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Now gamers help diagnose disease

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Over a billion people in the world entertain themselves with video games. Miguel Luengo Oroz has taken his gaming to the next level by using the intelligence of players from around the world to help diagnose diseases.

More than one billion people in the world entertain themselves with apps and video games. Only a hobby? For Miguel Luengo Oroz, the answer is no. Miguel and his team from the Technical University of Madrid (UPM) have resolved to use the collective intelligence of players from around the world to help diagnose diseases that kill thousands of people every day.

Parasites rather than spaceships

The idea originated in 2012. “While I was working for the United Nations in global health challenges, it caught my attention how tough and manual the process of diagnosing malaria was,” explains Miguel. “It can take up to 30 minutes to identify and count the parasites in a blood sample that cause the disease. There are not enough specialists in the world to diagnose all the cases!”

Miguel, a great fan of videogames had an idea: “Why not create a videogame in which rather than shooting spaceships we search for parasites?” And MalariaSpot was born, a game available for computer and mobiles in which the “malaria hunter” has one minute to detect the parasites in a real, digitalized blood sample.

Since its launch, more than 100.000 people in 100 countries have “hunted” one and a half million parasites, and the results are promising. The number of clicks made by many players in the same image sample combined by artificial intelligence shows a count as precise as the one of an expert, but quicker.

“We published a study that probed that the collective diagnosis by the use of a videogame is not a crazy thing, but now it needs to be assessed from a medical point of view,” explains Miguel. His team cooperates with a clinic in Mozambique and has done some tests in real time and has achieved the first collaborative remote diagnosis of Malaria from Africa.

The technology platform to host the game was the key. “We needed a flexible infrastructure that worked from anywhere in the world. We usually have traffic spikes when we appear in media or when we do campaigns in social networks, and we saw that Amazon Web Services (AWS) offered a good solution for auto scaling based on demand,” Miguel said.

Miguel and his team use the AWS Research Grants program that allows students, teachers, and researchers to transfer their activities to the cloud and innovate rapidly at a low cost. “We can now test different services without having to worry about the bill,” explains Miguel.

From the White House to neighborhood schools

The MalariaSpot project has attracted the recognition of entities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who has named Miguel one of the ten youngest Spaniards under 35 with potential to change the world through technology, the Singularity University of the NASA, and the Office of Science and Technology of the White House.

But one of the greatest awards for Miguel and his team comes much closer to home. They enjoy visiting schools all over Spain and helping awake the most unsuspected scientific vocations. “Today’s kids are digital natives. They are used to seeing and analyzing complex images on a screen,” says Miguel. This shows the educational value and awareness of videogames. During the last World Malaria Day on 25th April thousands of Spanish students participated in “Olympic Malaria Videogames” playing the new game MalariaSpot Bubbles. During this day school teams competed to become the best virtual hunters of malaria parasites.

“With MalariaSpot we have even be able to reach kids who were not very good at biology, in a workshop that we run in a school last year the kid who won was the most troublemaker out of his whole class,” explains Miguel (with a smile).

And the future of medical diagnosis is not only defined in laboratories. “We are in a turning point where technology allows ubiquitous connectivity. And us, and the rest of our generation, are responsible to direct all the possibilities that technology offers us to initiatives that make a real impact on the lives of people. And what better than health.”

With MalariaSpot and her “younger sister,” TuberSpot, Miguel and his young team of researchers are contributing so that in five years 5% of videogames are used to analyze medical images. Their objective? “Achieve a low cost diagnosis of global diseases, accessible to any person anywhere around the planet.”

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SAFTA awards get first streaming video nominees

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The 2019 nominations for The South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) were announced late last week, and for the first time in the 13-year history of the awards, a TV series produced for a video-on-demand service was in contention. The result was a surprise boost to streaming service Showmax.

The comedy series Tali’s Wedding Diary, which premiered in December 2017, represented a major step for the then two-year old streaming service. It was the debut Showmax Original, the first time Showmax ventured into producing its own content. The gamble paid off, with the show becoming the most watched of any series on its first day on Showmax, and now Tali’s Wedding Diary has been further recognised with seven SAFTA nominations, making it this year’s most nominated comedy.

“When we first floated the idea of Tali’s Wedding Diary, we joked about winning awards,” says Candice Fangueiro, Showmax’s head of content. “At that point, just getting our first Showmax Original off the ground was already a major challenge and it was more than we could hope for to actually hit it out of the park. I was stunned when I heard the news about the nominations – it’s amazing to be considered in the same company as these other shows and thanks to this we’re already seeing a fresh spike in Tali views.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary was also a first for co-creator and star Julia Anastasopoulos, who until then was best known as YouTube star SuzelleDIY. “I am so thrilled about the SAFTA nominations for Tali’s Wedding Diary,” says Julia, who is up for Best Actress – TV Comedy and Best Achievement in Scriptwriting – TV Comedy, along with her husband Ari Kruger and Daniel Zimbler. 

