APIs Can Offer a Frictionless Customer Experience Amid Crisis

Nearly everyone owns a smartphone, although “phone” may not be the most representative term for it. Our phones are media devices, gaming consoles, social media browsers, video-chat tools, among other functions. Mobile phones are able to offer this laundry list of capabilities because of APIs. When you open your healthcare provider’s app on your smartphone, it isn’t storing all that information on the device itself. Instead, an API enables access to the provider’s database, presenting you with just the information necessary for the transaction in question.

It’s clear that today, APIs are providing crucial services during a crisis. The ability to interact with companies and service providers is crucial for customers, and APIs allow that to happen without requiring physical interaction. Telehealth, for example, has become especially prominent during the global pandemic, with programmable communications enabling doctor visits and uninterrupted medical care via video chat and video consultation. 

In fact, use of programmable communications – messaging, video, chat and verification – has grown explosively during the past several years as more businesses realize the benefit of embedding contextual, personalized communications, and the ability to connect and communicate with customers  via their own preferred channels.

Why is the world seeing such sustained growth in the use of programmability? In a word, communication. Smartphones that are more pocket computer than phone have transformed the way customers interact and expect to communicate with companies. This shift in the way customers communicate with service providers, and the ensuing businesses built to meet this shift,  is what’s known as the API economy: wherein entire business models are built around the transaction of information, enabled by programmable communications. Though the API economy isn’t a new term, it is proving an especially important concept during our current global crisis. 

APIs Make for a Smooth Customer Experience

Customers expect their interaction with companies and service providers to unfold as one, seamless experience. Imagine a scenario where you want to schedule a COVID-19 test. You schedule the test through your healthcare provider’s smartphone app. Later you receive an email saying that day is actually full, and are directed to contact a customer service email address, which refers you to a patient hotline to call. By the time you confirm your appointment, you’ve used three different communication channels. When a customer must switch from mobile app to web browser to phone call, the communications chain becomes disjointed, even broken altogether. 

Organizations that successfully leverage APIs for a modern communications experience are more likely to create lasting customer relationships. Now, imagine you make that testing appointment with your app. When the healthcare provider realizes that day is booked, the app sends you a phone notification. Swiping the notification opens the app calendar page directly with the next available date. You reschedule your appointment without ever leaving your smartphone app or resorting to other communications channels. Which of these two experiences would you prefer?

For smaller or lesser-known providers, the ability to offer seamless communications can spell victory even in the face of established industry incumbents. 

Consider These Steps for Successful API-led Communications Strategies

  1. Listen to customers. It will be difficult to sell a product that doesn’t meet customers’ requirements, no matter how much time and energy teams put into product development.  If patients want a healthcare app that doesn’t require phone calls to schedule appointments, they won’t use said application if it continually directs users to call the service provider. If they want an app that offers a video chat function for virtual doctor visits, but the app doesn’t offer that option, patients will look elsewhere. APIs can turn an application or website into a game-breaking offering but only if the development team wholly understands customer demands for specific features and capabilities. Before developing an application, listen to customers and design based on their feedback. 
  2. Start with a business case. Rather than throw APIs at a wall to see what sticks, companies should first develop a business case that satisfies the outlined customer needs and fits within the larger business strategy. It’s easy to get excited about incorporating APIs into a mobile application to create custom solutions. It’s just as easy to spend time on a use case that exists on the fringe of a business, but these proofs of concept aren’t likely to earn the executive buy-in needed to move forward with development. Sure, an API can send an SMS from a mobile app, but if most customers interact with the company via web browser, those texts will be ineffective. Companies should find a solution that solves for a unique workflow or enhances existing applications with the ultimate goal of addressing the demands of their target audience. 
  3. Build a solution, not a product. It’s frustrating to have to move from app to email to phone call to schedule an appointment. It’s excruciating to have to navigate to an entirely different app or webpage to view test results from the same care provider. After all, the goal of using APIs to power apps is for the company to appear as one unified entity no matter which channel the customer chooses. Communications APIs can greatly reduce friction in the customer experience, but that smooth interaction will only get companies so far if the app in question only serves one need. Instead of developing an appointment-scheduling app, a healthcare provider should develop an app that also displays test results, health records, provides secure and compliant video capabilities and other features that make for a well-rounded experience. The final product should be a mobile solution for healthcare, not another calendar app. 

