Irish-founded Woebot built a chatbot that can bond with users and help them reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Irish-founded tech company Woebot Health has raised $90m in Series B funding, bringing the total investment in the company to $114m.
The company hopes to use the investment to expand its services to meet rising global demand for mental health care post-pandemic.
Headquartered in San Francisco, Woebot was founded by University College Dublin graduate Dr Alison Darcy. Digital treatment development caught her eye when she studied psychology at the university in the late 1990s.
“I always thought that technology would be able to solve some of the problems we have with access because most people aren’t getting in front of a clinician or a doctor when they need help,” she told Siliconrepublic.com last year.
Darcy went on to found Woebot in 2017. Using the power of AI, the company developed a chatbot that attempts to create a therapeutic bond with users and help them learn strategies to improve their mental health.
The company’s latest investment round was co-led by San Francisco-based Jazz Venture Partners and Singapore-based Temasek. The round also saw participation from VC firms BlackRock and Owl Ventures, among others.
Woebot said it will use the proceeds to accelerate further development of its relational platform and expand its team.
“We’re at a moment when mental health issues are front and centre in a global conversation, and there’s incredible momentum to apply cutting-edge approaches to help solve real human problems,” Woebot CEO Michael Evers said.
“It’s gratifying that some of the world’s leading investment groups see the same potential for relational technologies to deeply engage people in their mental health at scale, and to transform care. We’re thrilled they are aligned on our core vision and energised by their commitment to advance the next frontier of technology-enabled mental health care.”
Ian Chiu, managing director at Owl Ventures, said that the stress of the pandemic has made an existing mental health crisis even more alarming. “We’re seeing this first-hand in adolescents in classrooms across the [US] and in adults who are reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression at a rate four times pre-pandemic levels,” he said.
Chiu said that Woebot’s innovative technology is well-positioned to meet increasing global demand for accessible mental health care as it continues to bring new digital therapies to the market.
Meghan Reynolds, a partner at Jazz Venture Partners, said that at a time when many people around the world lack critical mental health support, Woebot’s work to deliver accessible and quality care has been impressive.
“With this new funding accelerating growth, it will be easier than ever for people to get the on-demand support they need and deserve,” Reynolds said.
In May, Woebot’s digital therapeutic solution, WB001, was granted breakthrough device designation by the US Food and Drug Administration. WB001 combines cognitive behavioural therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy to reduce symptoms of postpartum depression. Patients interact with the digital therapeutic via a smartphone.
Woebot also published a study which provided evidence that its chatbot establishes a therapeutic bond with users, countering the notion that this can only be achieved in the human-to-human domain.
An existing drug called PARP inhibitor can be used to exploit a vulnerability in the way breast cancer cells repair their DNA, preventing spread to the brain.
For a long time, there have been limited treatment options for patients with breast cancer that has spread to the brain, sometimes leaving them with just months to live. But scientists at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI) have found a potential treatment using existing drugs.
By tracking the development of tumours from diagnosis to their spread to the brain, a team of researchers at RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Beaumont RCSI Cancer Centre found a previously unknown vulnerability in the way the tumours repair their DNA.
An existing kind of drug known as a PARP inhibitor, often used to treat heritable cancers, can prevent cancer cells from repairing their DNA because of this vulnerability, culminating in the cells dying and the patient being rid of the cancer.
Prof Leonie Young, principal investigator of the RCSI study, said that breast cancer research focused on expanding treatment options for patients whose disease has spread to the brain is urgently needed to save the lives of those living with the disease.
“Our study represents an important development in getting one step closer to a potential treatment for patients with this devastating complication of breast cancer,” she said of the study, which was published in the journal Nature Communications.
Deaths caused by breast cancer are often a result of treatment relapses which lead to tumours spreading to other parts of the body, a condition known as secondary or metastatic breast cancer. This kind of cancer is particularly aggressive and lethal when it spreads to the brain.
