Neuroscientists restore vegetative-state patient’s consciousness with vagus nerve stimulation

September 25, 2017

Information sharing increases after vagus nerve stimulation over centroposterior regions of the brain. (Left) Coronal view of weighted symbolic mutual information (wSMI) shared by all channels pre- and post-vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) (top and bottom, respectively). For visual clarity, only links with wSMI higher than 0.025 are shown. (Right) Topographies of the median wSMI that each EEG channel shares with all the other channels pre- and post-VNS (top and bottom, respectively). The bar graph represents the median wSMI over right centroposterior electrodes (darker dots) which significantly increases post-VNS. (credit: Martina Corazzol et al./Current Biology)

A 35-year-old man who had been in a vegetative state for 15 years after a car accident has shown signs of consciousness after neurosurgeons in France implanted a vagus nerve stimulator into his chest — challenging the general belief that disorders of consciousness that persist for longer than 12 months are irreversible.

In a 2007 Weill Cornell Medical College study reported in Nature, neurologists found temporary improvements in patients in a state of minimal consciousness while being treated with bilateral deep brain electrical stimulation (DBS) of the central thalamus. Aiming instead to achieve permanent results, the French researchers proposed use of vagus nerve stimulation* (VNS) to activate the thalamo-cortical network, based on the “hypothesis that vagus nerve stimulation functionally reorganizes the thalamo-cortical network.”

A vagus neural stimulation therapy system. The vagus nerve connects the brain to many other parts of the body, including the gut. It’s known to be important in waking, alertness, and many other essential functions. (credit: Cyberonics, Inc./LivaNova)

After one month of VNS — a treatment currently used for epilepsy and depression — the patient’s attention, movements, and brain activity significantly improved and he began responding to simple orders that were impossible before, the researchers report today (Sept. 25, 2017) in an open-access paper in Current Biology.

For example, he could follow an object with his eyes and turn his head upon request, and when the examiner’s head suddenly approached the patient’s face, he reacted with surprise by opening his eyes wide.

Evidence from brain-activity recordings

PET images acquired during baseline (left: pre-VNS) and 3 months post vagus nerve stimulation (right: post-VNS). After vagus nerve stimulation, the metabolism increased in the right parieto-occipital cortex, thalamus and striatum. (credit: Corazzol et al.)

“After one month of stimulation, when [electrical current] intensity reached 1 mA, clinical examination revealed reproducible and consistent improvements in general arousal, sustained attention, body motility, and visual pursuit,” the researchers note.

Brain-activity recordings in the new study revealed major changes. A theta EEG signal (important for distinguishing between a vegetative and minimally conscious state) increased significantly in those areas of the brain involved in movement, sensation, and awareness. The brain’s functional connectivity also increased. And a PET scan showed increases in metabolic activity in both cortical and subcortical regions of the brain.

The researchers also speculate that “since the vagus nerve has bidirectional control over the brain and the body, reactivation of sensory/visceral afferences might have enhanced brain activity within a body/brain closed loop process.”

The team is now planning a large collaborative study to confirm and extend the therapeutic potential of VNS for patients in a vegetative or minimally conscious state.

However, “some physicians and brain injury specialists remain skeptical about whether the treatment truly worked as described,” according to an article today in Science. “The surgery to implant the electrical stimulator, the frequent behavioral observations, and the moving in and out of brain scanners all could have contributed to the patient’s improved state, says Andrew Cole, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston who studies consciousness. ‘I’m not saying their claim is untrue,’ he says. ‘I’m just saying it’s hard to interpret based on the results as presented.’”

The study was supported by CNRS, ANR, and a grant from the University of Lyon

* “The vagus nerve carries somatic and visceral efferents and afferents distributed throughout the central nervous system, either monosynaptically or via the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS). The vagus directly modulates activity in the brainstem and via the NTS it reaches the dorsal raphe nuclei, the thalamus, the amygdala, and the hippocampus. In humans, vagus nerve stimulation increases metabolism in the forebrain, thalamus and reticular formation. It also enhances neuronal firing in the locus coeruleus which leads to massive release of norepinephrine in the thalamus and hippocampus, a noradrenergic pathway important for arousal, alertness and the fight-or-flight response.” — Corazzol and Lio et al./Current Biology

