Nomad’s new Base Station Pro offers a taste of what Apple’s AirPower had promised – TechCrunch

Accessory maker Nomad already offers a couple of excellent wireless chargers that work great with Apple and other Qi-compatible devices, but they’re introducing a new one that could be their most versatile yet. Using technology provided by partner Aira, called “FreePower,” the new Nomad Base Station Pro will be able to charge up to three devices at once placed in any orientation on its surface — cool both because of the three-device simultaneous support and the fact that you don’t have to make sure the gadget you’re charging is lined up exactly right on the charger, as is typically the case.

This is pretty similar to what Apple’s AirPower promised, before its unfortunate demise. The hardware similarly makes use of a matrix of multiple charging coils, which interlink to offer charging capabilities across the surface of the Base Station Pro. Perhaps intentionally, Aira’s website URL is “airapower.com,” one letter off from Apple’s shelved first-party accessory.

Nomad’s charger inherits the same aesthetics of the company’s existing chargers, which means you get a black soft leather surface for putting your devices on top of, and the surrounding frame is made of slate-gray aluminum. The charger should look and feel very premium, if Nomad’s other Base Stations are any indication.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y70w04exPug?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent

The Base Station Pro supports charging speeds of up to 5W each, which is not the max supported by the iPhone or other devices — but according to Aira co-founder Jake Slatnick, that’s not actually much of a limitation at all.

“An interesting detail that we’ve learned through benchmarking is that our 5W output charge time is comparable to other 10W advertised chargers,” Slatnick explained via email. “It turns out, as soon as the phone starts to heat up, the charge speed slows down significantly, usually below 5W. The 7.5W+ chargers seem to only last at those speeds for a few minutes. We think the performance right now is on par with everything else and that it shouldn’t be noticeable to most users.”

The Nomad Base Station Pro supports up to three devices, all at 5W; you could use it to charge say, two iPhones and AirPods with Apple’s wireless charging case all at once.

Nomad also includes a 27W USB-C charger with Power Delivery in the box with the Base Station Pro, and a USB-C cable to connect to the charger. This probably will be a fairly premium-priced piece of hardware, but we’ll find out for sure when pre-orders begin in November.

The one significant way this differs from what Apple was building, at least for Apple fans, is that it doesn’t provide charging for the Apple Watch. Nomad has a Base Station model that offers an integrated Apple Watch charger, but of course with that you’re not getting the “place anywhere” overlapping coil design built for this new model.

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With a possible Apple tag waiting in the wings, Tile unveils Sticker, an adhesive device for tracking objects – TechCrunch

We are still waiting to see if Apple officially unveils a new spin on the business of tracking tags — the small devices that you put on “dumb” objects like keys, wallets and other objects you have a habit of losing or leaving places to be able to pinpoint their location — but in the meantime, Tile, one of the pioneers of this technology, is upping its game today with its least-obtrusive device yet: a sticker.

Today, the startup unveiled Sticker, a new waterproof tracking device that uses adhesive created in collaboration with 3M to attach to objects to be able to track them by Bluetooth to a range of 150 feet, or further using Tile’s community network by way of its app.

Alongside this, the startup is also announcing enhancements to its existing range of Tile tracking devices. The Slim is now in the shape and thinness of a credit card, designed for wallets and other places where you might insert card-shaped information (for example, in luggage ID compartments), and its range has been extended to 200 feet with a battery life of three years.

And the Mate and Pro tags — the square-shaped fobs that Tile is most famous for — are also getting their ranges extended respectively to 200 and 400 feet.

All four models are going on sale as of today at a range of prices: Tile Stickers are $39.99 for a two-pack, $59.99 for a four-pack; Tile Slim is $29.99; Tile Mate is $24.99; and Tile Pro is $34.99. The message here is that Tile is continuing to increase its flexibility and use cases with these updates and new Sticker release.

“Over the years we’ve seen our customers use Tile for a variety of items,” said CJ Prober, Tile CEO, in a statement. “From wallets to remote controls, power tools to backpacks, our customers have shown us they want a Tile for everything. We’ve designed our new product line to empower the Tile community to find literally anything.”

