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Internet Television

This is Vudu Spark, Walmart’s very own Chromecast competitor 08 November 2014, 16.59 Internet Television
This is Vudu Spark, Walmart’s very own Chromecast competitor
Nov. 7, 2014 - 12:46 AM PST Nov. 7, 2014 - 12:46 AM PST Add Walmart to the list of companies that’s trying to sell you a Chromecast-like HDMI streaming stick: The retail giant’s Vudu streaming service is getting ready to
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Amazon Prime Instant gets unofficial Chromecast support with Primecast
Nov. 6, 2014 - 1:49 PM PST Nov. 6, 2014 - 1:49 PM PST Amazon Prime Instant is coming to Chromecast at last, thanks to two third-party developers: Amazon’s video streaming service doesn’t officially support Chromecast, but
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Social media and breaking news: Why authenticity trumps authority almost every time
Nov. 6, 2014 - 12:42 PM PST Nov. 6, 2014 - 12:42 PM PST There were a number of panels at the Web Summit in Dublin this week that talked about media and journalism, but the one that included VICE News, Time Inc. and Storyful was
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Aereo imposes large layoffs, but streaming TV service is not shutting down
Nov. 6, 2014 - 12:08 PM PST Nov. 6, 2014 - 12:08 PM PST Aereo’s bad year just got worse. The company said on Thursday that it will shut down its Boston office and lay off 43 employees, citing yet another adverse court ruling
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Does BuzzFeed engage in clickbait? That depends on your definition 08 November 2014, 16.59 Internet Television
Does BuzzFeed engage in clickbait? That depends on your definition
Nov. 7, 2014 - 11:38 AM PST Nov. 7, 2014 - 11:38 AM PST So BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith wrote a post on Thursday about clickbait, a post that appears to have been triggered by a dismissive comment that Jon Stewart made
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Earth News Reports

Green Car Reports: Tesla Superchargers, New Hybrids, and Toyota’s First Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle
Share on TumblrEmail What defines a “green car” can be the source of much discussion among environmentalists, advocates, and actual buyers. Every week Green Car Reports shines a light on the industry with
Read More 566 Hits 1 Rating
Swiss Man Breaks Bicycle Speed Record with Insane 207-MPH Rocket Bike
Share on TumblrEmail Imagine reaching 207 mph in just 4.8 seconds – that’s a pretty impressive feat for any vehicle. Now imagine traveling that fast on a bicycle with a rocket strapped to it. Daredevil
Read More 315 Hits 0 Ratings
NASA Tests New Shape-Shifting Flaps to Make Airplanes Greener 12 November 2014, 21.04 Transportation
NASA Tests New Shape-Shifting Flaps to Make Airplanes Greener
Share on TumblrEmail Air travel produces roughly 5 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, edging us closer to an era of runaway climate change. As part of an ongoing effort to develop greener planes and
Read More 211 Hits 5 Ratings
Classic works of literature turned into beautiful book sculptures 12 November 2014, 21.03 Green Architecture
Classic works of literature turned into beautiful book sculptures
Impressive art made of carved books. The chosen books are classics and each carving is related to the topic of the book. The series is titles “Fragments of story” and was designed by Tokyo-based artist Tomoko
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A 3D-printed lamp that will turn your room into a wonderland 12 November 2014, 21.03 Green Architecture
A 3D-printed lamp that will turn your room into a wonderland
Created by Linlin and Pierre-Yves Jacques, a Paris-based arist couple, this lamp was designed to project some patterns on your wall and turn any room into a beautiful wonderland. The post A 3D-printed lamp that will turn your
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30 beautiful digital artworks for your inspiration 12 November 2014, 21.03 Green Architecture
30 beautiful digital artworks for your inspiration
In this today’s blog post, we have the collection of 30 beautiful digital artworks for your inspiration. All these artworks are the mixture of stunning photo manipulations, digital illustrations and other amazing digital art
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15 gorgeous free all caps fonts 12 November 2014, 21.03 Green Architecture
15 gorgeous free all caps fonts
With so much of compelling fonts available in the web, it’s sometimes very difficult to make a decision on which font to choose for your design. Despite of other fancy fonts, capital fonts are also very competent to use for
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Surreal illustrations by Matthias Leutwyler 12 November 2014, 21.03 Green Architecture
Surreal illustrations by Matthias Leutwyler
Matthias Leutwyler‘s illustrations look like a mix of drawing, collage and painting. He doesn’t say much about himself, but his work speaks for itself. The post Surreal illustrations by Matthias Leutwyler appeared
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20 well-designed packaging designs 12 November 2014, 21.03 Green Architecture
20 well-designed packaging designs
Looking for some packaging design inspiration? Then here we introduce you 20 well designed packaging designs that are amazing and high quality artworks from great designers around the globe. Have a look! 1. Pringles packaging
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Art that goes against the frame 12 November 2014, 21.03 Green Architecture
Art that goes against the frame
A cool art project by Steven Guermeur, who decided to break the conventional frame and to make it a part of the artwork. In a fun way, the artist changes the way art is traditionally presented to the world. The post Art that
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Technology News Reports

