Small tech firm beats Samsung to release world's first folding smartphone
The Royole Corporation beat Samsung to the punch when it recently released the world's first commercially available folding smartphone.
- The phone, called FlexPai, features three screens when folded and it costs $1,318.
- FlexPai runs Royole's custom Water OS, which will likely be a downside for consumers.
- Samsung, which has reportedly spent years developing a flexible smartphone, is expected to release a new device this week.
A Chinese tech company unveiled the world's first foldable phone to journalists on Monday, a move that comes days before Samsung is expected to introduce its long-awaited flexible display phone.
The California-based Royole Corporation says its new product, dubbed the FlexPai, is a combination of a mobile phone and tablet. FlexPai is still in early stages of development, but Royole is currently offering a developer model for $1,318. Its features include:
- 7.8-inch screen, full-color flexible display with 4:3 aspect ratio and 1920 x 1440 resolution
- 128GB storage
- Capable of folding up to 180 degrees
- Three screens (primary, secondary and edge) are available when folded
- Two cameras with 20 and 16 megapixels that can be bent to capture objects at unique angles
- Can be folded 200,000 times
Although early tests of the FlexPai indicate that it works well enough, one potential downside for consumers is that the device runs Royole's custom Water operating system, about which Nick Statt wrote in an article for The Verge:
"The software seemed extremely sluggish, apps continuously opened accidentally, and the orientation kept changing randomly when one of the Royole representatives was demonstrating the folding process. That, to me, indicates that the company's custom Water OS (a fork of Android 9.0, Royole says) is probably not the most robust operating system just yet."
Beating Samsung to the punch
Samsung has been hinting at plans to unveil a foldable phone, rumored to be called 'Galaxy F', at its developer conference on Wednesday. It'd be a release that's been years in the making.
Since Samsung first unveiled prototypes of its flexible OLED displays in 2013, rumors have surfaced nearly every year that the South Korean tech giant was on the cusp of releasing the world's first foldable smartphone, though no device ever materialized.
In July, sources close to Samsung revealed that the company had developed a prototype of a flexible smartphone, called 'Winner', that has a 7-inch screen and can be folded in half. The price tag was rumored to be around $1,500, which some noted might be too steep to pique consumer interest.
But the bigger problem for Samsung, arguably, is that the foldable phone could turn out to be little more than a gimmick, a tiny branch on the evolutionary tree of smartphone technology. The good news for Samsung is that its Android mobile OS is almost certainly more reliable and familiar than the FlexPai's Water OS.
However, Samsung could face more serious competition soon—rumor has it Apple is developing a folding phone that could be released in 2020.
Why smart companies create things people will never buy
- Royole's bendy-screen FlexPai phone unveiled in China - BBC News ›
- Samsung's Foldable Phone Will Be First—But At What Cost? ›
- Royole could be the first company to release a foldable smartphone ... ›
- The first foldable smartphone is here, but don't get too excited yet ›
A large new study uses an online game to inoculate people against fake news.
- Researchers from the University of Cambridge use an online game to inoculate people against fake news.
- The study sample included 15,000 players.
- The scientists hope to use such tactics to protect whole societies against disinformation.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?
But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.
What's dead may never die, it seems
The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.
BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.
The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.
As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.
The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.
"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.
An ethical gray matter
Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.
The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.
Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.
Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?
"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."
One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.
The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.
"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.
It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.
Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?
The dilemma is unprecedented.
Setting new boundaries
Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."
She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.
Many governments do not report, or misreport, the numbers of refugees who enter their country.
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