The moves come on the heels of a competitive time for Tile. On the one hand, the business area that it identified early on has clearly caught the attention of a number of other companies, underscoring the opportunity. But the flip side of that is a lot of new competition in an area that is already crowded and has seen some high-profile failures.

On the launch front, in addition to Apple’s reported interest in launching a competitor, earlier this year Verizon (which also owns TechCrunch) also launched its own IoT play in this area, and Google has also created tighter integrations for people to use its Home devices and Android platform to locate objects. At the same time, some of Tile’s earliest competitors have been heavily challenged to make a go of it: Trackr last year rebranded to Adero and just weeks later laid off nearly half its staff, a decline that we’ve heard has not been halted in the months since.

For its part, Tile last summer raised $45 million on the heels of some interesting strategic partnerships with the likes of Comcast — which, similar to Verizon, Apple and Google, sees an opportunity in doing more with item tracking as part of a bigger end-to-end connected home play. The feeling is that Tile raised the money to help leverage its bigger market profile in the hopes of staving off this wave of competitors and the many others that existed before that.

Indeed, if you search on something like Amazon for Bluetooth tracking stickers, you’ll see this is not exactly a new thing, and there are a number of alternatives out there (one of the big reasons why this market has been a challenging one).

The idea with the Sticker device (and others that use adhesive) is that you can attach it to items that might not be the kind that can hold a fob, but can just as easily be misplaced, lost or stolen. The dark and subtle look of the Sticker means it’s harder to spot, especially if you stick it on the underside of the object you’re tagging:

FY20 Sticker Skateboard

One big differentiator between Tile and the many other companies that makes products similar to its range has been the wider network and economies of scale that it promises to its users. Once you are out of the Bluetooth range of your tag, you are able to track the object by way of its app and the wider Tile community, which forms a Bluetooth-based P2P network of sorts to be able to locate items. Of course, the premise of this is that enough people are using Tiles to begin with to create the locating network in the first place, which is one reason why forming collaborations with the likes of Google and Comcast can be very critical longer term to Tile’s success.

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NASA’s new Moon-bound spacesuit is safer, smarter, and much more comfortable – TechCrunch

The next Americans to set foot on the Moon will do so in a brand new spacesuit that’s based on, but hugely improved from, the original Apollo suits that last went up there in the ’70s. With easier entry, better mobility, and improved communications, these won’t be nearly as clumsy or restrictive — though you still wouldn’t want to wear one around the house.

The new spacesuit, known as the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit or xEMU, is still deep in development, but its features have been more or less finalized. It’s already being tested underwater, and orbital testing is scheduled for 2023.

Rather than build something completely new from the ground up, NASA engineers decided to address the (sometimes literal) pain points of a previous, proven design. As such the new suit superficially resembles the ones we saw moonwalkers bunny-hopping around the lunar surface with. But that’s because the basic design for a suit that protects you from hard vacuum and cosmic radiation is relatively straightforward.

In NASA’s words, a spacesuit is “a personalized spaceship that mimics all of the protections from the harsh environment of space and the basic resources that Earth and its atmosphere provide.” There’s only so much wiggle room there.

But while some parts may not have changed much since the old days, others are getting major improvements. First and foremost, both for safety and mission purposes, maneuverability has been upgraded in tons of ways.

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Infographic showing new and updated features of NASA’s new xEMU spacesuit.

For one thing, there are altogether new joints and better ranges of motion for existing ones. The standard “astronaut stance” indicative of the inflexibility of the Apollo suits should be all but eliminated with the new freedoms afforded xEMU users. Not only will the normal range of motion be easier, but astronauts will be able to reach across their own torso or lift something clear over their head.

More flexible knees and “hiking-style” boots with flexible soles will make crouching and getting up much easier as well. It’s hard to believe we got this far without those basic capabilities.

xemu digitial fit check

A 3D scan of the body (indicated by the dots) shows how various suits and parts would fit.

The fit of the suits will be vastly better as well; NASA is using anthropometry, or 3D scanning of the body, to determine exactly which pieces and fits will be best for a given astronaut.