Green Car Reports: Tesla Superchargers, New Hybrids, and Toyota’s First Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle
Share on TumblrEmail What defines a “green car” can be the source of much discussion among environmentalists, advocates, and actual buyers. Every week Green Car Reports shines a light on the industry with
Read More 566 Hits 1 Rating
Swiss Man Breaks Bicycle Speed Record with Insane 207-MPH Rocket Bike
Share on TumblrEmail Imagine reaching 207 mph in just 4.8 seconds – that’s a pretty impressive feat for any vehicle. Now imagine traveling that fast on a bicycle with a rocket strapped to it. Daredevil
Read More 315 Hits 0 Ratings
NASA Tests New Shape-Shifting Flaps to Make Airplanes Greener 12 November 2014, 21.04 Transportation
NASA Tests New Shape-Shifting Flaps to Make Airplanes Greener
Share on TumblrEmail Air travel produces roughly 5 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, edging us closer to an era of runaway climate change. As part of an ongoing effort to develop greener planes and
Read More 211 Hits 5 Ratings
DJI Inspire 1: An amazing 4K-capable drone for videographers and photographers
Originally best known for it gyroscopic stabilizers, DJI has quickly become the top brand name in drones for photographers and filmmakers. Not content to rest on the success of its Phantom drone line, DJI has incorporated
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Musk’s next mission: Blanketing the world with cheap internet access, via 700 low-orbit satellites
Elon Musk, capitalizing on SpaceX’s unique ability to cheaply launch stuff into space, has announced that he’s working on deploying a constellation of some 700 satellites, for the purpose of bringing “very low cost”
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Mozilla releases Firefox Developer Edition, with built-in development environment
Firefox isn’t the go-to browser for the nerdy crowd anymore, but that hasn’t stopped Mozilla from working hard to improve the internet on the whole. Earlier this week, Mozilla released Firefox Developer Edition — a web
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Why Lowering NYC’s Speed Limit by Just 5 MPH Can Save a Lot of Lives
Cars are viewed on a Manhattan Street on November 7, 2014 in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images Last week, New York City officially lowered its default speed limit, from the standard 30 mph to 25. That difference may
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Incredible New Photos Taken From the Surface of a Comet
This incredible image was taken by the Philae lander of one of its legs resting on the comet's surface. ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA This incredible image was taken by the Philae lander of one of its legs resting on
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Facebook Rolls Out Clearer Privacy Policy, But You Still Can’t Control Your Data
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Ariel Zambelich / WIRED Facebook has condensed its complex and legalese-loaded privacy policy by two-thirds, in hopes of making it easier for the average user to understand. “Our goal is to
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The Philae Spacecraft Landed in the Shadow of the Comet’s Cliff
This is the first image ESA is releasing from the comet. It shows Philae settled at the base of a rocky comet cliff. ESA We landed a motherfucking spacecraft on a comet. And then it bounced off. Twice. And the scientists and
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Science Graphic of the Week: Magnetic Stars and Planets
This snapshot from a computer simulation shows magnetic interactions, represented by the colorful, stringy lines, between a star and its nearby planet.  A. Strugarek, Université de Montréal The most basic factor that
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New Eruption Started at Alaska’s Pavlof 12 November 2014, 21.03 Tech
New Eruption Started at Alaska’s Pavlof
The lava fountain at Pavlof during the eruption that started on November 12, 2014. Image: Carol Damberg / AVO. It’s been a fairly quiet year for the volcanoes of Alaska. A few have rumbled but none have really had an
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Virgin Galactic Tragedy May Mean New Space Tourism Rules
The investigation into the Virgin Galactic accident has yet to find a cause, but the FAA will consider new regulations for commercial space travel. By Dave Majmudar on November 10, 2014 Congress has avoided placing
Read More 36 Hits 0 Ratings
Rise of the Robot Security Guards 12 November 2014, 21.02 Tech
Rise of the Robot Security Guards
Startup Knightscope is preparing to roll out human-size robot patrols. By Rachel Metz on November 13, 2014 The K5 security robot. As the sun set on a warm November afternoon, a quartet of five-foot-tall, 300-pound shiny
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Virtual Reality Aims for the Mobile Phone 12 November 2014, 21.02 Tech
Virtual Reality Aims for the Mobile Phone
A smartphone-based virtual reality headset from Samsung and Oculus VR could make the technology more accessible, but it also demonstrates a new set of challenges. By Simon Parkin on November 12, 2014 The Gear VR headset,
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Next-Generation Robot Needs Your Help 12 November 2014, 21.02 Tech
Next-Generation Robot Needs Your Help
A Carnegie Mellon researcher shows that designing robots to ask for human assistance can make them a lot more useful. By Will Knight on November 11, 2014 If you visit Manuela Veloso, a professor at Carnegie Mellon
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INFOGRAPHIC: How Self-Driving Cars Will Change Our Lives 08 November 2014, 16.56 Transportation
INFOGRAPHIC: How Self-Driving Cars Will Change Our Lives
Share on TumblrEmail There’s no doubt about it – driverless cars are on the way. Everyone from Google to Tesla, Lexus, and Porsche are developing autonomous vehicles – but have you ever considered how
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17-Year-Old Builds Algae Biofuel Lab in Her Bedroom to Win $100K Intel Science Talent Search Prize
Share on TumblrEmail Meet a next-generation scientist making the next generation of biofuel. 17-year-old Sara Volz invented a process that increases the amount of biofuel produced by algae to win this
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Los Angeles Metro Board Approves Union Station Master Plan by Grimshaw and Gruen
Share on TumblrEmail LA Mayor and Metro Board Chair Eric Garcetti called the approval “a milestone day in our goal to bring ‘America’s Last Great Train
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Verizon’s latest privacy wrecking ploy: An unblockable supercookie that lets anyone track you on the internet
Over the last week, it has emerged that Verizon Wireless has been silently tracking around 100 million mobile customers using a supercookie that can’t be opted out of. The tracking cookie appears to be part of Verizon’s
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New Google, and Larry Page’s continuing mission to explore strange new technologies
Google’s co-founder and CEO, Larry Page, has admitted that it’s time to find a new mission statement. The company’s mission, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,”
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An interview with Zoltan Istvan, leader of the Transhumanist Party and 2016 presidential contender
ExtremeTech has never been particularly interested in politics. That being said, as the focus of politics and politicians inexorably shifts towards technology, we might just jump in the water for a dip. Many might imagine
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Dark market massacre: FBI shuts down Silk Road 2.0 and dozens more Tor websites
Error Sorry, the page you are looking for is currently unavailable.Please try again later. If you are the system administrator of this resource then you should check the error log for details. Faithfully yours,
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Microsoft releases free Office apps for iPhone and iPad, Android coming soon
In a rather surprising move, Microsoft has made the Office suite of apps — Word, Excel, and PowerPoint — free to download and use on the iPad and iPhone. Previously, an Office 365 subscription was required — but now,
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Verizon threatens to sue FCC if it pushes ahead with net neutrality, reserves right to continue gouging customers
Verizon’s legal counsel has published a new blog post threatening the FCC with legal action if the government regulatory body attempts to curtail the company’s egregious behavior over net neutrality, while simultaneously
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Google Wants to Store Your Genome 08 November 2014, 16.56 Tech
Google Wants to Store Your Genome
For $25 a year, Google will keep a copy of any genome in the cloud. By Antonio Regalado on November 6, 2014 Google is approaching hospitals and universities with a new pitch. Have genomes? Store them with us. The search
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Does Watson Know the Answer to IBM’s Woes? 08 November 2014, 16.56 Tech
Does Watson Know the Answer to IBM’s Woes?
IBM is betting that research on more human-like artificial intelligence will help it turn things around. By Will Knight on November 5, 2014 A scientist from the Spanish oil company, Repsol, and an IBM researcher use a
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Google’s Half-Finished Attempt to Take Over the Living Room
Google’s Nexus Player should appeal to those who want smarter TVs. But it will need to do much more to be the hub of all home entertainment. By Rachel Metz on November 4, 2014 Google’s Nexus Player lets you stream
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A Brain-Inspired Chip Takes to the Sky 08 November 2014, 16.56 Tech
A Brain-Inspired Chip Takes to the Sky
An experiment involving a chip on a small drone shows how hardware modeled on the brain could provide useful intelligence. By Tom Simonite on November 4, 2014 The chip mounted in the center of this small aircraft has 576
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With $100 Million, Entrepreneur Sees Path to Disrupt Medical Imaging
Will ultrasound-on-a-chip make medical imaging so cheap that anyone can do it? By Antonio Regalado on November 3, 2014 Jonathan Rothberg A scanner the size of an iPhone that you could hold up to a person’s chest and see
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Software Designs Products by Simulating Evolution
New CAD software takes input from designers, then “evolves” new designs on its own. By Gwen Kinkead on November 7, 2014 Brackets for a lunar lander designed by Autodesk for the company Moon Express using
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XploreAir Paravelo: World’s First Flying Bicycle Lifts Off the Ground
Share on TumblrEmail If you love getting some air between you and the ground while doing tricks on your bicycle, then you will love the Paravelo. Designed by two British men who have a passion for both
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Horizon Mass Transit System is an All-Electric Train-Plane Hybrid
Share on TumblrEmail The Horizon System is an entirely electric system of transportation conceived as a hybrid between a plane and a train. Thanks to a maglev-style mechanism, the large aircraft is able to
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Detroit Electric Reveals New Fastback Design for the SP:01 Electric Sports Car
Share on TumblrEmail Detroit Electric has revealed the final exterior design of its electric two-seater sports car, the SP:01. What will be the world’s fastest production electric car upon release now
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The Right Way to Fix the Internet 19 October 2014, 22.26 Tech
The Right Way to Fix the Internet
If you’re like most people, your monthly smartphone bill is steep enough to make you shudder. As consumers’ appetite for connectivity keeps growing, the price of wireless service in the United States tops $130 a month in
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Carbon Sequestration: Too Little, Too Late? 19 October 2014, 22.26 Tech
Carbon Sequestration: Too Little, Too Late?
A few carbon capture and sequestration projects are under way, but economics and politics are holding the technology back. By David Talbot on October 13, 2014 This coal power plant in Saskatchewan is the first
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Microsoft’s Quantum Mechanics 19 October 2014, 22.26 Tech
Microsoft’s Quantum Mechanics
In 2012, physicists in the Netherlands announced a discovery in particle physics that started chatter about a Nobel Prize. Inside a tiny rod of semiconductor crystal chilled cooler than outer space, they had caught the first
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How a Wiki Is Keeping Direct-to-Consumer Genetics Alive
When Meg DeBoe decided to tap her Christmas fund to order a $99 consumer DNA test from 23andMe last year, she was disappointed: it arrived with no information on what her genes said about her chance of developing
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Air Traffic Control for Drones 19 October 2014, 22.26 Tech
Air Traffic Control for Drones
If large numbers of commercial drones are to take to the skies, they’ll need an air traffic control system. By Tom Simonite on October 17, 2014 Drones at the San Francisco headquarters of Airware. The company will soon
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Can Apple Pay Do to Your Wallet What iTunes Did for Music?
The point-of-sale terminal at the CVS drugstore in Palo Alto, California, can accept payments through a quick tap from a smartphone. The clerk isn’t sure how it works, though he knows it does because “a few kids” have
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Michigan Poised to Start Banning Tesla Sales 19 October 2014, 22.26 Transportation
Michigan Poised to Start Banning Tesla Sales
Share on TumblrEmail Michigan just passed a bill in state legislature that essentially bans Tesla from selling cars within the state. HB 5606 prohibits vehicle manufacturers from selling cars directly to
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The Startram Maglev Train Could Make Space Travel Cheaper & More Efficient
Share on TumblrEmail Space travel is a costly and inefficient process. Not only does it take a large amount of fuel to send the lightest payload into orbit (the Space Shuttle used over one million pounds of
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Insane Russian Attack Bike is Powered by a Chainsaw 19 October 2014, 22.26 Transportation
Insane Russian Attack Bike is Powered by a Chainsaw
Share on TumblrEmail Other than the fact that it was constructed in Russia, we aren’t entirely sure who’s responsible for this mean-looking chainsaw bike. While it may look like it’s designed for the
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Nexus 6: The best Android smartphone for wireless and LTE connectivity
Google’s new Motorola-made Nexus 6 is a monster of a phone — both in terms of form and function — with cellular wireless capabilities that outclass any other Android device on the market today. Launching with Android
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How to watch Apple’s iPad event live stream on Windows and Android
Updated @ 12:38, October 16: If you’re trying to watch the live stream of Apple’s iPad event on Windows or Android, the following instructions (which were for the iPhone 6 event in September) should still work. The only
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Google finds critical vulnerability in SSL 3.0 called POODLE
The web is built on standards — but as those standards evolve and change, it’s common for previous standards to remain as options for compatibility reasons. The dangers of this practice are highlighted in a recent Google
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Samsung develops 60GHz WiFi capable of 4.6Gbps, will be in devices next year
Samsung has announced that it’s entering the 60GHz 802.11ad WiFi game. Samsung says it has a commercialized version of 60GHz WiFi (aka WiGig) that’s capable of 4.6Gbps, or 575 megabytes per second — about five times
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Gadget Lab Podcast: Did You Hear That Apple Had an Event This Week?
The iPad Air 2 is demonstrated at Apple headquarters on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014 in Cupertino, Calif. Apple unveiled the thinner iPad with a faster processor and a better camera as it tries to drive excitement for tablets amid
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Game|Life Podcast: Software Sales Slump and Bayonetta Makes a Comeback
Bayonetta 2. Nintendo The NPD Group has released (some tiny amount of) data on the game industry’s September sales, and it’s not all good news, as we discuss on this week’s Game|Life podcast. While hardware sales are
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What’s Scarier, Haunted Houses or Haunted People?
Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring. Warner Bros. Halloween season is the perfect time to watch horror movies, and a reliable standby of the genre is the haunted house story. Recent examples range from the understated (The Woman
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The Tragic Medical History Behind That Crazy Knick Finale
Mary Cybulski/Cinemax [Spoiler alert: The following piece contains spoilers for The Knick season finale, "Crutchfield." Stop here if you haven't seen it. You've been warned.] There were about a bajillion “Oh, crap!”
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Snapchat Ads Are Heading Your Way Starting This Weekend
WIRED It’s happened to Twitter. And Tumblr. And Instagram. And now, Snapchat’s day has finally come. Beginning this weekend, the ephemeral messaging app will start rolling out paid advertisements for the first time. The
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The Internet Sleeps at Night. Really. 19 October 2014, 22.24 Tech
The Internet Sleeps at Night. Really.
Gif: University of Southern California Here in the United States, we spend most of our time in an always-on world—a place where internet connections are as constant and reliable as the lights or running water. But this
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How does PlayStation Now on the PS3 compare to the PS4?
In September, Sony rolled out the PlayStation Now beta service to the PS3. The public beta has been available on the PS4 for a while now, but this additional release spurred me to take another look at the service. This
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HP announces split into two companies, but sadly they won’t be called H and P
HP, after years of will-they-won’t-they deliberation, has officially announced that it will be split into two separate companies: HP Inc, which will focus on PCs and printers, and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, which will
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Hong Kong protesters turn to mesh networks to evade China’s censorship
The rather cramped streets of Hong Kong are currently lined with tens of thousands of people — the Umbrella Revolution. They are mostly students and members of Occupy Central, who are protesting for a fully democratic
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You can now stream Photoshop to your Chromebook: A huge win for Google
In a somewhat surprising move, Adobe and Google have announced a streaming version of Photoshop for Chromebooks (Chrome OS) and the Chrome browser. This is potentially massive news for Chromebooks, as the lack of Big Software
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IBM leaves the x86 market at long last: Lenovo’s $2.1 billion acquisition approved (updated)
Updated @ 9:09am, September 29: Lenovo has finally received approval from US and EU regulators for its acquisition of IBM’s low-end x86 server business. The $2.1 billion acquisition should be finalized by Wednesday this
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Shellshock: A deadly new vulnerability that could lay waste to the internet (updated)
Updated @ 8:10am, September 29: Another remote code execution vulnerability has been found in Bash. It is unrelated to the first Shellshock vulnerability, but it is essentially the same deal: It’s very easy to exploit, and
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The Contrarian’s Guide to Changing the World
Is the technology investor Peter Thiel brilliant, or is he just strange? He is nothing if not industrious. Since he cofounded PayPal, in 1998, Thiel has had a hand in some of the most important and unexpected tech companies
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Can Sucking CO2 Out of the Atmosphere Really Work?
Physicist Peter Eisenberger had expected colleagues to react to his idea with skepticism. He was claiming, after all, to have invented a machine that could clean the atmosphere of its excess carbon dioxide, making the gas
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Should Industrial Robots Be Able to Hurt Their Human Coworkers?
Standards bodies are wrestling with the impact of accidental robot strikes. By Tom Simonite on October 6, 2014 Baxter, a collaborative robot from Rethink Robotics, works on a mocked-up assembly line. How much should a
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Fun with Food 08 October 2014, 23.44 Tech
Fun with Food
Things reviewed Nordic Food LabNoma Copenhagen, Denmark Ever since cooks began playing with the equipment of the food industry, chefs have felt compelled to join one of two camps. The first believes any kitchen is
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What It Will Take for Computers to Be Conscious
The world’s best-known consciousness researcher says machines could one day become self-aware. By Antonio Regalado on October 2, 2014 Christof Koch Is a worm conscious? How about a bumblebee? Does a computer that can
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An Industrial-Size Generator That Runs on Waste Heat, Using No Fuel
Startup Alphabet Energy has its first product: what it says is the world’s largest thermoelectric generator. By Kevin Bullis on October 9, 2014 Alphabet Energy’s new generator uses thermoelectric materials to convert
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NSA Mind-Bender: We Won’t Tell You What Info We Already Leaked to the Media
NSA headquarters. Wikimedia Commons Longtime reporters who cover the NSA know that any time we ask the obstinate spy agency for information, we’re probably going to hit a brick wall. But who would have thought that trying
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New iRobot App Lets You Control a ‘Bot Army With an Android Tablet
irobot You may be familiar with iRobot’s Roomba vacuums, but some the company’s other robots perform much harder (and more dangerous) tasks. There are around 6,000 iRobot’s defense and security robots deployed
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Two Incredible Views of Super Typhoon Vongfang From Space
NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team This beautiful image of Super Typhoon Vongfon over the Philippine Sea was taken by NASA’s Aqua satellite at 12:25 a.m. ET this morning. Below, another incredible view of the massive
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The Design Thinking Behind London’s New $4B Subway Trains
The London Underground revealed new plans today for subway cars, designed by British travel design firm PriestmanGoode. Photo: PriestmanGoode The London Underground revealed new plans today for subway cars,
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Two Incredible Views of Super Typhoon Vongfang From Space PDF Print E-mail