A Careful Approach to APIs Can Enable Differentiation

Hard lines used to exist between a company website, its call center, and its mobile presence. Those lines have blurred. As a result, the products that companies release must also be cross-functional. With the right approach to identifying a business use case first, APIs can transform the way companies interact with customers by creating one seamless chain of communication. The API economy has been the backbone for most customer-service interactions for some time; but, today the ability for companies to create seamless, virtual customer experiences is more crucial than ever before. Following these considerations for a frictionless customer experience can help companies stand out among their peers.

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Author: <a href="">omarjavaid</a>


10 Popular QR Codes APIs

QR Codes (Quick Response Codes) are a type of barcode that can be read from a smartphone camera. This open source, two-dimensional code was invented by DENSO WAVE in Japan in 1994 and was standardized in 1997. The QR Code acts as an identifier for, and provides machine-readable information to, brands and products. It usually routes the user to a URL.

QR Codes include pixelated patterns including position markings, alignment markings, time patterns, version information, and data keys. A QR Code can store up to 7089 digits or 4296 characters. A scanner application is required to read them, and hundreds are available for Android and iOS smartphones.

Developers wishing to create applications that can design, create or read QR Codes can use Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, to get the job done. The best place to find these APIs is in the QR Codes category on ProgrammableWeb.

In this article, we detail the top ten QR Codes APIs as determined by page views on ProgrammableWeb.

1. QRCoder Code Generator API

The QR Coder APITrack this API is a QR code generator API that enables users to create customized QR codes with different colors for background, foreground and eye colors. It also allows users to specify different pixel sizes and padding. The API provides output in PNG, JPG, and SVG file types.

Create custom QR Codes with this API. Image: QRCoder

2. QR-Server QR Code API

QR-Server provides specialized bar code solutions using the QR Code standard. Developers can create and read QR Codes with the QR-Server QR Code APITrack this API.

3. Happi QRCode Generator API

Happi.Dev provides various APIs for developers and accepts PayPal or Bitcoin for payments. The Happi QRCode Generator APITrack this API enables users to generate a QR code as a base64 image. Get simple QR Codes and custom generation with colors with this API.

4. QRTag API

QRtag generates a QR code for a given URL. The APITrack this API returns QR codes in a PDF, or SVG or PNG images. To use the API, embed it as a normal image.

5. ACME Animated QR Code Generator API

ACME Codes enables users to create animated QR codes. ACME stands for “Animated Codes Made Easy”. The ACME Animated QR Code Generator APITrack this API can be integrated into applications in order to create animated QR codes in real time. Animated QR codes provide ‘call to action’ scan targets for users and can be embedded with a company’s branding, logo, or campaign. Clients requiring large volume animated QR codes and/or automated code creation can use the API as opposed to ACME’s online QR code generator.

Create animated QR Codes in real time with ACME API. Video: YouTube/Animated Codes Made Easy

6. Fun Generators QR Code API

The Fun Generators QR Code APITrack this API enables applications to generate QR Code images for text, URL, email, business cards and more. It is a complete REST based API that also enables applications to decode QR code images.

7. Scanova API

Scanova allows customers to design, create, and manage personalized QR codes and dynamic QR codes. The Scanova QR Code Generation APITrack this API Track this API can be used to integrate with the service to generate custom scannable codes for sharing to social media, engaging customers by location, making payments, and much more.

8. Inlite Barcode Reader API

The Inlite Barcode Reader APITrack this API can read barcodes from PDF, TIFF, JPEG, PNG and other format images, located on the Web or locally. It recognizes 1D barcodes ( Code39, Code128, etc.), 2D barcodes (PDF417, DataMatrix, and QR), and postal barcodes. In addition, it can decode driver license and barcode data.

9. SnapScan API

SnapScan is a mobile payments platform based in Cape Town, South Africa. The SnapScan APITrack this API access to provides authentication, error codes, pagination, and webhooks for developers utilizing the API’s services. Use it to generate QR codes and URL structures, query payment status, and more.

10. Quikkly Insights

Quikkly allows developers to design custom QR and other scannable codes for specific brands, and offers over 40 templates. The Quikkly Insights APITrack this API is a RESTful interface which provides information about scannable captures such as device, platform, and total scans.

Find more than 49 APIs, 11 SDKs, 13 Source Code samples and other resources in the ProgrammableWeb QR Codes category.

