All posts by Andrew London

Will tech make doctors obsolete?

The progress of medicine is a remarkable thing. There was a time when doctors couldn’t fully map the human body, and a time when drilling a hole into a patient’s skull was a genuine medical procedure; now we've mapped not just the human body but the human genome, and can use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to see the real-time, inside workings of the human brain without lifting a scalpel.

Meanwhile we’re at a turning point in terms of how technology is defining our lives. From smart homes and smartphones, to fitness trackers and self-checkout counters at supermarkets, tech plays a part in more and more aspects of our day to day existence. Yet health care seems to be the one area where the experience is still distinctly human.

The idea of going for an appointment with your doctor and being met by a robot feels like the scene from Star Wars where Luke gets his new hand, but the reality is that such a scenario could be closer than you think. 

British medical tech firm Babylon recently launched a trial chatbot to serve as a partial replacement for the UK National Health Service’s 111 phone service. This is a non-emergency line staffed by people with no formal medical training, where callers are led through a series of questions in order to ascertain which type of professional medical assistance they need. 

The 111 service is valuable in that it limits the number of patients with non-urgent complaints turning up at hospital emergency rooms, but the service is expensive to run. The Babylon bot gets users to answer a series of multiple choice questions, and the process takes a fraction of the time of a phone call, saving the user time and the NHS money that can be better spent elsewhere.

The bot will see you now

Obviously there’s quite a difference between a chatbot deciding which type of doctor you need and a medical professional diagnosing an illness, but according to the Financial Times, Babylon is making progress in this field too. 

“We already have a machine that can diagnose the majority of primary clinical conditions, so the next step is to get it clinically certified by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, and the US Food and Drug Administration,” said Ali Parsa, the chief executive of Babylon.

The company has pledged to put $60 million into funding the development of its AI doctor. What form this will take is unclear, although given that Babylon currently has a successful app that allows you to have video consultations  with doctors, the AI doctor could potentially be entirely digital.

The question is, would you trust an AI doctor?

TechRadar recently attended the British awards ceremony for developments in health tech, Health Tech & You, and spoke to several of the finalists about the future of health. 

Brian Hellman is CEO of the award-winning company uMotif, which has created an app that enables people to track their symptoms in real time using a smartphone. He had this to say on where health tech is heading: “It’s not all about sensors and AI and machine learning. That’s brilliant, but you’ve also got to provide people with a very human experience.”

It's all about the data

What’s interesting is what happens to the data collected by the uMotif app. It’s shared with doctors and researchers, who can pool it with data from other patients to provide a better understanding about the condition.

The way Hellman talks about it, doctors asking how your symptoms have been over the course of the month since your last appointment is a vastly inefficient system; being able to track symptoms in real time helps you to not only track your own progress but fosters a better understanding of your condition, enabling you, and others with the same condition, to get more effective treatment.

This falls in line with the general principle that seems to run through all the Health Tech & You finalists: data is key. And nowhere are we more dependent on machines than when dealing with data. According to a recent report by the UK national academy of science The Royal Society, 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last five years, and machine learning is the only feasible way to process this deluge of data.  

And symptoms aren’t the only thing being tracked. Another of the award winners, Affinity, is a device for cancer patients that uses a fingerprint scanner to measure red blood cell, white blood cell and platelet counts to assess their susceptibility to infection during chemotherapy. 

Millie Clive-Smith, co-founder of Entia, the company behind Affinity told us: “If you start developing an infection it can be a very rapid timeframe for you to become seriously, seriously unwell. You could develop sepsis.” 

And sepsis is a serious deal, between 1999 and 2014, a total of 2,470,666 deaths were reported in the United States in which sepsis was a factor according to the US Centre for Disease Control and Protection

Not only could Affinity be potentially life-saving, it could also save a lot of money. At present, one in five cancer patients in the UK has their treatment delayed because of their blood count being too low. These delays are currently costing the NHS £35 million (about $45m, AU$60m) per year. In countries where users pay for their own healthcare, this could be game-changing.

All of these apps are amazing at helping those that have already become ill and been diagnosed, but what about trying to prevent people getting to that stage? According to a recent study from Stanford University of Medicine, fitness trackers could soon be fitted with all the biometric sensors they need to detect the onset of infection. 

