Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

We’ve written about workout gyms and even being spaces aimed at kids, but it wasn’t until just recently that we heard of a sport being completely resized for child players. Sure enough, though, a new outfit in Colorado now offers miniaturized tennis just for kids. Founded by Dorm2Dorm cofounder Matt Nelsen, Drop Shots Tennis is a new tennis facility geared specifically to children ages 2 to 10 years old. Whereas typical tennis courts can be very large and intimidating from a kid’s perspective, Drop Shots provides a miniaturized and safe indoor tennis facility comprising small courts on a carpeted surface equipped with smaller nets, rackets and balls. Using many of the programs developed by QuickStart Tennis, Drop Shots focuses each class on one or two specific tennis shots while also incorporating activities for coordination, agility and fun. Pricing is USD 120 for a series of eight weekly lessons, or USD 200 for eight weeks of two lessons per week. Birthday parties, private lessons and tennis supplies are also available. In this era of childhood obesity in the industrialized world, it’s a safe bet that parents around the globe will embrace with open arms anything that enhances activity. So far, though, Drop Shots is the only one we’ve heard of providing anything like this. Who will bring kid-sized sports to the rest of the country and the world….? (Related: Gyms for kids use gaming to keep them hooked.) The impatient and hungry tech-heads of London have been given a new treat with the launch of Inamo, a pan-Asian restaurant that has canned the traditional printed menu in favour of an interactive ordering system. An illustrated menu is projected onto the diners’ touch-sensitive table, which also lets customers personalize the décor of the booth by selecting sounds and animated, projected table ‘cloths’. While waiting for their meal–the pan-Asian menu was created by head chef Anthony Sousa Tam, previously of Nobu, Ubon and Hakkasan–diners can use the touch-table to watch a live feed of their chefs at work, or to find information on what’s happening in the neighbourhood. Should the evening be going well, courting couples can use the system to book a taxi home, or if the evening descends into kill-me-now silence, rescue is at hand in the form of the system’s built-in games. The restaurant’s inspiration came from the founders’ frustrations at inattentive waiters when dining elsewhere. However, this doesn’t mean Inamo is devoid of the human touch: food is brought to the table by staff members, who are also on hand to answer diners’ questions. The restaurant’s designers also wisely avoided a tech-inspired décor, instead creating a look that’s fresh and attractive, with technology offered not as the main course, but as an integrated enhancement. With Adour’s interactive wine bar, and uWink’s entertainment kiosks at tables, food and beverage venues are bringing a digital dimension to their offer. For more on how the offline world–also known as the real world, meatspace or atom-arena–is adjusting to and mirroring the increasingly dominant online world, check out’s briefing on OFF=ON. Spotted by: Lieke Voermans Helping drivers think twice before putting the pedal to the metal, Fiat has developed a new system that gives customers the insight they need to drive in more a sustainable way. ecoDrive processes driving data collected via Blue&Me, an in-car communications device developed by Microsoft. Users plug a standard USB drive into their car’s Blue&Me port to gather information on acceleration, deceleration, gear changes and speed throughout the drive. They then upload the data to their computer, where it’s analysed by ecoDrive software to produce relevant tips for driving efficiency, like braking more gently into corners or maintaining a constant speed on straights. Drivers can also share their own tips and ecoDrive experiences using the ecoVille online community. Launched by Fiat in October 2008, ecoDrive is currently only available for the Fiat 500 and Grande Punto, but will work with any model featuring Blue&Me from 2009. Fiat claims the software can cut emissions and fuel consumption by up to 15%, meaning a lower carbon footprint and gas bill for drivers. An obvious improvement would be immediate feedback while a driver is behind the wheel, but we’re sure that’s in the works 😉 Fiat and Microsoft’s ecoDrive collaboration mirrors the successful partnership between Apple and Nike that runners can use to track and soundtrack their runs, enabling them to review their performance when they’re back at their computers. As eco-awareness continues to build (and once energy prices start climbing again), consumers will become increasingly interested in tracking their personal energy use. We’re confident that many other embedded eco-metric devices will follow, so if you’re in manufacturing–now’s the time to start researching and developing. (Related: Visualising energy use.) Spotted by: Ozgur Alaz As belts tighten ever more in a continuously precarious economy, it’s fairly certain more and more parents are turning to second-hand sources for children’s clothes and other items. While thrift stores tend to be hit-or-miss and online offerings are often buried within the likes of Craigslist, a new classifieds site for moms promises to aggregate such listings from across the web, making it quicker and easier for parents to find high-quality and low-cost kids’ goods. Now in beta, Hand-me-downs allows parents to buy, sell, give away or donate new and gently used children’s products in a family friendly atmosphere. Not to be confused with—a UK-based contender that facilitates just give-aways—the Beverly Hills-based site aims to create a one-stop destination for busy moms by pulling together and organizing the best listings from around the web as well as offering listings