3D Bioprinting


3D Printing is no longer news although I suspect most people haven’t heard of it yet. In fact there is a company within a couple of km of my office in Albany already successfully offering a variety of 3D printing services, incidentally called 3D Print. Another Aucklander, well known internationally in the  3D printing with RepRap is Vik Oliver, seen here with one of his machines.

When I heard that Richie McCaw was injured and after surgery was going to miss around 6 matches after having a titanium screw in his foot, my first reaction was, as most Kiwis, just what we need in Rugby World Cup year as he is such an amazing skipper and we want him there leading the All Blacks. Then I thought about so many other sports people who suffer injuries all the time given that they are putting their bodies on the line professionally.

Imagine a technology that rebuilds or repairs body tissue, bones, ligaments, even organs in vivo, using micro surgery techniques that mean people recover far more quickly, naturally and potentially therefore stronger than before.

Using the same types of technologies as conventional 3D printing, it will soon be possible to pattern and assemble, layer by layer, functioning living tissue, as well as non living substitutes such as ceramic and titanium according to Vladimir Mironov, an associate professor and director of the Advanced Tissue Biofabrication Center at the Department of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology, Medical University of South Carolina. He is also currently making waves about growing in vitro meat, something I have previously blogged about.

So this is a relatively new technology and I don’t know that it has been tested on humans yet, but the technology is already commercially available from companies such as envisionTEC.

Imagine the good this technology could do for people with problems from injuries, burns, through to the huge numbers of people who die for lack of organs for transplant.

The following video shows how bioprinters will be used in the long term. The technology will also be used to create human tissues which can be used for drug testing instead of using animals.

Of course if tissues and organs are made using material from the host, we can eliminate problems such as donor organ rejection.

New Zealand gets TomTom Car Navigation on iPhone first!


OK, we were only ahead of Australia by a couple of hours, but we need everything we can get. Maybe we should give some iPhones to the All Blacks to help them find the try line in the TriNations and Bledisloe on Saturday, but that’s another story. As another aside, when I wrote TriNations, my spell checker suggested ‘urinations’. We’ll let that one be too.

So this morning I got a phone call letting me know that TomTom Car Navigation is now available with GeoSmart maps, for New Zealand in the iTunes Apps Store. This is awesome news. We’ve had some routing applications available in New Zealand, but nothing with any real accuracy. Also the other apps required that you download data frequently, which means additional cost to your Telco, whereas the iPhone application has all of the maps and Points of Interest you need on the device.

The application requires OS3.0 but as I understand it, as long as you have the OS version, you can run the application on any iPhone as well as iPod Touch if you purchase the TomTom Car Kit. Neither helps me as I only have an iPod Classic and a Blackberry, but I hope to remedy that situation soon.

The car kit itself seems very cool and I hope to get the chance to try one. The car kit includes the new TomTom mount, which I really like. It also incorporates a speaker and a microphone as well as an external GPS antenna which means that you don’t have to buy the very latest iPhone with GPS and Compass (although that would be my pick right now) if you already have an iPhone or iPod Touch. The car kit also charges the iPhone when it is in the cradle.

Now the debate has begun in earnest. Why buy the iPhone App and Car Kit, when for the same price you can buy a dedicated PND (Portable Navigation Device) for the same price or maybe even less? This is a similar question to the one I get frequently, which is, what navigation unit or brand is the best? My answer is that ‘best’ is subjective. Different brands and different models currently have different features and the feature set is part of the argument that defines what is best for you.

TomTom and Navman both have new product ranges and different features relating to the user interface, functionality etc. Both brands in New Zealand have GeoSmart Maps (and if you don’t know by now, I work for GeoSmart) which are the most accurate for New Zealand. Why is not relevant for today’s blog. For example Navman now has AA Traffic and TomTom has IQ Routes (which are not the same concept, just an example).

Perhaps part of the answer is how often you travel. As I’ve said in previous blogs. your mobile is your ubiquitous device. You always have it with you. I always have car navigation in my car, but if I’m out of town (without my car) I don’t always take it with me.

The TomTom iPhone Car Kit solves another problem because you can use it as a hands free kit for your mobile. From 1 November, driving and talking on a handheld mobile will become illegal. You will either have to use a hands free kit of some sort or not use your phone at all in the car. I have stopped accepting or making any calls in the car, although I might accept important calls if I had a hands free kit. There is always a tension and anxiety around not answering calls on your mobile. People expect to be able to reach you, which causes an unpleasant feeling for both parties. So here’s a nice solution for your car.

So back to the application, this is essentially the same application as the one residing on the normal PND devices carried by your favourite consumer electronics stores. One cute thing is that on iPhone you can orient your phone to landscape or portrait and it will automatically adapt itself.

