3D printing gets smarter in healthcare

Since we last reported an amazing 3D printing story in January 2015, the technology continues to demonstrate its extraordinary enabling powers in the operating theatre for the NHS, with another life transformed as reported this week.

Surgeons were able to use 3D printers to replicate body parts in a kidney transplant from father to daughter at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London recently.  With the contrast in size of the organs, 3D printers were used to make models of the daughter’s abdomen and father’s kidney from CT and MRI scans. This enabled the surgeons to accurately plan and rehearse the complex operation.

Hard printouts created the girl’s pelvis, whilst her liver was made softer in a liquid plastic model to enable the doctors to practice pushing it out of the way to make way for the new kidney. Happily, the little girl can now run around and eat normally and enjoy a very different outcome and normal childhood, whilst her parents have the simple joy of planning for her nursery integration in the Autumn.

Unlike in medical robotics where there have been more than two million operations since 2000 the robotics arena still carries challenges in winning over patient confidence.  Here however, the winning smiles of father and daughter amply reflect the achievement of partnership between the human hand and advanced printing technology that shows there is plenty more in store in the future of 3D printing.


3D scanning is coming to a smartphone near you


3D scanning, used to make models which could be manipulated on a PC or printed on a 3D printer, requiring sophisticated depth-sensing cameras.  These 3D cameras can be both very expensive and much larger than a regular camera sensor, both traditionally being barriers to bringing the technology to mobile in a more mainstream way.

Microsoft, no stranger to 3D camera technology, has developed multiple commercial versions of its Xbox Kinect 3D motion camera and has shown off several prototypes on miniaturized, mobile versions of 3D cameras. They have now announced a new, software driven approach to bringing 3D scanning to the mass market called “MobileFusion”.

MobileFusion doesn’t rely on any special 3D hardware but is entirely driven by an app being developed for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. The main focus for the app is to create digital versions of real life objects that can be then printed on a 3D printer.

The trick to using a single camera to capture depth is that it needs to be slowly moved around the object, so it does take longer to capture, however the cost and availability bonuses of the app should make this an exciting addition to the phone’s feature set.

The reason why this is a major step forward is that currently 3D scanners are very limited and conversely, most people own a smartphone.  This remarkable technology will let anyone capture digital copies of real world objects be it at a museum, outside, in home or in the office.

With many more 3D objects available and the power to create them at ease, 3D printing may get its shot at mainstream success beyond the current niches that have adopted the technology so far.

This week’s technology news – 30th January 2015

Will the race for the smartest AI expose a huge security risk? 

Artificial Intelligence used to be restricted to science fiction, but today it is being using by millions, even if you don’t realise. When you buy a smart phone today, chances are it will come with its own AI-driven digital assistant. By typing or speaking, you can ask the device natural questions and receive natural sounding answers to your queries. Some of these assistants also learn things about you during their use. You have the option of letting them know more about yourself, so they can offer you a more personalised service. A lot of their actual usage falls under novelty currently but these assistants have proved that for some tasks, asking a machine to do a specific task is quicker than tapping through apps and comparing data by yourself.

With Google, Apple and Microsoft fighting for advancement and innovation in this area and with millions of active people using these services, AI is in rapid development.

Microsoft are big players in AI, recently making waves with its virtual assistant Cortana being built into all Windows 10 PCs, tablets and phones, which if the OS is a success will make Cortana the most widely available virtual assistant ever.  Microsoft also provides machine learning with its own branch of AI and drives a lot of their advanced Azure services including the platform that runs Cortana. Machine Learning allows scientists and developers to integrate predictive analytics data into their own apps.  Microsoft research chief Eric Horvitz’s recently revealed that over a quarter of all attention and resource at his research unit is focused on AI activities.