Speaking of which, much of the suit will also be made from easily swappable, modular parts. The lower half can be switched out when doing an orbital EVA versus a surface EVA, for instance. And the helmet’s visor has a “sacrificial” protective layer that can be easily replaced with a new one if it gets damaged.

Inside the helmet, the familiar but apparently widely disliked “snoopy caps” that housed microphones and such are gone, replaced by modern voice-activiated mics and headphones that will produce much better audio quality and much less sweat.

For that matter the entire communications stack has been replaced with a new HD camera and lights, connected by a high-speed wireless data link. Live video from the Moon may be old hat, but it’s going to be a bit different from that grainy black-and-white business in 1969.

One of the most important new features is rear entry. The awkward process of donning an old-style EVA suit requires a good deal of space and help. The new ones are entered via a hatch on the back, allowing more natural placement of arm hinges and other features, and possibly changing how the suits are mounted. One can easily imagine a suit acting as a sort of airlock: you climb in the back, it seals you in, and you walk right out into space. Well, there’d probably be more to it than that, but the rear entry hatch could facilitate some cool stuff along those lines.

Although NASA is designing and certifying these suits, it may not actually make them itself. The agency called last week for input on how it might best source spacesuits from the commercial space industry.

That’s part of NASA’s decision to rely increasingly on contractors and private industry to support its 2024 Moon ambitions. Of course contractors were an essential part of the Apollo program as well, but NASA is now giving them much more leeway and may even use private launch services.

You can keep up with the latest NASA spacesuit news here of course or at the agency’s SuitUp tag.

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Creators of modern rechargeable batteries share Nobel prize – TechCrunch

If you had to slip a couple AAs into your smartphone every morning to check your email, browse Instagram, and text your friends, chances are the mobile revolution would not have been quite so revolutionary. Fortunately the rechargeable lithium-ion battery was invented — a decades-long task for which three men have just been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The prize this year honors M. Stanley Whittingham, John Goodenough, and Akira Yoshino, all of whom contributed to the development of what is today the most common form of portable power. Without them (and of course those they worked with, and those who came before) we would be tied to even more wasteful and/or stationary sources of energy.

Lead-acid batteries had been in use for nearly a century by the time people really got to thinking about taking things to the next level with lithium, a lightweight metal with desirable electrical properties. But lithium is also highly reactive with air and water, making finding suitable substances to pair it with difficult.

Experiments in the ’50s and ’60s laid the groundwork for more targeted investigations, in particular Whittingham’s. He and partner Fred Gamble showed in 1976 that lithium ions, after donating electrons to produce a charge, fit perfectly into a lattice of titanium disulfide — where they sit patiently (in their “van der Waals gaps”) until an electron is provided during recharging. Unfortunately this design also used a lithium anode that could be highly reactive (think fire) if bent or crushed.

John Goodenough and his team soon developed a better cathode material (where the lithium ions rested) with a much higher potential — more power could be drawn, opening new possibilities for applications. This, combined with the fact that the metallic lithium anodes could be highly reactive (think fire) if bent or crushed, led to increased research on making batteries safe as well as useful.

yoshino battery

In 1985 research by Akira Yoshino led to the discovery of several materials (whose names won’t mean anything to anyone without domain knowledge) that could perform as well while also being able to be physically damaged and not cause any major trouble.

Many, many improvements have been made since then, but the essentials of the technology were laid out by these teams. And soon after lithium-ion batteries were shown to be safe, capacious, and able to be recharged hundreds of times, they were found in laptops, medical devices, and eventually mobile phones. Today, after three more decades of enhancements, lithium batteries are now taking on gasoline as the energy storage medium of choice for human transportation.

The three scholars whose work most powerfully advanced this technology from theory to commercial reality were awarded equal shares of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry, each taking home a third of the million and, more importantly, the distinction of being recognized in historic fashion.