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Author: <a href="">joyc</a>

IEEE Spectrum

10 Tantalizing Tech Milestones to Look for in 2020

  • Mind-Controlled Bionic Limbs Will Debut in the Boston Marathon

    MIT researchers have developed a way of controlling bionic limbs with thoughts alone. First tried in humans in 2016, the method will be hitting new strides in 2020, when Brandon Korona, a veteran who lost his leg in Afghanistan, uses his new bionic limb to compete in the Boston Marathon. The mind-control technique involves reconstructing muscles near the base of the amputation site and linking them so that the muscles contract and extend in unison. This dynamic interaction and the electrical impulses it generates make it possible for the limb’s processor, which controls the bionic joints, to exchange signals with the brain. This exchange tells the brain where a joint is, how fast it is moving, and what size load it is bearing.

  • Artificial Diamonds Will Really Shine

    Diamonds can cost a lot, in money and even blood, given the sometimes shady ethics of the trade. A solution may lie in lab-grown diamonds. Production of these artificial gems will ramp up considerably in 2020, when one of the world’s largest diamond companies, De Beers Group, opens a manufacturing facility in Oregon that will produce about 500,000 rough carats per year. There, mixed gases and hundreds of chemical substrates will be added to reactors and subjected to high temperatures, transforming carbon into its diamond form. It takes about two weeks to make a 1-carat sparkler, which will retail for about US $800.

  • Huge Pumped-Storage Project Breaks Ground in Montana

    As the electric grid increasingly relies on wind turbines and solar panels, it requires ever more backup energy to make up for shortfalls on windless or cloudy days. To help address this need, Absaroka Energy will begin construction on a new pumped- storage hydroelectric facility this year, harnessing three massive reservoirs inside the Gordon Butte mountain, in Montana. When electricity is needed, the reservoirs will release water onto three turbine generators below, which together can generate 400 megawatts of electricity. Surplus electricity will be used to pump water back into the reservoirs. The new system uses separate motors to control the pumps, as well as separate turbines and generators. Isolating the components gives the system about 80 percent efficiency.

  • Will a Facebook-Backed Cryptocurrency Overcome Legal Hurdles?

    In July 2019, Facebook and 27 other companies announced plans to release a worldwide cryptocurrency, called Libra. The Libra Association aims to create a safe, stable currency, one that could be especially convenient for the 1.7 billion people globally who don’t have bank accounts. However, the announcement has prompted concerns about how Libra might be used for money laundering and the privatization of money, among other issues. The Libra Association says it is taking proper measures for security and data privacy, an assertion repeated by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at hearings before the U.S. Congress last October. Meanwhile, seven major companies, including PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard, have left the group. But the association says it still plans to roll out Libra in 2020.

  • Tesla’s 2020 Roadster to Hit the Streets

    Here’s some news to get any gearhead’s heart racing: Elon Musk claims that the 2020 Tesla Roadster will be able to rocket from 0 to 97 kilometers per hour (60 miles per hour) in a mere 1.9 seconds. This new machine— not to be confused with Tesla’s 2008–2012 Roadster—will have two motors in the rear and one in the front and offer the option of rocket thrusters powered by compressed air. Aside from the excitement surrounding the Roadster’s acceleration and top speed (which will exceed 200 mph), perhaps the most important spec is range. Currently, the longest range of an electric car is around 600 km (375 miles), but the Roadster will be good for 1,000 km (620 miles).

  • Rolls-Royce to Fly Record-Breaking Electric Plane

    In the first quarter of 2020, Rolls- Royce will unveil ACCEL, which it says is the fastest all-electric plane ever designed. The company claims its one-seat racing plane should exceed 480 kilometers per hour (300 miles per hour), smashing the current record of 340 km/h, set in 2017 by a Siemens plane. Rolls-Royce and its partners had to monitor more than 20,000 data points per second to optimize the plane’s battery system. An active cooling system allows the battery to discharge at high rates. Look to the skies over Britain to see this plane in action.

  • Lockheed Martin Takes Another Step Toward Compact, Convenient Nuclear Fusion

    Controlled nuclear fusion has been the object of many a failed quest over the past 60 years. Though it could go far to solve the world’s energy needs, the technical demands of fusion power are stupendous. Lockheed Martin has a patent pending on a reactor design that it says has a real chance at success. The reactor is compact, relying on magnetic fields to confine the hydrogen plasma and on electromagnetic fields to ignite and sustain the plasma. This process causes hydrogen atoms to fuse into helium, releasing torrents of energy. Throughout 2020, the company will test the fifth prototype, T5, which it says is significantly more powerful than earlier versions. The tests will show whether the design can handle the immense heat and pressure from the highly energized plasma inside.