One of the most vital questions around the evolution of AI has been:   if artificial intelligence achieves consciousness, could it be a threat to human life? Last December Stephen Hawking predicted that such machines could “spell the end of the human race”.  Eric Horvitz has begged to differ, “I fundamentally don’t think that’s going to happen. I think that we will be very proactive in terms of how we field AI systems, and that in the end we’ll be able to get incredible benefits from machine intelligence in all realms of life, from science to education to economics to daily life.”   Of course Microsoft has a deeply vested interest in the advancements of AI so you wouldn’t expect the same concern from a party profiting from its rapid development. Eric Horvitz also commented on the competitions involvement in the technology.  “We have Cortana and Siri and Google Now setting up a competitive tournament for where the best intelligent assistant is going to come from… and that kind of competition is going to heat up the research and investment, and bring it more into the spotlight.”

The main area of concern remains around privacy. AI systems will continually be able to make deeper inferences about users by weaving together the mass of data generated not only by information obtained via responding to a user’s queries, activities and life style preferences, but also from the access these systems have to a user’s emails, contacts, calendars and more.

Some services do let you choose what can and can’t be used via your AI assistant but this of course directly affects their usefulness. Going forwards collected information and the means to grant or prevent access needs to be even more transparent and the relevant legislation in place with sovereign governments to reasonably safeguard citizens whilst ensuring criminal exploitation is minimised.   Secondly, where information is stored (whether encrypted on device or on a server) is also hugely important. The amount of data an AI could gather about you would be incredibly valuable to ad providers for example or security intelligence agencies.

As the technology moves forwards and AI evolves, so must both our application and cyber security. Exposure of this data would enable identity theft at a whole new level and unauthorised use of an advance AI service could be detrimental, allowing a hacker to query anything from calendar appointments to email details from any participating user. The likelihood of either scenario is minute with numerous safeguards already in place, but time has shown again and again, that if someone can build something, someone else will work out how to break it down.








Microsoft Windows 10 –  surprise hardware announcements

Microsoft’s Windows 10 event last week was not just about showcasing new software.  Instead the technology giant woo’d its audience with some truly great commercial tech offerings.

Microsoft biggest surprise was its announcement of a long developed and never leaked new device called HoloLens.  HoloLens is a wearable holographic computer with high definition see-through lenses that promises to take virtual reality technology to a new level.

Worn like goggles, it doesn’t require cables or other devices to operate and runs Windows 10. Unlike other virtual reality headsets in development HoloLens doesn’t block off your view of the world but instead places virtual holograms on top of the real world without the requirement for markers or external cameras.

Demo’d during the event, Microsoft showed off specialised applications such as one being developed with NASA for its Jet Propulsion Laboratory, to help control the Curiosity Mars Rover and offer scientists a more interactive way to view Mars.  An onstage demo then showed someone wearing the device to create a 3D quad-copter in 3D-space by pointing their finger, using hand gestures and voice control using an application called HoloStudio.  Once created virtually, Microsoft revealed one they had 3D printed earlier. One of the biggest issues with 3D printing is content creation and HoloLens may just have solved that.

One application of HoloLens to quickly get into people’s homes will come through Minecraft, following Microsoft’s recent $2.5 billion acquisition of the hugely popular game from Mojang in 2014.  A HoloLens version of the game was shown on video where the device wearer can see the ‘blocked’ virtual world across their real-world interior furnishings. The player can walk around their creation and even virtually destroy real world objects that will have direct implications in-game.

Select members of the press were impressed that Microsoft delivered as advertised. With Windows 10 launching later in 2015, we will hear much more about HoloLens once Microsoft have figured out the pricing and its likely roll out will be in 3D modelling, engineering and robotics.microsoft-hololens







Microsoft – Surface Hub
A much larger new technology has been shown off by Microsoft.   Called Surface Hub, the device is built for smart team collaboration.   The huge 84 inch tablet is designed to be installed on a meeting room wall. Once again, this collaborating device also runs Windows 10, and can be controlled by pen, touch or even voice.