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Gnarbox 2.0 backup SSD is a photographer’s best friend in the field and at home – TechCrunch

Working photographers, and enthusiasts who just love taking plenty of pictures, know that even the biggest SD cards can sometimes fill up, especially when you’re working with large file sizes, shooting both JPG and RAW, and shooting 4K video. The solution? A good mobile backup drive. There are a number of options out there that fit the bill, but the newly released Gnarbox 2.0 might be the best of them all, because it works like a miniature independent photo computer in addition to packing speedy SSD storage on board.

This is the second generation of Gnarbox’s backup solution, and while I used the original HDD-based version to great effect for a long time, the 2.0 version adds a ton of useful features, including super-fast SSD storage ranging from 256GB to 1TB in capacity, a new OLED display that makes it even easier to use in the field, and a removable battery that means you can pack spares to stay powered up and ready.

Simple, no fuss backup

It’s not the fanciest feature that the Gnarbox 2.0 offers, but it might be the one you use most: Quick and painless backup of SD cards. There’s an SD port on the device itself that can transfer at speeds up to 75MB/s, and it has USB-C ports that can transfer direct from cameras or from card readers at up to 350MB/s, depending on their transfer capabilities. When you plug in an SD card or camera, you get an option on the screen to totally back up the contents of the attached drive with one click, which makes it incredibly easy to dump and delete and clear space to keep shooting.

Gnarbox 2.0 6

During a nine-day trip that included two events and a vacation to shoot, I made frequent use of this feature. Shooting with the new Sony A7R IV in both RAW and JPG, even my 128GB SD + 64GB SD backup cards filled up pretty quickly, but I would just slide one of the cards into the Gnarbox’s slot and hit the backup button before changing venues and it’d be fully backed up within a few minutes.

In my experience, this process has been rock-solid reliable, and gives me effectively 10x the space for a shoot versus just relying on my cards alone (I don’t typically have a similar-sized backup SD card on the road, let alone 10). By default, the Gnarbox 2.0 stores all your media in backup folders organized by capture date, too, which makes them super easy to sort through once you get back to base.

A mobile review and rating machine

Once all that great capture content is on your Gnarbox 2.0, you can also very easily connect to the drive using Gnarbox’s mobile apps to either review what you’ve got or go through and rate your photos quickly to make easier the process of working through them once you’re installed at your workstation.

There are two apps from Gnarbox available right now, including Gnarbox Safekeep and Gnarbox Selects. Safekeep gives you access to all your device’s settings and can act as a file browser for shuttling photos between apps. But Selects is probably what you’re going to be using most — it not only offers fast RAW previews (compatible with every major camera’s RAW formats) but also lets you quickly add ratings, keyboard tags and more to make sure your collection is primed for edit when you get back to your desktop.

With Selects, you can review either files on the Gnarbox SSD itself, or on attached memory cards or storage media (so yes, you can use this with something like a Samsung T5 if you’re already using that as a backup solution). All this info will then show up in applications like Adobe Lightroom to expedite your workflow.

This can shave hours off the process of organizing your photos, as it means you can do the rating and reviewing upfront without having to wait for everything to import and then trying to recall what you were going for with the shoot in the field after the fact.

Easy sharing from the field

Speaking of saving time, the Gnarbox 2.0 also helps you move more quickly from capture to sharing, which is incredibly useful if you’re working on a live event or doing photojournalism of something happening in the moment. The device supports Lightroom mobile out of the box, meaning you can navigate to it as a source for a new collection and move files over directly when connected to your phone or tablet. This makes it awesome for adding quick edits to RAW files, exporting finished JPGs and sharing directly to social apps and websites.

With Apple’s new iOS 13 file system changes, the Gnarbox 2.0 can also be addressed as a mass storage device, so you should be pretty wide open in terms of options for working with various editing software. This is also great for mobile video workflows, as Gnarbox 2.0 works just as well for storing video capture as well as photos.

Home workstation companion

Gnarbox 2.0 3The Gnarbox 2.0 is great on the go, but it’s also perfect for plugging in as a home work drive once you’re back from the shoot. I’m reviewing the 1TB version, so the amount of available on-board storage is a big advantage here, because it can essentially provide all the space you need to give you all of your working files in one place.

