by Anam Alpenia
Google is not just an internet company. The Mountain View-based giant’s forays into the hardware, social media, and mobile spaces have shown that. But Google’s ambitions lie even higher than that, as shown with the development of its latest project: nanotechnology that can detect cancer and other diseases at an earlier stage.
At The Wall Street Journal’s WSJD Live conference on Monday, Google announced the project as the latest to come out of the research unit Google X. In an official Google document, the company explains that it seeks to make medicine a proactive and preemptive practice, rather than a reactive one.
Taken as a pill, the tiny magnetic nanoparticles (more than 2,000 can fit inside a red blood cell) have antibodies and proteins attached to them. As they circulate in the bloodstream, they can seek out and attach themselves to other particular types of cells, such as cancer cells. Via a wearable technology device on the outside of the body, the nanoparticles can deliver crucial information to medical physicians about the potentially harmful cells inside a human.
Andrew Conrad, head of life sciences at the Google X lab, explained in more about the nanoparticles and the way they could be used at the WSJD Live conference on Tuesday in California. “They course through your body and because the cores of these particles are magnetic, you can call them somewhere and ask them what they say,” he said.
If successful, the nanotechnology can not only detect cancer, but perhaps even impending heart attacks and other diseases. Since the problem with many diseases is often that they are detected too late to be treated effectively, such technology would be truly revolutionary. However, experts say that Google is still a ways off from perfecting the technology – at least 5-7 years from now, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Other concerns include privacy, as Google would essentially have access to individuals’ private medical data. But Google is quick to say that it won’t keep the technology itself, and will license it to medical professionals and others who will handle all the information independently of the company. “We are the inventors of the technology but we have no intentions of commercialising it or monetising it in that way,” said Conrad.
Microsoft unveils Band
Microsoft officially revealed the Microsoft Band this week, the company’s fresh attempt to enter the fitness and wearable devices market.
Microsoft is the third industry giant to enter the market, with Apple’s Health app and Google’s Fit already making inroads.
The band links directly to the simplistic Microsoft Health app, and will allow users to receive phone and email notifications, track fitness movements and collate all kinds of health-related data, from skin temperature to heart rate to sweat and activity. Microsoft’s vision is that the analysis of such data will yield insights for improving quality of life and detecting health related issues quickly. The hardware is slightly bulkier and heavier than its competitive counterparts, noticeably sporting quite a few more sensors.
Todd Holmdahl, corporate VP of Microsoft, described the company’s mission an official blogpost: “A vibrant marketplace of devices and services is giving us access to a wealth of data about our nutrition, health and fitness. We see an opportunity to bring these devices and services together to allow you to combine the information they collect and use the power of the cloud to turn that data into something more valuable,” he said.
Microsoft believes it is ahead of the game with such big data capabilities, and will secure users’ information in the cloud where data can be shared with medical professionals through Microsoft’s HealthVault platform. In fact, it’s strength in cloud computing will allow Microsoft to acquire health data from other fitness devices as well, according to the BBC.
Microsoft’s key differentiator is its allowance for cross-platform capability. Unlike Google’s wearable Android devices and Apple’s iWatch, the Microsoft Band will sync to Windows Phones, iOS, and Android-supported devices alike. The move opens up new opportunities for consumers, who no longer have to let their preferred wearable health devices dictate their choice of mobile operating system, or vice versa. The band will also connect to social media sites such as Facebook.
The company already has strategic partners with both the Microsoft Health app and the Microsoft Band. Homdahl announced that Microsoft Health will work with apps like MyFitnessPal, MapmyFitness, UP by Jawbone, and RunKeeper. The band will offer workouts guided by fitness professionals from Gold’s Gym and Men’s Fitness.
Analysts are cautious about the band’s success, as Microsoft’s brand in the hardware sector does not measure up to its competitors. Still, in an increasingly saturated health-tech market, the band has some impressive features and strategic advantages (including a $199 price point in the United States) over its competitive counterparts, signalling that Microsoft does not plan to be left behind in the lucrative health sector.
Hewlett-Packard’s 3D Printing
HP’s printing and PC division will become its own company next year. At a launch event in New York on Wednesday, consumers got an early glimpse into the products that will be spearheading that new entity.
Hewlett-Packard, known for its standard ink jet printers, has introduced its very own 3D printer. In a world that has gone from paper-filled to digital, the move is aimed to spark growth in a relatively stagnant period for the company.
Using a unique printing technique that combines laser sintering and fused deposition modeling (as opposed to only using a laser), HP claims that its printer will be 10 times faster than any current models out there. HP’s machine prints whole layers of a part at once, rather than drawing out a layer one curve at a time using heat or light, according to 3D printing expert Joris Peels who spoke to the BBC. If the machine is really that much faster than its counterparts, HP could pose a threat to the survival of existing 3D companies like Stratasys and 3D Systems.
The company also unveiled the Sprout computer, which combines a scanner, projector, and touch-pad. It will have the unique capability to do things like project digital images onto a sensor-laden mat to aid 3D printing. The computer will be priced at $1,899 and is available in the U.S. from November 9. The 3D printer won’t be ready until early 2016, after a year of beta testing with customers.
According to a Canalys report earlier this year, the 3D printing market will grow to $16.2 billion in 2018 from $2.5 billion in 2013. With the latest announcement, HP is at the head of the charge and this could be crucial for the company’s growth.
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