Researchers are using VR to make dentist visits less painful

Patients in a study reported less pain, as long as they viewed nature scenes.

Like airlines, dentists understand that the more they can distract you from what they’re doing, the better off everyone will be. UK researchers wanted see if virtual reality can ease patient pain and anxiety, so they enlisted 79 people who needed a tooth pulled or cavity filled. Patients were divided into three groups: One that viewed a VR coastal scene, one a VR city, and the other, no virtual reality at all.

The result? Folks that viewed the ocean VR experienced “significantly less pain” than the other two groups, showing its therapeutic potential for stressful events. Furthermore, follow ups showed that the coastal VR patients experienced less “recalled pain” memories after the fact.

Notably, the city VR was no more effective at reducing patient pain and stress than no VR, so the trick seems to depend on using calming scenes. While that seems incredibly obvious, the psychologists thought VR could just be distracting patients from all the drilling and poking, much as a TV does, but that proved not to be the case. “Our findings are in line with literature, showing that contact with nature, even indirect contact through windows, can influence physical and mental well-being,” the paper explains.

The researchers note that in previous studies, VR has been shown to reduce patient dependence on pain medication. “Our research supports the previous positive findings of VR distraction in acute pain management, and suggests that VR nature can be used in combination with traditional [medication].” The next step, they suggest, would be to vary the content of natural environments (using a forest instead of a coastal scene, for instance) to see if the can determine exactly how it reduces pain. We’d recommend they check out the zen content out there, and avoid any games.


Brain-zapping wearable significantly boosts survival rates for cancer patients


Tumor-treating fields (TTFields) are a relatively new form of cancer treatment that send mild electrical fields through the scalp in an effort to block cell division. While it was approved a few years ago, further studies have been ongoing to determine how effective it really is. New results from a clinical trial have found that it significantly improves survival rates in brain cancer patients, with scientists labeling it a once-in-a-decade advance in the area.

The device used in the clinical trial is a patient-operated system called Optune, made by oncology company NovoCure. Through four adhesive patches, or transducer arrays, applied to the scalp, the system continuously delivers low-electric fields at a frequency of 200 kHz, which pulse through the skin and are thought to interrupt the ability of cancer cells to divide.

NovoCure’s device was first approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2011 for use on glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer with a two-year survival rate of around 30 percent. Various trials have investigated its efficacy since then, but the company describes the latest results as “landmark.”

Between 2009 and 2014, researchers led by neurologist Roger Stupp from Northwestern University enrolled 695 patients with newly diagnosed glioblastoma in a phase three clinical trial. Two hundred and twenty-nine of those patients were administered an oral chemotherapy drug called temozolomide, while 466 received both temozolomide and treatment with the Optune device.

The median survival rates for patients receiving both was 21 months, compared to 16 months for those receiving temozolomide alone. Two-year survival rates were 43 percent for those receiving both compared to 31 percent, three-year survival rates 26 and 16 percent, four-year survival rates 30 and eight percent and five-year survival rates 13 and five percent. The researchers say that the hazard ratio for overall survival was 0.63, which means that patients receiving the Optune treatment had a 37 percent lower risk of death.

“The last time any form of treatment was shown to improve survival for patients with this disease was more than 10 years ago, when adding temozolomide to radiotherapy was shown to improve the two-year survival rate from 10 percent to 27 percent,” said Stupp, “It is very exciting to see that the magnitude of benefit from adding TTFields to temozolomide is similar to that seen from adding temozolomide to radiotherapy; the two-year survival rate for those in the TTFields plus temozolomide arm was 43 percent. These data show the power of this new treatment modality, and we look forward to learning the results of trials testing it in patients with other forms of cancer.”

The results of the trial can be accessed online and are being presented at the annual American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Washington this week.

Sources: American Association for Cancer Research, NovoCure

Can retro arcade games make a wrist-worn comeback?


Between smartphones, tablets, and handheld gaming systems like the 3DS and the upcoming Nintendo Switch, killing time on bus rides has never been easier. But soon you might be able to fill those hours with some classic Atari arcade games as well – provided you don’t mind playing them one-handed on a tiny smartwatch screen.

It hasn’t been a household name for many moons, but in recent times Atari has been making efforts to get its brand back on stage. Now it appears the dusty old logo might soon be popping up on a wearable device called the Gameband – a “smartwatch for gamers,” developed in partnership with FMTwo Game.

Do gamers really need a smartwatch dedicated to them? Probably not. Do they want one? Apparently so: the Gameband Kickstarter campaign, which set a goal of US$75,000, has already cracked the $100,000 mark with over a month left. So far, five classic Atari titles have been announced for the device, Asteroids, Pong, Breakout, Centipede and Crystal Castles, as well as an exclusive watch-friendly version of the indie sandbox Terraria.