This beautiful image of Super Typhoon Vongfon over the Philippine Sea was taken by NASA’s Aqua satellite at 12:25 a.m. ET this morning. Below, another incredible view of the massive storm was taken by NASA astronaut Reid Weissman from the International Space Station around 7 a.m. ET this morning.

Vongfang is the most powerful tropical cyclone the planet has experienced this year. At its fiercest, the storm had sustained winds reaching 180 miles per hour on Tuesday. Vongfang has weakened during the past few days with sustained winds dropping to around 150 miles per hour this morning, and will likely have calmed further before it is expected to make Landfall in Japan on Monday night. It will still be a powerful storm, however, and Okinawa Island could take a direct hit.

Weissman tweeted the image with this comment: “I’ve seen many from here, but none like this.”

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The Design Thinking Behind London’s New $4B Subway Trains PDF Print E-mail

The London Underground revealed new plans today for subway cars, designed by British travel design firm PriestmanGoode. Photo: PriestmanGoode

The London Underground revealed new plans today for subway cars, designed by British travel design firm PriestmanGoode.

Photo: PriestmanGoode

The $4 billion subway cars will replace trains on the Piccadilly, Central, Waterloo, and City and Bakerville lines, and are aimed at accommodating London’s booming commuter population for the next several decades. Photo: PriestmanGoode

The $4 billion subway cars will replace trains on the Piccadilly, Central, Waterloo, and City and Bakerville lines, and are aimed at accommodating London’s booming commuter population for the next several decades.

Photo: PriestmanGoode

One way to do that is by fostering a more efficient commute. These cars will have bigger doors, and more of them, to prevent passenger bottlenecks. Photo: PriestmanGoode

One way to do that is by fostering a more efficient commute. These cars will have bigger doors, and more of them, to prevent passenger bottlenecks.

Photo: PriestmanGoode

Inside, poles tilt outwards to create more breathing room around passengers' faces and upper bodies. Photo: PriestmanGoode

Inside, poles tilt outwards to create more breathing room around passengers' faces and upper bodies.

Photo: PriestmanGoode

The seats will stay upholstered, a nod to the previous Tube trains. Photo: PriestmanGoode

The seats will stay upholstered, a nod to the previous Tube trains.

Photo: PriestmanGoode

All told, the London Underground estimates that PriestmanGoode’s trains will allow for anywhere between 25 and 60 percent more passengers, depending on the line. Photo: PriestmanGoode

All told, the London Underground estimates that PriestmanGoode’s trains will allow for anywhere between 25 and 60 percent more passengers, depending on the line.

Photo: PriestmanGoode

The London Underground revealed new plans today for subway cars, designed by British travel design firm PriestmanGoode. Photo: PriestmanGoode

The London Underground revealed new plans today for subway cars, designed by British travel design firm PriestmanGoode.

