We hope that you’ll find these concepts as inspiring as we do, and that they spark even more innovation in the year to come!
For all of the articles and papers discussing the numerous benefits of Big Data, it’s important to remember that all this data still needs to be stored somewhere. As more and more data centres are built every year (it’s a booming industry), enormous expense goes into regulating the temperatures within those centres, with large cooling isolations designed to handle the excess heat produced. Dutch startup Nerdalize offers a new solution which makes use of this waste heat, by placing individual servers in people’s homes where the heat can be useful, rather than a problem. Homeowners can lease the two-in-one heater/server from Nerdalize, who cover the electricity costs of the device. The multiple servers then connect to create The Nerdalize Cloud, while helping to warm homes.
In March, The Prado Museum in Madrid displayed six 3D replicas of famous paintings, which visually impaired visitors could explore through touch. The article we wrote about the exhibit proved to be one of our most popular from the last year, and was just one of many inspiring innovations from museums in 2015. We also saw the MCA Chicago offering free EnChroma glasses to colorblind visitors, enabling them to see artworks in full colour.
As well as becoming more accessible, we saw museums become more personalized, with the Muzeums app creating individually curated experiences based on the visitor’s unique profile. The app was similar in principal to the BBC’s experiments with presenting different versions of the same film based on the viewer’s preferences. It should already be clear that personalization, powered by big data, is set to be the major theme for 2016.
We saw a wealth of innovation in retail this year, and a special mention should go to the digital keychain in Helsinki that creates the offline equivalent to online cookies, enabling brick and mortar retailers to gather data on customers and serve more relevant ads accordingly.
The most intriguing innovation from the world of retail, however, came from Glia, which further appeals to the customer’s desire for curated experiences based on personal preferences. The app enables consumers to examine the social, political and economic values of businesses, giving them the option to support or boycott organisations based on how closely they align with the shopper’s own beliefs. The Greenease app offers a similar service for local restaurants — showing whether the establishment’s dishes are locally sourced, free range, grass-fed, organic, veg friendly, sustainable seafood, and more — while CareerLabs enables job-seekers to filter their job search by the politics and culture of a company.
A company’s values, and transparency around those values, will be a major factor in dictating success in 2016.
The Amazon Dash Button enables consumers to make repeated purchases of household goods by pressing a single, physical button. For example, an order for extra washing powder could be made by pressing a button mounted on the washing machine. We also saw the on-demand service app ALICE partner with Bttn to make various hotel services available at the push of a similar, physical button. Marrying the convenience of e-commerce with the tangible familiarity of the physical world looks set to be a powerful recipe for success in the future.
The majority of sustainable travel initiatives we see on Springwise tend to veer towards the hi-tech. In 2015 we saw Highways England announce the trial of roads that can charge electric vehicles as they travel, while Berlin’s Ubitricity are retrofitting lampposts so they can charge electric vehicles using a city’s existing infrastructure. But perhaps the charm of Amsterdam’s Yellow Backie hitchhiking scheme is in its lo-tech simplicity. To take part, visitors must keep their eyes out for Backie drivers, who traverse the city on bicycles adorned with bright yellow luggage racks. When they spot one they simply shout ‘Backie!’ to hail a ride and jump on the back. Amsterdammers can become a Backie driver for free by applying online to the Yellow Bike store — the company behind the initiative.
Of course, it’s impossible to discuss the future of travel without looking at driverless cars, and a major step was taken when Formula E announced the world’s first driverless car race scheduled for the 2016/17 season. While it may be sometime before driverless cars are commonplace, we expect to see plenty more “technology assisted” automotive innovations in 2016 acting as a stepping stone, such as the Mobileye 5-series dashboard camera, which can reduce road collisions by 40 percent.
2016 looks set to be the year that The Internet of Things takes its first meaningful steps into the mainstream. We’ve already seen a number of startups aiming to upgrade existing devices and appliances, retrofitting plugs and switches to turn once dumb objects smart. But as more smart devices enter the household, there will be a growing need for a centralized command center to control them all.