You can invite external workers into the panoramic discussion using Skype For Business, who are then face-to-face with you, using the Hubs built in cameras and microphones. The conversation doesn’t have to be full screen either and can be snapped to one side while the rest of the screen is freed up for note taking, annotations or even reviewing advance 3D modelling.

The cameras and microphones are based on Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox. These cameras can detect who has attended the meeting and the microphones can pick up natural speech commands from across the room.   Setup is simple, needing just one power cable to operate. The rest is done wirelessly.  Users can beam content from their phones to the Surface Hub to share.   Then, once a meeting has finished, the ‘whiteboard’ contents are sent down to peoples’ devices, including any meeting minutes solving both problem of taking a photo of a traditional whiteboard and having a dedicated resource taking minutes in situ.

Being a full-fledged Windows 10 PC, the Surface Hub can also run additional apps. The new store will have a dedicated section for apps, giving developers a new market to target for business.

Both Microsoft hardware announcements were genuine surprises, which makes a pleasant change to the usual pattern of leaks.

One area Microsoft has been quiet on so far is new phones to take advantage of the upcoming operation system and with their Surface line now pulling in over $1 billion in revenue it would not be surprising to see a Surface 4 Pro running Windows 10 on launch.  Although it was a slow start, Microsoft seems to be sticking true to its modern branding of a ‘devices and services’ company and more announcements will be expected in the run up to the big Windows 10 launch later this year.







Heartfelt 3D printing

Since the first 3D printed gun was fired in May 2013, 3D printing (or ‘additive manufacturing’) has come a long way commercially.  This has varied from creating ‘bump’ keys for locksmiths, repairing worn out parts ‘live’ in space in the International Space Station and Oslo University’s creation of self-healing bots – all of which we wrote about in 2014.

The amazing applications for healthcare have now taken 3D printing to new heights.  From facial reconstruction of 3D printed bone and human tissue being printed to make arteries, we now have a heart warming story where 3D printing has recently saved a 2 year old girl’s life.  Born with a serious heart defect, the girl who had spent most of her life poorly and fed through tubes, underwent vital surgery to repair a hole between the two chambers of her heart.  Doctors created imaging using a CT scan and a 1:1 3D image of her heart was made in plastic using specialist software.  From this, surgeons were able to successfully plan the operation, giving vital and accurate information to assist in the delicate procedure.

The potential is seemingly limitless and the opportunities for servicing industries substantial.  For businesses, being able to send an engineer to a customer who can 3D print an exact part on site, might advertise guaranteed satisfaction.  However, the original manufacturer is then threatened with lost business from lack of replacement orders and a reasonable concern over copyright for a copied part.  This might be one for the courts to rule on as the technology progresses, or if one were to be cynical, perhaps manufacturers will purposefully drive towards shorter shelf life and price changes to keep out the competition and force whole replacements in the market.

3D heart

This Week’s Technology News – 24h November 2014

3D Printing – refreshing the parts other printers cannot reach
The 3D printing sector has seen interesting advances over 2014 with this growing technology in use on earth and in space.  The International Space Station (ISS) has installed its first 3D printer. Before the installation, start up company Made in Space tested the printer in zero-gravity on an airplane. With the printer on-board, astronauts will be able to print physical parts themselves without needing to commission them from earth and get rocketed into space (both costly and time consuming).     Printed parts in theory will be able to replace faulty parts or maintain certain equipment in the ISS.

In parallel, researchers from the University of Oslo have designed bots that can already adapt to unforeseen problems and 3D-print new parts for themselves (ie. self healing manufacture) and apply intelligent best adaptation to its environment.   The options are limitless the scientists believe, based on a few limited instructions ie. what to do, how fast to go, its size and energy consumption.  The ingenuity for an autonomous computer being able to consider thousands of options simultaneously and 3D-print parts to create a new model, creates an intriguing possibility perhaps for ‘3-D Printing as a Service’ for MSPs?