Abstract of Restoring consciousness with vagus nerve stimulation

Patients lying in a vegetative state present severe impairments of consciousness [1] caused by lesions in the cortex, the brainstem, the thalamus and the white matter [2]. There is agreement that this condition may involve disconnections in long-range cortico–cortical and thalamo-cortical pathways [3]. Hence, in the vegetative state cortical activity is ‘deafferented’ from subcortical modulation and/or principally disrupted between fronto-parietal regions. Some patients in a vegetative state recover while others persistently remain in such a state. The neural signature of spontaneous recovery is linked to increased thalamo-cortical activity and improved fronto-parietal functional connectivity [3]. The likelihood of consciousness recovery depends on the extent of brain damage and patients’ etiology, but after one year of unresponsive behavior, chances become low [1]. There is thus a need to explore novel ways of repairing lost consciousness. Here we report beneficial effects of vagus nerve stimulation on consciousness level of a single patient in a vegetative state, including improved behavioral responsiveness and enhanced brain connectivity patterns.


AT TESLA, PETER Carlsson spent nearly five years at Elon Musk’s side, locating various parts of the Model S as the electric car company’s global supply chain manager. “The overarching goal of Tesla is to help reduce carbon emissions, and that means low cost and high volume,” Musk said back in 2006. “We will also serve as an example to the auto industry, proving that the technology really works and customers want to buy electric vehicles.”

Now, as Tesla builds its Gigafactory in the Nevada desert, the company is recapitulating that mission, aiming to reduce not just the energy consumed by its cars, but the energy used to build its battery in the first place. Tesla says the factory will employ rooftop solar and wind turbines for energy, along with a closed loop water system. But Carlsson, who left Silicon Valley in 2015 for his native Sweden, wants to make his own progress toward the goal of green batteries.

In May, Carlsson and fellow former Tesla executive Paolo Cerruti announced plans to build their own $4.5 billion electric battery plant to power electric cars, trucks, ships and, of course, a few Swedish snowmobiles. “We will produce a battery with significantly lower carbon footprint than the current supply chains,” Carlsson said during a September visit to his office in downtown Stockholm. His startup firm Northvolt is raising $120 million for the first phase of the plant, which Carlsson says will produce 32 Gigawatt-hours when fully running in 2023.

How will they do it? Raw materials like graphite and nickel will be sourced from deposits in Sweden, while cobalt will come from a huge refiner in Finland. Renewable energy will flow from Sweden’s hydropower dams. Waste heat will be recycled to keep factory neighbors warm in the winter. Old batteries will get new life through recycling.

The Gigafactory will produce 50 GWhr of batteries when complete (although that might triple with two additional factory segments). Tesla expects to have a net zero energy factory without even a natural gas line. Excess energy from its rooftop solar panels will be stored in wall battery packs, and it will also have an onsite battery recycling facility.

Like Musk, Carlsson says Northvolt’s lithium-ion batteries will have a carbon footprint close to zero. That’s in keeping with Sweden’s goals of a zero-greenhouse-emissions economy by 2045. In addition to satisfying EU environmental rules, Northvolt hopes to appeal to green-minded drivers who are not only looking at the energy costs of driving an electric car, but also count the energy consumed to build the lithium ion battery.

Carlsson is banking on European drivers’ shift from “clean diesel”—a fantasy that turned out to be a fraud when EPA officials found that VW had rigged engine software to cheat on emissions tests—to electric vehicles. Volkswagen said this month that it will spend $60 billion on batteries to power dozens of new EV models in the next five years. That announcement follows BMW’s plan to mass produce 12 EV models by 2025, while Volvo is switching to EV manufacturing beginning in 2019.

Looking at these carmakers’ PR moves in the past few months, Northvolt’s timing could be right. But is it realistic to think that a small Swedish startup company can produce a perfectly green electric battery?

For one, Carlsson says Northvolt plans to make its own anode and cathode chemical mixes instead of buying them from European or Asian manufacturers. And Sweden has an excess of clean hydropower from Sweden’s northern mountain rivers that can be used to power a massive battery factory without burning fossil fuels or running a nuke. “The point is to support Europe’s green energy transformation,” Carlsson says. “Right now the flow of batteries to Europe would mainly come from Asia. If you take the [coal-powered] energy grids of China or Japan, both of their carbon footprints are pretty high. When you accumulate that into a battery pack for a vehicle, that’s a significant footprint.”

