This Way Up Part 1

Robotic seals in rest homes, and Apple's security challenges.

Robotic seals for therapy and company

A colony of 13 robotic seals is changing people's lives at an Auckland retirement village. The PARO seals have big soulful eyes, white artificial fur and interact with people using a network of sensors that can sense touch, sound, temperature, posture and light.

This Way Up drops into Selwyn Village to see the robotic seals in action.

The 'robopets' were invented in 2003 by the Japanese roboticist Dr Takanori Shibata and are now used as a form of animal or pet therapy in places where having live animals is challenging.

"You can have a retirement home with 100 people. Do you really think that those 100 people will actually get quality time during the day? No. So we have a lot of loneliness, a lot of helplessness, a lot of boredom, so bringing technology that is actually going to be helping us to help our people, it's amazing" - Orquidea Mortera, Diversional Therapist at Selwyn Village.

Tech: Apple security

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin Photo: Supplied

Our tech correspondent Peter Griffin on a big week security-wise for Apple. The FBI demands that Apple hack into an iPhone owned by one of the San Bernardino attackers, and a message that's popped up on the screens of some users. Also Spark turns 5 of its phone boxes into charging stations for electric vehicles.

This Way Up Part 2

3D-printing human organs, the sport of freediving, a 'bionic spine' and listening to machines to detect faults.

Science: 3D printing human organs

3D printing human organs

US scientists have developed a 3D printer that's capable of building complex human organs and tissues.

Although 3D printing technology is widely used in science, technology and aerospace engineering, its use in medicine has so far proved fairly limited.

Dr Chris Smith of The Naked Scientists told This Way Up's Simon Morton that's because the human body is composed of many different types of living cells, and printing mixtures of cells in a way that keeps them alive and also in the right position to form a functional tissue has been impossible.

Now a team led by Wake Forest School of Medicine researcher Anthony Atala has unveiled a 3D bioprinter which can produce human scale complex tissues made up of multiple cell types.

Writing in the journal Nature Biotechnology the research raises the tantalising prospect of printing entire human organs. "With further development, this technology may produce clinically useful tissues and organs that incorporate multiple cell types at precise locations to recapitulate native structure and function," the researchers said.

Dr Chris Smith of The Naked Scientists

Dr Chris Smith of The Naked Scientists Photo: SUPPLIED


The sport of freediving, where you dive as deep as you can on a single breath without using any breathing apparatus, is a competitive sport that's also part of the curriculum at a growing number of dive schools worldwide.

New Zealanders are pretty good at it too; William Trubridge holds two current world records, and Kathryn Nevatt is a previous world record holder who is recognised as one of the world's leading female freedivers.

Adam Skolnick was covering the Vertical Blue freediving competition for The New York Times back in 2013 and found himself at the centre of a tragedy when American freediver Nick Mevoli died while attempting to set a new American record.

In his book One Breath: Freediving, Death, and the Quest to Shatter Human Limits (Viking) he looks at the incredible demands that competitive freediving places on the human body.

Bionic spine

The stentrode device

The stentrode device Photo: The University of Melbourne

Australian researchers are on a quest to help paralysed people walk using the power of thought.

The revolutionary procedure, which will be trialled in humans next year, involves implanting a tiny mesh or 'stentrode', about the length of a matchstick or a paperclip, right next to the brain via our network of blood vessels.

Once implanted, this device can pick up electrical activity in the motor cortex, the part of the brain that controls movement. It relays the signals to an implant in a patient's shoulder and then converts these signals into commands, which are then sent to bionic limbs wirelessly.

It's being called a 'bionic spine' and the approach is groundbreaking because a patient's head doesn't need to be opened up to implant a sensor.

Professor Terry O'Brien, Head of the Department of Medicine at the Royal Melbourne Hospital is working on the project. "This technology is really exciting. It's the first time that we've been able to demonstrate and develop a device that can be implanted without the need for a big operation, to chronically record brain activity," Professor O'Brien said. "The most obvious benefit is for people who are paralysed following a stroke or spinal cord injury. It is simple and non-invasive and much safer for patients."

The chief engineer behind the device is Dr Nick Opie of the Vascular Bionics Laboratory at The University of Melbourne.

"I've always been fascinated by the integration of man and machine and the ways that people and machines could function together. Fortunately, I was born in the time to do this."  Dr Nick Opie, The University of Melbourne

Nicholas Opie holding the stentrode device

Nicholas Opie holding the stentrode device Photo: The University of Melbourne

Nicholas Opie of the Vascular Bionics Laboratory at The University of Melbourne

Nicholas Opie of the Vascular Bionics Laboratory at The University of Melbourne Photo: The University of Melbourne


Listening in on machines

Saar Yoskovitz of Augury

Saar Yoskovitz of Augury Photo: Supplied

A tech startup wants to analyse the sounds made by machines, from air conditioners to cars to domestic appliances, to work out what is wrong with them.

As the company logo says 'Machines talk, we listen'. Saar Yoskovitz is the cofounder and CEO of Augury.