By measuring our heart rate, temperature, and other key indicators, our mobile devices could notice deviations from the norm and alert us to the fact that we have an infection before we become symptomatic. This could dramatically alter the way we treat illness, greatly improving outcomes by catching conditions earlier.

The doctor behind the study was wearing a series of biometrics monitors while on a plane and was able to identify that he was in the early stages of Lyme disease because of his biometric readings, which is seriously impressive.

Apple, meanwhile has applied for a patent for an Apple Watch strap that contains modular sensors, including a blood glucose sensor for diabetes tracking and other biometrics sensors. There’s no guarantee that it’ll see the light of day, but CEO Tim Cook getting spotted with a glucose sensing prototype on his wrist means that Apple is definitely working on the tech.


Chatbots are one thing, but being operated on by an actual robot still seems like a terrifying idea. However, there can be real benefits. As we reported recently, an optical surgery robot has recently passed clinical trials, beating the human surgeons in the control group while operating on retinal membranes at the back of the eye.

The precision needed for this delicate surgery means a human hand can be moved a dangerous amount by something as incidental as the surgeon’s pulse. Using the robot means improved safety, and greater precision. At the moment there’s still a human surgeon operating the robot, but such developments do raise interesting questions about empathy. 

You might think it’s a given that a doctor needs to feel empathy for their patients but in his book The Psychopath Test, Jon Ronson claims that surgeons who lack empathy aren’t negatively affected by their feelings, and so perform better.

So could we actually be better off being operated on by someone – or something – with no empathy?

We don’t have the answers to these kinds of ethical questions yet, but on a more practical level, one thing we do know is that apps and devices have access to more and more of our health data, cyber security will increasingly become a concern.

As we saw recently with the ransomware attack on the UK NHS, the greater our dependency on computers, the greater the risk that malicious actors will seek to exploit that dependency..

The risk is twofold. First and foremost, our personal safety is at risk if the devices we depend upon are compromised, but secondly, our medical information is valuable, both personally and financially. 

The NHS has been in hot water recently for sharing the medical data of 1.6 million patients with Google's machine learning company DeepMind, to help with the development of its app The Streams, which can detect if a patient is suffering from a life-threatening kidney disorder. 

The NHS can technically share our medical information without permission, if it’s for the purposes of direct care. Where things gets complicated is if a company, like DeepMind, could financially benefit from that information. 

According to Digital Trends, "a representative from DeepMind has reiterated that none of the information shared with the company would ever be used for commercial purposes, or to further Google’s products, services, or ads". But these distinctions can be difficult to draw. 

While the app is clearly being used for good, if the company makes money from being the industry leader in machine learning in medicine, is it not then using the information that’s been shared with it for commercial purposes?

I just want to talk to a person

If the idea of all of this automation feels like it’s at risk of dehumanizing us, don't worry, there are also developments in health tech that are designed to bring people closer together too.

HealthUnlocked, another of the winners at the Health Tech & You awards, is a social media app that enables people with particular conditions to join communities offering peer-to-peer support. Last year 40 million people joined the platform, and it’s revolutionized the lives of many users. 

HealthUnlocked estimate that 70% of people using the app haven't previously met someone with the same condition as them, so being able to discuss their illness with a community of people they can relate to, from diagnosis, through treatment, all the way to living with their condition for an extended period, can be hugely beneficial.

As with most developments in technology, the big breakthroughs in health tech are likely to combine human ingenuity – and empathy – with machine efficiency. And while it may be a long time before robots and other devices can truly replace doctors, technology is already dramatically changing the way we think about healthcare.


Amazon wants to help you cut the cord with Channels TV service

Amazon has launched a UK version of its Channels service that allows users to either watch a live TV feed or stream on-demand content from a range of popular content providers. 

Up until now, one of the main complaints about Amazon Video has been the amount of content available that's not available as part of the core subscription. Competitors like Netflix and Now TV include all their content in a single subscription, whereas Amazon has lots of content that's available for an additional charge over the base Prime Video subscription. 