Photo: PriestmanGoode

The $4 billion subway cars will replace trains on the Piccadilly, Central, Waterloo, and City and Bakerville lines, and are aimed at accommodating London’s booming commuter population for the next several decades. Photo: PriestmanGoode

The $4 billion subway cars will replace trains on the Piccadilly, Central, Waterloo, and City and Bakerville lines, and are aimed at accommodating London’s booming commuter population for the next several decades.

Photo: PriestmanGoode

One way to do that is by fostering a more efficient commute. These cars will have bigger doors, and more of them, to prevent passenger bottlenecks. Photo: PriestmanGoode

One way to do that is by fostering a more efficient commute. These cars will have bigger doors, and more of them, to prevent passenger bottlenecks.

Photo: PriestmanGoode

Inside, poles tilt outwards to create more breathing room around passengers' faces and upper bodies. Photo: PriestmanGoode

Inside, poles tilt outwards to create more breathing room around passengers' faces and upper bodies.

Photo: PriestmanGoode

The seats will stay upholstered, a nod to the previous Tube trains. Photo: PriestmanGoode

The seats will stay upholstered, a nod to the previous Tube trains.

Photo: PriestmanGoode

All told, the London Underground estimates that PriestmanGoode’s trains will allow for anywhere between 25 and 60 percent more passengers, depending on the line. Photo: PriestmanGoode

All told, the London Underground estimates that PriestmanGoode’s trains will allow for anywhere between 25 and 60 percent more passengers, depending on the line.

Photo: PriestmanGoode

Descend underground into London’s subway system, and “Mind the Gap” is everywhere. It’s spelled out in tiles on the edge of the platform, it’s announced through the loudspeakers, and it’s probably splashed across a tourist’s t-shirt. But sometime around 2020, the actual gap—the dangerous space between the train and the platform that prompted the transit system in 1969 to start warning passengers—will begin to disappear.

Getting rid of the gap is one of several efficiencies that design firm PriestmanGoode will introduce in its redesign of the London Underground trains. Announced this week, the estimated $4 billion trains (part of a bigger $25 billion (£16 billion) upgrade) will replace trains on the Piccadilly, Central, Waterloo, and City and Bakerville lines, and are aimed at accommodating London’s booming commuter population for the next several decades. “London may well go up again twice in size, so you have to think about how these trains will evolve,” says Paul Priestman, director at PriestmanGoode. “We can’t change tunnels and platforms and stations, so how can we let people get on and off the trains more quickly?”

Clever Details

To delete the gap, PriestmanGoode drafted up trains that have shorter carriages and more of them. This gives each train extra sets of joints, so it can pivot and nestle itself closer to the platform. That leads to swifter train exits for passengers. Each train will also sport larger doors (and more of them as well) to help relieve the bottleneck of commuters getting on and off at every station. The effect is similar to the shiny AirTran system used at airports.

This wouldn’t have been possible when the original cars were built: newer access to stronger, lightweight materials like aluminum and finishes used on aircrafts means that the bigger doors won’t cause subway cars to grow weak and buckle. In an attempt to cut down on delays, they’re also proposing to amp up the communications system with flashing lights that warn commuters when doors open and close. Hopefully, the idea goes, this will stop desperate passengers from shoving doors back open.

Given all the exterior glitz, much remains the same inside the new tube cars. “Familiar is good, it’s moving forward and is still recognizable,” Priestman says. Besides the fact that the London Underground required the same number of seats, Priestman wanted to preserve a detail that’s unique to the Tube: “It’s interesting that it’s possible to have fabric, and they last,” he says of the upholstered seats, which would never fly in a city like New York. “It says a lot about the character of the design. It’s not like a jail, people have respect for it, the lighting is right. Even in Hong Kong you have steel seats on the metros.”

To keep to the thesis—make the trains as efficient as possible—PriestmanGoode adjusted the floor-to-ceiling handrails so they tilt slightly outward, away from people’s heads and upper bodies, freeing up valuable (and literal) breathing room. An even bigger change is how the cars connect: instead of disjointed carriages, these will be “through-cars” that allow for commuters to safely and easily disperse themselves, even after the train takes off.

All told, the London Underground estimates that PriestmanGoode’s trains will allow for anywhere between 25 and 60 percent more passengers, depending on the line. “We need every square inch for the passengers,” Priestman says. With these changes, “it’s almost like getting grit out of the system.”

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How Facebook Made Your Mobile Messages Move at Super Speed PDF Print E-mail

facebook-hack-ft

If you’ve noticed your Facebook mobile messages zipping around a little more quickly over the past few months, you can thank a little-known open-source project called Apache Thrift.

Facebook designed Thrift and has long used the tool to send data between computer servers inside the sprawling data centers that underpin its online empire. But in the summer, the company also began using it to connect user smartphones running the Facebook Messenger app to machines inside these data centers. “This is the first time we’ve sent it down to the phone,” says Jason Jenks, a Facebook engineer who worked on the project.

A few months back, Facebook began moving users to the Messenger app, a means of quickly trading text messages that operates separately from the company’s primary smartphone app. The change annoyed some users who wanted to be able to chat inside Facebook proper, but as we pointed out at the time, it was also a necessary move away from the company’s roots on desktop computers. It’s part of a larger “unbundling” trend, where online companies split their services into multiple apps in an effort to keep pace with the way people are using their phones.

But the new Facebook Messenger wasn’t simply a rewrite of the user experience. In a separate project that started last year, engineers redid the back-end software too. They ended up ditching a slow bandwidth-hogging architecture that was a hold-over from Facebook’s early days and replacing it with Iris, a new Thrift-based system that pushes trim little updates to your mobile phone, rather than forcing it to completely sync up with a distant Facebook server.

In technical terms, Facebook dumped a format called JavaScript Object Notation, or JSON, for Thrift. They also rejiggered things on the server side to speed up the way messages are queued up and then delivered to the Messenger client. The server changes were introduced around March, but Facebook started rolling out the improved client to users just this past summer.

When web browsers connect to Facebook, they essentially have to start from scratch, downloading everything and then displaying it in the browser window. But mobile apps don’t work like that. They can download data and then keep it on hand. The new design takes that idea into account and radically cuts down on the amount of traffic your phone now sends to Facebook’s servers. “The phone on its own should never talk to the server. It can just passively receive data,” Jenks says.

The overall results? According to Facebook, they’ve cut error messaging rates by 20 percent, and the new app uses 40 percent less data when it’s sending messages back and forth between users. With media files like photos, the results are less dramatic, but there’s still an improvement, Facebook says.

Jenks and his colleague Jeremy Fein say they knew they were onto something good a few months ago when they started testing Iris in the field. “If you have two phones using the same account,” Jenks says, “you could put them side by side and actually see the differences.”

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Amazon Is Opening a Store in NYC, But It’s Not Really for Shopping PDF Print E-mail

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Jim Merithrew/WIRED

It had to happen: Amazon is opening a store. A physical store. At least, that’s what The Wall Street Journal is reporting, citing unnamed sources. The Journal says the brick-and-mortar location across from the Empire State Building in Manhattan will open in time for the lucrative holiday shopping season.

But why?

To those uninitiated in the ways of Amazon, a physical store might seem to violate the company’s basic premise for existing. The whole point is the convenience and infinite selection made possible by online shopping, right? And all that without the sizable overhead of a brick-and-mortar space and retail employees. Well, a store—particularly one across the street from the Empire State Building—serves as a giant advertisement for Amazon’s online operation. But behind the scenes, it will work in other ways—ways that reveal even bigger ambitions for the company.

Ever since Amazon started selling more than books, the company has been trying to evolve in ways that extend beyond the online version of catalog shopping. Most recently, Amazon has been moving aggressively to grab a piece of the most lucrative retail market in which it doesn’t really compete: groceries. The Amazon Prime Fresh program has given the company an unprecedented physical presence in cities in the form of Amazon-branded trucks making same-day deliveries. According to the Journal, Amazon’s new store will serve as a kind of “mini-warehouse” to service same-day orders in New York. In other words, the point of the Amazon store isn’t really to shop at it.

Kozmo Done Right

Over the past few years, several big companies—most notably eBay, Walmart, Google, and Amazon—have each taken their own run at same-day delivery, inevitably inviting comparison with failed efforts at doing the same thing during the first dotcom bubble. Amazon stayed in business where doomed startups like Kozmo and WebVan failed specifically because it avoided promising delivery speeds that necessitated setting up high-cost physical spaces in the middle of cities.

Instead, Amazon went on a decade-and-a-half building spree (that continues today), erecting million-square foot warehouses in wide-open spaces where land was cheap. The company proceeded to transform its “fulfillment centers” into logistical marvels capable of meeting the challenge of unlimited two-day shipping promised by the wildly popular Amazon Prime.

But if Amazon truly wants to compete with its major rivals—Walmart, Kroger, and Costco—on groceries and everyday goods, two days is still too long and exurban warehouses too far away. Amazon’s biggest competitors all have a much greater physical presence than Amazon that makes them the easier, more obvious choice for need-it-now items like food, drink, and household goods. What’s more, those stores can all double as distribution centers for online shopping.

