into Yik Yak posts

    To test claims that Yik Yak is a cesspool of negativity, I used its “peek” feature to read the 100 most recent posts from both San Jose State and UNC, where some are calling for a ban on Yik Yak after an alleged bomb threat and racist posts during protests against police brutality earlier this year. I found a lot of posts that are sort of banal, a few that were sexual in nature, some that were empathetic and positive but — out of the 200 posts I looked at — none that were blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic or derogatory of any group.

    That’s not to say that there might not be some really offensive posts, but none jumped out at me when I checked. I did, however, see lots of people in North Carolina complaining about the weather.

    I was unsuccessful in my efforts to reach individuals who have gone on record calling for a ban on Yik Yak, but did speak with Soraya Chemaly, an activist who has waged successful campaigns to persuade Facebook and other social networks to remove posts that depict violence against women.

    She said that calls to ban sites where there are racist and sexist posts can be a useful way to raise awareness about the issues, but banning the sites “is not going to solve the problems.”

    “It’s Whack-A-Mole. Awful, unempathetic, racist and sexist speech finds its way,” she added.

    Free speech rights

    Esha Bhandari, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, argues that “banning Yik Yak on campuses might be unconstitutional,” especially at public universities or private colleges in California where the so-called Leonard Law protects free speech. She said it would be like banning all bulletin boards in a school just because someone posted a racist comment on one of the boards.

    She also pointed out that people can other ways to spread hate. There are plenty of anonymous apps that compete with Yik Yak and new ones are starting up all the time.

    Drowning out bad speed with good speech

    Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, said he too is uncomfortable with some of the racist and sexist comments on Yik Yak and other anonymous apps, but feels that “University campuses should be a particularly strong bastion for free speech.”

    He prefers “to counter that negative speech with positive speech on anonymous sites.”

    I agree. The best way to make sure that social media reflects positive values is for people to use the apps in positive ways, speak out against posts that are hateful and derogatory, report abuse when they see it and be supportive of those who have been abused.

    Yes, there are some bad actors on social media, but there are millions of good actors whose voices need to be heard.

  • Acer Liquid M220 Windows Phone Launched with Dismal Specs

    At Mobile World Congress today Acer announced their all new Windows Phone 8.1 device, the Acer Liquid M220.  It represents Acer’s first Windows Phone 8.1 device and their first Windows Phone in four years but frankly, this is a huge disappointment.  The specs of the Acer Liquid M220 are dismal and in fact do not even meet the minimum design guidelines for Windows Phone these days.  In fact about the only positive I can see on this device is that it is Dual SIM.  I would go as far as to say that if you are looking for a budget

    The post Acer Liquid M220 Windows Phone Launched with Dismal Specs appeared first on Clinton Fitch.

  • Samsung S6 phone has curved screen
    Samsung confirms that one version of its new Galaxy S6 flagship smartphone will have a screen that curves round its sides
  • VIDEO: S6 Edge: First look at Samsung phone
    Will Samsung’s Galaxy S6 help it claw back lost market share?
  • VIDEO: HTC virtual reality kit surprises
    HTC unveils a virtual reality headset as part of a tie-up with video games giant Valve, posing a threat to Facebook’s Oculus.
  • New Ikea Furniture Will Charge Your Phone Wirelessly
    Swedish furniture maker Ikea International A/S unveiled a new range of furniture that it says can wirelessly charge some mobile devices. The Swedish furniture giant made the announcement on Sunday at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

    The collection includes tables, desks and lamps which have wireless charging pads in them.

  • HTC to sell virtual reality headsets
    HTC reveals it is to sell a virtual reality headset featuring tracking technology developed by video games firm Valve.
  • VIDEO: Hands-on with LG Urbane smartwatches
    BBC’s Dave Lee gets a first look at LG’s fashion-conscious Urbane smartwatches at Mobile World Congress.
  • How 3D Printing Could End The Deadly Shortage Of Donor Organs
    Three-dimensional printing has been used to make everything from pizza to prostheses, and now researchers are working on using the emerging technology to fabricate hearts, kidneys, and other vital human organs.