But some experts say that the real environmental costs come earlier in the supply chain, when companies obtain lithium, cobalt, graphite, manganese, and nickel for their batteries. “They come in ores that need to be smelted,” says Jennifer B. Dunn, a chemical engineer at the Argonne National Laboratory who researches the environmental footprints of various manufacturing processes. “In addition to the carbon emissions, there can be a lot of sulfur oxide produced, and as Northvolt thinks about their supply chain, these are factors they are going to want to consider.”

Dunn and her Argonne colleagues have been examining the energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and air pollution from the “cradle-to-grave” of EV batteries. In this 2016 study, Dunn found that the biggest environmental impacts occur during the conversion of mineral ore to chemical pastes that are applied to the anode and cathodes of the battery. Bigger, busier battery manufacturing plants are more efficient than pioneer plants that are ramping up because of the energy needed to run big dryers on the assembly plant.

Recycling metals from worn-out batteries makes a big difference too, Dunn says. “If you could recover those metals, especially from the battery itself, you wouldn’t have to go back to the mine and it would save a lot of emissions,” she says. Recycling old batteries is one reason why Northvolt is considering building its plant in Skellefteå (pronounced shuh-LEFF-too), an industrial city in Sweden’s mining district, some 480 miles north of the capital.

 Today, the Northvolt site is a scenic area of rolling forests, blueberry bushes and biking trails on a peninsula jutting into the Bay of Bothnia. But it’s also sweet spot for heavy industry. A few miles away lies Boliden’s massive e-waste recovery facility that extracts gold and other precious metals. While lithium-ion battery recycling still isn’t economically feasible, Carlsson says he believes that the technology can be improved by Boliden and other commercial partners.

At the same time, thermal energy generated by Northvolt’s plant might be diverted into the Skellefteå municipal heating system, or converted into another source of electricity. “There is enough energy from the plant to heat the whole city,” says Christoffer Svanberg, a spokesman for Node Pole, a business development group that has been working to bring data centers like Facebook and other energy-intensive industries to Sweden’s north.

In the end, though, the success of Northvolt and electric cars will depend on individual consumer choices. A green pedigree on the battery might not be enough for a US driver to buy a car powered by a Northvolt battery, but knowing where the battery goes in the future might be more of a selling point, says Alissa Kendall, professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Davis and a former auto engineer at Ford. “From consumer perspective, they don’t think too much about the life cycle impact of producing that electric vehicle,” Kendall says. “I do think the consumer cares about the life of the battery.”

Tesla says it will replace its batteries when they begin to lose the ability to hold a charge, and BMW is using some older batteries to store grid power in California and Germany. Northvolt will be selling its batteries to two or three automakers, so it hasn’t made that kind of promise yet.

At times, it apperas, Carlsson is challenging his former boss to a game of who’s-got-the-greenest-battery. But Carlsson shakes his head when asked if they are competitors. “Tesla is a very challenging culture, but it’s also a very rewarding culture,” Carlsson said. “There’s one thing that nobody can take away from Elon; he has always put his mission above everyone else. Hopefully we can spread that kind of culture also within Northvolt.”

With Carlsson, a bit of Silicon Valley’s hard-charging corporate DNA has been inserted to Sweden’s cooler corporate tech culture. Sweden is one of the greenest countries on the planet, but whether Northvolt can turn that ethos into a successful car battery might depend more on future European and American car buyers.

Intel investigates chips designed like your brain to turn the AI tide

A rivals close in, the chipmaker takes a punt on ‘neuromorphic’ processors

In the race to build better hardware for artificial intelligence, Intel is turning to an old, but unproven, type of computer processor. Neuromorphic chips, as they’re known, are modeled after the human brain, but after decades of research, have yet to show better performance in real-life applications than regular CPUs and GPUs. The veteran chipmaker wants to change that, unveiling a new neuromorphic chip this week designed specifically for R&D that the company has christened “Loihi.”

Like all neuromorphic chips, Loihi uses what researchers call “spiking neurons” as its basic computational building block. These neurons replace the traditional logic gates found in today’s silicon, and instead of processing information as binary 1s and 0s, they weight the signals they send, making their functionality more analog than binary. And, unlike CPUs, these neurons aren’t controlled by a central “clock” that regulates their calculations in a tick-tock fashion, but can instead fire as and when needed.