Is business ready to accept ‘Facebook at Work’?
Although not formally announced, ‘Facebook at Work’ has been heavily rumoured to be used internally at the company, with a worldwide launch for business imminent.    Apparently, it is distinct from its current consumer model by barring personal details and helping overcome being blacklisted by organisations which disallow social media engagement at work. With the rise of social networking and collaboration, Facebook is cleverly poised through its dominant position with over one billion Facebook accounts, to try to take on the likes of LinkedIn and other corporate-focused social networks like Microsoft’s  Lync and Skype.   The diversification opportunities deepen, as collaboration leads to online storage where users upload and collaborate on documents with other users of the service.

The real question is whether, despite all their canny commercial plans, and even accounting for proper security and governance procedures, will the sheer name of ‘Facebook’ simply scare off a lot of companies?   Ultimately, the scale and impact of social networking cannot be ignored, but overcoming assumptions about the brand and how it will advocate its handling of public and private information will be the largest hurdle facing Facebook as it stares out from this mirror of opportunity.


Dictat to go digital in healthcare – or warning NHS funding will be pulled
NHS England’s National Director for Patients & Information, Tim Kelsey, has announced the publication of its ‘Personalised Health and Care 2020 Strategy’.  This paper confirms NHS England’s intention to go paperless by 2018-20, or face having its funding pulled.

At its heart, patient care records must be available across urgent care services by 2018 and throughout all NHS organisations by 2020 to create joined up practice amongst professionals, speed and efficiencies and avoidance of errors (ie. in prescriptions).  Only 4% of records are currently accessible online.

The technical challenge around IT remains that many of the NHS’s PCs are still running the soon to be defunct Windows XP.  If as stated, financial resources will be made available to assist healthcare organisations, this will come as good news for IT teams and MSPs to help support any such migration to make the NHS fit for digital.  However, it must remain an integrated and secure approach.  The BMA’s GP Committee Chair Chaand Nagpaul concluded that “..the most critical aspects to get right beforehand are the safeguards, confidence and trust of patients”.   Added to this, should be the strict management of patient data to prevent it being sold unknowingly to third party commercial organisations for private profit.

Following errors on the Care.data scheme debacle earlier in 2014 which failed to have appropriate data privacy safeguards in place, this is a very valid point, but should not stop  future rollout if armed with correct good practice and security and governance policies. Hopefully, with National Data Guardian Dame Fiona Caldicott now on board, this will no longer be an issue. The key obstacle instead will be how much money healthcare organisations can secure to cover the necessary IT ‘fit for future’ upgrade investments.


NHS kitemarks for apps
In a separate move, with the rapid increase in health-related apps for mobile phones and other personal devices available in the market, NHS chiefs are backing a “kitemark” for health-related smartphone apps to validate those deemed as safe to use by patients to help them manage health conditions.  It also includes an e-version of the red book recording baby’s immunisations and development to be online from 2016, to counter the loss of key info if the actual book goes missing and the child requires vaccination, review or emergency treatment.



This week’s technology news – 29th August 2014

Progress with IoT – But Security Concerns Still Dominate Public Opinion
The likelihood of The Internet of Things (IoT) becoming a reality, seems to be gathering pace and fast if public opinion is anything to go by.  According to a recent global report “Internet of Things: Connected Home,” 1,800 20-50 year old tech savvy consumers across 11 countries (including US, Australia, China, Germany, India, and the UK) were polled.  61% thought IoT, in which seamless connections between appliances and electronics are connected to the internet could happen, was “extremely likely” to happen in next five years (with 84% conclusion in China).

The IoT market is expected to grow to US$7.1 trillion over the next six years.  Is it all good news, well no.  Not surprisingly, the greatest concern was the risk of sensitive data being exposed as a result of IoT.

70% of those surveyed said they were either “extremely concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about the risk of data breaches or personal information being compromised.

60% stated that “privacy is important to me and I do not trust how this type of data may be used”.

67% of those in the US advised that if personal data was accessed without their knowledge or consent, they would “feel violated and extremely angry to the point where (they) would take action”.  The majority of those surveyed suggested that their government should regulate how data is collected and what vendors are allowed to do and not do with the collected data.