This new service will mean that the range of content has expanded with bundles that you can use to tailor your selection, but it does come at a cost. On top of your Amazon Prime Membership (£7.99 per month) you will be expected to pay for each channel individually. 

So if you want to add the movie channel MGM or the documentary channel Discovery, you’re talking an additional £4.99 a month per channel. There are cheaper channels, so if you really want to get your hands on Filipino series and movies, it’ll only set you back £1.99 per month on top of your usual package.

Where are the Prime cuts?

Frustratingly, the major players like HBO aren’t yet available on the UK’s version of the service yet, and from looking through the list of available channels, there isn’t anything that is a serious enough contender to pull you away from another service, but it could be a useful addition for users that are already paid-up Amazon Prime subscribers.

It is interesting to see that Amazon is taking a step closer to being like a traditional TV network with the option to watch a live stream of a TV channel, especially as Sky is moving towards a more on-demand streaming-based service with Sky Q

We have contacted a representative of Amazon to see what this new service means for the rest of Prime's video offering. There is the obvious possibility that if shows are on one of the subscription channels, it won’t be included with the main Prime selection of content. 

This has the potential to be a cool new feature, but it's success will rely on Amazon managing to negotiate the inclusion of big-hitter channels to make it worthwhile for users to make the switch to Prime.


Should Facebook police thought? – reflecting on the leak of its rulebook

Warning: Some of the content of this piece may be upsetting or offensive.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental right included in the architecture of all civilised societies. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights created in 1948 and signed by 48 members of the United Nations states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Still, freedom of speech is a contentious issue. In this period of political bipartisanship, where lines are being drawn further and further apart, the right to the freedom of speech is being played as a trump card (no pun intended) to allow people to voice beliefs that they know are going to be offensive or upsetting. And to a certain degree, they are right to do so; that is the reason that the law surrounding the freedom of speech exists. 

To deal with this issue we are constantly censoring our own experience - either consciously or unconsciously - by deciding the people that we spend time with, the places that we go, who we vote for, what entertainment we consume. Peer groups are invariably drawn together by shared beliefs and experiences.

But this doesn’t mean something being offensive should preclude it from being part of a conversation. Some of the most important issues politically and socially are offensive. If there were rules that forbade the discussion of offensive issues, that censored life for us, it would feel very much like the dystopian vision of 1984’s ‘thought police’.

You can't say that!

Censorship has always been a prickly issue. There are undeniably certain things that are inappropriate to be shared because of the audience; everyone can agree that violent or sexual imagery shouldn’t be viewed by children, so it is right to censor entertainment that is likely to be viewed by youngsters. 

Where censorship becomes difficult is if it infringes on the freedom of expression. If there is a documentary about marriage equality, some people would think that children should also be shielded from it, while others would think that it is essential for children to view. 

This gray area is difficult enough when the media is something that is being specifically produced for public consumption by a television company. When the populace are the ones creating the content it gets even more difficult.

J P Sears' popular satire about offence 

This is the situation that Facebook is currently facing. As one of the largest social media platforms in the world, it is now a microcosm of society, and as such it includes all the quirks and foibles of the world. Unlike in offline interactions however, there is a permanence to things shared on the platform – and these posts are easily shared.

This raises an interesting issue about whether censorship is appropriate on self expression, and if it is, at what point the line is drawn. To highlight this issue, let’s look at one of the more shocking excerpts from Facebook's recently leaked rulebook on how it attempts to police its network, shared by The Guardian: “To snap a b***h’s neck, make sure to apply all your pressure to the middle of her throat”. 

This post passes Facebook’s guidelines as it doesn’t include a direct threat, so is technically a moment of self expression. Now clearly there is a difficult line to draw as the violence included in that post is clearly disturbing, but to remove it would be censorship of personal thought, and then the conversation becomes about the value of thought versus protection from offence.

Relax, it was just a joke

Now there is an argument that the example post above could have been a joke, which further complicates the issue. Obviously, making light of violence against women in a world where the World Health Organisation estimate that: “1 in 3 (35%) women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime,” could potentially propagate and normalize violence. 

At the same time, humor is often used as a way to draw attention to an issue, and can be used by survivors to deal with their experiences. So would censorship of this comment be appropriate? 