The study was funded by Breast Cancer Ireland with support from Breast Cancer Now and Science Foundation Ireland.
It was carried out as an international collaboration with the Mayo Clinic and the University of Pittsburgh in the US. Apart from Prof Young, the other RCSI researchers were Dr Nicola Cosgrove, Dr Damir Varešlija and Prof Arnold Hill.
“By uncovering these new vulnerabilities in DNA pathways in brain metastasis, our research opens up the possibility of novel treatment strategies for patients who previously had limited targeted therapy options”, said Dr Varešlija.
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Microsoft’s second attempt at its interesting dual-screen Android smartphone corrects some mistakes of the original, but falls short of a revolution due to a series of oddities created by its physical laptop-like form.
Looking more like a tiny convertible computer than a phone, the Surface Duo 2 starts at £1,349 ($1,499/A$2,319), a lot for a regular smartphone but slightly cheaper than folding-screen rivals.
It opens like a book, with each half just 5.5mm thick, and a hinge that allows it to fold all the way over.
Inside are a pair of 90Hz OLED screens each measuring 5.8in on the diagonal. They can be used on their own or combined as one display measuring 8.3in – a similar size to an iPad mini. Both screens are covered in traditional scratch-resistant smartphone glass and have large, old-fashioned bezels top and bottom.
Having two separate displays rather than one that folds in half creates a major drawback: a gap in the middle of the screen big enough that you can see through it, which is much harder to ignore than the crease in the middle of a flexible display as found on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3.
You can use two different apps at the same time on the two screens. The theory is sound, but I found few pairings were useful beyond simple messaging apps and a browser. More useful was using one screen for a note-taking app and the other for a full keyboard like a mini laptop.
Some apps spanned across both displays, like Outlook, can put different information on each screen, such as your inbox on one side and an open message on the other. Some games, including Asphalt 9 and Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass streaming service, put controls on one screen and the action on the other. But there are very few apps and games optimised for this setup.
Connectivity: 5G, USB-C, wifi 6, NFC, Bluetooth 5.1 and location
Water resistance: IPX1 (dripping water)
Dimensions closed: 145.2 x 92.1 x 11.0mm
Dimensions open: 145.2 x 184.5 x 5.5mm
2021’s top Android chip
The Duo 2 has last year’s top Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip with 8GB of RAM, matching the performance of top-flight Android smartphones from 2021 and capable of running two apps running side-by-side without slowdown.
Battery life is more variable than a traditional phone. It lasts about 32 hours between charges, with both screens used for about four hours with a variety of messaging, browsing and work apps. It lasts about a third longer if you mostly use only one screen. That’s a considerably shorter battery life than a regular smartphone and behind the Z Fold 3.
Microsoft does not provide an expected lifespan for the Duo 2’s battery; those in similar devices typically maintain at least 80% of their original capacity for in excess of 500 full charge cycles. Microsoft charges an out-of-warranty service fee of £593.94 to repair devices and £568.44 to replace the battery. The previous generation Surface Duo scored only two out of 10 on iFixit’s repairability scale.
The Duo 2 runs Android 11 – not the latest Android 12 – and generally behaves like a standard Android smartphone or tablet with a few small additions that make it easier to use each screen separately. One of the best is the ability to drag the gesture bar at the bottom of an app to move it between screens or to drop it on to the gap between the screens to span it across both displays.
The software can be a bit unpredictable at times, such as opening the keyboard or text box of an app on another screen or hiding a second app from the screen when you try to type. But it is generally a fast and responsive experience given how unusual the device is.
The Duo 2 will receive three years of software updates from release, including monthly security patches, which is disappointingly at least a year short of what rivals, including Samsung and Apple, offer. Microsoft’s last planned update for the Duo 2 will be 21 October 2024.
The Duo 2 has a triple camera on the back and a 12-megapixel selfie camera above the right-hand screen.