posted by its own members. The ad-supported site currently serves the Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. markets with listings including clothing, toys, furniture, childcare, and health and safety products. Donations are handled through local partner charities. Members of the site can also create and post profiles and participate in discussion forums. Of course, besides benefiting consumers’ wallets during tight times, facilitating the recycling of second-hand goods also helps the environment by reducing the tons of products that would otherwise get sent to landfills. Expect to see this industry taking off! (Related: Baby clothes rental serviceRetailers recycle customers’ used clothes.) Spotted by: Ozgur Alaz When we wrote about Meet a few weeks ago, one of its cofounders noted that the meetings industry has been in desperate need of some innovation. Continuing on that upward trend, office furniture manufacturer Steelcase is gearing up to launch a new meeting space in Chicago that will not only host meetings but also serve as a testing ground for future products. Situated within walking distance of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, Workspring is the brainchild of a team of work experience experts at Steelcase who imagined a network of extraordinary spaces designed to inspire and support creative collaboration, productive retreat and transformative exchange. Workspring is surrounded by the quiet natural beauty of an urban courtyard, with bright modern studios and a raft of collaborative tools. Five work studios are available with ergonomic seating, in-room storage, natural lighting and a ready supply of paper, pens, sticky notes and other supplies. Lighting can be adjusted to complement changing activities, and all studios are equipped with Springboards, or layered movable planes of tackable and writable surfaces that encourage teams to create, share and rearrange content. Common areas, meanwhile, include a cafe, forum and oasis space, with services including healthful food and beverages and a resource library stocked with inspirational books and objects, printouts and photocopies. Finally, and perhaps most interesting of all, Workspring will also serve as an ongoing “lab” for new products from Steelcase designed to enhance communication and collaboration among teams, the company says. Launching in mid-November, Workspring can be booked for morning, afternoon or evening sessions, with pricing of USD 140 per person per session. There’s no doubt the time was ripe for the meetings industry to be reinvented, and what better agent to make that happen than a company that’s already involved? Never mind killing two birds with one stone–this is reaping two profits with one venture. A concept to emulate whenever possible! Twones is a new online music service that automatically tracks every song a user plays while online—whether via iTunes, YouTube, or services—and then creates a single timeline of the music they’ve been listening to. Users can share their timelines and discover new music by exploring a friend’s musical history. The service, which launches in December, works via a small browser plug-in. The innovative aspect? Twones is pushing its offer one step further by collaborating with Tony Player, a system that builds playlists from multiple Twones timelines. When Twones members arrive at a club that uses Tony Player, they register their presence via text message or their phone’s bluetooth connection. The tracks they’ve most recently listened to–as registered by Twones–are then imported to the DJ’s playlist. The DJ picks from those tracks and mixes them, building a set based entirely on the crowds’ recent musical preferences. To add extra recognition and excitement for people whose songs are played, their headshots and usernames are displayed on a giant screen. The event previewed at the Amsterdam Dance Event last week. While nights that encourage party-goers to bring their own iPods have been around for a while, this our first exposure to DJs drawing directly from online playlists, and not requiring active crowd participation. Members make their presence known, and the system accesses and broadcasts elements of their online identity. Part of the OFF=ON trend, it’s an interesting example of extending online networks and online behaviour to the ‘real’ world. One to play with! Spotted by: Jeroen Bouwman While sites like TripAdvisor offer an extraordinary wealth of information about virtually every aspect of travel, sometimes the one-stop-shopping approach can make it hard to navigate through to the information one needs. When it regards hotels, SeeYourHotel aims to provide a quick and direct way to search by location and view hotels around the globe. With a map filling most of its homepage, SeeYourHotel lets users search by location–whether it’s a specific address or a point of interest–and see a map with markers for all hotels in the area. Users can then view actual pictures of the rooms and facilities, compare with other hotels nearby and make their reservations. Major attractions and business centres are also marked on each map, making it easier for users to pick a hotel that’s convenient for their purposes. Satellite and hybrid views are available for each search as well, and users can browse through not only pictures but also street views, videos, reviews and availability information. Using SeeYourHotel is free; and the mapping technology is by Google and reservations are handled by, which we can safely assume provides SeeYourHotel with referral fees. There’s no arguing with the success of the generalized travel sites, but SeeYourHotel’s narrow, location-based focus and quick navigation could win it some fans of its own. As they say, pick one thing and do it right! 