There’s no denying the sweet pull of nostalgia – if you don’t believe us, just try to order a Nintendo Classic Mini NES – but we can’t help but wonder if playing these games one-handed, on a 1.63-inch touchscreen scarcely wider than the finger you’re playing it with, is the best way to replicate those old school arcade vibes. With no killer app to really justify their existence yet, even Apple is finding the smartwatch to be a bit of a hard sell.

In the Gameband’s current form, we’d prefer to play these games on our easier-to-hold, bigger-screened smartphones, but that could change if the developers make use of the watch’s other input methods. The company says that those (like us) who look at the device and say “that screen is too small to play on” aren’t thinking creatively enough: ideally, Gameband games could make use of movement, gestures, voice, steps, location and other built-in tech to play in interesting ways.

If that vague promise is eventually delivered on, games designed for smartwatches could carve a new niche, in the same way that mobile games embraced touchscreen inputs incredibly well and exploded in popularity. But when all we’ve got to go on so far is tiny touchscreen Pong, well, we’re not ready to put too much faith in that dream yet.

FMTwo Game says the device will also come with more general purpose apps like a calendar, contacts, weather, alarm, a music player and Alexa voice control. The Gameband is designed to connect to both iOS and Android phones via Bluetooth, and companion apps on those systems will allow it to be controlled and set up.

There’s a Micro SD slot for expandable storage, and the watch can be hooked up to a PC via the USB-C connection. That connection apparently allows players to transport game worlds from Terraria from one computer to another, or play big-screen versions of the Atari games through a store front called PixelFurnace. The current lineup isn’t very exciting, and it’s far from a Steam-killer, but if more stock comes to those virtual shelves this could be one of the device’s better features.

Those pledging to the Kickstarter can choose three different designs: a basic model with a black body and strap, a red Atari Edition with the game giant’s logo on the strap, or a Terraria Edition, which features a brown and green color scheme inspired by the game. It sounds like all editions have access to the same lineup of games and apps.

FMTwo Game is currently seeking funding for the Gameband on Kickstarter. Early Bird pledges start at US$149 for any edition, with bundles available from $349. The campaign video can be seen below.

Oddball add-on tightens shoe laces with Lego power


From flying cars to hoverboards to pizza hydrators, Back to the Future II promised much for life in 2015. And though we’ve yet to see most of its tech predictions come true, we have seen a number of self-lacing shoe projects step forward, including Nike’s own HyperAdapt sneakers. Industrial designer Vimal Patel’s take on Marty McFly’s MAGs is a little different, using a Lego contraption attached to the outside of an old shoe to draw the laces tight.
The winding mechanism for Patel’s self-lacing shoe is made up of Lego components and Lego Power Functions electronics, the latter including a Li-Pol battery box, an electric motor, an IR receiver and an IR remote. The designer told us that he initially tried to position the winding axle behind the heel, but it didn’t work well so he moved it to sit adjacent to the laces.

The shoe itself had four Lego connection points added using a Dremel and a hot glue gun, three permanent and one removable. “The permanent ones (in the sole) were made by drilling holes and fixing a beam with hot glue,” Patel explained. “Apart from those four connections, the rest of the construction is unmodified, removable and can be disassembled. The Lego construction is pretty robust, and braced pretty securely in multiple orientations to prevent it falling apart.”

Three shoe laces were knotted at one end and fed through each of the holes in the shoe. The other ends were then secured to a rod that’s geared up to the unit’s motor. The laces self-tighten when Patel switches on the power at the battery box and wirelessly activates the motor via the remote controller so the rod starts to turn.

We like the fact that the winding mechanism is on full view, though all that Lego bulk on the outside would make the shoe awkward to wear. But real world practicality wasn’t the point of the project. “This was a quick hack, built over two afternoons, purely for fun, there is no pretension of real-world functionality or usability,” revealed Patel. You can see a brief demo of his self-lacing shoe in the video below.

Smartwatch-based signature verification is all in the wrist


Despite advances in biometric identification technologies, such as fingerprint, eye and facial recognition, the humble handwritten signature is still the most commonly used form of biometric used to verify someone’s identity. Researchers have developed software that blends the old and the new by leveraging the motion detection capabilities of a smartwatch to verify a signature as it is written.

While dedicated hardware, such as digital pads or special electronic pens, has dragged the signature into the digital age, these systems can be cumbersome and expensive. New software, developed by researchers from Tel Aviv University (TAU) and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, uses motion data captured by a smartwatch as the wearer scribbles their John Hancock to confirm the veracity of said signature.