The rear main 12MP camera and 2x telephoto cameras are good, capable of producing detailed shots in a range of lighting conditions. The 16MP ultra-wide camera is reasonable, but a bit soft on detail and struggles with challenging scenes. The camera app has most of the features you’d expect, such as portrait mode, night mode and slow-mo video, and can shoot regular video at up to 4K at 60 frames a second.
The 12MP selfie camera is capable of shooting detailed photos even in middling light, and has access to the dedicated night mode when it gets dark.
Overall, the camera system on the Duo 2 is solid, but it can’t hold a candle to the best in the business.
The Duo 2 supports Microsoft’s Slim Pen stylus, which can be magnetically stored and charged on the back of the device when not in use.
The stereo speakers are decently loud but a bit tinny, fine for watching YouTube videos.
The width of the device makes it a challenge to fit into smaller pockets.
The Surface Duo 2 costs £1,349 ($1,499/A$2,319) with 128GB, £1,429 ($1,599/A$2,469) with 256GB or £1,589 ($1,799/A$2,769) with 512GB of storage.
The Surface Duo 2 is an improvement on its predecessor, but is still a very odd proposition that’s neither a good phone nor a good tablet.
The individual screens are short and stout, forcing lots of scrolling in apps when using it like a phone and making one-handed use very difficult. The gap at the hinge makes combining them into one big tablet screen awkward too.
Using two apps side-by-side works well, but few combinations proved useful or faster than just quick switching between two apps on one screen on a normal phone. There is more potential in apps like Outlook that provide a multi-pane view, but few apps or games are optimised for the dual-screen system.
Microsoft is only offering a disappointing three years of software and security updates from release for the Duo 2, too, losing it a star.
It is good to see Microsoft trying something different. But ultimately the Duo 2’s two screens are just not yet as good or useful as either a single phone screen or a bigger folding screen, making it an expensive halfway house.
Pros: two screens, two apps side-by-side, multiple modes, top performance, hardened glass screens, decent camera, head-turning design.
Cons: gap between screens, few optimised apps, average battery life, bulky camera lump, chunky in pocket, hard to use one-handed, no real water resistance, only three years of software updates from release.
VMware has restored availability of vSphere 7 Update, a release that it withdrew in late 2021 after driver dramas derailed deployments.
Paul Turner, Virtzilla’s veep for vSphere product management, told The Register that the source of the problem was Intel driver updates that arrived out of sync with VMware’s pre-release testing program. When users adopted the new drivers – one of which had been renamed – vSphere produced errors that meant virtual server fleet managers could not sustain high availability operations.
Turner said around 30,000 customers had adopted the release, of which around eight per cent encountered the issue. That collection of around 2,400 impacted users was enough for VMware to pull the release before the other 270,000 vSphere users hit trouble. That level of potential problems, Turner admitted, was considered a sufficient threshold to justify a do-over and the embarrassment of a pulled release.
VMware has since reviewed its testing program and procedures in the hope it will avoid a repeat of this error. Doing so, and repairing the release, meant a busier-than-usual holiday period for VMware developers. Turner said those who put in the extra hours will be compensated with extra time off in the future.
VMware also used the time needed to get the release ready to ensure that vSphere 7 U3 thoroughly addresses the Log4j bug. It took the opportunity to update to the latest version of the tool – which is free of the critical bug that allowed almost any code to execute without authorisation.
But VMware decided not to add anything new to vSphere while it addressed Log4j and sorted out the driver drama. Users will have to wait a few more months for another dose of VMware’s usual concoction of security updates and feature tweaks.
There’s more interesting stuff on the way, too. VMware has promised a full vSphere-as-a-Service offering is in the works, and the Project Capitola software-defined memory tech that will pool RAM across hosts. The company has also dropped hints that its plan to run its ESX hypervisor on SmartNICs is nearing release.
VMware has detailed the new/old release here and made downloads available here.®