All these structural differences make neuromorphic chips much more efficient than today’s processors, consuming up to 1,000 times less energy. This is a huge advantage when it comes to getting AI working on devices like phones and laptops. And, the ability of neuromorphic chips to weight the signals sent inside them makes them a good match for that cornerstone of modern AI: the neural network, which processes data for everything from self-driving cars to digital assistants.

But despite the theoretical advantages of neuromorphic processors, the chips have yet to show real results outside the lab. They’ve performed well in academic and industrial research, but haven’t scale up to becoming a proper consumer product. As Steve Furber, a scientist in the field, told IEEE Spectrum earlier this year: “There currently is a lot of hype about neuromorphic computing [but] there is currently no compelling demonstration of a high-volume application where neuromorphic outperforms the alternative.” In other words, they’re just not ready for the primetime.

Intel’s new Loihi chip design contains 130,000 neurons. 
Image: Intel

Intel knows this, of course, and its new Loihi chips aren’t destined for server stacks. Instead, the company will be sharing an unknown number with a few “leading university and research institutions” some time in the first half of 2018. (How many chips and who will get them are unknown.) This research will hopefully validate Intel’s designs, as well as push forward work on neuromorphic chips and AI in general.

For Intel, though, this isn’t just another avenue of research — it could be an essential counter to the rise of rivals like Nvidia and AMD. These companies have benefited from the AI boom thanks to their chip design which fits the needs of modern AI. (Just yesterday, Nvidia made a string of announcements that included new deals with Chinese tech giants for its hardware.) Other companies like Google are developing new processors for AI in the cloud, further cutting into Intel’s potential revenues.

All this has left the company fighting to hold on to its dominant position in a changing industry. So far, its response has been to buy up chip makers like MovidiusMobileye, and Nervana, whose hardware is tailor-made for machine learning and computer vision. But with the competition closing in, it’s no surprise the company is also exploring more exotic areas of research. Chips that mimic the human brain are certainly worth a second look.

How to use Apple’s terrific document scanner in iOS 11

You don’t need a separate app anymore

One of the most useful tricks in Apple’s iOS 11 update is found inside the Notes app: it’s a document scanner. If there’s a business card, receipt, or any other document you want to save or mark up, this tool makes getting it on your iPhone or iPad dead simple. If you’ve been using a third-party app for this purpose until now — and there are several great ones — you can probably uninstall it in favor of Apple’s own solution. That’s what I did, anyway.

To try out Apple’s built-in scanner for yourself, open Notes. Inside of any note, hit the + symbol above the keyboard. The menu that comes up will offer a few options — this is also the tool you’d use to add a photo or sketch to your note — but the “Scan Document” option is the one you want.

Once you tap that, the camera opens and asks you to point it at whatever document you’re trying to digitize. But pay attention to that top row of icons. The default settings will capture documents in color. But if you’d prefer grayscale or black and white (which really cranks up the contrast), just tap the icon of three circles up there and change it. You can also adjust this after the fact, so it’s fine to stick with the defaults. There’s also a “photo” choice that basically just snaps an ordinary picture without optimizing it as a document scan.

You can tap the shutter button yourself to capture the document immediately or simply hold your iPhone or iPad focused on the document for a few seconds and it’ll automatically go off at a moment when your hands are steady. If you fire the shutter yourself, Notes will let you move around four corner points to line them up with the document’s edges; the app does a good job figuring this stuff out without much help, in my experience.

Even if you’re pretty off angle, Apple’s scanner does an admirable job of creating something usable. (See below for final result.)

Don’t worry if you end up snapping the picture of your document from an angle, as Notes will automatically correct for this and straighten everything out. That’s one of the most impressive aspects of Apple’s tool. So if you’re in a situation where you don’t have time to square things up, it’ll still work great. The old business card I used here was pretty worn and terrible looking, which explains all those splotches of gray. Receipts and other documents have looked super sharp in my tests, which led to me ditching other scanning apps altogether.

Once you’ve finished one scan, Notes will put you right back in the camera view since the assumption is that you might have a multi-page document or contract to capture. At any point, you can just hit “Save” in the bottom right corner to drop your scan into the original note you started.