The motion data captured during the signing process comes courtesy of the smartwatch’s accelerometer or gyroscope, which produces what the researchers say is a unique identifier that allows the signature to be classified as genuine or a forgery.

“Using a wrist-worn device such as a smartwatch or a fitness tracker bears obvious advantages over other wearable devices, since it measures the gestures of the entire wrist rather than a single finger or an arm,” says study co-author Dr. Erez Shmueli of TAU’s Department of Industrial Engineering. “While several other recent studies have examined the option of using motion data to identify users, this is its first application to verify handwritten signatures – still a requirement at the bank, the post office, your human resources department, etc.”

To test the accuracy of the system, the researchers enrolled the services of 66 TAU undergraduate students. With all of them wearing smartwatches, they each provided 15 signature samples on a tablet using a digital stylus. The students then watched video of people signing their signature and were tasked with forging five of those signatures after having time to practice and being rewarded for “exceptional forgeries.”

Despite the researchers reporting the verification software achieved an “extremely high level” of accuracy in detecting forgeries, they admit there is a major downside to this approach – the fact that most people (66 percent according to a recent survey cited by the researchers) wear a watch on their non-dominant hand. This means that the majority of people would need to swap the smartwatch to their dominant hand when signing their signature, significantly affecting the user friendliness of the system.

However, the team has applied for a patent with plans to eventually commercialize the technology. But before then, they are looking to improve upon it.

“Next we plan to compare our approach with existing state-of-the-art methods for offline and online signature verification,” said Dr. Shmueli. “We would also like to investigate the option of combining data extracted from the wearable device with data collected from a tablet device to achieve even higher verification accuracy.”

Source: TAU

Smart jewelry puts out the call for help when wearer is under attack

Pepper sprays and self-defense know-how are useful tools in protecting against violent attacks. But in the view of startup Roar, women shouldn’t be made to change their lifestyles in order to feel safe. It has developed a discreet device that can be worn as a piece of jewelry and alert loved ones to their whereabouts when trouble arises.

Athena is described as smart safety jewelry and is designed to worn around the neck, attached to the waist or carried inside a bag. The small circular magnetic clip is equipped with Bluetooth and an activation button, which when pressed sends a distress signal to selected emergency contacts through the user’s phone and notifies them of their location.

To help avoid false alarms, Athena’s button is recessed and must be held down for three seconds to activate the signal. While this will importantly allow the user’s contacts to take action it is invariably going to be some time before help arrives. So Athena is also fitted with an alarm mode, which produces an 85 decibel noise intended to immediately spook an attacker and prevent things going from bad to worse.

Conscious that this won’t be the best approach to every scenario, Roar is also building a silent mode into Athena, which allows for the the distress signal to be sent out without triggering the alarm. The company also says it is working on a function that makes an automated 911 call to notify emergency services once the button is pressed.

Athena joins a number of other devices intended to offer discreet calls for help when facing a violent attack. Last year we saw a successful crowdfunding campaign for a hair clip that senses impact to the head and notifies emergency contacts. Revolar, a small personal safety device that sends a distress signal when squeezed, also met its funding goal earlier this year.


Like those mentioned above, Athen is the subject of a crowdfunding campaign and seems to be attracting a healthy amount of interest. At the time of writing, it has raised more than US$26,000 of its $40,000 goal on Indiegogo. Early pledges of $75 will have an Athena clip headed your way in May 2016 if everything goes to plan.

You can check out the pitch video below.

Source: Roar

Preorders open for Swiss-made Mondaine Helvetica 1 smartwatch

The Helvetica 1 smartwatch, unveiled in March at Baselworld by Swiss watch manufacturer Mondaine, is now available for pre-order. Packing MotionX and Sleeptracker sensors, the first batch of the Swiss-made smartwatch will be limited to only 1,957 units in honor of the year the Helvetica font was introduced.


Unlike other smartwatches that essentially attempt to put a smartphone on your wrist and display like display text messages and emails, the Helvetica 1’s “smart” functions are limited to fitness and sleep tracking capabilities, which users transition between hrough a dial on the side.

The device also departs from the traditional smartwatch crowd by featuring an analogue face, and although basic activity and sleep tracking data (and the date) can be viewed on the sub-dial, users will need to pair the watch with an iOS or Android device for accessing more in-depth data.

The activity tracker monitors daily steps, calories burned and total distance covered, with users able to set goals based on intensity and steps taken. At night it can be worn or placed under the pillow to monitor the length of time spent in deep or light sleep or awake, and wake you during the lightest phase of sleep.

One of the biggest advantages over most other smartwatches is the Helvetica 1’s battery life, which Mondaine claims is over two years.

Mondaine has put the Helvetica 1 up for presale at US$850, with the price set to increase to $950 in September.

Source: Mondaine