Amazon’s State of Mind

On the other hand, logistics experts say stores designed for in-person shoppers aren’t designed like warehouses, and therefore lack the efficiencies that would allow them to truly scale as hubs for e-commerce inventory. It will be interesting to see how Amazon manages that distinction in its own physical space. Erecting a flagship physical location across from the Empire State Building is obviously meant to encourage foot traffic. If it really just wanted a warehouse in the city, 34th Street is not where you’d put it. (Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a WIRED inquiry seeking confirmation of plans for a store.)

At the same time, New York isn’t lacking for places to walk in and buy groceries. The biggest advantage of having a high-profile place for shoppers to actually visit isn’t so much shopping but marketing. Having a big Amazon sign along one of the country’s busiest streets is a great advertisement, and inside, Amazon can showcase its own products, like the Kindle, along with a clever selection that serves to sell customers on services like Prime Fresh. In the meantime, the everyday inventory is somewhere in the back to serve same-day delivery customers.

Boiling down Amazon’s reasons for setting up a store, the cost of holding inventory in a more expensive urban location offsets the cost of having to drive it in every day from the hinterlands—a cost further offset, Amazon hopes, by becoming a retailer identified with everyday grocery shopping. Amazon appears to be pulling a Kozmo/Webvan but 15 years later, after building up a huge financial and operational cushion to absorb the risks that torpedoed those earlier efforts. In internet years, a decade-and-a-half is an eternity. But apparently how long it takes to create a business model that has a chance of actually making sense.

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Technology Stalled in 1970 PDF Print E-mail

Peter Thiel says he’s trying to get entrepreneurs to go after bigger problems than the ones Silicon Valley is chasing.

Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel has been behind some prominent technologies: he cofounded PayPal and was an early investor in such companies as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Tesla Motors. But he’s convinced that technological progress has been stagnant for decades. According to Thiel, developments in computers and the Internet haven’t significantly improved our quality of life. In a new book, he warns entrepreneurs that conventional business wisdom is preventing them and society as a whole from making major advances in areas, such as energy or health, where technology could make the world a better place—though he doesn’t offer detailed answers on how we might unlock such breakthroughs. Thiel spoke to MIT Technology Review’s San Francisco bureau chief, Tom Simonite, at the offices of his venture capital firm, Founder’s Fund.

One of the most striking claims in your book is that we haven’t had significant technological progress since around 1970. What about computing?

Progress in computers and the Internet helps with communications, and it’s enabled us to make things far more efficient. On the other hand, most other fields of engineering have been bad things to go into since the 1970s: nuclear engineering, aero- and astronautical engineering, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, even electrical engineering. We are living in a material world, so that’s pretty big to miss out on. I don’t think we’re living in an incredibly fast technological age.

The Founder’s Fund’s slogan takes a swipe at Twitter: “We wanted flying cars; instead we got 140 characters.” Haven’t things like iPhones and online social networks improved our quality of life?

Some. Just not enough. That line is not meant to be a critique of Twitter as a business. I think the company will eventually become profitable; the 2,000 people who work there will be gainfully employed for decades to come. But its specific success may be symptomatic of a general failure. Even though it improves our lives in certain ways, it is not enough to take our civilization to the next level.

What kinds of technologies might do that?

There are all these areas where there could be enormous innovation. We could be finding cures to cancer or Alzheimer’s. I’m quite interested in enabling people to live much longer. There’s an information technology approach, where we optimize your nutrition and give instant feedback using mobile device technology. But I suspect that there are entire new classes of drugs or processes that could rejuvenate body parts. I also think that tenfold improvements might be possible in nuclear power. There are miniaturization technologies where you have much smaller containment structures, and technologies for disposing of and reprocessing fuel that have been underexplored.

What are you doing to create this kind of technology?

Well, we invested in SpaceX [the private rocket company that has taken over some launches for NASA] in 2008 after the first two rockets had blown up. The next one did work. We invested in a few biotech companies, and we’ve been looking at medical devices. These sectors where it’s a multiyear commitment are wildly out of fashion among investors. At the same time, I do think that there will continue to be innovation in information technology in the decades ahead. About two-thirds of our work is there.

What companies would you say are taking on big problems?

Tesla is a really interesting example. Most of the components didn’t involve really great breakthroughs, but there was this ability to combine them. I think we’re generally too drawn to incremental point solutions and very scared of complex operational problems like that.

“[Twitter’s] specific success may be symptomatic of a general failure. Even though it improves our lives in certain ways, it is not enough to take our civilization to the next level.”

The paradigmatic example for a large company is Google. Within large companies you often run into internal bureaucracy and the need to meet the quarterly results cycle. Google has done much less of that than other large companies. It looks like they’re making good progress on the self-driving cars, which would be very revolutionary if it happened.

Instead of taking aim at major breakthroughs, Silicon Valley appears dominated by the philosophy of the “lean startup,” which says you have to start small and beat existing products as cheaply as possible.

Great companies had a fairly inspiring long-term vision at their core. It’s not the way most of the startups in Silicon Valley think of themselves, but I would say it’s the way the really valuable ones do. Apple was not exactly a lean startup when it launched the original Apple computer. If you think that you can’t take any bold steps, then you will take only incremental ones. This is why Elon [Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX] is so inspiring. Tesla and Space X both represented fairly big quantum leaps.

Can technology companies that start out bold stay that way when they become established? Many large computing companies get cautious.

You have to think of companies like Microsoft or Oracle or Hewlett-Packard as fundamentally bets against technology. They keep throwing off profits as long as nothing changes. Microsoft was a technology company in the ’80s and ’90s; in this decade you invest because you’re betting on the world not changing. Pharma companies are bets against innovation because they’re mostly just figuring out ways to extend the lifetime of patents and block small companies. All these companies that start as technological companies become antitechnological in character. Whether the world changes or not might vary from company to company, but if it turns out that these antitechnology companies are going to be good investments, that’s quite bad for our society.

You hold up the Apollo program, the freeway system, and the Manhattan Project as examples of the kind of big leaps in technology we need more of. But those were all government projects. Should the U.S. government return to funding such things?

There is an argument that there should be state funding to help things get started where there are not many profits that could be captured. It’s in the public interest. But the way the U.S. government today is dominated by lawyers rather than scientists or engineers suggests that it is very poorly suited for evaluating these kinds of projects. For example, you probably could not restart nuclear power in the U.S. without the role of government. But because our government does not believe in complex coördination and planning, it will not restart the nuclear industry. It’s quite possible it will just not get restarted.

Might one of the newer economies, such as China, retain that belief in big goals?

I think China’s medium-term future will involve simply copying things that worked in the developed world—what I call globalization. That’s the rational choice. It’s how we develop the developing world. The question we don’t ask enough is, how do we develop the developed world? It’s through the push for technology.

Some of your arguments echo those of economist Robert Gordon, who says that economic growth and technological progress are stalled because new technology won’t deliver the gains of the last industrial revolution. Do you share that view?

I agree with both Robert Gordon on the one hand and Ray Kurzweil [futurist author turned Google executive] on the other. I’m not as pessimistic as Gordon, because I do see a lot of progress in the information technology sector, but I’m not nearly as optimistic as Kurzweil. His book The Singularity Is Near gives a sense that it’s just this force of nature that’s coming, whereas I think we make a cultural decision to develop technologies.

The way some pessimists put it is that all the low-hanging fruit has been picked. I would argue that there was never any low-hanging fruit; it was always of intermediate height and the question was, were people reaching for it or not? I’m frustrated because I think technology is progressing slowly, but I’m optimistic because I think it could be going a lot better.

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Radical New DNA Sequencer Finally Gets into Researchers’ Hands PDF Print E-mail

A DNA sequencer the size of a cell phone could change where, and how, gene research occurs.

The DNA sequencer built by Oxford Nanopore draws power from a computer’s USB port.

One day in 1989, biophysicist David Deamer pulled his car off California’s Interstate 5 to hurriedly scribble down an idea. In a mental flash, he had pictured a strand of DNA threading its way through a microscopic pore. Grabbing a pen and a yellow pad, he sketched out a radical new way to study the molecule of life.

Twenty-five years later, his idea is now being commercialized as a gene sequencing machine that’s no larger than a smartphone, and whose effects might eventually be similarly transformative.

Early versions of the instrument, called the MinION, have been reaching scientific labs over the past few months after long delays (see “10 Breakthrough Technologies 2012: Nanopore Sequencing”). It’s built by a U.K. company, Oxford Nanopore, that has raised $292 million and spent 10 years developing Deamer’s idea into a DNA sequencer unlike any other now available. It is four inches long and gets its power from a USB port on a computer. Unlike other commercial sequencing machines, which can be the size of a refrigerator and require jugs of pricey chemicals, this one measures DNA directly as the molecule is drawn through a tiny pore suspended in a membrane. Changes in electrical current are used to read off the chain of genetic letters, A, G, C, and T.

Scientists with early access to prototypes of the first commercial “nanopore” sequencer say it’s glitchy and error-prone but may still be the way scientists study DNA in the future. After testing it, Mick Watson, a bioinformatics researcher at the Roslin Institute, in Scotland, says nanopore sequencing is a “disruptive technology that could, potentially, dominate the sequencing market for years to come.”

