Why has Google spent $2bn on a smoke alarm company?

Google is expanding its tech empire with the £2bn ($3.2bn) purchase of Nest – a home technology company.

The staggeringly expensive purchase is bound to cause a stir in the race to use gadgets to enhance and make our lives easier.

Nest is currently leading the way in developing products to automate the home. It has two products on the market and hundreds of filed patents for future development.

The company claims its flagship thermostat is intuitive and will learn your habits after you set it manually a few times – it could intelligently warm the house before you get home from work.

Google’s buy is the latest in the ever-lucrative ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) movement, which is seeing automation of everyday tasks in an attempt to make our lives easier.

In the run up to acquisition the search giant will have looked at its competitors and realised it was falling behind in the automation stakes.

LG is already ahead of the curve having released its smart fridge, which will send a text message if you are out of milk. Meanwhile Microsoft has been working on a project since 2010 that aims to simplify connections between the management of electronic gadgets in the home.

For Google it is important to be seen as at the forefront of home technology and innovation. The willingness to stump up £2bn for a company not many people will have heard of shows how much value it places on automating our lives.

Products such as Google Glass, the wearable headset, give an indication of its ambition to embed technology into everyday life.

But the latest innovation isn’t the only consideration for customers when they’re deciding on what level of responsibility to give computers. Privacy issues continue to be raised about the amount of data we are giving companies about our lives.

Telling Google and Nest what time the heating is turned on (and off) lets them know about our routines, tells them how much time we are spending out of the house and indicates how much energy we are using. The more data about our lives the companies have the easier it is for them to target us with advertising.

While we are all for technology making our lives easier it’s reassuring that Nest co-founder Matt Rodgers quickly jumped to address privacy concerns writing on the company’s blog: “Our privacy policy clearly limits the use of customer information to providing and improving Nest’s products and services. We’ve always taken privacy seriously and this will not change.”


Image courtesy of Nest.


Adding stem cells to the brains of mice “slowed or reversed” ageing

Albert Einstein College of Medicine scientists “slowed or reversed” ageing in mice by injecting stem cells into their brains.

The study, published online in the journal Nature, saw the scientists implant stem cells into mice’s hypothalamus, which caused molecules called microRNAs (miRNAs) to be released.

The miRNA molecules were then extracted from the hypothalamic stem cells and injected into the cerebrospinal fluid of two groups of mice: middle-aged mice whose hypothalamic stem cells had been destroyed and normal middle-aged mice.

This treatment significantly slowed aging in both groups of animals as measured by tissue analysis and behavioural testing that involved assessing changes in the animals’ muscle endurance, coordination, social behaviour and cognitive ability.

“Our research shows that the number of hypothalamic neural stem cells naturally declines over the life of the animal, and this decline accelerates aging,” said senior author Dongsheng Cai, M.D., Ph.D., professor of molecular pharmacology at Einstein.

“But we also found that the effects of this loss are not irreversible. By replenishing these stem cells or the molecules they produce, it’s possible to slow and even reverse various aspects of aging throughout the body.”

To reach the conclusion that stem cells in the hypothalamus held the key to aging, the scientists first looked at the fate cells in the hypothalamus as healthy mice got older.

The number of hypothalamic stem cells began to diminish when the mice reached about 10 months, which is several months before the usual signs of aging start appearing. “By old age—about two years of age in mice—most of those cells were gone,” said Dr. Cai.

Images courtesy of the Mayo Clinic.

The researchers next wanted to learn whether this progressive loss of stem cells was actually causing aging and was not just associated with it.

To do this, the scientists observed what happened when they selectively disrupted the hypothalamic stem cells in middle-aged mice.

“This disruption greatly accelerated aging compared with control mice, and those animals with disrupted stem cells died earlier than normal,” said Dr. Cai.

Finally, to work out whther adding stem cells to the hypothalamus counteracted ageing, the scientists injected hypothalamic stem cells into the brains of middle-aged mice whose stem cells had been destroyed as well as into the brains of normal old mice.

In both groups of animals, the treatment slowed or reversed various measures of aging.

The scientists are now trying to identify the particular populations of microRNAs that are responsible for the anti-aging effects seen in mice, which is perhaps the first step toward slowing the aging process and successfully treating age-related diseases in humans.

Self-driving delivery cars coming to UK roads by 2018

A driverless vehicle designed to deliver goods to UK homes is set to take to the road next year after the successful conclusion of an equity crowdfunding campaign.

Developed by engineers at The University of Aberystwyth-based startup The Academy of Robotics, the vehicle, Kar-Go, is road-legal, and capable of driving on roads without any specific markings without human intervention.

Kar-Go has successfully raised £321,000 through Crowdcube – 107% of its goal – meaning the company now has the funds to build its first commercially ready vehicles. This amount will also, according to William Sachiti, Academy of Robotics founder and CEO, be matched by “one of the largest tech companies” in the world.

Images courtesy of Academy of Robotics

The Academy of Robotics has already built and tested a prototype version of Kar-Go, and is working with UK car manufacturer Pilgrim to produce the fully street-legal version.

The duo has already gained legal approval from the UK government’s Centre for Autonomous Vehicles, meaning the cars will be able to immediately operate on UK roads once built.

The aim of Kar-Go is to partner with suppliers of everyday consumer goods to significantly reduce the cost of deliveries, and the company’s goal in this area is ambitious: Sachiti believes Kar-Go could reduce delivery costs by as much as 98%.

Whether companies go for the offering remains to be seen, but the company says it is in early stage discussions with several of the largest fast-moving consumer goods companies in Europe, which would likely include the corporations behind some of the most recognisable brands found in UK supermarkets.

Introducing Kar-go Autonomous Delivery from Academy of Robotics on Vimeo.

While some will be sceptical, Sachiti is keen to drive the company to success, and already has an impressive track record in future-focused business development. He previously founded Clever Bins – the solar powered digital advertising bins found in many of the nation’s cities – and digital concierge service MyCityVenue – now part of SecretEscapes.

“As a CEO, it is one of my primary duties to make sure Kar-go remains a fantastic investment, this can only be achieved by our team producing spectacular results. We can’t wait to show the world what we produce,” he said.

“We have a stellar team who are excited to have begun working on what we believe will probably be the best autonomous delivery vehicle in the world. For instance, our multi-award winning lead vehicle designer is part of the World Championship winning Brabham Formula One design team, and also spent years as a Design Engineer at McLaren.”