February 2014

Science & Technology
  • Researchers at the University of Sheffield are developing a system to spot false rumours on social media, in order to help emergency services allocate resources effectively . More.
  • Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory reported that, for the first time in the development of nuclear fusion technology, an experiment was successful in releasing more energy than was required to initiate the reaction.  More.
  • Scientists at Harvard Medical School have managed to translate brain scans from one monkey into physical movements within another ‘avatar’ monkey. This has potential applications in the treatment of paralysis. More.
  • Researchers in the Netherlands reported that electroconvulsive therapy, which involves passing electric pulses through the brain, can be used to erase memories. More.
  • Researchers at MIT have developed a seawater desalination technique, called ‘shock electrodialysis’, that also removes bacteria and dirt from treated water. More.
  • Google launched a prototype phone with inbuilt sensors that enable users to create a 3D map of their surroundings. Such a device could have applications in accurate indoor mapping or in helping visually impaired users to navigate unfamiliar surroundings.
  • The Google Lunar XPRIZE, which was established to encourage private sector solutions for Moon visits, announced a further $6m allocation to the $20m prize pot. More.
  • One Llama announced that it is developing an app that can identify sounds associated with potential dangers, alerting distracted smart phone users or people with auditory impairments. The technology works through mimicking the sound-processing techniques of the human ear. More.

  • Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have run successful early trials on a chemical that, through altering the chemistry of eye cells by changing shape in response to light, has been shown to restore an element of vision in trials on blind mice. More.
  • IBM’s AI system Watson is to be made available to run big data analysis in an attempt to solve problems relating to water, sanitation, agriculture, healthcare and education in Africa. More.
  • Researchers at Harvard University have demonstrated the use of termite-inspired robots to build complex structures. Such approaches could be deployed in post-disaster settings or even space. More.
  • Samsung’s Power Sleep app is using the computing power of smart phones to process cancer research data while phone owners sleep. More.
  • RevMedX has developed a system for injecting small, coagulant-coated expandable sponges into gunshot wounds in order to stop bleeding within 15 seconds. More.
  • Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have developed nanomotors that are small enough to fit inside human cells. The nanomotors can be controlled using magnets and soundwaves, and could theoretically be used to destroy or modify cell structures as part of disease treatment. More.
  • Scientists at the University of Cambridge have demonstrated the application of perovskite cells, currently being developed to harvest solar energy, within cheap lasers. More.
  • A report published by AT Kearney revealed that just nine of the world’s top 100 high tech companies are now headquartered in Europe. The report finds that a lack of skilled employees, smaller amounts of R&D investment and financial support as well as fragmented market are contributing to a decline relative to Asia and North America. More.
  • Facebook agreed to buy WhatsApp for up to $19bn. An interesting article in the FT looked at how this price reflects the winner-takes-all nature of digital platforms. More.
  • Siemens Venture Capital launched a $100m fund to back start-ups developing technologies for manufacturing and industrial automation. In related news, Cisco reported that it will be launching a $100m fund for ‘the internet of things’, Mayfield Fund raised a $108m fund to invest in startups in India, while  Google announced a dedicated growth stage fund, Google Capital.
  • Google acquired SlickLogin, an Israeli start-up that has developed technology that enables users to log-in to computers using sound waves (emitted from a computer and picked-up by an app on a smart phone).
  • Language learning platform Duolingo raised $20m from investors including Kleiner Perkins. The service provides language lessons that double as translation services for paying customers.
  • Lemoptix, which is developing mobile phone-embedded micro projectors, announced that it has secured investment from Swisscom Ventures. More.
  • MyHealth Teams, which runs social networks for people suffering from chronic conditions and their carers, raised $3.3m from investors including the Westly Group. More.
  • InnovateLTC launched Beyond Beta, an accelerator programme for technologies designed to enhance care or quality of life for the global aging population. The programme will provide $100k to up to ten companies, with applications closing on 15 April.
  • Iceland-based tissue-regeneration technology developer Kerecis raised $2m.

  • San Francisco-based d.light raised $11m to further develop its emerging market-focused solar-powered lighting and power solutions. Investors included Omidyar Network, Nexus India Capital, Acumen Fund and Garage Technology Ventures.
  • Makexyz, an online directory for 3D printers, received investment from Intel Capital.

  • Venture philanthropy investor NewSchools raised $12m to invest in education technology companies.
  • SoundFocus, which is developing technology that tunes audio playback to the specific listening abilities of users, raised $1.7m from investors including Kapoor Capital.

  • New York based company builder Betaworks raised an additional $7.5m investment from Japanese incubator Digital Garage, as part of a deal designed to help Japanese start-ups expand within the US. More.
  • Globevestor, a fundraising platform for technology companies targeting emerging markets, opened a $500k funding round.
  • Israel-based Advanced Mem-Tech, which develops membrane filtration technologies capable of removing bacteria, microbes and parasites during water treatment, raised $5m from investors.

  • Xeros, the UK-based developer of washing machines that utilise dirt-attracting polymer beads in order to reduce energy, detergent and water consumption, is poised to enter the domestic market. More.
  • Singapore-based Crowdfunding platform Crowdonomic partnered with not-for-profit Earth Hour to fund technology-based environmental project through the Earth Hour Blue platform. More.
  • Holland-based MyTomorrows, which connects patients suffering from untreatable illnesses with development-stage drugs, raised $2.2m from private investors. The company is similar to London-based TrialReach.
  • Interesting companies that we came across this month include:

– Gravitas International, the UK-based manufacturer of the hydrosack, a pulp-filled polypropylene bag whose contents crystallise on contact with water. This is much lighter than a sand bag, does not spread disease and contents can be used as fertiliser after use.
– Jumpstart, an Edinburgh-based company that supports business R&D tax relief applications.
– Ktyabu,a Kenya-based service that digitises textbooks and makes these available through a cheap tablet.
– Pace4Life, which organises collection and re-use of pacemakers for people in developing countries.
– Pronutria, a nutrition supplement and medical food developer, which raised $12.5m from Flagship Ventures.
– WeSwap, a peer-to-peer currency exchange that applies much lower transaction charges than traditional exchange services.

  • Researchers at Cambridge University’s Department of Psychology have shown that a feeling of powerlessness can impact that way that people perceive the physical world, for instance through perceiving the weight of objects to be much greater than estimates from powerful individuals. More.
  • Consultancy Maplecroft released an index of vulnerability to natural disasters, placing Japan at the top in relation to weather and seismic hazards, with the UK most vulnerable to winter storms.