  • A New Job for a Robot: Mowing

    In 2020, the long wait for a lawn-mowing counterpart to the Roomba will finally be over. iRobot plans to launch Terra, which can mow a lawn in straight, even rows without any human oversight. To navigate, the robot relies on a handful of radio- frequency beacons strategically placed throughout the yard, keeping at least three beacons within its line of sight at all times. By measuring the time it takes for signals to travel between itself and the beacons, Terra can locate itself on a preprogrammed map of the lawn. If anyone tries to steal this hard-working robot, antitheft software registers that the machine has left the premises and renders it inoperable.

  • GE Unveils a Bigger, Better Wind Turbine

    In 2020, GE Renewable Energy will seek certification for its Haliade-X offshore wind turbine, whose rated capacity of 12 megawatts would make it the largest and most powerful on the market. It boasts 107-meter-long blades made of a composite of glass and carbon fiber in a resin matrix. The massive area swept by those blades will let the turbine capture up to 67 gigawatt-hours annually, enough clean energy to power 16,000 households and save up to 42,000 metric tons of CO2. Assuming certification in 2020, sales are expected to commence in 2021.

  • Google and Apple Compete for the Attention of Gamers

    Gamers will be busy with two gaming services from Apple and Google. Critical to the new services—which launched recently and are expected to sweep the industry in the coming year—is the expansion of bandwidth, in the form of faster Wi-Fi and the emerging 5G capability, both of which greatly reduce lag. For US $4.99 per month, players can access more than 100 games through Apple Arcade, with more being rolled out each month. Google Stadia is available for $9.99 per month, with the option to purchase additional games at up to 4K resolution and at 60 frames per second. While Google Stadia games can be played on a variety of devices, Apple Arcade is, unsurprisingly, available only on Apple devices.

IEEE Spectrum

An Internet of Tires? Pirelli Marries 5G And Automobile Wheels

The term “5G” typically makes people think of the smartphone in their hand, not the tires on their car. But Pirelli has developed the Cyber Tire, a smart tire that reads the road surface and transmits key data — including the potential risk of hydroplaning — along a 5G communications network. 

Pirelli demonstrated its Cyber Tire (also known as the Cyber Tyre) at a conference hosted by the 5G Automotive Association, atop the architect Renzo Piano’s reworking of the landmark Lingotto Building in Turin, Italy. That’s the former Fiat factory where classic models such as the Torpedo and 500 (the latter known as Topolino, or “Little Mouse”) barrelled around its banked, three-quarter-mile rooftop test track beginning in the 1920’s. Engineers of that era, of course, couldn’t begin to fathom how digital technology would transform automobiles, let alone the revolution in tires that has dramatically boosted their performance, durability and safety. 

Using an Audi A8 as its test car, Pirelli’s network-enabled tires sent real-time warnings of slippery conditions to a following Audi Q8, taking advantage of the ultra-high bandwidth and low latency of 5G. Corrado Rocca, head of Cyber R&D for Pirelli, said that an accelerometer mounted within the tire itself—rather than the wheel rims that send familiar tire-pressure readouts in many modern cars—precisely measures handling forces along three axes. That includes the ability to sense water, ice or other low-coefficient of friction roadway conditions.

The sensor data can be used to the immediate benefit of safety and autonomous systems onboard a car. It can also be used in the growing realm of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) or vehicle-to-x communications (V2X), which means the once-humble tire could become a critical player in a wider ecosystem of networked safety and traffic management. Obvious scenarios include a car on the freeway that suddenly encounters ice, with tires that instantly send visual or audio hazard warnings not only to that car but also to nearby vehicle and pedestrians, as well as to networked roadway signs that announce the potential danger, or adjust prevailing speed limits accordingly.   

“No other element of a car is as connected to the road as the tire,” Rocca reminds us. “There are many modern sensors; lidar, sonar, cameras, but nothing on the ‘touching’ side of the car.’” 

Virtually every new car is equipped with anti-lock brakes (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESC) systems, which also spring into action when a car’s wheels begin to slip, or when a car begins to slide off the driver’s intended course. But the Cyber Tire could further improve those systems, Rocca said, allowing a car to proactively adjust those safety systems, or automatically slow itself down in response to changing roadway conditions. 

“Because we’re sensing the ground constantly, we can warn of the risk of hydroplaning well before you lose control,” Rocca says. “The warning could appear on a screen, or the car could automatically decide to correct it with ABS or ESC.” 

Aside from data on dynamic loads, the Cyber Tire’s internal sensor might also communicate in-car information specific to that tire model, or the kilometers of travel it has absorbed. 