But if you’re like me, you probably don’t want to keep scans inside your notes. To save or share them elsewhere, just tap and hold on the document and pick from the various third-party apps on your iPhone or iPad. If you need to add annotations or a signature to something, choose Apple’s “Markup” from that share menu, where you’re free to draw all over the document. Obviously the Apple Pencil on an iPad Pro is your best option for handwriting, but using your fingers on an iPhone can still get the job done fine.

Hidden depths: scientists confirm fish have different personalities

A new personality study has found that fish have hidden depths.

A new personality study has found that fish have hidden depths. 
Image: iStock

Fish have complex individual personalities, a British university study has found.

Scientists from Exeter University in southwest England studied how individual Trinidadian guppy fish behaved in various stressful situations and discovered wide differences in how they responded.

The researchers studied their coping strategies in situations designed to trigger various levels of stress.

They found their modes of behaviour could not simply be explained as risk-taking or risk-averse.

“When placed into an unfamiliar environment, we found guppies have various strategies for coping with this stressful situation – many attempt to hide, others try to escape, some explore cautiously,” said Tom Houslay, of the university’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation.

“The differences between them were consistent over time and in different situations.

“So, while the behaviour of all the guppies changed depending on the situation – for example, all becoming more cautious in more stressful situations – the relative differences between individuals remained intact.”

The tiny guppies were individually transferred to an unfamiliar tank, to create a mild level of stress, while a higher level of stress was caused by adding models of predatory birds or fish.

The study found that while introducing predators made the guppies overall more cautious, individuals still retained their distinct personalities.

“We are interested in why these various personalities exist, and the next phase of our research will look at the genetics underlying personality and associated traits,” said Alastair Wilson, from the CEC.

“We want to know how personality relates to other facets of life, and to what extent this is driven by genetic – rather than environmental – influences.

“The goal is really gaining insight into evolutionary processes, how different behavioural strategies might persist as species evolve.”

Nanoparticle Supersoap Creates ‘Bijel’ With Potential as Sculptable Fluid

This finding could lead to soft robotics, liquid circuitry, shape-shifting fluids, and a host of new materials that use soft, rather than solid, substances

A new two-dimensional film, made of polymers and nanoparticles and developed by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), can direct two different non-mixing liquids into a variety of exotic architectures. This finding could lead to soft robotics, liquid circuitry, shape-shifting fluids, and a host of new materials that use soft, rather than solid, substances.

3-D rendering of the nanoparticle bijel3-D rendering of the nanoparticle bijel taken by confocal microscope.IMAGE CREDIT: CAILI HUANG/ORNL AND JOE FORTH/BERKELEY LABThe study, reported Sept. 25 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, presents the newest entry in a class of substances known as bicontinuous jammed emulsion gels, or bijels, which hold promise as a malleable liquid that can support catalytic reactions, electrical conductivity, and energy conversion.

Bijels are typically made of immiscible, or non-mixing, liquids. People who shake their bottle of vinaigrette before pouring the dressing on their salad are familiar with such liquids. As soon as the shaking stops, the liquids start to separate again, with the lower density liquid—often oil—rising to the top.

Trapping, or jamming, particles where these immiscible liquids meet can prevent the liquids from completely separating, stabilizing the substance into a bijel. What makes bijels remarkable is that, rather than just making the spherical droplets that we normally see when we try to mix oil and water, the particles at the interface shape the liquids into complex networks of interconnected fluid channels.

Bijels are notoriously difficult to make, however, involving exact temperatures at precisely timed stages. In addition, the liquid channels are normally more than 5 micrometers across, making them too large to be useful in energy conversion and catalysis.

“Bijels have long been of interest as next-generation materials for energy applications and chemical synthesis,” said study lead author Caili Huang. “The problem has been making enough of them, and with features of the right size. In this work, we crack that problem.”

Huang started the work as a graduate student with Thomas Russell, the study’s principal investigator, at Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division, and he continued the project as a postdoctoral researcher at DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Creating a new bijel recipe

The method described in this new study simplifies the bijel process by first using specially coated particles about 10-20 nanometers in diameter. The smaller-sized particles line the liquid interfaces much more quickly than the ones used in traditional bijels, making the smaller channels that are highly valued for applications.