    That would be very big news, as the number of people who desperately need an organ transplant far outstrips the number of donor organs available. On average, about 21 Americans die every day because a needed organ was unavailable.

    What exactly is the promise of 3D printing organs and tissues, or “bioprinting?” How does the technology work, and when might it start saving lives?

    3d printing organs

    For answers to these and other questions, HuffPost Science reached out to Dr. Anthony Atala (right), director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine and a world-renowned expert in the field, to find out.

    See below for a lightly edited version of the Q & A.

    Can 3D printing end the shortage of organs?

    3D printing is not magic. It is simply a way to scale up the current processes we use to engineer organs in the laboratory. Our team has successfully engineered bladders, cartilage, skin, urine tubes and vaginas that have been implanted in patients. Our goal is produce organ structures such as these with 3D printing to make the engineering process more precise and reproducible. The ultimate goal of regenerative medicine -– regardless of the way the organs are engineered — is to help solve the shortage of donor organs.

    How might 3D-printed organs compare to donor organs?

    Our goal is to engineer organs using a patient’s own cells. With this approach, there would be no issues with rejection, and patients wouldn’t have to take the powerful anti-rejection drugs that are now required. This is certainly one advantage of customized organs.

    What’s the actual process by which organs would be “printed?”

    A first step in organ engineering –- whether it involves 3D printing or other methods –- is to get a biopsy of the organ that needs to be replaced. From this biopsy, certain cells with regenerative potential are isolated and multiplied. These cells are then mixed with a liquid material that provides oxygen and other nutrients to keep them alive. This mixture is placed in a printer cartridge. A separate printer cartridge is filled with a biomaterial that will be printed into the organ- or tissue-shaped structure. The structure is designed on a computer using a patient’s medical scans.

    When happens when you press the “print” button?

    When the “print” button is pushed, the printer builds the structure layer by layer and embeds cells into each layer. When cells are provided the right mixture of nutrients and growth factors –- and placed in the right environment — they know what to do and perform their functions. For some structures, two or more types of cells may be required.

    (Story continues below image.)
    3d printed organs
    A 3-D printer at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine at work on a kidney prototype.

    What challenges are you facing?

    Scientists have successfully engineered three categories of organs: flat structures such as skin; tubular structures such as urine tubes and blood vessels; and hollow structures such as the bladder. The most complex organs are solid structures such as the kidney, liver, and pancreas. Some of the challenges we face with these organs are learning to grow the billions of cells required for these organs, as well as learning how to best supply the new organs with oxygen until they integrate with the body.

    We are exploring a variety of options that include printing oxygen-generating materials into the structures; printing micro-channels that can maximize the diffusion of nutrients and oxygen from nearby tissues; and printing blood vessels into the structures.

    How many years away are we from printing complex organs like the heart and kidney?

    Science is unpredictable, so it is impossible to make predictions. But I think we can safely say that the timeframe required to routinely print and implant complex organs is decades, rather than years.

    What are some recent breakthroughs that have brought us closer to making 3D printed organs a reality?

    We are continuing to refine our printers to increase printing resolution and learning how to keep the printing process from damaging cells. In addition, we are making advances in identifying which biomaterials work best for specific structures. And, we are great making strides printing with multiple cells types and controlling placement of cells.

    What are the next steps?

    One relatively new bioprinting project, funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, aims to print mini hearts, livers, blood vessels, and lung on a chip system. Called a “Body on a Chip,” this project has the potential to test new drugs more accurately and perhaps eliminate the need for testing in animals. The immediate goal is to test effects on the body of biological weapons and to develop antidotes.

    To learn more about regenerative medicine and Dr. Atala’s vision for 3D printing organs, check out his 2011 TEDTalk below.

  • Huawei and LG unveil smartwatches
    LG unveils a smartwatch that can make calls without being paired to a phone, while Huawei unveils its first Android Wear watch.
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