The risk of losing public trust by not having well through through security and governance protocols in place from the start is too great for governments and network administrators to ignore.
In the UK, the Government has invested a further £1.6m on wireless project HyperCat, a thin interoperability layer which allows devices using different communication platforms to exchange data.  This is part of a £6.4 million package of public funding into IoT. The Government’s contribution to this non-profit making project provides a degree of independent assurance and secure interoperability.  Whilst Qualcomm, Microsoft, Cisco, HTC and Symantec are behind a similar “AllSeen Alliance” and Apple creates its own proprietary IoT standard called “HomeKit”, in the UK, 40+ technology companies including ARM, BT and KPMG are investing £45 million in the hope that their synchronised wireless communication standards version will become the globally accepted international standard, published through the British Standards Institute (BSI).

With the spec for Hypercat due to be published in 2015, for organisations everywhere, the advice is to treat IoT with care and fully consider the value of any data gathered and the potential impact of any breach.  As the volume of data in circulation increases and its storage and mining carries ever greater personal and commercial significance, the way in which business handles corporate responsibility and public may determine loyalty and their bottom line.


The good and evil of 3D printing

Since the development of 3D printing technology, there have been a myriad of different uses coming to market. Two have recently been brought into public focus this week – and they could not be more polar opposites.

The first (good use) is a 3D printed vertebra which has been successfully implanted in a 12 year-old boy with cancer in his spinal cord. The benefits of 3D printing the required part is that it could be specifically designed to match the child’s original vertebra.  The design also includes small holes that let the natural bone grow inside. This makes the 3D printed vertebra a permanent part of the spine which will not need adjustment in the future as the child grows.

On the negative side, like the 3D printed gun before it, not all uses of 3D printing technology we are destined to see will be for the good.   A new “bump key” has been invented using the technology.  A combination of locksmith know-how and 3D printing equipment has resulted in locks you can open without having the original key.   Happily, it is never as simple as it sounds.   First a photo of the lock itself has to be taken to assist in the printing of the “bump key”.  Then with the bump key in the lock it has to be hit with a special mallet at several points of the key turn.   If done correctly, the mechanism will unlock without damage to the lock itself.

As 3D printing equipment costs fall, ever more uses for the printing technology will be discovered. It has the potential to be a disruptive technology and so markets, law enforcers and regulators will need to keep an eye on developments in order to safeguard or counter its good use.



Shocking jailbreak for prison data
The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has been fined £180,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for “serious failings” following the loss of a hard drive containing confidential details of 3,000 prisoners at Erlestoke Prison in Wiltshire in 2013.  The data included information on organised crime, prisoners’ health and drug misuse, along with details about offenders’ victims and visitors.  Central to the severity of the breach was the fact that the disk had not been encrypted.

When a similar incident took place back in 2011, this triggered the issue of new back-up drives across the Prison Service which could be encrypted. However, the upgraded process was flawed from the start, as The Prison Service failed to provide instructions to employees to activate the encryption option which had to be done manually.

The ICO’s Head of Enforcement, Stephen Eckersley did not mince words in his damning report:   “The fact that a government department with security oversight for prisons can supply equipment to 75 prisons throughout England and Wales without properly understanding, let alone telling them how to use it, beggars belief”.  The sensitive information for prisoners, the public and victims remained insecure for over a year.  A spokeswoman for the MOJ advised that this had now been replaced with a secure centralised system.

The lesson for organisations to take from this shocker is simple, to have technology is one thing, to understand and implement the relevant security measures to safeguard the data is the fundamental partner in the equation for good gatekeeping and providing a safe pair of hands.

Questionable use of results from data collection of wearables

Wearables are out in the wild collecting metrics of user’s daily lives where users can see and track their own data. However, it can be tricky to visualise this without example of what the benefit of all this information has on a larger scale.