Related Article: Nanotechnology Helps Rewarm Fast-Frozen Donor Tissue, Enabling Long-Term Viability

Illustration shows key stages of bijel formationIllustration shows key stages of bijel formation. Clockwise from top left, two non-mixing liquids are shown. Ligands (shown in yellow) with amine groups are dispersed throughout the oil or solvent, and nanoparticles coated with carboxylic acids (shown as blue dots) are scattered in the water. With vigorous shaking, the nanoparticles and ligands form a “supersoap” that gets trapped at the interface of the two liquids. The bottom panel is a magnified view of the jammed nanoparticle supersoap.ILLUSTRATION CREDIT: CAILI HUANG/ORNL“We’ve basically taken liquids like oil and water and given them a structure, and it’s a structure that can be changed,” said Russell, a visiting faculty scientist at Berkeley Lab. “If the nanoparticles are responsive to electrical, magnetic, or mechanical stimuli, the bijels can become reconfigurable and re-shaped on demand by an external field.”

The researchers were able to prepare new bijels from a variety of common organic, water-insoluble solvents, such as toluene, that had ligands dissolved in it, and deionized water, which contained the nanoparticles. To ensure thorough mixing of the liquids, they subjected the emulsion to a vortex spinning at 3,200 revolutions per minute.

“This extreme shaking creates a whole bunch of new places where these particles and polymers can meet each other,” said study co-author Joe Forth, a postdoctoral fellow at Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division. “You’re synthesizing a lot of this material, which is in effect a thin, 2-D coating of the liquid surfaces in the system.”

The liquids remained a bijel even after one week, a sign of the system’s stability.

Russell, who is also a professor of polymer science and engineering at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, added that these shape-shifting characteristics would be valuable in microreactors, microfluidic devices, and soft actuators.

Nanoparticle supersoap

Nanoparticles had not been seriously considered in bijels before because their small size made them hard to trap in the liquid interface. To resolve that problem, the researchers coated nano-sized particles with carboxylic acids and put them in water. They then took polymers with an added amine group—a derivative of ammonia—and dissolved them in the toluene.

vials of bijel At left is a vial of bijel stabilized with nanoparticle surfactants. On the right is the same vial after a week of inversion, showing that the nanoparticle kept the liquids from moving.PHOTO CREDIT: CAILI HUANG/ORNLThis configuration took advantage of the amine group’s affinity to water, a characteristic that is comparable to surfactants, like soap. Their nanoparticle “supersoap” was designed so that the nanoparticles join ligands, forming an octopus-like shape with a polar head and nonpolar legs that get jammed at the interface, the researchers said.

“Bijels are really a new material, and also excitingly weird in that they are kinetically arrested in these unusual configurations,” said study co-author Brett Helms, a staff scientist at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry. “The discovery that you can make these bijels with simple ingredients is a surprise. We all have access to oils and water and nanocrystals, allowing broad tunability in bijel properties. This platform also allows us to experiment with new ways to control their shape and function since they are both responsive and reconfigurable.”

The nanoparticles were made of silica, but the researchers noted that in previous studies they used graphene and carbon nanotubes to form nanoparticle surfactants.

“The key is that the nanoparticles can be made of many materials,” said Russell. “The most important thing is what’s on the surface.”

Study co-authors from Oak Ridge National Laboratory are Weiyu Wang, Kunlun Hong, and Gregory Smith.

This work is supported by the DOE Office of Science. The Molecular Foundry at Berkeley Lab and the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are DOE Office of Science User Facilities.

Scientists warn of threat to wildlife after melting ice allows plastic blocks to drift into Arctic Ocean

How to add the Apple Watch Series 3 to your wireless plan

Apple streamlined the setup process for its new, always-connected wearable. Here’s what you need to know.

Until recently, setting up the Apple Watch was a simple process. Scan a bar code, agree to some terms, add a PIN and that was more or less it.

With the release of the Apple Watch Series 3 ($329.00 at Apple) with cellular, however, the process has a few extra steps. Namely, you now have to go through the process of activating your watch and adding it to your wireless plan. Don’t fret — it’s still mostly painless. Let’s take a look at what’s involved, as well as some additional tidbits you should know.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

To begin setup, power on the Apple Watch and place it next to your unlocked iPhone. A pop-up should display on your iPhone, asking to begin the pairing process.