The answer probably lies in context. The problem is that establishing context requires time, and with 1.3 million posts being uploaded every minute, there simply isn’t the time for moderators to establish context on every post that gets ‘flagged’ as offensive. 

What makes things more difficult is that not every situation that faces censorship has a context based solution. Take images of abuse for example. In the rulebook there are clear stipulations about when images of animal and child abuse get removed and when they don’t. 

Facebook post from Animal Abusers Exposed, who share animal abuse images and videos to try and catch perpetrators

On first hearing this, it’s difficult to think of a reason for child abuse to remain on the website, but in the files, Facebook state: “We allow “evidence” of child abuse to be shared on the site to allow for the child to be identified and rescued, but we add protections to shield the audience”.

So then what happens if the child has been rescued? Does the content stop being seen of as high enough in value? What is interesting is the stipulations that are placed about when such content would be removed: “We remove imagery of child abuse if shared with sadism and celebration.” 

Why are you looking at that?

Clearly context is still at play here, only in the context of the posting not the context of the abuse. If someone is enjoying sharing the abuse, that's what makes it wrong. What this identifies is that there are users that enjoy sharing, and presumably viewing, abuse. 

How do you then draw the line in stopping people from enjoying looking at content of abuse, even if it has been posted with good intent? Does Facebook have to make a decision about the risk versus the worth of people enjoying content they shouldn’t? 

Where this proves particularly tricky is how it deals with nudity. Clearly, not all nudity is porn, and if there was a blanket ban on nudity, many art pieces, anthropological images, and images of vast cultural significance would be banned.

What this does mean is that Facebook has to take a view on when nudity is of a secondary importance in the image. So a picture of a topless woman isn’t acceptable, but an image of a topless woman in a concentration camp is, because of its educational importance. 

According to the files, an iconic picture of the Vietnam war was removed from the site due to the fact that it featured a nude child, leading to new guidelines being drawn up.

The Pulitzer Prize winning photo by Nick Ut, commonly referred to as 'Napalm Girl'

But then the obvious question arises, where is a line drawn about what is educational? If there was a more open conversation about sex, would the previously mentioned abuse statistics be affected? Is that a conversation that Facebook should be having? And if it is having that conversation, who gives it that right? 

Clearly Facebook has a burden of care for its users, if the site were a total free-for-all, the propagation of extremist groups could go unchecked leading to greater radicalization of young people, it could become a hub for all sorts of illicit and illegal activities. But should the law be the limit of Facebook’s remit?

Facebook’s greatest blessing is also its greatest curse, that users can find groups of like minded people all over the world. But sometimes those people arguably shouldn’t be able to connect. In those situations, is it right for Facebook to intervene, or is it infringing on those user’s rights by doing so?

Ultimately, these questions all feed back to a larger question: how do we decide what should and shouldn’t be censored? And from that, are we comfortable with the way our world is being shaped by a company? 


Tim Cook has been spotted wearing the top-secret Apple diabetes device

Apple CEO Tim Cook has been spotted by staff at the Palo Alto campus wearing a prototype blood glucose monitor.

Just over a month ago we reported that Apple was reportedly working on device that could help with the management of diabetes, but all we had to go on was reports of a secret team and a patent application. 

Now it seems that the Apple CEO is being a fair amount more overt about the project. Sources confirmed to CNBC that: “Cook was wearing a prototype glucose-tracker on the Apple Watch”. The word ‘on’ is significant in that sentence. 

Cook has previously been open about wearing a glucose monitoring device, but it hasn’t been clear whether this was an Apple device, or the device of another manufacturer. 

In conversations with a group of students at Glasgow University, Cook very openly said: "I've been wearing a continuous glucose monitor for a few weeks, I just took it off before coming on this trip." 

Fitness or health?

A keen fitness fanatic, Cook has apparently been using the device to monitor how his diet has been affecting his blood sugar. This ties in with another thing he said to the students: "There is lots of hope out there that if someone has constant knowledge of what they're eating, they can instantly know what causes the response... and that they can adjust well before they become diabetic."

The wording of this is very interesting if you know a bit about the legal situation that the Apple Watch will face if it becomes a device for diabetics. 