The nature of car navigation is changing and like most new technologies it is becoming increasingly difficult to predict what will happen in the near future. LBS on mobile is a given and if you search through my blogs, you will find several about mobile applications, car navigation on mobile will become common place and of course there are many situations where you would like guidance while walking, exercising, travelling in a taxi or on public transport. These are often scenarios where you want to travel light, but wouldn’t go without your mobile.

If you had asked me last year, where car navigation is going, I would have told you about ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems), for which R&D has been funded by the European Governments. This was to develop systems that would reduce accidents in a number of ways, including monitoring vehicles positions in relation to the lane markings on roads, legal driving speeds, speed and distance of vehicles in front and behind you and much more. Many of the innovations for this are being developed and in some cases launched by brands as far apart as BMW and Nissan.

This system was originally going to be made mandatory in all new cars sold in Europe from 2012 and if this was still the case, it could have meant significantly reduced demand for PND’s. When I was in The Netherlands earlier this year, I was advised that the date had been dropped and the European Union were having a rethink on the subject, and particularly their ongoing commitment to funding it. They determined that it would take more than 10 years before the majority of vehicles in Europe would have this system in place and therefore the deadline wouldn’t have any immediate impact. A cynic would say that this would mean that current politicians would not get any credit within their career to justify spending time on it.

So now we have (I reiterate I haven’t tried it yet) a new system which will provide an all but identical experience to a PND on your iPhone. Of course TomTom isn’t the only mobile product available, but it is the first one being commercially sold in New Zealand. The new Android phones also have GPS and Compass and of course there are some very good Windows Mobile applications as well such as iGO8. Will there be a move away from PND’s? I doubt it, at least in the near future. Navman will certainly be hoping not.

There will be a camp that says a PND is the best device at being a PND. They said the same about PDA’s, but SmartPhones are now viable devices, even though I still have to reboot my new Blackberry Bold at least a couple of times a week. The future is going to be interesting. There are phone companies such as Nokia who showed their intention by purchasing Navteq and are planning converged devices that combine a mobile with car navigation. There are PND manufacturers who are going to be putting SIM Card slots into their car navigation devices.

The market will decide what the best is and the answer to all questions will be yes:)

I’ll leave the last word for today to TomTom.

Haptic Virtual Reality Suits


Lots of people escape the world through the internet, some with games, perhaps web environments like Second Life, but what’s happened to Virtual Reality that promised so much so many years ago. From what I understand the only thing really holding things back is the cost.

One thing that I would love to see is Sport VR. Imagine if you could don a suit and be your favorite All Black or soccer star. You could see what they see and feel (desensitised off course) the tackles and the thrill of the game.

There are already a range of body suits such as the Inlabs Motion Capture Suit that can be used to capture body motion data for a variety of purposes. These can be used for sports medicine, training and biomechanical research. Forms of this technology have been used to help develop movie models for animation, allowing models to look like they are real by taking motion information from people.

VR is used by the military to train pilots and the US Navy has VR parachute trainers so that they can experience everything, the visuals, the thump when the chute opens and the harness touch points grip your body.

In the future VR will support remote medicine using robots to perform surgery. In some cases the surgeon will be there, in other cases it might be through telemedicine where experts can influence or control surgery remotely from anywhere in the world with reliable broadband connections. Micro surgery is already taking place today which is far less invasive and allows recovery to be much quicker than normal.

VR would make a lot of sense in remote and dangerous locations, for example space exploration. There are major issues with space travel where the distances, event to other planets in our solar system represents years in each direction. Wouldn’t it be great if we had the dexterity (or better) of a human without having to actually send a human to Mars.

Virtual Reality is a natural progression of technology that we have already become used to. Look at the number of phones inlcuding iPhone and Windows Mobile devices from brands such as HTC which have gyroscopes that recognise which way the device is facing and automatically change the screen format accordingly. Wii fitness has become incredibly popular, combining a video game with exercise has rapidly propelled Nintendo back into leadership in the TV games world.

Worlds like Second Life, using VR could mean that the avatars become totally lifelike and the whole gaming world is in for a shakeup. Imagine all the action games where you are actually running and shooting, driving and crashing cars and feeling all the bumps and hits.

Of course the more fun this becomes the greater the risks that people will prefer VR to real life. In Japan there have been problems for a number of years where children prefer to stay in the rooms every day just living on their computers and don’t want to go into the real world. They are known as hikikimori. People like that are now appearing around the world, where virtual reality is preferable to real life.

Of course there are those who are elderly or severely disabled where VR could give them some semblance of normal experiences that they otherwise wouldn’t. Imagine being restricted to your bed or a wheelchair, but being able to experience the sensations of walking or running, or even sex.

I won’t delve too far into this, but the ultimate in safe sex could be VR sex. People who are severely disabled, or who find it difficult to find partners could have their experience without risk. It appears that they haven’t yet been manufactured in a form that is safe, but it is coming. Michael Anissimov has some good ideas and I will leave the last word to him from his accelerating future blog.