As mentioned, it supports high-speed USB-C transfer, which makes working with the files directly from the drive on your main workstation much more pleasant. That also means you don’t necessarily have to move things over local to get to work, which saves you a step and spares your computer’s disk space.

Gnarbox 2.0 switches to USB Mass Storage mode pretty easily, using the on-board OLED menu system. You do need to make this switch manually however, because by default the USB-C port that it uses to make the computer connection is used for charging the Gnarbox’s battery. Once you’re in that mode, however, it’s as easy as connecting Gnarbox 2.0 to your computer and navigating to it as you would any other connected mass storage device.

Photos on the drive are organized by capture date, as mentioned (you can customize how it creates its folder structure if you want) and you can select it as an import target in any photo-editing software, like Lightroom or Capture One.

Bottom line

Gnarbox 2.0 5Gnarbox has taken their time to create a thoughtful and thorough successor to their original product with the Gnarbox 2.0. It’s a unique blend of field photo server and mini computer, made more versatile with clever touches like the removable battery packs and dust/splash resistance. Ultimately, there really isn’t anything in the market that can compete with the Gnarbox 2.0 on everything it provides, though devices like WD’s My Passport Wireless Pro and the LaCie Rugged Boss SSD can offer some key parts at lower prices, depending on your needs.

At $899 for the 1TB version I reviewed, ($499 and $599 for the 256 and 512GB versions, respectively), the Gnarbox 2.0 clearly isn’t for everyone. It’s a professional tool for a professional workflow, and it’s priced as such. That said, the value it provides for busy photographers who need a companion storage solution with utmost flexibility for working both at home and on the road is definitely going to make it worth the cost of admission for some.

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Google makes moving music and videos between speakers and screens easier – TechCrunch

Google today announced a small but nifty feature for the Google Assistant and its smart home devices that makes it easier for you to take your music and videos with you as you wander about the different rooms in your home.

“Stream transfer,” as Google prosaically calls it, allows you to simply ask the Assistant to move your music to a different speaker, or — if you have the right speaker group set up — to all speakers and TVs in your home. All you have to say is “Hey Google, move the music to the bedroom speaker,” for example. In addition to your voice, you also can use the Google Home app or the touchscreen on your Google Nest Home Hub.

This will work with any source that can play to your Chromecast-enabled speakers and displays.

It’s all pretty straightforward — to the point where I’m surprised it took so long for Google to enable a feature like this. But maybe it just needed to have enough devices in peoples’ homes to make it worthwhile. “Now that millions of users have multiple TVs, smart speakers and smart displays (some in every room!) we wanted to make it easy for people to control their media as they moved from room to room,” Google itself explains in today’s announcement.

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With $15M round and 100K tablets sold, reMarkable CEO wants to make tech ‘more human’ – TechCrunch

The reMarkable tablet is a strange device in this era of ultra-smart gadgets: A black and white screen meant for reading, writing, and sketching — and nothing more. Yet the company has sold 100,000 of the devices and now has attracted $15 million in series A funding from Spark Capital.

It’s an unusual trajectory for a hardware startup exploring a nearly unoccupied market, but CEO Magnus Wanberg is confident that’s because this category of device is destined to grow in response to increasingly invasive tech. Sometimes an anti-technology trend is the tech opportunity of a lifetime.

I reviewed the reMarkable last year and compared it with its only real competition, the Sony Digital Paper Tablet. It was launched not on Kickstarter or Indiegogo but with its own independent crowdfunding campaign — and considering we’ve seen devices like this attempt such a thing and either let down or rip off their backers, that alone was a significant risk.

The device has been a runaway success, though, selling over 100,000 units — and attracting investment in the process. When I talked with Wanberg and co-founder Gerst about their new A round, the conversation was so interesting that I decided to publish it in full (or at least slightly edited).

How did they get here? What would they have done differently? Is the threat of the “smart” world really a thing? Why fight tech with more tech?

Devin: So you guys raised some money, that’s great! But it’s been a while since we talked. I think it’s important to hear about the progress of unique companies that are doing interesting things. So first can you tell me a little about what the company’s been busy with?