Pirelli is also developing the technology for race circuits and driving enthusiasts, with its Italia Track Adrenaline tire. With tire temperatures dramatically affecting traction, wear and safety, this version monitors temperatures, pressure and handling forces in real time. That combines with onboard GPS and telemetry data to help drivers improve their on-track skills. The system could deliver simple real-time instructions — such as color-coded screen readouts as a tire rises to or beyond optimal operating temperature—or using popular telemetry tools, a granular analysis of the tire’s performance after a lapping session. (At the highest levels of Formula One racing, cars are equipped with roughly 140 sensors, which collect 20 to 30 megabytes of telemetry data every lap). 

With 5G, V2V and V2X systems still in the development phase,  Pirelli can’t say when it sensor-enabled hunks of rubber will reach the market. Automakers ultimately lead the adoption of new tire technology, and many are leery of new tech until they’re sure consumers will pay for it. Car companies are also cautious about ceding the networked space in their cars to outside suppliers—witness their glacial, grudging adoption of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. But Pirelli says it’s working with major automakers on integrating the technology. And Rocca says that, like ABS in its nascent stages, smart tires could become common on vehicles within a decade.  It’s almost enough to get us wishing for a winter storm to try them out.


‘Electroadhesive’ stamp picks up and puts down microscopic structures

If you were to pry open your smartphone, you would see an array of electronic chips and components laid out across a circuit board, like a miniature city. Each component might contain even smaller “chiplets,” some no wider than a human hair. These elements are often assembled with robotic grippers designed to pick up the components and place them down in precise configurations.

As circuit boards are packed with ever smaller components, however, robotic grippers’ ability to manipulate these objects is approaching a limit.

“Electronics manufacturing requires handling and assembling small components in a size similar to or smaller than grains of flour,” says Sanha Kim, a former MIT postdoc and research scientist who worked in the lab of mechanical engineering associate professor John Hart. “So a special pick-and-place solution is needed, rather than simply miniaturizing [existing] robotic grippers and vacuum systems.”

Now Kim, Hart, and others have developed a miniature “electroadhesive” stamp that can pick up and place down objects as small as 20 nanometers wide — about 1,000 times finer than a human hair. The stamp is made from a sparse forest of ceramic-coated carbon nanotubes arranged like bristles on a tiny brush.

When a small voltage is applied to the stamp, the carbon nanotubes become temporarily charged, forming prickles of electrical attraction that can attract a minute particle. By turning the voltage off, the stamp’s “stickiness” goes away, enabling it to release the object onto a desired location.

Hart says the stamping technique can be scaled up to a manufacturing setting to print micro- and nanoscale features, for instance to pack more elements onto ever smaller computer chips. The technique may also be used to pattern other small, intricate features, such as cells for artificial tissues. And, the team envisions macroscale, bioinspired electroadhesive surfaces, such as voltage-activated pads for grasping everyday objects and for gecko-like climbing robots.

“Simply by controlling voltage, you can switch the surface from basically having zero adhesion to pulling on something so strongly, on a per unit area basis, that it can act somewhat like a gecko’s foot,” Hart says.

The team has published its results today in the journal Science Advances.

Like dry Scotch tape

Existing mechanical grippers are unable to pick up objects smaller than about 50 to 100 microns, mainly because at smaller scales surface forces tend to win over gravity. You may see this when pouring flour from a spoon — inevitably, some tiny particles stick to the spoon’s surface, rather than letting gravity drag them off.

“The dominance of surface forces over gravity forces becomes a problem when trying to precisely place smaller things — which is the foundational process by which electronics are assembled into integrated systems,” Hart says.

He and his colleagues noted that electroadhesion, the process of adhering materials via an applied voltage, has been used in some industrial settings to pick and place large objects, such as fabrics, textiles, and whole silicon wafers. But this same electroadhesion had never been applied to objects at the microscopic level, because a new material design for controlling electroadhesion at smaller scales was needed.

Hart’s group has previously worked with carbon nanotubes (CNTs) — atoms of carbon linked in a lattice pattern and rolled into microscopic tubes. CNTs are known for their exceptional mechanical, electrical, and chemical properties, and they have been widely studied as dry adhesives.

“Previous work on CNT-based dry adhesives focused on maximizing the contact area of the nanotubes to essentially create a dry Scotch tape,” Hart says. “We took the opposite approach, and said, ‘let’s design a nanotube surface to minimize the contact area, but use electrostatics to turn on adhesion when we need it.'”