Although researchers say the device is still desperately inaccurate, it can already carry out some unheard-of scientific feats. And then there’s its size. A sequencer this small might one day let police read off a genome from a spot of blood at a crime scene, or permit doctors to pinpoint viruses in the midst of an epidemic. One scientist this month tweeted a picture of the sequencer on his dining room table, decoding DNA.

The MinION is the result of some very high-stakes R&D by Oxford, a 200-person company that’s long has had its eye on the expanding market for high-speed DNA sequencers. Cracking that market won’t be easy. About 90 percent of DNA data is produced on sequencing machines from a single company, Illumina of San Diego (see “50 Smartest Companies: Illumina”). Its sequencers are so good that most of its competitors have ended up in Chapter 11 or retreated in ignominy.

David Deamer made this sketch in 1989 when the idea for nanopore sequencing came to him.

But now some big companies are betting that nanopores could be the technology to break Illumina’s lucrative monopoly. Roche, which made a failed attempt to acquire Illumina in 2012, this year spent $125 million to buy Genia Technologies, a small nanopore company based in California, and invested in another, Stratos Genomics. Hitachi is also working on nanopore technology, as are startups like Electronic Biosciences.

Deamer says the idea of nanopore sequencing occurred to him in 1989, just three years after the first automated DNA sequencers were introduced. He had been trying to build artificial cells, spherical blobs of fat that could pump molecules in and out through microscopic pores the way real cells do. His flash of insight was that a molecule passing through one of these pores—especially a long molecule like DNA—would continuously change the blob’s electrical properties. That would create a signal you could measure.

It took another 25 years before the MinION was developed. That’s because the technical problems were so daunting. Each DNA letter is only about half a nanometer from the next and some differ by just an atom or two, so they’re hard to tell apart. And how could you pull the string of DNA letters through the pore, suspended in a layer one-100,000th as thick as a hair—much less at a rate of 30 letters a second, as the MinION does?

“There were a lot of smart people saying this is physically not possible to do,” says Jeffrey Schloss, head of the division of genome sciences at the National Human Genome Research Institute, in Bethesda, Maryland. “Well, it definitely is possible. The question now is if it’s good enough to be used in a practical way.”

Oxford has disappointed its fans before. When it first announced the MinION, in 2012, expectations soared off the charts (see “Why a Portable DNA Device Could Yield Better Data”). But when the promised machines failed to appear, some started to wonder if the sequencer was vaporware.

By this spring, Oxford had the bugs worked out—enough, at any rate, to start mailing out beta versions of the nanopore sequencer to 500 hand-picked labs it is collaborating with. Another early creator of the technology, Mark Akeson, who works alongside Deamer in the bioengineering department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, says since June he’s received two updated versions, a sign of how quickly Oxford is scrambling to improve the device.

To the technology’s original inventors, the arrival of any commercial nanopore sequencer is a milestone. “The idea they can FedEx a 100-gram machine that actually works is pretty amazing,” says Akeson. While both he and Deamer have extensive financial ties to Oxford, they say it’s obvious to everyone that the MinION is just the start. “It’s doing okay,” says Deamer. “The question is accuracy, but improvements are coming, believe me.”

Several scientists using the device say it correctly reads only 60 to 85 percent of DNA letters. That’s the bad news. (Illumina’s machines, some of which can cost $1 million, are more than 99.9 percent accurate.) Yet nanopore sequencing is so different that even a machine that’s error-prone might be a boon to science.

One reason is that today’s fastest sequencers decode DNA after it’s been shredded into tiny bits, reading off just 150 letters at a time. Those bits then have to be puzzled back together to create a genome. Even with a supercomputer, the puzzle often can’t be solved—there can be too many repeated sequences or parts that go missing.

Nanopore sequencing may help because it produces what scientists call “long reads.” For instance, Akeson says this summer his lab read across a continuous strand of human DNA that was 79,000 letters long. That’s probably a record. Like having the edges of a puzzle, long reads make it much easier to reassemble a genome, especially of a species never studied before.

The eventual commercial price of the sequencer isn’t known. Nick Loman, a researcher at the University of Birmingham, said his lab has paid about $1,000 each to get hold of the machines, though disposable cells containing the matrix of pores (about 2,000 of them) would cost extra. He said he hoped the price would stay “very cheap” in the future.

Last week, Oxford’s chief technology officer, Clive Brown, said further instruments would be announced soon. One, dubbed PromethION, will use as many as 100,000 pores in parallel and could compete with Illumina’s top-of-the line sequencing system, which was introduced early this year (see “Does Illumina Have the First $1,000 Genome?”) to labs interested in sequencing hundreds of thousands of human genomes for medical research. 

Hear more from Illumina at EmTech 2014.

Register today

Credit: Photo courtesy of Oxford Nanopore Technologies; sketch courtesy of David Deamer

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Making Innovation PDF Print E-mail

The hubs of advanced manufacturing will be the economic drivers of the future because innovation increasingly depends on production expertise.

Visitors to the Crosspointe Rolls-Royce facility in Prince George County, Virginia, have to don safety glasses and steel-tipped shoes, just as they would at any traditional factory. But then things start to look different. Past the cubicles filled with programmers and support staff sits a 140,000-square-foot factory with spotless white concrete floors, bright lighting, surprisingly quiet equipment, and very few human beings.

Opened in 2011, Crosspointe is the kind of factory that makes a good backdrop to a political speech about advanced manufacturing, as President Barack Obama knew when he arrived less than a year later. It’s global: the U.S. operations center of a U.K. company, it uses titanium forgings from Scotland, Germany, or the United States; shapes them into fan disks; and, after milling, polishing, and testing, ships them off to England, Germany, or Singapore. Once there, each disk will become one of 10,000 parts in a typical engine.

It’s also highly automated: $1.5 million machines made by DMG Mori Seiki do the initial milling of the disks, following steps directed by Siemens software with a minimum of human interference. On a day in early summer, eight machines were being monitored by three operators. Computer screens in front of the machine displayed instructions in pictures and text, flashing warnings when a part has not met specs or the machine needs to be serviced. Later an automated measurement machine with a probe on the end would spend eight hours inspecting 1,000-plus distinct dimensions of the part. For the next 25 years, Rolls-Royce will keep data on each part, starting with exactly how it was made. Sensors in the engine will track how the engine and its parts are holding up, and maintenance and flight data will be carefully recorded.

It’s not just pristine floors, scarce workers, and a global network that make Crosspointe emblematic of manufacturing today. It’s also the ecosystem surrounding the facility. Just down the road is the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, a research center whose members include Airbus, NASA, and the University of Virginia.

There, Rolls-Royce staff who know the challenges and details of manufacturing work with researchers and suppliers to improve the factory and its products, says Crosspointe manufacturing executive Lorin Sodell. “Often a great idea for a new manufacturing process won’t ever make it into production because that connection is missing.”

Most of the advanced machining and other innovative processes in place at Crosspointe were developed and first tested at a similar research center near the company’s plant in Sheffield, U.K., called the Advanced Manufacturing Research Center. Sodell is already working with suppliers housed in the Virginia research center to diagnose and quickly address new tooling issues and any other problems that might arise.

To understand why manufacturing matters, we must lose some misconceptions. First, manufacturing no longer derives its importance primarily from employing large numbers of people. As software drives more of the manufacturing process, and automated machines and robots execute much of it, factories don’t need as many workers.

Second, the idea popularized in the 1990s and 2000s that innovation can happen in one place (say, Silicon Valley) while manufacturing happens in another (such as China) is not broadly sustainable. If all the manufacturing is happening in China, these networks are growing there, meaning eventually all the innovation—or at least a lot of it—will be happening there too.


Manufacturing will make its most essential economic contribution as an incubator of innovation: the place where new ideas become new products. Thanks to advanced manufacturing technologies, that place can in theory be pretty much anywhere. Robots, software, and sensors work no matter what language is spoken around them. In practice, however, advanced manufacturers thrive best in an ecosystem of suppliers and experienced talent. For this reason, specialized manufacturing networks have taken hold in many regions. Among the success stories highlighted in this report are China’s dominance as a manufacturer of consumer electronics, Germany’s lead in precision tooling and robotics, the United States’ strength in aerospace and car manufacturing, and its role in pushing forward important new manufacturing technologies.

Innovative manufacturing today requires as its base that manufacturers and their suppliers build strong relationships and share knowledge extensively, says Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

China’s achievement is especially significant. Today, it would be nearly impossible for any other region to replicate the country’s manufacturing prowess in electronics or the speed with which its companies can introduce new products, says Harvard Business School professor Willy Shih, a longtime executive at IBM, Eastman Kodak, and other multinational firms who studies the links between manufacturing, product development, and innovation.

It’s not a new idea that manufacturing and innovation are linked. Seventy percent of industrial research and development spending in the U.S. comes from the manufacturing sector. Some have been skeptical, however, that innovation requires manufacturing know-how.

