Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Amsterdam seems to be Europe’s testing ground for no-frills chic, pod-like hotels. Last year, we wrote about Qbic, a hotel that uses bedroom-plus-bathroom cubes that can be easily installed and removed, allowing for short-term use of vacant real estate. In June 2008, we covered CitizenM, which focuses on high design at low prices, featuring prefab rooms that can be stacked up to build a hotel. And today, British Yotel opened a location at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. We’ve featured Yotel before. Founded by YO! Sushi’s Simon Woodruffe, the hotel’s rooms are–as described on by a guest–“just like a space-age train cabin”. Small but not cramped, premium rooms feature a comfortable, handmade bed that slides down to full size, a bathroom with a ‘monsoon’ shower, and a small desk. Standard rooms overlap, creating upper and lower berths in separate rooms, each fitting a wide single bed and a bathroom in just 7 square meters. Both room types include free internet access and plenty of power sockets. Yotel opened locations at Gatwick and Heathrow airports last year, both in the airports’ publicly accessible areas. At Schiphol, Yotel is based airside, accessible only to travellers flying through the airport–many of whom will no doubt welcome a private sanctuary where they can have a shower, take a nap and get some work done without leaving the terminal. Rooms at all three locations are sold per night or for a minimum of four hours during the day. At Heathrow, the hotel is nearing 200% occupancy rate, with rooms being used day and night. In addition to more airport locations–preferably in hubs like Frankfurt or Hong Kong that welcome large numbers of transfer passengers–Yotel also aims to open locations in city centres. Since moving its not-for-profit venture online in 1995, New York-based Green Map System has made online maps of sustainable initiatives accessible to keen greens everywhere. Its selection of hand-picked mapmakers in 50 countries are responsible for the site’s 450+ maps, facilitating global sustainability from a grassroots level. Ethical stores, green spaces and recycling sites are just some of the sites the maps help people discover. The project’s impact will hit a whole new level with the introduction of Open Green Map: a community site that makes the project accessible to all, letting users add new locations as well as exploring the recommendations of others. Participants can bring entries to life with Flickr photos or YouTube videos to support their text descriptions. The site has also boosted its usefulness with the development of applications for mobile devices. Users can now upload content the moment they discover it, and log in to find the nearest fair-trade coffee shop or ethical fashion store whilst out and about. Combining the expansion of the mobile internet and the desire to live green, Open Green Maps uses technology to connect communities in the real world. As well as making it much easier for users to track down world-changing initiatives in their own neighbourhoods, the site might help foreign ecopreneurs discover new ideas to introduce to their home markets. As the tagline goes, ‘Think global, map local’. (Related: The big city guide to going green.) Spotted by: Emma Crameri Even as consumers spend more and more time online, they continue to crave the comfort of the printed page. MagCloud, a new self-publishing magazine service from HP Labs, is making the most of these conflicting desires by enabling anyone who can create a PDF to publish a magazine. How it works? Users can upload a PDF of their magazine for free, creating their own profit margins by calculating the difference between their cover price and MagCloud’s charge of USD 0.20 per page, plus shipping. The concept builds on the success of companies that offer a simple, online method for consumers to self-publish books (such as Blurb, which we’ve covered in the past), and on the understanding that members of Generation C are eager to share their creative output, and expect to be paid for their efforts. Whether they’re professional or pro-am journalists, photographers, designers or entrepreneurs, MagCloud provides them with a no-risk business and communication opportunity, and the ability to tap into infinite niche audiences that don’t yet have a mag to call their own. While the site is in beta, publisher accounts are by invitation only. Shipping is currently restricted to the US, but the business is working hard to open up its service to Europe and then the rest of the world. One to partner with? (Related: Online magazines for the masses.) Spotted by: Susanna Haynie Music fans can now participate in the music industry as never before, whether by funding and promoting their favourite bands or creating and selling custom mixes–to name just a few of the opportunities we’ve already written about. Now, however, a North Carolina company is giving consumers a way to buy what it calls the ultimate fan collectible: the songs themselves. Aiming to connect songwriters and fans in a new way, SongVest has developed a platform for live and online auctions of songwriters’ rights that lets consumers buy as much as 100 percent of the rights to a given song–including the associated royalty streams. Songwriters determine the terms of each auction, including what percentage