😉 Spotted by: Jessica McGregor We at Springwise are always happy to chronicle the spread of a good idea, but never more so than when those doing the spreading are part of the Springwise community themselves. So it’s with great pleasure that we bring our readers one more tale of free photocopying for students, this time launched by one of our very own Springspotters in his home country of the Philippines. At the Philippines’ Prime University Ateneo De Manila, Matthew Cua is project manager of Celadon, the university’s official Chinese-Filipino organization. Charged with the task of planning the group’s Mid-Autumn Gratia faculty appreciation day celebration for this fall, Cua says he was inspired by our free love coverage to incorporate free photocopying for students into the event. Scouting around for sponsorship, Cua found a receptive audience in Dr. Diana Cua-Balcells, a local breast cancer surgeon and alumna of the university, who picked up on the idea as a way to promote breast cancer awareness on behalf of nonprofit organizations including Bosom Buddies, I Can Serve, Pink for Life, Carewell Community and the Cuabang Foundation. Accordingly, among the festival’s many offerings was a free photocopying kiosk that aimed both to promote breast cancer causes and to help support Celadon. Equipped with just a single photocopier, the outdoor stand in the middle of campus produced 8,200 free photocopies over the course of the five-day festival, serving some 500 students plus a number of faculty who made copies for their entire classes. Celadon even took the free copies idea one better by designing the paper used to serve as notepaper on the reverse side, allowing it to do double-duty in class or be reused afterwards. Celadon made minimal profit on the event, Cua says–aiming mainly to cover its costs–but the group is planning a similar effort for November, this time with commercial sponsorship, that it expects will be more lucrative. And because “moist paper doesn’t work in a photocopying machine,” Cua also notes that better precautions will be taken next time to keep the paper dry in Manila’s humid open-air environment, using heaters and special packaging. More projects are planned for Chinese New Year as well. Is there any mountain free love can’t climb? We think not. 🙂 Be inspired! It’s no longer a simple matter to rattle off all the “design-your-own” opportunities we’ve covered in recent years, so numerous have they become. Making the task even more challenging, one of our spotters recently alerted us to yet another one: a site that allows parents of small children to design their own baby shoes. Based in Connecticut, Preschoolians sells what it calls the most flexible shoes in the world for preschool-aged children. Available for kids in four stages–Crawlers, Walkers, Runners and Adventurers–the shoes come in a wide array of styles and colours for both boys and girls, including sandals, shoes, boots and slippers. Preschoolians use a sizing scheme that takes all three dimensions of a toddler’s foot into account, and their patented VisuFit technology–featuring a clear window on the sole to take the guesswork out of finding the right fit–was named one of Time Magazine’s Coolest Inventions of 2003. Perhaps even more interesting, however, is that in addition to its large line of existing designs, Preschoolians now allows parents to personalize more than 50 shoe, slipper and boot styles. With four customizable areas on each shoe and 27 colours to choose from, more than a billion variations are possible using the site’s simple Flash interface. Prices range from USD 30 to USD 60. Jeffrey Silverman, the company’s founder and CEO, explains: “The beautiful thing about this is that parents can easily design shoes for their babies to match literally any outfit. I’ve been in the footwear industry for over 20 years, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that people want to express their individuality without limitations.” Indeed, that’s a fair statement about just about any product category these days, from cellphones to energy bars to sleeping bags. Keep the customization innovations coming! (Related: Design your own Keds & sell them on Zazzle.) Spotted by: Roberta Steinberg When it comes to giving someone directions to a particular place, traditional maps can be imperfect tools, abstract and two-dimensional as they are. A new application built for Google’s Android cellphone platform, however, incorporates pictures and personalization to help people answer the question, “Can you show me how to get there?” BreadCrumbz is a mobile navigation application that lets users create directional routes on the fly. The software uses the phone’s camera and GPS to take geo-tagged pictures of the user’s route while Android’s location APIs and Compass sensor track their progress as they navigate. Android’s Maps API is then used to overlay route information such as arrows or notes on top of a map. The result is a personalized, picture-based map that users can email to friends or upload to the web to show others how to navigate a specific building or landscape. Voice capabilities are reportedly in the works. A demo on YouTube shows how it’s currently done. BreadCrumbz was one of just 20 winners in the Open Handset Alliance’s Android Developer Challenge, taking home a USD 100,000 award. It’s available as a free download for the T-Mobile G1 through the Android Market. Beyond just helping consumers give each other directions, BreadCrumbz also promises to let them share walking tours of a favourite city, for example, or document personal stories with location-based pictures and information. In the commercial realm, businesses could benefit greatly from picture-based maps that lead consumers to their door–or even illustrate multiple points along their supply chain. The possibilities are many–one to start experimenting with! (Related: Route planner with a wiki twistAdvanced route planning for pedestrians.) Spotted by: Radha Rajan