Apple, for example, has thrived with a system of designing its products in California but having them assembled in China using digital design and manufacturing instructions. That arrangement, printed on the back of every iPhone, has been popular with investors who appreciate not only Apple’s wildly successful products but also its “asset light” structure and relatively small workforce. “Couldn’t everyone do what Apple did?” says MIT professor Suzanne Berger, who participated in a three-year-long university task force that examined manufacturing in hundreds of global companies and produced the book Making in America. “In a way, the case that motivated our whole inquiry was Apple.”

Apple did not participate in the study, but in time Berger came to see that the company’s case was not so black and white—that even Apple finds links between manufacturing and innovation. Apple owns the automated production machines in the Chinese factories that manufacture its products. Many California-­based Apple engineers spend at least 50 percent of their time in China as new products are launched, she learned.

One engineer explained to Berger that it was critical to be on the ground in China for two reasons: to see what problems arose when the products prototyped in the U.S. hit large-scale production, and to “understand where I left too much on the table, where I could have pushed farther with the design.”

After three years of study, Berger is a believer that the United States must continue to manufacture if it hopes to be an innovation leader. She finds evidence that the manufacturing communities for emerging high-tech sectors such as solar and wind energy and batteries are already being built outside the country in places where technical expertise, manufacturing skills, and even plant layouts are quickly pulling ahead.

Without manufacturing, “we lose capabilities in the workforce,” says Harvard’s Shih. “It limits what you are able to do down the line.”

Credit: Illustration by Michiel van den Berg; Data source: National Association of Manufacturers

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Audi Drives Innovation on the Shop Floor PDF Print E-mail

A carmaker’s automated body shop illustrates how German manufacturing is moving forward.

The frame of an A3 sedan sits in the laser brazing chamber at Audi’s Ingolstadt factory, where robots will use a 13-kilowatt diode laser to create an “invisible” seam.

At first, I’m apprehensive about entering the laser chamber. Its 13-kilowatt diodes fire blasts of energy powerful enough to melt metal. At the moment, they are ready to join the roof and wall frame of an Audi A3 sedan. But the engineer at Audi’s plant in Ingolstadt, Germany, insists that I see up close the “invisible” laser-brazed seam about to be made, including a minuscule bend, just five millimeters around, that prevents the car’s body from corroding when exposed to the elements.

The shell of the car sits in the center of the chamber and is surrounded by robotic arms, one of which aims what looks like a soldering iron. The laser brazing process, like much else on the 540,000-square-foot factory floor, is automated and secured behind barriers or within a closed chamber. Later, when I do see people inside the factory, they tend to be pedaling down the long, spotless corridors on red bicycles.

Hubert Hartmann, head of the A3 body shop at Ingolstadt, calls it the most modern factory floor of its kind. “It is like a Swiss watch, with the same level of precision,” he says as machinery whirs nearby with preprogrammed exactness. While most auto plants use robots for welding and other dangerous tasks, Audi marries a high level of automation with a multitude of other advanced manufacturing technologies, including low-power lasers driven by optical sensors; innovative combined bonding and welding, which saves both production time and car weight; and regenerative braking in lift and conveyor systems to reduce energy costs.

Despite relatively high wages, long vacations, and strong labor laws and regulations, Germany remains a global leader in many manufacturing sectors. Last year, automotive and industrial exports helped the country post a record trade surplus of 198.9 billion euros ($269 billion). One reason: automation. Contemporary German auto manufacturing exploits advanced manufacturing technologies to increase productivity and profits. As a result, manufacturing employment has dropped. Between 1970 and 2012, the proportion of German employment in manufacturing fell by half, to around 20 percent (nearly double the U.S. share).

At Audi’s A3 body shop in Ingolstadt, the robots are roughly equal in number to the 800 employees. They do most of the heavy lifting, as well as potentially dangerous spot welding and bonding, and tediously repetitive testing. To Bernd ­Mlekusch, head of technology development production at Audi, the benefits of automation include much higher productivity and reduced demand for untrained workers. At the same time, workers with more training and greater specialization are increasingly needed, he says. German automotive workers, and German manufacturing workers in general, are already paid significantly more than their American counterparts.

Audi’s Hubert Hartmann calls it the most modern factory floor of its kind: “It is like a Swiss watch, with the same level of precision.”

The INTA and group framer machines at Audi exemplify the shift toward automation. INTA, or Ingolstadt automatisierter Anbau, is a fully automated door-assembly process that uses an array of sensors, robotic arms, and lifts. As an A3 body is lowered into place, a sensor determines which version of the car—two- or four-door—is coming down the line. A set of robotic arms then fits hinges to the body while another set picks out the correct doors and prepares to mount those to the hinges. Until 2012, this was done manually, says Carsten Fischer, who is responsible for add-on parts, such as doors, at the plant.

The group framer, which does its work in the middle of the body-assembly process, is less ballet and more brawn. It attaches the large structures, like the sidewall frames, to build what we’d all recognize as the body of a car. In a few seconds, roughly 80 spot welds are made by nine robotic arms moving in and around an 18-ton metal contraption that holds the various parts together. The group framer does this without any human intervention and, because of the use of sensors and components that adjust automatically, can switch between as many as three different car models on the fly as they come down the line.

Audi works with KUKA, a leading industrial-robot maker based 84 kilometers away in Augsburg, which in turn works with the Fraunhofer Society, a group of over 60 applied research institutes, jointly funded by industry and the government, whose goal is to facilitate the sort of forward-looking research that a small or medium-sized company might not be able to fund on its own. The innovations that come out of Fraunhofer projects filter back through the whole industry, and experts credit this network of small and large companies and public-private research groups with helping German manufacturing thrive in an era of intense global competition.

The relationships spur innovation but, importantly, also help solidify standards necessary for those innovations to be widely adopted, explains Andreas Müller, who manages RFID technology at Bosch, another company involved in automating factories.

One project Bosch is working on is a German government initiative to use sensors and software to create even smarter factories. The idea is to take the automation in individual processes at a place like Audi’s factory and extend it so that every shipping box, component, and manufacturing station will log and share data, Müller says. Today’s highly automated factories share data mainly within a single process or on a single factory floor—say, between a machine that scans a car to determine its body type and a second machine that selects a tool of the right size for that body type. The government initiative aims to go much further.

The vision is that data from every step of production will not simply pass from one shop to another within a business—such as from Audi’s body shop to its paint shop—but will eventually transit between different partnering companies, optimizing the production process without human input by altering speeds, predicting which components are likely to have been damaged during shipping or tooling, changing the order in which items are built, and reordering parts from suppliers.

Audi’s cars are not entirely built by computers and robots, of course. As I pass by an area where people attach mudguards, rear fenders, and a few other parts, one of the engineers chaperoning my visit explains that some stages of physical production are still worker-intensive, whether because of the size or location of the parts involved or the need to perform certain tasks with a precision that robots aren’t currently able to achieve.

So far the robots can’t do these specialized jobs, the engineer explains, but, he adds, “we’re working on it.”

Credit: Photos courtesy of Russ Juskalian; Data source: National Science Foundation | IHS Global Insight

  Section:  Articles - File Under:  Tech  |  
 
Gene-Silencing Drugs Finally Show Promise PDF Print E-mail

The disease starts with a feeling of increased clumsiness. Spilling a cup of coffee. Stumbling on the stairs. Having accidents that are easy to dismiss—everyone trips now and then.

But it inevitably gets worse. Known as familial amyloid polyneuropathy, or FAP, it can go misdiagnosed for years as patients lose the ability to walk or perform delicate tasks with their hands. Most patients die within 10 to 15 years of the first symptoms.

There is no cure. The disease is caused by malformed proteins produced in the liver, so one treatment is a liver transplant. But few patients can get one—and it only slows the disease down.

Now, after years of false starts and disappointment, it looks like an audacious idea for helping these patients finally could work.

In 1998, researchers at the Carnegie Institution and the University of Massachusetts made a surprising discovery about how cells regulate which proteins they produce. They found that certain kinds of RNA—which is what DNA makes to create proteins—can turn off specific genes. The finding, called RNA interference (RNAi), was exciting because it suggested a way to shut down the production of any protein in the body, including those connected with diseases that couldn’t be touched with ordinary drugs. It was so promising that its discoverers won the Nobel Prize just eight years later.

“The world went from believing RNAi would change everything to thinking it wouldn’t work, to now thinking it will.”

Inspired by the discovery, another group of researchers—including the former thesis supervisor of one of the Nobel laureates—founded Alnylam in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2002. Their goal: fight diseases like FAP by using RNAi to eliminate bad proteins (see “The Prize of RNAi” and “Prescription RNA”). Never mind that no one knew how to make a drug that could trigger RNAi. In fact, that challenge would bedevil the researchers for the better part of a decade. Along the way, the company lost the support of major drug companies that had signed on in a first wave of enthusiasm. At one point the idea of RNAi therapy was on the verge of being discredited.

