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Silicone 3D printing startup Spectroplast spins out of ETHZ with $1.5M – TechCrunch

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3D printing has become commonplace in the hardware industry, but because few materials can be used for it easily, the process rarely results in final products. A Swiss startup called Spectroplast hopes to change that with a technique for printing using silicone, opening up all kinds of applications in medicine, robotics and beyond.

Silicone is not very bioreactive, and of course can be made into just about any shape while retaining strength and flexibility. But the process for doing so is generally injection molding, great for mass-producing lots of identical items but not so great when you need a custom job.

And it’s custom jobs that ETH Zurich’s Manuel Schaffner and Petar Stefanov have in mind. Hearts, for instance, are largely similar but the details differ, and if you were going to get a valve replaced, you’d probably prefer yours made to order rather than straight off the shelf.

“Replacement valves currently used are circular, but do not exactly match the shape of the aorta, which is different for each patient,” said Schaffner in a university news release. Not only that, but they may be a mixture of materials, some of which the body may reject.

But with a precise MRI the researchers can create a digital model of the heart under consideration and, using their proprietary 3D printing technique, produce a valve that’s exactly tailored to it — all in a couple of hours.

A 3D-printed silicone heart valve from Spectroplast.

Although they have created these valves and done some initial testing, it’ll be years before anyone gets one installed — this is the kind of medical technique that takes a decade to test. So in the meantime they are working on “life-improving” rather than life-saving applications.

One such case is adjacent to perhaps the most well-known surgical application of silicone: breast augmentation. In Spectroplast’s case, however, they’d be working with women who have undergone mastectomies and would like to have a breast prosthesis that matches the other perfectly.

Another possibility would be anything that needs to fit perfectly to a person’s biology, like a custom hearing aid, the end of a prosthetic leg or some other form of reconstructive surgery. And of course, robots and industry could use one-off silicone parts as well.

ethz siliconeprinting 2

There’s plenty of room to grow, it seems, and although Spectroplast is just starting out, it already has some 200 customers. The main limitation is the speed at which the products can be printed, a process that has to be overseen by the founders, who work in shifts.

Until very recently Schaffner and Stefanov were working on this under a grant from the ETH Pioneer Fellowship and a Swiss national innovation grant. But in deciding to depart from the ETH umbrella they attracted a 1.5 million Swiss franc (about the same as dollars just now) seed round from AM Ventures Holding in Germany. The founders plan to use the money to hire new staff to crew the printers.

Right now Spectroplast is doing all the printing itself, but in the next couple of years it may sell the printers or modifications necessary to adapt existing setups.

You can read the team’s paper showing their process for creating artificial heart valves here.



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Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner software fix promised in the coming weeks

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The company behind the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners, iRobot, has announced that the software updates it issued have been causing problems for some of its robotic vacuum cleaners. Models specifically impacted by the software issue are Roomba i7 and s9 robots. The company states that it is currently working on a software upgrade to fix issues owners have complained about.

The issue for owners of the impacted robotic vacuum cleaners is that the update will be rolled out over the next several weeks. Owners of impacted Roomba vacuums say that the recent 3.12.8 firmware has caused navigation issues with the vacuum cleaners. After applying that software update, one user says their Roomba acted “drunk,” spinning around and bumping into furniture.

The owners also said the vacuum cleaned in strange patterns and would get stuck in an empty area along with not being able to return home to its dock. Other users have reported that the updates wiped out environmental maps made by the Roomba vacuums essential to their cleaning function. Impacts from the bad software update have caused a variety of issues, with some taking longer to clean than usual. Units unable to make it back to their docking station are unable to charge, leaving them unusable.

iRobot has been working with users impacted to roll back the update, but even after the update is rolled back some report they still have issues. Some users who were promised help rolling back the software update say they have waited weeks and still haven’t received help. These robotic vacuum cleaners are typically quite expensive, and a software update leaving them unusable understandably angers owners.

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Joby Aviation unveils its eVTOL air taxi flight video for the first time

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Joby Aviation certainly isn’t a household name today, but that could change the future. Joby is one of the companies trying to bring affordable and efficient air travel to the masses for short distances. Joby has spent more than a decade developing piloted, all-electric vertical takeoff and landing passenger aircraft and has conducted more than 1000 test flights so far.

The goal is to operate a clean, quiet, and affordable air taxi service starting in 2024. One notable thing about Joby Aviation is that it was the first company to get a certification basis for an eVTOL aircraft with the FAA. It has also been granted airworthiness approval for an eVTOL aircraft by the U.S. Air Force. The merger with Reinvent Technology Partners values Jobi Aviation at $6.6 billion and is expected to generate about $1.6 billion in gross proceeds.

The deal includes $910 million in fully committed funding, including an $835 million fully committed PIPE. The investment was anchored by strategic partners and institutional investors, including Uber Technologies and more. The agreement has up to a five-year lock-up and price-based vesting on certain sponsor shares. Some of the shares don’t vest until the company reaches a $30 billion market capitalization.

Proceeds from the deal will fund Joby Aviation through the start of passenger service, including the aircraft’s certification and development of manufacturing facilities. The company’s goal is to change how people move by unlocking the possibility to fly sustainably over gridlock and traffic via piloted, four-passenger, emissions-free aircraft.

The aircraft the company is developing can travel up to 150 miles at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. It’s unclear at this time how much passengers might pay to use the air taxi service when it launches.

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Telegram improves self-destructing chats, expiring invite links

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WhatsApp’s Facebook-friendly privacy changes have caused many users to flock to other secure messaging services. Those services, in turn, have rapidly pushed out changes to improve their features as well as prepare their servers for the sudden influx of new users. For its latest set of updates, Telegram is adding a touch of transience to some of its features, such as public chats as well as invite links, while also making sure that refugees from other messaging platforms will feel at home as well.

Telegram has had support for chats that delete themselves after a period of time for quite a while now but those were limited to Secret Chats. With the latest version of Telegram, any and all chats can automatically delete themselves for all participants in 24 hours 7 days after sending. Sadly, it doesn’t seem that users will have fine-grained control over those.

New users will probably want to invite their friends to their groups or channels and Telegram is making that both easier and safer. You can now use QR Codes instead of obscure links and you can even set those invite links to expire after a certain period of time, number of users, or even both. Together with the ability for Broadcast Groups to have unlimited members, Telegram is making the platform both personal and massively social at the same time.

With a massive influx of new users, there will undoubtedly be some people who might not want to play by the rules, both Telegram’s as well as your social circles. Telegram is updating its reporting system to both make complaints and reports clearer, like allowing comments to be added for an explanation, and make it less likely for others to abuse the system.

The latest Telegram update also improves home screen widgets on both iOS and Android, like adding a Chat Widget that shows the most recent messages. Because of the usual platform differences, however, only Android will always show the latest messages with iOS’ widget will only be updated at intervals.

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