If the Apple Watch becomes a medical device, it has to pass US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval before hitting the market; Cook has previously said he would want to avoid this as it would hinder production schedules.

By being a device for ‘healthy’ people to measure their blood glucose, the Apple Watch could avoid these checks, although how this would affect diabetics wanting to use this device is unclear.

One of the possible ways that Apple could make this a device for diabetics but keep the Apple Watch out of the FDA approval cycle would be to make it an independent device that works with the Watch. 

As we've previously reported, Apple has filed a patent to make a modular strap for the Watch that could have this function (below), so hearing that the device was 'on' Cook's Watch instantly made us think of that. 

Whatever it is, it’s very exciting to hear that it’s a real device now, and we hope it won’t be too long before we see a version on the market. Possibly the Apple Watch 3?

Via The Verge


3D printed organ tech just took a giant leap forward

A team of scientists based out of the University of Florida has created a way of printing 3D objects suspended in a near solid structure, opening the door to the printing of complex organic structures. 

There are currently methods for printing organs, which is a pretty incredible sentence to type, but these are met by the hurdle that soft materials are difficult to print in a way that they maintain their structure during the printing process. This has meant that complex organs that require space in their construction (like the heart with its many chambers) are incredibly difficult to print.

In the paper published on Science Advances, the team led by Christopher S. O’Bryan has vaulted this hurdle by printing directly into soft solid structures made of micro-organogels that can hold soft structures in place during printing. 

Vigorous fluid pumping

The specific viscosity of these gels are a vital part of the process, as if the printed material was suspended in a liquid, there would be no way of ensuring accurate placement as the printed matter would float away. If a solid was used, the placement would be accurate but the stabilizing structure would be damaged by the needle and it would be impossible to print above an area that had been printed into.

The microgel that is being used remains in a solid state until it comes into contact with an applied stress, in this case the needle being inserted. Once the printed material has been deposited by the needle, the microgel turns solid again meaning that the printed matter stays exactly where it was placed and the track of the needle 'heals' allowing for another layer of printing.

At the moment the team is only printing silicone structures using this method, so we’ll still have a while to wait to see if this method can be used to print organic matter in the same way, but medical implants are clearly an imperative; one of the trial objects was a human tracheal implant. 

From the closing section of the report: “The micro-organogel system developed here allows for the fabrication of devices suitable for biomedical applications that are robust enough to be handled, tested with standard industrial mechanical methods, and used in vigorous fluid pumping applications”. 

While vigorous fluid pumping actions may not sound particularly exciting, for the thousands of people a year that require organ transplants it could be genuinely life-saving.

Via Hackaday

All images courtesy of Science Advances


Brain implant could end paralysis for some sufferers

British semiconductor and software company ARM has announced that it's partnering with the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering to create a distinctly sci-fi sounding brain implant that can counter the debilitating effects of a range of neurological conditions, including spinal injury and more. 

If successful, the chip could revolutionize the treatment of paralysis. According to the World Health Organisation, every year between 250,000 and 500,000 people suffer spinal cord injuries that leave them with some form of long term damage. Injuries in this instance means not only trauma but also degeneration.

On top of this, approximately five million people are left paralyzed by stroke per year, according to the World Heart Federation

For many of these people, this paralysis is hugely debilitating and permanent. With advances in our understanding of the human brain and processors, ARM now believes it is capable of making a chip that works bi-directionally.

To understand what bi-directionally means and quite how epic that is, you first need to understand a little of how the nervous system works. Imagine that your brain is a computer that communicates with the rest of your body via tiny electrical impulses. 

A quick science lesson

These impulses go both ways, so let's quickly look at both. When you want to pick up an object, in a fraction of a second impulses are sent from your hand, through your nervous system to your brain, telling it how heavy the object is, how fragile it is, its temperature and its texture. These are known as afferent signals.

Based on this information, your brain decides the appropriate amount of force needed to pick the object up, the right grip strength, how long you can hold it for and how easy it'll be to hold,

It then sends signals back through your nervous system to the muscles of your hand and arm to allow you to pick up the object. These are known as efferent signals.