Magnus: Well, we’ve created this wonderful product, the reMarkable paper tablet. We’ve been very focused on that effort, based on a love for paper and a love for technology, to see if we can find some ways to join these two together to help people think better. That’s sort of the the whole ethos of the company.

So for the last six years, we’ve just been grinding away… you know, we’re a small player up against the big guys on this. So we’ve been sort of fighting guerrilla warfare trying to trying to establish ourselves.

And we were successful, fortunately, when we did our pre-order campaign, because as we found out, we weren’t the only ones who who love this notion of thinking better with the paper tablet, seeing paper as a powerful tool for thinking and for creating.

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Amazon introduces new $99 Eero mesh Wi-Fi routers – TechCrunch

Amazon is launching a new generation of Eero router, the first new iteration of Eero hardware since it acquired the company earlier this year. The new router is $99 for one, or available in a three-pack for $249, and is available in the U.S. today and in Europe later this year.

Alongside the new hardware, Amazon has added even more specific voice commands for its routers, including the ability to turn on and off guest Wi-Fi via voice, as well as pause Wi-Fi access for specific devices on the network (Amazon showed off turning off the PlayStation Wi-Fi as one example). These features go above and beyond what’s currently available for third-party devices, but Amazon says it’s also making an API available and that routers from TP-Link, Asus, Linksys and Arris will able to take advantage, as well.
Image from iOS 5

Amazon’s intent with the revised Eero and Alexa commands is to make the whole process of setting up and managing a secure Wi-Fi network super easy for everyone.

Amazon’s updated Eero three-pack will cover a home up to 5,000 square feet in size, the company says, and provide speeds of up to 350 Mbps with dual-band 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz 802.11ac Wi-Fi, with 2 Ethernet ports per device for wired connections. They also include Bluetooth LE 5.0, which is used for simple setup via your smartphone.

The price point on the new Eero is certainly attractive, and more competitive than the previous version, which started at $149 for just a beacon alone, and $199 for the hub.

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Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 7 finally has USB-C, ships on October 22 – TechCrunch

Today at its special hardware event, Microsoft unveiled the new Surface Pro 7. The new Surface Pro finally brings USB-C to the convertible laptop category of Microsoft hardware, which will be a welcome addition for fans who’ve been waiting for the company to adopt this now-prevalent connection technology.

The latest-generation Surface Pro starts at $749, pre-orders start today and it’s available on October 22.

Like its predecessors, the Surface consists of a 12-inch tablet component with a folding kickstand for adjustable angle viewing. There’s also a detachable keyboard cover accessory, and a Surface Pen stylus that allows for writing, drawing, note taking and more.

The Surface Pro also features “studio mics,” a new microphone array built into the new Surface Laptop.

Screen Shot 2019 10 02 at 7.38.29 AM

“Studio mics are optimized for your voice, their place perfectly tuned, so that we capture what’s coming from your mouth rather than all the background sounds around you,” said Robin Seiler, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Devices who presented the new device onstage at the event. They’ll also be used for Microsoft’s Your Phone app, which is a recently released Windows feature that connects your smartphone to your computer for calls, messaging and more.

Surface Pro is the most popular two-in-one on the market, according to Microsoft, with more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies purchasing Surface devices, according to Seiler.

Microsoft emphasized the creative potential of the Surface Pro in a video featuring an artist named Connie using the Pen for digital painting, and Seiler showed off the productivity angle via a live demo of various features of Office on the two-in-one.

Screen Shot 2019 10 02 at 7.26.23 AM

 

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OmniVis could save lives by detecting cholera-infected water in minutes rather than days – TechCrunch

Clean drinking water is one of the most urgent needs in developing countries and disaster-stricken areas, but safety tests can take days — during which tainted water can infect thousands. OmniVis aims to make detection of cholera and other pathogens as quick, simple, and cheap as a pregnancy test. Its smartphone-powered detection platform could save thousands of lives.

OmniVis, which presented on stage at Disrupt SF’s Startup Battlefield today, emerged from research conducted at Purdue University, where CEO and co-founder Katherine Clayton completed her doctorate. She and her advisors were working on the question of using microfluidics, basically very close inspection of the behavior of fluids, to detect cholera bacteria in water.

