• 3D printing is supporting the fight against COVID-19
  • Want to redecorate? Consider using “roombots”…
  • This company is putting its foot down…

Dear Reader,

Just a few days ago, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency use authorizations for three additional serology tests. These tests determine the presence of an antibody that indicates someone has had COVID-19 in the past.

I wrote about Cellex in early April when it was the first to be approved for its COVID-19 antibody test. Here are the other three that were just approved:

  • Ortho Clinical Diagnostics’ Vitros system – a point-of-care test

  • ChemBio Diagnostics – a fingerstick blood test

  • ELISA – a highly sensitive immunosorbent assay developed by Mount Sinai Health System

In the case of ELISA, blood is drawn and shipped to a diagnostics company like LabCorp or Quest Diagnostics, and the results usually come back in a day or two.

We have to wonder… Why did the FDA wait so long to grant the authorizations?

Testing for the presence of antibodies is nothing new… and we now know that COVID-19 was spreading in January, even December, far more widely than was ever modeled. And these tests are critical to our understanding of the virus.

I had my blood drawn yesterday. Simple to do. Any physician can approve the test. And they are now widely available.

Why did I have my blood drawn? I was sick in February, and I’m never sick. I had all the symptoms of COVID-19, and I was knocked out for two days. Of course, I self-isolated for 14 days and fully recovered.

Given the discussions about instituting immunity passports, I figured that I would get a head start on the process. But aside from my own curiosity about whether I had it, we must understand how widely the virus has spread and the total number of asymptomatic and mild cases that have already occurred.

The tests identify specific antibodies that the body produces to fight off COVID-19: IgM and IgG. The body first produces IgM and then begins production of IgG. IgG can be found in the body within 7–20 days of infection and tends to stay in the body for a few years.

If we test positive for the IgG antibody specific to COVID-19 – assuming it’s not a false positive – it’s highly likely we’re immune.

I hope to have the test results back tomorrow.

Now let’s turn to our insights…

Fighting COVID-19 with 3D printing…

As we know, there’s been a shortage of masks available since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. But rather than complain about it, former Microsoft executive Jonathan Roberts took matters into his own hands.

Roberts designed a respirator mask that 3D printers can easily produce. Then he quickly got a certification from the National Institutes of Health so health care workers around the world could use his masks.

And that’s not an exaggeration. Over 35,000 people in 117 countries have now used Roberts’ 3D printed mask to meet surging demand.

Here’s what the final product looks like:

3D Printed Mask

Source: Maker Mask

Roberts lives in Seattle. We may ask, how did his mask find its way to so many countries so quickly?

That’s the beauty of 3D printing – products are completely designed in software. Roberts simply put the software for his mask out on the internet.

Anyone with a 3D printer can download the software and print the mask. It’s all digital. Nothing needs to be manufactured, boxed, and shipped. The mask design can be downloaded or sent by email.

What’s more, 12 3D printers can produce 100 masks per day. So a small number of printers can supply local health care workers with all the masks they need.

I love seeing this kind of creativity during times of crisis. And looking at the bigger picture… This is another sign that decentralized manufacturing is on the rise.

As we talked about yesterday, we are going to see smaller high-tech manufacturing plants pop up in and around the markets they serve.

And with 3D printing, we can produce in-demand products right on-site. We don’t have to worry about shipping or supply chains because it’s powered by software.

While Roberts open-sourced his design, many companies will license their designs for a fee and distribute them much like products purchased on Amazon… only we’ll just download our product design and print it locally.

So this is a sign of what’s to come. This is a dramatic shift in how we think about manufacturing. We’ll talk much more about 3D printing and decentralized manufacturing in the coming months.

Roombots are coming…

A research team at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland just demonstrated the “roombots” it has been working on for years.

These are robotic modules about the size of a cantaloupe that can move around and assemble themselves into useful objects and shapes. They can also incorporate other objects into whatever functional object they are assembling. Here’s a visual:

Rendering of Roombot Table Assembly

Source: EPFL

The idea behind these roombots is that they can become adaptive furniture that can change at any time.

Imagine you have these roombots in your home. They could form a desk and chair while you work. Then they could disassemble and reassemble into a table when your friends come for dinner. And then they could reassemble into a couch for relaxing after dinner.

For those of us accustomed to living in large homes with a lot of furniture, this may not seem like a big deal. But most of the world lives is far smaller living spaces. That’s true in expensive metropolitan areas like New York, London, and Paris. And it’s especially true in much of Asia.

For people living in small apartments with two or three rooms, adaptive furniture is a game changer. Suddenly the same room can serve multiple purposes.

And even more exciting is the bigger picture…

We’ve talked quite a bit about the new space age in recent months. SpaceX is gearing up for manned missions to the Moon and then Mars. Private companies like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, as well as SpaceX, are pioneering consumer space flights. And the first space hotel will be ready by 2024.

Well, if we want to have bases, hotels, and other living areas on places like the Moon and Mars, we can’t just ship furniture up when spacefaring humans need a table or chair. That’s not very practical.

But we could outfit these areas with roombots that can become any piece of furniture or useful object needed. That’s an exciting concept.

And as this technology advances, the robotic modules are going to shrink in size, giving us the ability to create more refined objects with much more detail. It reminds me of the “microbots” from the Disney movie Big Hero 6. Perhaps we’re not that far away after all…

Combatting Google’s reCAPTCHA scheme…

Yesterday, we talked about how Google has been using our answers to its reCAPTCHA security test to develop its self-driving AI. Basically, we’ve been working for Google without pay. And Google now wants to charge firms that have been using reCAPTCHA…

Cybersecurity firm Cloudflare is putting its foot down. Cloudflare announced that it will be switching from reCAPTCHA to a competing security tool called hCaptcha, which was developed by early stage company Intuition Machines.

We’ll talk about hCaptcha in a minute, but first I need to point out that this is a major development.

I suspect many readers won’t be familiar with Cloudflare because it’s not a consumer-facing company. But believe it or not, Cloudflare protects about 12% of the internet from bot attacks. It’s a critical part of the internet’s security infrastructure.

By making this switch, the companies that currently use Cloudflare’s service to authentical users will soon use something different than reCAPTCHA.

Yes, we’ll still be selecting photographs to prove we’re human… But we’ll also see new challenges like drawing a box around an object like a car or categorizing objects.

hCaptcha Examples

Source: hCaptcha

We’ll still be helping train artificial intelligence for things like self-driving technology and many other future applications.

But in our little way, we’ll also be contributing to the acceleration of technological development that will make our lives far more convenient and abundant.


Jeff Brown
Editor, The Bleeding Edge

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