When there's a break in the line between the hand and your brain (as in a spinal injury), those signals can't be communicated and without the efferent signals, the hand doesn't know to move and is paralyzed. 

The answer?

If successful, this chip would artificially bridge the gaps in the neural network, working for both afferent and efferent signals (bi-directionally) to end the paralysis.

What's incredibly exciting about this is the possibility of communicating afferent signals. When you see demonstrations of robots being wildly inappropriate in the amount of force they use, it's usually because they only have the equivalent of efferent signals. This is one of the main hindrances of using an external system, like a robotic brace, to overcome paralysis.

According to ARM: “Research is also demonstrating that use of such a system may eventually help to coax brain neurons to rewire in ways that help the brain recover from stroke”. 

While stroke and spinal injury aren't the only causes of paralysis, they are two of the primary causes worldwide so eliminating these would be an immense achievement. 

The idea of having a computer chip inside your brain may sound like a bizarre concept, but there is already a growing field of work in Parkinson's treatment that includes brain implants. What will be really interesting is to see whether there'll be any application of this technology outside the world of medicine.

With Facebook and Elon Musk taking a keep interest in brain-tech, we think it’s only a matter of time before we start hearing about commercially available brain-technology interfaces.


Flexible screens could be made of paper

Researchers from the South China University of Technology have published the results of tests using paper as the base for flexible screen technology.

The research paper, published by the American Chemical Society, claims that the technology behind most flexible screen developments at the moment is hindered by price; the technology to make polymer thin film gets prohibitive when scaled up to the levels needed for mainstream production.

Paper, in contrast, is cheap, biodegradable and relatively easy to produce. There’s just one problem: it isn’t conductive. The way the researchers got around this was to coat paper in an ionic gel, which is essentially a gel made from salt in a liquid state.

Mmmmm, salty

The reason why ionic liquids are useful in producing conductive materials is that they're made mostly of ions, an atom or molecule in which the number of electrons is not equal to the number of protons, giving it a negative or positive electrical charge.

Once the paper is coated in the ionic gel, two sheets are used to sandwich a thin film that can emit electricity. When an electrical current was passed through the sheet it lit up, showing conclusively that the paper was now conductive.

Image via American Chemical Society

The study reported that the conductive paper was pretty durable, “withstanding 5,000 cycles of bending and unbending with negligible changes in performance and lasting for more than two months”. 

What’s more, the researchers say the conductive paper would be cheap and easy to produce, at $1.30 per square meter, and could apparently be fabricated at a rate of 30 meters a minute. 

It feels as though we've been on the cusp of flexible screen technology for a long time now. It was back in 2012 that Samsung demonstrated its flexible AMOLED screen, but that technology hasn’t yet found its way into mainstream devices. 

The Samsung Galaxy X, the manufacturer’s first flagship flexible handset, hit roadblocks in its production which Samsung now seems to have overcome. We're hoping to see a prototype later this year, and it'll be interesting to see how the company makes the technology work.

Looking further ahead, it'll be equally interesting to see if 'ionic paper' can change the landscape of the foldable screen market.


Google may be about to unveil its HTC Vive rival

Google may use one of the keynote speech slots at its developer conference I/O to finally unveil its long awaited stand-alone virtual reality headset.

We have been hearing rumors about Google’s stand-alone VR headset since February 2016, but now it looks like it may actually see the light of day. 

The conference runs from Wednesday 17 May to Friday 19 May in the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California and has previously been used to share major developments, including Google Assistant, Google Home, and its mobile VR platform Daydream.

According to Variety, there is a very real possibility that one of the announcements this year is going to be Google’s VR headset. We’re excited about this as a possibility because if the headset delivers on the rumors we’ve been hearing, it could be a revolutionary step in VR.

Standalone standout

It is apparently going to be a stand-alone device, meaning that it doesn’t require attaching to a computer or console to work. This does raise obvious questions about quality of the image, as currently the industry leading headsets all require vast computing power to process the content that VR headsets display. 

The possible solution to this lies in an FCC application made by Google for a “wireless virtual reality” prototype that operates between 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz network frequencies. 