of each song they’d like to auction, the reserve price and the auction length. None of the copyright gets released, ensuring that the writers still retain control of usage. But as partial or full owners of the songwriters’ rights, buyers are entitled to earn royalties on their songs, and SongVest acts as a clearinghouse (for a fee of between 10 and 20 percent) to manage those payments. Buyers also get a personalized plaque denoting their status as song co-owners along with a one-of-a-kind, RIAA-certified gold or platinum album award, handwritten lyrics and other collectible items. SongVest sellers pay a commission of between 10 and 15 percent when their song sells, while buyers pay a commission of between 15 and 25 percent, depending on the final bid price. The company’s first major auction is due to begin 4 October 2008, including songs made famous by Aerosmith, Ringo Starr, Cher, Ozzy Osbourne, Bon Jovi, Carrie Underwood, Faith Hill and The Monkees. Besides appealing to consumers’ gravanity and giving them some status stories to share, SongVest’s concept promises to create a new revenue stream for recording artists and–potentially–provide a model that could be used to help ensure the sustainability of the other arts as well, or even for other types of intellectual property. One to watch! Spotted by: Jan-Olof A. As part of a new brand-awareness campaign to promote its corporate spirit, Yahoo recently equipped a fleet of GPS-enabled bicycles with camera phones and sent them out onto the streets of major cities around the US. Launched earlier this month, the Start Wearing Purple campaign focuses on innovative ways to celebrate the eccentric side of life, as embodied in Yahoo’s official colour. For the “Purple Pedals” portion of the campaign, Yahoo took a fleet of 20 custom-pained Electra Townie 8 bicycles and rigged each one with solar panels and a camera-equipped mobile phone mounted on the handlebars in waterproof housing. Each “yBike,” as Yahoo calls them, was also given its own, dedicated Flickr account. The cameras were then rigged to take photos every 60 seconds while the bike is moving, and to immediately upload and geotag them on Flickr. Yahoo handed out 14 of the bikes to photographer-cyclists including Amit Gupta of Photojojo and Gina Trapani of Lifehacker, who curate their images as they go. The result is a photo gallery of life on the American roads in cities including New York, San Diego, San Francisco and Bethel, Vermont. Four of the bikes will be passed from rider to rider, and one will be given away through a contest. Those interested need only visit the Start Wearing Purple site on 1 October 2008 and tell Yahoo why they deserve a yBike; the one deemed most worthy will be the proud new owner of one of the small but innovative fleet. (For those who don’t win, however, Lifehacker recently posted instructions on making your own.) In addition to giving Yahoo fresh visibility in the offline world–consumers do still spend some time there, after all–the Purple Pedals effort is also a nice example of what our sister site would call a ‘digital lifestyle lubricant’, making it easier than ever to share offline experiences online. It’s all part of the Off=On trend, which you can learn more about in’s September briefing. Be inspired! Spotted by: Bjarke Svendsen Back in July, we wrote about a promising start-up that has developed an organic alternative to traditional insulation products. Ecovative Design‘s Greensulate (building insulation) and Negative Volume (packaging) are manufactured–or rather, grown–from agricultural waste products like rice hulls, which are combined with water, recycled paper and living mushroom cells to create panels that can be used to insulate buildings or protect packages during shipment. The product offers the benefits of its polystyrene counterparts, while making a far smaller impact on the environment. Not only do Greensulate and Negative volume use byproducts that would otherwise be waste, the process is flexible enough to use byproducts from local agriculture–whether that’s buckwheat, rice or another regional crop–which further reduces the products’ eco footprint. So–to make a long story short–we were very pleased to hear that Greensulate’s founder, 23 year-old Eben Bayer, just won the PICNIC Green Challenge award for 2008, a EUR 500,000 prize awarded by the Dutch Postcode Lottery. There’s little we enjoy more than seeing an innovative idea receive the recognition it deserves. Congratulations, Eben! To follow: an update on last year’s winner, who was also featured on Springwise. Oh, and if you’re interested in working with Ecovative Design, please note that they’ll continue to work on material optimization and compliance testing throughout 2009, with a commercially available insulation product targeted for mid-2010. The company is actively seeking strategic partners. Customization has already come to dresses and duvets, shoes and sleeping bags. For those who worried that there were limits on the products to which the concept could still be freshly applied, a new site out of Canada now lets consumers design their own swim caps, too. SwimCapz offers a series of online tools to help users customize a swim cap or bag. After choosing the specific product they wish to create (latex or silicone swim cap, for example), consumers begin by choosing from a list of available colours. Next, they