A sticky on/off switch

The team found that if they coated CNTs with a thin dielectric material such as aluminum oxide, when they applied a voltage to the nanotubes, the ceramic layer became polarized, meaning its positive and negative charges became temporarily separated. For instance, the positive charges of the tips of the nanotubes induced an opposite polarization in any nearby conducting material, such as a microscopic electronic element.

As a result, the nanotube-based stamp adhered to the element, picking it up like tiny, electrostatic fingers. When the researchers turned the voltage off, the nanotubes and the element depolarized, and the “stickiness” went away, allowing the stamp to detach and place the object onto a given surface.

The team explored various formulations of stamp designs, altering the density of carbon nanotubes grown on the stamp, as well as the thickness of the ceramic layer that they used to coat each nanotube. They found that the thinner the ceramic layer and the more sparsely spaced the carbon nanotubes were, the greater the stamp’s on/off ratio, meaning the greater the stamp’s stickiness was when the voltage was on, versus when it was off.

In their experiments, the team used the stamp to pick up and place down films of nanowires, each about 1,000 times thinner than a human hair. They also used the technique to pick and place intricate patterns of polymer and metal microparticles, as well as micro-LEDs.

Hart says the electroadhesive printing technology could be scaled up to manufacture circuit boards and systems of miniature electronic chips, as well as displays with microscale LED pixels.

“With ever-advancing capabilities of semiconductor devices, an important need and opportunity is to integrate smaller and more diverse components, such as microprocessors, sensors, and optical devices,” Hart says. “Often, these are necessarily made separately but must be integrated together to create next-generation electronic systems. Our technology possibly bridges the gap necessary for scalable, cost-effective assembly of these systems.”

This research was supported in part by the Toyota Research Insititute, the National Science Foundation, and the MIT-Skoltech Next Generation Program.

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Prototype smartphone app can help parents detect early signs of eye disorders in children

A Baylor University researcher’s prototype smartphone app — designed to help parents detect early signs of various eye diseases in their children such as retinoblastoma, an aggressive pediatric eye cancer — has passed its first big test.

The CRADLE app (ComputeR Assisted Detector LEukocoia) searches for traces of abnormal reflections from the retina called leukocoria or “white eye,” a primary symptom of retinoblastoma, as well as other common eye disorders. The study, published in the journal Science Advances, found the app is an effective tool to augment clinical leukocoria screenings, allowing parents to efficiently and effectively screen their children more often throughout their development.

CRADLE — developed by Baylor University researchers Bryan F. Shaw, Ph.D., professor of chemistry and biochemistry, along with Greg Hamerly, Ph.D., associate professor of computer science — searches through family photographs for signs of leukocoria.

According to the study’s first author, Baylor senior University Scholar Micheal Munson, researchers determined the sensitivity, specificity and accuracy of the prototype by analyzing more than 50,000 photographs of children taken prior to their diagnosis. For children with diagnosed eye disorders, CRADLE was able to detect leukocoria for 80 percent of the children. The app detected leukocoria in photos that were taken on average of 1.3 years prior to their official diagnosis.

The effectiveness of traditional screenings during a general physical exam is limited, with signs of retinoblastoma via the detection of leukocoria in only 8 percent of cases. CRADLE’s sensitivity for children age 2 and younger surpassed 80 percent. That 80 percent threshold is regarded by ophthalmologists as the ”gold standard” of sensitivity for similar devices, Munson said.

Researchers found the CRADLE app to be more effective simply by the breadth and frequency of its sample sizes: everyday family photos, according to the study. Given the number of photos taken by family and friends and the variety of environments, there is a variety of opportunities for light to reflect off the ocular lesions regardless of its location in the eye.

As the app’s algorithm has become more sophisticated, its ability to detect even slight instances of leukocoria has improved.

“This is one of the most critical parts of building the app,” Shaw said. “We wanted to be able to detect all hues and intensities of leukocoria. As a parent of a child with retinoblastoma, I am especially interested in detecting the traces of leukocoria that appear as a ‘gray’ pupil and are difficult to detect with the naked eye.”

Initially, the CRADLE app was used primarily to identify retinoblastoma — a rare eye disease that is the most common form of eye cancer in children up to age 5. Shaw’s own experience as a parent of a child with retinoblastoma formed the genesis of the app.

Shaw and Hamerly created the app in 2014 for the iPhone and in 2015 for Android devices after Shaw’s son Noah lost his right eye, but his left eye was able to be salvaged. He is now 11.