In case you forgot your Infectious Diseases 101, cholera is a bacterium that thrives in water polluted by fecal matter. When ingested it multiplies and causes severe diarrhea and dehydration — which as you might imagine can become a life-threatening problem if a community is short on clean water.

While normally uncommon, there was a huge cholera outbreak in Haiti in 2010 following a major earthquake there; 665,000 people were infected and more than 8,000 people died. It was this humanitarian disaster that prompted Clayton to look into how such an event might have been prevented. She’s been working on what would become the OmniVis platform since 2013.

“It’s been a long time coming,” she told me.

That’s not uncommon for academic spin-offs with valuable IP but zero product experience. Moving from lab bench to field-ready hardware has taken years of hard work. But the resulting device could upend a costly and slow water testing process that leaves communities at risk in crucial moments.

omnivis lab

Existing water testing is generally done at a central location, a lab run by a university, utility, or the local government. It depends on the region — and of course if there has been a disaster, it may not even be functional. Going from sample collection to results may take several days, and it isn’t cheap, either. Clayton estimated it at $100 per sample.

“But that’s just supplies and labor,” she said. “Not the cost of the lab, the PCR machines — which are tens of thousands of dollars — the pipettes, the dyes, the disposables and consumables, the training… not to mention in a lot of areas you’re not just going to walk by a nice central laboratory. Some countries may only have one or two testing facilities.”

Another option is disposable rapid diagnostic tests, more like pregnancy tests than anything, meant for use with stool samples — but their accuracy is low even then, and with cholera diluted in a water source you may as well be flipping a coin.

Such was the state of testing when Haiti had its outbreak and Clayton began looking into it. In 2013 they began investigating microfluidics as a method for detection. It works by exposing a set of chemical reagents, or “primers,” to a water sample. These primers are engineered to bind to bits of cholera’s DNA and then when heated, replicate it — a process called DNA amplification.

The more cholera is present, the more DNA will be available to amplify, and it multiplies to the point where it affects the viscosity of the water — a factor that can be tested by the device. Interestingly, the device in no way “analyzes” the DNA or identifies it; all it does is measure how viscous the water is, which is a highly reliable proxy for how much cholera was present in it to begin with.

It turns out this method is both quick and accurate: In 30 minutes it gives as good or better results as central testing.

“The worst thing we could ever do is say there’s no cholera in the water when there is,” Clayton said. So they’re focused on robust test results over all else. But ultimately the device still had to go from the lab to the real world. To that end the team conducted pilot tests in Haiti, where they worked with local NGOs and communities to get some direct feedback.

What they found was promising — but also resulted in major changes to the product. For one thing, they had to switch from iPhone to Android.

“People feel safer with Android than iPhone, which is considered a luxury item,” Clayton said. They also found that men and women operated the system equally well — the team is 84 percent women, she noted, and their design choices may have crept into the product the same as can happen on what is much more common, a male-dominated team. English and Svengali users likewise did fine. Interestingly, locals were baffled by roman numerals. “That was surprising,” she said, but illustrative of how even the smallest assumptions need to be questioned.

“I love user-centered design,” Clayton said. “I think it’s the only way to get engineering to work. UX and graphic design is not my or my colleagues’ specialty, so we had to get some outside contractors for that.”

The production device, which OmniVis hopes to ship in about six months, should cost around a thousand dollars — but at about $10 per test it will pay for itself quickly, especially considering how much easily it can be deployed and used. A half-hour turnaround on a test that can be performed by an aid worker with an hour’s training is an invaluable tool in a disaster-stricken area where infrastructure like mail and roads may be in disorder.

These devices, by the way, are not bought and paid for by the people who drink the water. Like the water-testing labs, they’ll be owned and operated by NGOs, governments and others with budgets for this kind of thing.

Cholera is the first pathogen the company is aiming to detect, but the system can just as easily detect several others simply by using different disposable tests equipped with different primers. E. Coli could be next — with the proper testing, Clayton said. And others would follow. It’s not hard to imagine an OmniVis device being a must-have for any relief work where water needs to be tested.

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