can create the design for their customized item by adding any combination of text, clip art and uploaded images. Users can place designs wherever they’d like on their item as well as changing their size and rotation. They also get to select the ink colours used to print them. The minimum order is 50 caps or 12 bags; pricing begins at CDN 2.27 per latex cap or CDN 18 per bag. Shipping is free worldwide. Will consumers ever tire of having it their way? We think not. Keep the customization tools coming! Spotted by: Cecilia Biemann In a world populated by gadgets with increasingly varied and complex capabilities, there stand out a lone few that do just one thing really well. The iPod is one classic example, and earlier this month another was released that may even have the potential to attain as devoted a consumer following, if the early blogs are any indication. It’s called Peek, and its creators say it’s the world’s first device designed for and dedicated to mobile email. Whereas email-capable smartphones can be bulky as well as complicated, the Peek’s lightweight, slim design makes it easy to take along. Featuring a large colour display and full keypad, the device uses scroll navigation and can be used to access up to three email accounts. Peek offers nationwide coverage throughout the United States and is compatible with most major email providers. Perhaps best of all, using Peek involves no contracts, credit checks or activation fees. To get started, all users need do is enter their e-mail address and password. The device, available online and in Target stores, is priced at USD 99.95, with unlimited emails for USD 19.95 per month. Colours available include black cherry and aqua blue in addition to the more standard charcoal grey. Multifeatured devices are all well and good for those with the interest and know-how to learn how to use them. But sometimes, simplicity is more appealing–everything in its place, so to speak, doing what it does best. Maybe it’s time to let the iPhones and Androids of the world (or your industry’s equivalent) duke it out while you quietly simplify, simplify. (Related: Phone for boomers and their parents.) Spotted by: Matte Chi & Zena Hockley It was roughly a year ago that we first wrote about RedesignMe, a Dutch site that taps the collective wisdom of the crowds to improve consumer products. Now, reflecting the notion of the self as a product equally in need of marketing and refinement, we have RestyleMe, a site that generates crowdsourced advice on personal style. We’ve actually written about two separate sites in the last month or so that bring crowdsourcing into the personal realm–SideTaker, for relationship advice, and, for image appraisal. Along similar lines, is a style advice website that allows users to rate other people’s style or fashion sense. Advice seekers begin by uploading a photo to the site and submitting it for appraisal. Unlike rating systems that provide just a general, overall indication of the success of a person’s look, however, RestyleMe allows users to flag specific parts of a person’s look–hair, makeup, or even tattoos–they think the person should keep or change. Clothing items can be tagged by styles or brands, and pinpoint photo marking allows reviewers to flag a specific feature on a subject’s image with a single click and give precise ratings about that aspect of their style, along with explanatory comments. A summary bar graph synthesizes voting results, and advice seekers can filter it by gender, age or location. Still in beta, California-based RestyleMe also includes a variety of social networking features, and is free for registered users. Friends may or may not tell the raw, unfiltered truth, but the crowds excel at telling it like it is. It’s not hard to imagine taking this one step further with audio and video, inviting the crowds to evaluate your speaking voice, your walking gait, the way you dance, or even your style of interacting. Entering a brave new world of self-image refinement! Spotted by: Bjarke Svendsen Although video games and laser tag are a popular choice for kids’ parties, getting the kids to venues can be more hassle than it’s worth. Back in January, Texas-based Games2u stepped in to solve this problem with its mobile video game theatres–self-powered, climate controlled trailers that house X-Box 360, Wii and PS3 systems, enabling up to 24 players to compete head-to-head. For parents who’d rather see their children running around outdoors, the company’s Sprinter trailers contain a range of inflatable bunkers and laser guns to turn yards and fields into laser tag battlegrounds in an instant. Thanks to its installation of multiple 50-inch flatscreen HDTV displays and surround sound, the trailer provides customers with a much more immersive gaming experience than they could create in their own homes. Each mobile theatre is accompanied by a trained Game Coach who oversees the event and keep players engaged, allowing parents to sit back and relax. Parties start at USD 199 for one hour, USD 299 for two hours and USD 99 for every additional hour. Games2u is offering franchise opportunities in the US. Entrepreneurs in other game-hungry countries: how about setting up something similar? (Related trend: Insperiences, which describes consumers’ desire to bring top-level experiences into their domestic domain.) Spotted by: Susanna Haynie