Last year, the most talked about interface for the new, smart home was Jibo. Probably the closest thing to a real life R2-D2 or BB-8, Jibo is a friendly personal robot designed to interact with your Internet of Things devices. But this year’s most fascinating foray into the arena was Knocki. Knocki is a battery-powered disc that transforms any surface it is mounted on into a smart communication tool — translating up to ten knocking patterns into commands for the user’s smart home. Knocki works by sensing vibrational patterns on the surface using an accelerometer-based system. The startup behind the device has a range of suggested uses, for example, two knocks on the living room wall could skip the current song, or five quick fire knocks on the bedside table could set the coffee brewing.
Just like the Nerdalize servers, the best innovations look to solve more than one problem at once. Tackling the dual problems of derelict housing lots and a lack of affordable housing in Amsterdam, Heijmans ONE are complete, self-contained two storey living units. They cost around EUR 700 per month to rent and come equipped with all the basic required facilities, including kitchen, bathroom, separate bedroom, living room and outside patio space. The units can be installed in derelict lots in less than a day, breathing life into neglected areas. When building work is set to start in those areas, the units can be removed as easily as they were installed, and transferred to a new site.
This means that the accommodation can only ever be considered temporary, but another of this year’s standout startups, Kasita, makes this nomadic lifestyle their central feature. Kasita is creating simple apartment block ‘scaffold shells’, which are easy to build on small lots of urban space generally classified as not developable. These shells can literally be picked up and moved by a truck whenever — so users can move to other Kasita locations around the world simply by putting in a request on the companion app.
3D printing has the potential to revolutionise the way items are stocked and sold, but it will also have an impact beyond retail. The affordability of the production process means that we’ve already seen the creation of the world’s first robotic hand retailing for under USD 1,000, and this year we discovered E-Nable — a volunteer run network that matches people in need of prosthetic hands with local designers and makers in possession of a 3D printer. In an effort to make prosthetics more desirable for young amputees, we also saw the UK introduce the first line of superhero-themed bionic hands.
Driving down the cost of 3D printing further, 2015 saw the first filaments made from coffee and beer, while the fashion industry saw the creation of 3D printed shoes designed to perfectly fit the wearer’s feet and clothing that can cool the body through 3D printed vents.
The best way to harvest renewable energy is to acquire it from existing sources without too much disruption to the current infrastructure. Putting that theory into practice, the LucidPipe is able to harvest low-cost renewable energy from water flowing through a city’s pipes. The LucidPipe can be installed in any system where water flows downward naturally with gravity, and each piece of LucidPiping contains three small turbines which spin in the flowing water. The turbines connect to a generator on top of the pipe, producing hydroelectric power, which can drastically reduce the cost for the water utilities or be filtered back into the city.
A collaboration between Norwegian oil company Statoil and the Scottish government meant 2015 also saw the introduction of the world’s first floating wind farms, and we saw the creation of smart wind turbines for the home — designed to learn local wind patterns in an effort to save power during periods of low wind activity.
We could hardly look back on 2015 without some mention of drones. UAViators is an humanitarian UAV network, which signs up experienced amateur drone operators willing to provide disaster relief. Drones can capture aerial images faster, cheaper and at a higher resolution than satellites, which makes them excellent tools for communicating the lay of the land after hurricanes, earthquakes and other disasters.
We also saw the University of Nebraska-Lincoln developing autonomous drones that drop delayed ignition parcels to induce controlled forest fires, in an effort to contain the spread of wildfires.
And, of course, we couldn’t write an annual top ten without highlighting our favourite Weird of the Week article from the past year…
Following on from last year’s methane backpacks for cows, the winner of this year’s Weird of the Year award goes to UK-based Kinneir Dufort and their 3D printed pancakes. To create the uncanny delights, a digital camera first captures a customer’s likeness. Kinneir Dufort’s bespoke software transforms brightness from the image into contours, which are then produced gradually by a batter dispenser. The result of all this effort is a 3D printed pancake designed to look exactly like the customer’s face. And that, is true innovation.