But now Alnylam is testing a drug to treat FAP in advanced human trials. It’s the last hurdle before the company will seek regulatory approval to put the drug on the market. Although it’s too early to tell how well the drug will alleviate symptoms, it’s doing what the researchers hoped it would: it can decrease the production of the protein that causes FAP by more than 80 percent.

This could be just the beginning for RNAi. Alnylam has more than 11 drugs, including ones for hemophilia, hepatitis B, and even high cholesterol, in its development pipeline, and has three in human trials —progress that led the pharmaceutical company Sanofi to make a $700 million investment in the company last winter. Last month, the pharmaceutical giant Roche, an early Alnylam supporter that had given up on RNAi, reversed its opinion of the technology as well, announcing a $450 million deal to acquire the RNAi startup Santaris. All told, there are about 15 RNAi-based drugs in clinical trials from several research groups and companies.

“The world went from believing RNAi would change everything to thinking it wouldn’t work, to now thinking it will,” says Robert Langer, a professor at MIT, and one of Alnylam’s advisors.

Delivering Drugs

Alnylam started with high hopes. Its founders, among them the Nobel laureate and MIT biologist Philip Sharp, had solved one of the biggest challenges facing the idea of RNAi therapies. When RNAi was discovered, the process was triggered by introducing a type of RNA, called double stranded RNA, into cells. This worked well in worms and fruit flies. But the immune system in mammals reacted violently to the RNA, causing cells to die and making the approach useless except as a research tool. The Alnylam founders figured out that shorter strands, called siRNA, could slip into mammalian cells without triggering an immune reaction, suggesting a way around this problem.

Yet another huge problem remained. RNA interference depends upon delivering RNA to cells, tricking the cells into allowing it through the protective cell membrane, and then getting the cells to incorporate it into molecular machinery that regulates proteins. Scientists could do this in petri dishes but not in animals.

Alnylam looked everywhere for solutions, scouring the scientific literature, collaborating with other companies, considering novel approaches of its own. It focused on two options. One was encasing RNA in bubbles of fat-like nanoparticles of lipids. They are made with the same materials that make up cell membranes—the thought was that the cell would respond well to the familiar substance. The other approach was attaching a molecule to the RNA that cells like to ingest, tricking the cell into eating it.

And both approaches worked, sort of. Researchers were able to block protein production in lab animals. But getting the delivery system right wasn’t easy. The early mechanisms were too toxic at the doses required to be used as drugs.

As a result, delivering RNA through the bloodstream like a conventional drug seemed a far-off prospect. The company tried a shortcut of injecting chemically modified RNA directly into diseased tissue —for example, into the retina to treat eye diseases. That approach even got to clinical trials. But it was shelved because it didn’t perform as well as up-and-coming drugs from other companies.

By 2010, some of the major drug companies that were working with and investing in Alnylam lost patience. Novartis decided not to extend a partnership with Alnylam; Roche gave up on RNAi altogether. Alnylam laid off about a quarter of its workers, and by mid-2011, its stock price had plunged by 80 percent from its peak.

But Alnylam and partner companies, notably the Canadian startup Tekmira, were making steady progress in the lab. Researchers identified one part of the lipid nanoparticles that was keeping them from delivering its cargo of RNA to the right part of a cell. That was “the real eureka moment,” says Rachel Meyers, Alnylam’s vice president of research. Better nanoparticles improved the potency of a drug a hundredfold and its safety by about five times, clearing the way for clinical trials for FAP—a crucial event that kept the company alive.

The drugs currently in clinical trials could represent just a small portion of the benefits of the discovery of RNAi.

Even with that progress, Alnylam needed more. The nanoparticle delivery mechanism is costly to make and requires frequent visits to the hospital for hour-long IV infusions—something patients desperate to stay alive will put up with, but likely not millions of people with high cholesterol.

So Alnylam turned to its second delivery approach—attaching molecules to RNA to trick cells into ingesting it. Researchers found just the right inducement—attaching a type of sugar molecule. This approach allows for the drug to be administered with a simple injection that patients could give themselves at home.

In addition to being easier to administer, the new sugar-based drugs are potentially cheaper to make. The combination of low cost and ease-of-use is allowing Alnylam to go after more common diseases—not just the rare ones that patients will go to great lengths to treat. “Because we’ve made incredible improvements in the delivery strategy,” Meyers says, “we can now go after big diseases where we can treat millions of patients potentially.” 

The Next Frontier

In a sixth-floor lab on the MIT campus, postdoctoral researcher James Dahlman takes down boxes from a high shelf. They contain hundreds of vials, each containing a unique type of nanoparticle that Dahlman synthesized painstakingly, one at a time. “It turns out we have a robot in the lab that can do that,” he says. “But I didn’t know about it at the time.”

Dahlman doesn’t work for Alnylam; he had been searching for the next great delivery mechanism, one that could greatly expand the diseases that can be treated by RNAi. Some of the materials look like clear liquids. Some are waxy, some like salt crystals. He points to a gap in the rows of vials, where a vial is conspicuously missing. “That’s the one that worked. That’s the miracle material,” he says.

For all of their benefits, the drug delivery mechanisms Alnylam uses have one flaw—they’re effective only for delivering drugs to liver cells.  For a number of reasons, the liver is a relatively easy target—that’s where all kinds of nanoparticles tend to end up. Alnylam sees the potential for billions of dollars in revenue from liver-related diseases. Yet most diseases involve other tissues in the body.

Dahlman and his colleagues at MIT are some of the leaders in the next generation of RNAi delivery—targeting delivery to places throughout the body. Last month, in two separate articles, they published the results of studies showing that Dahlman’s new nanoparticles are a powerful way to deliver RNAi to blood vessel cells, which are associated with a wide variety of diseases. The studies showed that the method could be used to reduce tumor growth in lung cancer, for example.

Treating cancer is one area where RNAi’s particular advantages are expected to shine. Conventional chemotherapy affects more than just the target cancer cells—it also hurts healthy tissue, which is why it makes people feel miserable. But RNAi can be extremely precise, potentially shutting down only proteins found in cancer cells. And Dahlman’s latest delivery system makes it possible to simultaneously target up to 10 proteins at once, which could make cancer treatments far more effective. Lab work like this is far from fruition, but if it maintains its momentum, the drugs currently in clinical trials could represent just a small portion of the benefits of the discovery of RNAi. 

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  Section:  Articles - File Under:  Tech  |  
 
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Last Minute Geek’s Holiday Gift Guide 17 June 2013, 15.02 4G Voice, Video, & Data
Last Minute Geek’s Holiday Gift Guide
Dec. 20, 2010 - 11:36 AM PDT Dec. 20, 2010 - 11:36 AM PDT The geek in your life is hard enough to find appropriate gifts for the holidays, and this year, once again you waited until the last moment. Never fear, we have scoured
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Android This Week: Leveling Off; Fring Calling; LogMeIn 17 June 2013, 15.02 4G Voice, Video, & Data
Android This Week: Leveling Off; Fring Calling; LogMeIn
Dec. 18, 2010 - 6:00 AM PDT Dec. 18, 2010 - 6:00 AM PDTSummary: The growth of Android in the smartphone space has been phenomenal, but recent ad statistics show it may be leveling off. VoIP calling is hot on Android, however,
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MobileTechRoundup 226 17 June 2013, 15.02 4G Voice, Video, & Data
MobileTechRoundup 226
Dec. 17, 2010 - 8:00 AM PDT Dec. 17, 2010 - 8:00 AM PDT Summary: Join James, Matt and Kevin live for this week’s audio podcast where they’ll cover the week’s mobile technology news and share experiences with the
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Kindle for Android Gets Periodicals, In-App Store 17 June 2013, 15.02 4G Voice, Video, & Data
Kindle for Android Gets Periodicals, In-App Store
Dec. 17, 2010 - 7:08 AM PDT Dec. 17, 2010 - 7:08 AM PDTSummary: Amazon has rolled out a major new version of the Kindle app for Android that adds magazines and newspapers to the standard e-book fare. The app also adds shopping
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Samsung ATIV Smart PC 17 June 2013, 15.02 4G Voice, Video, & Data
Samsung ATIV Smart PC
The tablet market is going into hyperdrive.  The announcement of Microsoft’s foray into the tablet market utilization with Windows 8 architecture made a few ripples.  It will be really interesting to see how this plays
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Norton Hotspot VPN 17 June 2013, 15.02 4G Voice, Video, & Data
Norton Hotspot VPN
One of the thorniest issues is traveling and maintaining security.  Norton has come up with a nice little VPN package that allows for secure surfing while on open networks. If you have ever been in a hotel, most likely you
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Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance WordPress Error 17 June 2013, 15.02 4G Voice, Video, & Data
Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance WordPress Error
WordPress is awesome until it isn’t.  Knowing you (or not really knowing you – but knowing how most people operate), you probably did the automatic update with no backup. Yep, it’s what most people do.  You
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Tesla's sales model? It's simple: don't sell cars: If you are waiting with bated breath for electric vehicles to revolutionize the transportation sector, you are likely to pass out. If it happens, it will not be an overnight process. That...
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