If you’re ever tried using a top-of-the-range VR headset, the word wireless will no doubt have caught your eye there. One of the major drawbacks all the big players have at the moment is the thick band of cables coming out of the back of your head while playing with headsets connected to a computer.

What’s more, the headset supposedly has inside-out tracking, meaning that the headset can gauge where it is in space without needing external sensors. This would be a massive step in VR technology as currently in order to move within a VR experience, you need a set of external sensors to create a play-space.

One of the benefits of external sensors is that they give you the safe parameters that you can move in, which is very useful if you’re effectively wearing a very expensive blindfold. A possible solution to this is integrating the room scanning capabilities from Tango, Google’s augmented reality venture.

The reason we think that the VR announcement will be this headset and not just an update to Daydream is Google’s movements in the VR world recently. It has acquired the team behind Job Simulator, one of the most successful games in VR, it owns 3D art tool Tiltbrush, and Google Earth is one of the highest rated apps on the HTC Vive headset. 

And that last bit is important, because none of those apps or games work on Daydream, they are all compatible with top-of-the-range headsets HTC Vive and Oculus Rift

The keynote speeches are due to take place on Wednesday and Thursday morning so we don't have long to wait, and as soon as we know anything you’ll know.


Chill, Netflix isn’t introducing surge pricing

A Netflix spokesperson has confirmed that the company is not looking to implement weekend surge-pricing for its subscriptions in Australia. 

Recently, we’ve seen several reports over the last few days about Netflix trialling such price increases . The tactic of charging users more for a service at times of heightened demand  (commonly referred to as 'surge pricing') is a questionable practice at the best of times; thankfully it looks like that’s not actually what’s happening here.

We contacted Netflix for a response and were given the official statement: “We continuously test new things at Netflix and these tests typically vary in length of time. In this case, we are testing slightly different price points to better understand how consumers value Netflix. Not everyone will see this test and we may not ever offer it generally.”

When we asked for a further clarification about whether the trial was to test a different price point generally or if it was to test higher prices at weekends the response we got back was pretty conclusive. 

“These tests vary in length, and they are NOT weekend only” a Netflix spokesperson confirmed to TechRadar. 

What's it worth to you?

Surge pricing works well for services like Uber, where an individual journey can cost you more during a busy period when there is a shortage of taxis. It leaves a sour taste in the mouth, but it’s something you can get over once your trip has ended. A subscription service is a different matter.

The Australian reported that the subscription charge for basic users went up from $8.99 to $9.99, standard users saw a greater increase going from $11.99 to $13.99, and Premium users saw the biggest increase from $14.99 to $17.99.

Obviously, if there was a surge pricing model, it would mean that a user signing up for the service on a Sunday would end up month-by-month paying more than if they had signed up 24 hours later. Considering that Netflix subscriptions can be cancelled at any time, it wouldn’t make sense to implement this as a practice as users could easily circumnavigate it. 

In this instance Netflix appears to be testing the waters before announcing an official price increase to see what people are willing to accept as a new price. Worth noting is that the Netflix spokesperson confirmed that this test is only being run in Australia.

If we get any further information on what these tests are for, we'll let you know. 


HTC Vive just got more affordable – but there’s a catch

HTC has today offered up a finance option for its industry leading VR headset, the HTC Vive , meaning for £34.84 a month, you can have your very own room-scale virtual reality kit. 

While that may not sound very affordable to most, it’s certainly a lot friendlier for people who don’t have £759 in their wallet but really want to get their hands on one. 

There has been a financing option for US users for quite a while now so it’s a welcome addition to the UK market. The catch is, spread over two years, those monthly payments add up to over £830, meaning you pay (a lot) more than if you buy it outright. 

Best in class

The HTC Vive is currently the best virtual reality headset on the market, with immersive gameplay and stunning visuals. 

One of the main hurdles that VR has had to face is price, with the top headsets coming in at a premium price. Having to be connected to a top of the range computer makes the set-up cost is prohibitive for most, too. While this deal clearly doesn't reduce the cost of the Vive, it does spread it over two years, making it more palatable.

In order to take advantage of this deal, you just select the ‘financing’ option from the billing page when checking out. For more information, check out the official HTC Vive page