Tap Continue, then use the camera to scan the swirling bar code on the Apple Watch. Agree to terms, and follow the initial prompts for basic setup.


Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Eventually, you’ll land on a Cellular Setup page. Notice you don’t have to add the watch to a cellular plan right now, or at any time, but if you shelled out the extra cash for the cellular version, you may as well take advantage of the various carrier promotions (more on that in a minute) until they run out.

Select Set Up Cellular and wait while the Watch app connects to your wireless carrier’s account page. Log in to your account, and read through the terms. Accept any terms, and authorize an additional device on your wireless account.

On launch day, some users ran into issues setting up cellular connectivity. As I experienced, the final page to confirm I wanted to add my watch to my account would not load. I eventually had to force-close the app and start the setup process over again. If you run into problems, try doing the same or contacting your carrier for troubleshooting.

In the US, carriers are offering the first three months of service on your watch for free and waiving the activation fee. Carriers outside of the US where the cellular version of the Series 3 is available are also offering promotions, such as EE offering six months of free service in the UK. In Australia, Optus is offering 6 months free. Check with your carrier for promotion specifics.

After accepting the terms and adding the watch to your account, the Watch app will take you through the rest of setup.

Same number

As you probably noticed during the setup process, your watch doesn’t have its own phone number; it uses the same number as your iPhone. Any calls or messages you send when your watch is iPhone-less will use your number.

View connection type

When you leave your phone behind and aren’t near a known Wi-Fi network, your watch will switch over to its cellular radio. You can use the Explorer watch face to view signal status directly on the watch face. There’s a roughly 30-second grace period for the switch to occur, so don’t panic if it doesn’t connect right away.

Swipe up on a watch face to view Control Center where you’ll find a new cellular signal icon. When the icon is white, the watch has cellular coverage but is connected to your phone or Wi-Fi network. If the icon is green, then the watch is connected to your carrier’s network.

Disable cellular connectivity

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Tap on the tower icon to view another Settings page, where you can then disable the cellular radio portion of the watch. You can do this to save on battery life, or if you cancel (or haven’t yet signed up) for a wireless plan.

How To Set Reminders With Google Home

Credit: Google/YouTube

Google Home

The Assistant on Google Home has finally joined its Android counterpart in being able to set reminders. The feature began rolling out to Home users in the US, UK, Canada and Australia yesterday. Home only recognizes reminders in English right now, but French is on the way.

Setting a reminder is simple and straightforward. After the wake-up command (“OK Google” or “Hey Google”) say “Remind me to <title> <date> <time>.” For example, “Hey Google. Remind me to DVR the American League Wild Card Game next Tuesday at 10 a.m.”

You can also set recurring reminders such as “Remind me to set out the recyclables every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m.” Location-based reminders aren’t yet available but Google says they’re “coming soon”.

If Home is set up to recognize different users, it will keep track of who set which reminders.

When it’s time for a reminder, Home will say “I have a reminder for <name>, the LED on Home’s top will flash, and a white light will remain lit on the top of the unit for 10 minutes. “What’s up?”, “What are my notifications?”, or “What are my reminders?” will retrieve the reminder.

You can remind yourself about your reminders by asking “What are my reminders?”, “What are my reminders for <date>?”, or “When is my reminder to <title>?”. For example, “OK Google. When is my reminder to DVR the American League Wild Card Game?”

Reminders can be deleted with “Delete my reminders for <date>, “Delete my reminder to <title>”, or “Delete all my reminders”.

Kevin Murnane covers science, technology and video games for Forbes. His blogs are The Info Monkey & Tuned In To Cycling and he’s The Info Monkey on Facebook & @TheInfoMonkey on Twitter.

If you have Android M+ or later (Marshmallow or version 6), reminders set on Home will also be sent to your phone. Reminders set on your phone or any Google app such as Calendar can be retrieved on Home.

Up until now, you could kluge reminders by using Home to set Google Calendar events. Thankfully, this is no longer necessary. Setting reminders directly on Home is long overdue but now that it’s here, it’s a valuable addition to Home’s suite of useful functions.

Kevin Murnane covers science, technology and video games for Forbes. His blogs are The Info Monkey & Tuned In To Cycling and he’s The Info Monkey on Facebook & @TheInfoMonkey on Twitter.