“It was such a big and daunting step to create a full TV comedy series and intro a brand-new character. I really didn’t know how it would be received and am so happy to have received such positive feedback for the show and the Tali Babes character, along with the nominations. It feels so good to be recognised for something we poured our hearts into. None of it would have been possible, of course, without the incredible hard work and vision of my husband Ari and the incredible team, cast and crew that were part of the show. And a huge thank you to Showmax of course for making it all possible. Congratulations and best of luck to the entire team and to all the other nominees.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary is a mockumentary that follows Tali, a self-obsessed Joburg princess who’s moved to Cape Town and is planning her wedding to property-agent fiancé Darren (Anton Taylor). The series was inspired by Julia’s own wedding to Ari, her SuzelleDIY and Tali’s Wedding Diary co-creator, who is also up for Best Achievement In Directing – TV Comedy.  

In addition to Julia and Ari’s nominations, Tali’s Wedding Diary is up for Best TV Comedy, Art Direction (Keren Setton),  Cinematography (James Adey), and Editing (Richard Starkey). Winners will be announced on 2 March 2019 at Sun City Superbowl.

Following the success of Tali’s Wedding Diary, the second Showmax Original, The Girl From St Agnes, was released earlier this month. A third Showmax Original, Trippin With Skhumba, is slated for release at the end of February.

“With three Showmax Originals now under our belt and more on the way, we’d like to think this is the start of many more SAFTA nominations for shows from a streaming service,” concludes Candice.

South African content currently on Showmax has 110 nominations and includes the most nominated movie (Five Fingers With Marseilles), telenovela (The River), drama (Lockdown) and soap (Isibaya), with more SAFTA nominees scheduled for the coming months.

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Ford begins production of high-tech Ranger in SA

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Ford’s Silverton Assembly Plant in Pretoria has officially commenced production of the new Ford Ranger, bringing a raft of product upgrades and refinements to one of South Africa’s best-selling vehicles and export models.

“Following the investment of over R3-billion in our local operations and extensive upgrades to our plants over the past 18 months, we are delighted to see the first of the new Ford Ranger models coming off our production line,” says Neale Hill, managing director for Ford Motor Company Sub-Saharan Africa Region.

“This is an extremely important and exciting year for the Ford Ranger, which will also see the launch of the first Ranger Raptor that is undoubtedly one of this year’s most highly anticipated new models,” says Hill.

“The 2019 Ford Ranger will deliver more power, greater fuel efficiency, enhanced refinement, and additional advanced technologies when it goes on sale in the coming months, and we are confident it will once again set the benchmark in the extremely competitive pickup segment.”

Selected range-topping models, including the Ranger Raptor, will be powered by the all-new 2.0 Bi-Turbo diesel engine assembled at Ford’s Struandale Engine Plant in Port Elizabeth. This unit produces 157kW and 500Nm of torque – up by 10kW and 30Nm compared with the current 3.2 TDCi – and delivers up to a nine percent improvement in fuel efficiency when combined with the advanced new 10-speed automatic transmission.

Certain derivatives will feature a 2.0 Single Turbo version of this engine, producing 132kW and 420Nm of torque, mated to the same 10-speed transmission. Various other models in the line-up will retain the proven 2.2 and 3.2-litre Duratorq TDCi engines and existing gearbox options – thus giving customers the widest choice yet in this category. As usual, the line-up includes Single Cab, Super Cab and Double Cab body styles to suit customer requirements.

Along with freshened design cues, range-topping Ranger models will raise the bar once again with industry-defining safety features on the Wildtrak such as Pre-Collision Assist and Active Park Assist. SYNC 3® with Navigation remains one of the Ranger’s technology highlights as a fully featured infotainment system with intuitive voice control.

Following the launch of the ‘standard’ new Ford Ranger models, the attention will be shifted to the locally assembled Ranger Raptor that is set to create an entirely new segment in the pickup market when it makes its eagerly anticipated debut.

“There is a lot of excitement and hype around the Ranger Raptor, and this exhilarating new model will occupy a white space in the pickup market when it goes on sale in the second quarter of this year, creating a much-needed performance model in this crucial segment,” Hill states.

“We can’t wait to get the Ranger Raptor to market, enabling our customers to experience unrivalled off-road performance, cutting-edge technologies and the most muscular design yet seen in this class.”

Some of the defining features of the Ranger Raptor include Position Sensitive Damping (PSD) shock absorbers exclusively manufactured by FOX, and an advanced Terrain Management System (TMS) that includes an exciting Baja mode for fast off-road driving. It also boasts a toughened reinforced chassis, powerful all-disc braking system and specially developed BF Goodrich tyres.

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