Jawbone, producers of some wearable fitness technology, published a report showing some live trends which arose following an earthquake this week in South Napa, San Francisco.   People wearing the devices in the vicinity were monitored and the results recorded those who awoke when it struck at 3.20am local time and who got up (90%). This is against those who carried on sleeping, having been located further away from the quake’s epicentre.

This on its own is interesting, but not remarkable.  However, Jawbone’s publication of its data findings from region to region, flags up the notable concern that how personal data is to be used can often be hidden in the small print of terms of conditions. Whilst data is frequently used anonymously, as wearables become more adopted – and especially when being infused with existing technology such as smart phones, this type of data collection will need to become a lot more transparent to prevent consumer backlash.


This Week’s technology news – 14th March 2014

New data protection age as Europe votes in data protection laws
MEPs this week voted overwhelmingly to tighten up new data protection laws in the “Data Protection Regulation”. Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding commented: “This reform is a necessity, and now it is irreversible…”. She added: “Strong data protection rules must be Europe’s trade mark. Following the US data spying scandals, data protection is more than ever a competitive advantage”. This was echoed in a speech by Euro Commission VP Neelie Kroes who said: “The next phase of the internet will be data-centred and connectivity-driven. Cloud computing, big data, the internet of things; tools which support manufacturing, education, energy, our cars and more. It is no longer about emails. In this new world, reliability and trust is a pre-condition”. These changes will be especially hard for smaller businesses to manage and could cripple them with onerous administrative responsibilities. However, for MSPs there is a clear opportunity to sift through the complexities by providing proper consultative and support services to ensure companies and individuals are better protected.

New storage horizons with Blu-ray’s successor
Not long ago, Facebook started utilising Blu-rays for a low powered storage solution. This was done with a customised solution holding 10,000 Blu-ray discs. However a much more efficient and practical solution is on the horizon. Sony and Panasonic have teamed up to create the next generation of disc-based media called Archival Disc. This goes far beyond Blu-ray, storing up to 1TB of data per disc (the equivalent of 250 DVDS or 40 Blu-rays). With this much storage on such a slim profile, Archival Disc’s could genuinely change the way we think about corporate data backup. Compared to tapes these are much easier to store and secure. The only unknowns so far are speed and cost. The first discs are due out in 2015 in 300GB variety, with 500GB and 1TB versions rolling out at a later date.

Microsoft and Samsung and now on the board for Qi wireless charging
Wireless charging technology has been creeping into the mainstream since launching in 2009. Mostly used as a cable-free way to charge your smart phone at your desk. Like all emerging technologies there is a lot of money to be made and big tech companies will fight to have their version of the technology become the universal standard. The two big names in wireless charging are Qi and PMA. PMA have managed to catch some big contracts like AT&T. The communications giant has been controlling mobile phone manufacturers to force use of the PMA technology instead of Qi. Qi on the other hand has penetrated the market more and won over move mobile phone manufacturers with Nokia, Google, Samsung all mostly using Qi. The latest news in this battle of wireless technologies brings tech giants Microsoft and Samsung to the QI board. This emphatic demonstration of commitment shows not only their support of the technology but also the drive for its wholesale adoption. This could be the fatal blow to PMA, whose product could soon end up in the bargain bin where HD-DVDs were just a few years ago.

Healthcare breakthrough in surgery using 3D printing
The UK has become one of the world’s pioneers in implementing 3D technology in surgery. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than a recent pioneering operation in Wales, where a motorbike victim had reconstructive surgery to his face, using 3D printed parts (including custom printed models, guides, plates and implants), months after the accident. The speed with which this technology has been adopted for surgery is remarkable. It is in stark contrast to the news in 2013 when 3D printers were first used to print guns in the States. Criminals unsurprisingly have also found uses for the technology, notably creating card readers (“skimmers”) to steal money from ATMs. Consequently, police organisations have set up dedicated departments to monitor cyber-crime alongside emerging technology. But at least on this occasion, the outcome is a wholly positive one for everyone involved.