“We suspected that the app would detect leukocoria associated with other more common disorders and some rare ones,” Shaw said. “We were right. So far parents, and some doctors, have used it to detect cataract, myelin retinal nerve fiber layer, refractive error, Coats’ disease, and of course retinoblastoma.”

Said Munson: “I just kept the goal in mind: saving the sight and potentially the lives of children throughout the world.”

Shaw said they are retraining the algorithm with Baylor undergraduates currently tagging and sorting about 100,000 additional photos. He said they also are looking at additional features to cut down on false positive detections.

The app can be downloaded for free and can be found under the name “White Eye Detector.”

*Study co-authors included researchers from Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Baylor University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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IEEE Spectrum

App Detects Eye Disease in Personal Photos

A smartphone app that monitors personal photos can spot eye diseases more than a year before doctors do, according to a new report published today in the journal Science Advances

Using machine learning, the app searches casual portraits for signs of leukocoria: the appearance of a white reflection in the pupil of the eye. Leukocoria, or “white eye,” looks similar to red eye—that creepy red reflection in the eye that often appears with flash photography. But a red reflection is actually a sign of a healthy eye. A white reflection can be a sign of a problem.   

White eye can indicate retinoblastoma, a type of childhood cancer of the retina, or a handful of other eye disorders, including retinopathy of prematurity, cataracts, or Coats Disease. Catching these disorders early can save an eye, or a life. 

“With retinoblastoma, every month counts,” says Bryan Shaw, an associate professor at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. “Tumors grow rapidly and when you start seeing the white eye, you have about six months to a year before the tumor starts to break up and metastasize down the optic nerve to the brain and kills you.”


Trill, Touch Sensing for Makers

It was Chris Anderson that originally coined the phrase “the peace dividend of the smartphone war” arguing that “…when giants battle, we all win,” and it’s that smartphone war that has brought us cheap sensors—accelerometers, gyroscopes, microphones, pressure and humidity sensors—as well as cheap screens and processors. It also made capacitance touch sensors available, with perhaps the most famous being the Makey Makey which raised on Kickstarter all the way back in 2012, or Bare Conductive‘s Touch Board which was funded a couple of years later in 2014.

Now there’s another touch sensor on the block—brought to you by the people that brought you the Bela, and the Bela Mini—they’re called Trill, and the folks are are currently raising on Kickstarter.

The Trill pitch video on Kickstarter. (📹:

The new Trill sensors come in three versions; the Trill Bar, a slider that can sense up to five touch points, the Trill Square, a touch pad that senses two axes of movement, and finally the Trill Craft, a 30-channel breakout board that lets you make your own touch interfaces out of anything conductive.

A lot of the capacitance touch sensors breakouts available to makers right now are based on the Freescale MPR121. However, the Trill sensors have been built around the Cypress CY8C20636A. This capacitance touch controller has more channels, with 33 compared to the MPR121’s 12, enabling you to create more sensitive sliders or high-resolution interfaces.

Using three Trill Bar sensors together. (📹:

The Trill Bar is 101×22 mm and is a single axis sensor with a resolution of <0.1mm, allowing detection of up to five touches simultaneously, while the Trill Square is 69 × 69 mm two-axis sensor. Both sensors can be read every 5ms (that’s 200Hz), and while the sensors cannot detect the amount of pressure in a touch, they can detect the area of the touch. As touching lightly with your finger will normally mean a smaller area of contact between your finger and the sensor, while conversely heavier touches will generally have a larger area of contact, the effect is similar and the sensitivity of the sensors can be easily adjusted on the fly.

A single Trill Bar sensor (right) and demo software (left). (📹:

All of the Trill sensor boards use I2C to connect to a microcontroller board, with library support provided for the Bela and Arduino boards, along with support for Linux, in the project’s GitHub repo. The I2C address of the each sensor can be changed via the solder pads on the back, which allows you to use multiple Trill sensor with the same microcontroller, and chain up to eight Trill sensors of the same type together on the same I2C bus.

A Trill Square sensor hooked up to a MacBook via a Bela board. (📹:

Both the Trill hardware and firmware will be released under a CC-BY-NC-SA license, so the design will be free for non-commercial usage, although right now the project’s GitHub repo has only library and example code. I’d expect the design files and firmware to be released either when the Kickstarter closes, or when the Trill sensors ship next year.

