Monday, February 29, 2016

Scientists model a Coronavirus' infectious bits for the first time


A collaboration of scientists from University of Washington (UW), the Pasteur Institute and the University of Utrecht have harnessed a state-of-the-art microscope and supercomputer to model a coronavirus' infection mechanism for the first time.

Coronaviruses are really good at infecting the respiratory systems of humans and other mammals. Once inside, these viruses can cause pneumonia (if you're lucky). The strains that become SARS and MERS have a mortality rate as high as 37 percent. Plus, there is currently no antigen for SARS or MERS, which makes them especially dangerous.

The virus is so effective because of its "transmembrane spike glycoprotein," which binds to the surfaces of other cells, allowing the virus to enter. This structure is what gives coronaviruses their spiky, crown-like shape and determines what species of animals the virus can target.

The research team leveraged a single particle cryo-electron microscopy technique to model the spike of a coronavirus that infects mice in terrific detail. The team managed a 4 angstrom resolution -- about a tenth of a nanometer.

With this new analysis, the team believes they've identified a potential weaknesses in the virus' defenses. Turns out, the spike has a small peptide chain running along it. That peptide helps facilitate the virus' entry into a cell but could easily be hijacked by a treatment.

"Small molecules or protein scaffolds might eventually be designed to bind to this site," UW assistant professor of chemistry, David Veesler said in a statement, "to hinder insertion of the fusion peptide into the host cell membrane and to prevent it from undergoing changes conducive to fusion with the host cell. We hope that this might be the case, but much more work needs to be done to see if it is possible."

Source: UW Health Sciences


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Google bets that smart software will improve health care


Google's DeepMind project has mostly focused on solving high-minded computer intelligence issues. Today, though, it's tackling something far more practical in the short-term: health care. The new DeepMind Health initiative relies on smart mobile apps to deliver medical data to doctors and nurses in time to save lives. The first app, Streams, helps spot acute kidney injuries that would otherwise go unnoticed. There are also plans to integrate technology from a third-party task management app, Hark, to identify patients that are at risk of deteriorating quickly.

The initial DeepMind Health effort is focused on the UK's National Health Service. And despite the name, it doesn't currently use artificial intelligence -- Google is "excited" about the possibility of using AI, but it's not part of these early tests. If everything pans out, though, this could go a long way toward streamlining health info and eliminating the need for archaic tech like fax machines and pagers to make sense of a patient's status.

Source: Google DeepMind


Monday, February 22, 2016

Cheap smartphones will soon get much better graphics


The company that created the iPhone's graphics chip wants to bring its pixel-crunching expertise to dirt-cheap smartphones. Imagination Technologies is launching the PowerVR 8XE, a new series of chips that offer vastly better graphics for far less cash. The hardware's designed to support the new Vulkan API that promises graphically-intensive mobile games without the usual jerkiness or slowdowns. Imagination's pitch is that rather than just building ever-bigger slices of silicon, it's learning to do a lot more with a lot less. In addition to dirt-cheap smartphones, the chips will be used in cheapie set-top boxes and cars.

A more efficient graphics chip is also a smaller one, and smaller chips are often cheaper to manufacture and install. That means Imagination can offer chips with higher resolution and performance for the same price as the current generation. Given that there's so little difference between so many low-end smartphones these days, being able to offer better graphics is a big deal. It's also expected that the VR8XE chip will sip, rather than guzzle, at the smartphone's power reserves. Joe Chen, Co-CEO at MediaTek is pretty excited about the technology, saying that he's "delighted" to be one of the first firms that'll get access to the goodies.

Source: Imagination Technology


Epson unveils its third-generation Moverio AR glasses at MWC


Epson debuted the third iteration of its Moverio AR glasses series, dubbed the BT-300, at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona on Monday. The new smart specs boast completely transparent lenses impregnated with OLED displays, a quad-core Intel Atom X5 processor and the Android 5.1 operating system. Plus, they weigh 20 percent less than their BT-200 predecessors, making them the world's lightest AR glasses. They're currently available for preorder and are expected to ship later this year.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Meet HP's Elite X3, a Windows Phone with a wireless lapdock


It's been ages (fine, two years) since HP released a smartphone, so surely a device making its debut at Mobile World Congress ought to be special, right? Well, HP's newest mobile -- the Elite X3 -- is special, for a few reasons. First off, it's a Windows Phone in an age where Windows Phone growth has basically stopped. And second, HP is looking at it as a productivity powerhouse, supplementing it with a lapdock that the phone connects to wirelessly. The result? A mostly full-size laptop with all the power of a smartphone. ​

First, the facts. Like plenty of other phones here at the show, the X3 comes loaded with a Snapdragon 820 chipset and 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM, along with 64GB of internal storage. That puts it in the same category as devices like the LG G5, though its dual front-facing speakers (augmented by Bang & Olufsen) could make it a handier media machine. It also sports all the security features your IT department has been clamoring for, two SIM card slots for frequent fliers and a surprisingly nice 5.96-inch Quad HD display.

All told, that's a pretty solid package. And from HP! Who knew? Really, though, it's the productivity angle that's most puzzling. The Elite X3 is meant as a business-only machine, sold in fleets to both tiny and corporate IT departments, and the lapdock (technically the "mobile extender") is a way to turn a phone into a full-blown work machine. The extender is supposed to come with a 48Wh battery and a 12.5-inch diagonal screen, along with a full-size keyboard and trackpad. If you're really itching to hunker down and work, there's a dock, too, which basically just lets you route video from the phone to a bigger display for universal apps.

I got the chance to play briefly with the phone (the lapdock was just a mock-up) and walked away more confused than anything. Would a mobile professional prefer a proper laptop and smartphone every single time? The notion of having productivity accessories orbiting around a smartphone sun is great and all (especially for small IT departments that would rather not have to deal with managing all those assets), but the fact of the matter is, Continuum sometimes doesn't work reliably enough to make any of this feasible. Most of my Continuum experience has been with a Lumia 950 connected straight into a screen with cables — I couldn't get Miracast connectivity to work even with a dongle Microsoft provided, and I'm wondering how many people will experience these same kinds of headaches with HP's wireless lapdock.

That's kind of a shame, too, as the Elite X3 is one of the nicer Windows Phones I've come across. It's not as downright fancy as the NuAns Neo, but it's got the horsepower to make some people reconsider the Windows Phone lifestyle.