Building custom touch sensors with the Trill Craft. (📹:

The Trill touch sensors are now funding on Kickstarter, with a single sensor—the bar, square, or craft—costing £12 (that’s around $15) at the early bird rate plus an additional £2 for shipping inside the United Kingdom, or £4 for shipping to the rest of the world, rising to £14 when the 30 early bird backer spots are gone. If you want to pick up a pack containing all three of the sensors, you can do that for £36 (that’s around $45) plus an additional £3 for shipping inside the United Kingdom, or £5 for shipping to the rest of the world. All of the rewards have an estimated shipping date of February next year, although of course with a Kickstarter, that’s always going to be subject to slippage.

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Author: Alasdair Allan


Running Doom on an Old GPS Receiver

Virtually everyone has a smartphone with them at all times that has multiple GPS navigation apps available, and many cars have GPS built into the infotainment system, as well. That means that the dedicated GPS receivers that were so popular in the 2000s are now essentially worthless, and it’s easy to find one for a few bucks at a thrift store or garage sale. Jason Gin of Rip It Apart picked up a Magellan RoadMate 1412 GPS receiver at garage sale, and that particular model happens to run Window CE. So Gin did what any self-respecting hacker would do, and got it to run Doom.

The video game Doom has been used as a sort of a hacking benchmark for decades now. If you can make some proprietary commercial device run Doom, then you have proof that you have successfully hacked it. Gin had previously accomplished that with a Keysight InfiniiVision DSOX1102G digital oscilloscope, and now he has managed to do it again with the Magellan GPS receiver. That’s not a coincidence, as both devices run Microsoft Windows CE, which was an operating system designed specifically for embedded solutions. None of the Windows CE desktop is normally accessible by the user, however, and that’s why some hacking was required.

Upon plugging the Magellan GPS receiver into a computer, Gin found that it shows up as a standard USB drive containing all of the operating system files in FAT32 format. The factory setup has Windows CE automatically launch the Magellan GPS interface, with no way to exit it. But by simply changing the name of TotalCommander/CE (the Windows CE desktop) to match the expected “Navigator.exe,” Gin was able to get to the desktop — at least part of it.

Because many of the necessary files are missing, the full desktop with the taskbar doesn’t show up. That includes the Explorer shell and command prompt. Fortunately, Gin was able to replace the command prompt with MortScript. That is a scripting engine designed for applications like this, and allowed Gin to launch Doom at startup. There is no way to actually control the game, as the GPS receiver can’t act as a host for USB HID devices. But you can see Doom running through its intro demo.

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Author: Cameron Coward


Fairphone Launches Sustainable, Repairable Smartphone with the Fairphone 3

The quest for a sustainable, modular smartphone is alive and well with the latest release from Dutch social enterprise Fairphone, and their Fairphone 3 — an ethical, reliable, and sustainable smartphone.

The Fairphone 3 is designed as a modular platform with replaceable parts made from sourced and recyclable materials. (📷: Fairphone)

“This is the phone for all of us who dare to care about what kind of a world we’re creating with our purchase decisions. For all of us who want a great phone that is kinder to people and to the earth. For all of us who believe that care for workers and our planet ought to be a natural part of doing business.”

The Fairphone 3 is touted as being designed with reasonably sourced, conflict-free recyclable materials that are easy to repair, and reduces its carbon footprint by reducing CO2 emissions. The smartphone is comprised of seven modules- display, battery, top module (camera, sensors), bottom module (USB Type-C/microphone), speaker module, camera module (primary camera), and back cover, with each component being replaceable.

The Fairphone 3 features seven modular parts that can be swapped out using a mini-screwdriver. (📷: Fairphone)

On the hardware end, the Fairphone 3 features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 with a 64-bit Kryo 250 octa-core CPU and Adreno 506/650 GPU. The phone also offers 64Gb of internal storage, and micro SD card slot for up to 200Gb of extra storage, along with a 5.65-inch HD touchscreen display (21260 X 1080/427ppi), 12MP rear camera (f/1.8, Dual Pixel PDAF), and 8MP front camera (f/2.0). Wireless options include 2.4 and 5GHz Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5/LE, NFC, along with 2G, 3G, and 4G LTE with Dual-Nano SIM to connect to mobile networks.

Rounding out the phone’s features are a USB Type-C port, sensor suite (light, accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity, barometer, compass), 3.5mm headphone jack, and external speaker. The Fairphone 3 is expected to launch September 3rd and will ship with Android Pie, a mini screwdriver (for repairs), a bumper, 2-year warrant, and quick-start guide. The phone is now available for pre-order for about $495.

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Author: Cabe Atwell