Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Finding an ATM in an unfamiliar city or neighbourhood can be a real hassle. So it’s no surprise that various applications have been developed for the iPhone and other mobile devices, that use built-in GPS to map the nearest cash machines. ING Wegwijzer, a new application built for the T-Mobile G1 (Google) phone, takes the concept a step further. The G1 phone has a built-in compass, which means that it can not only determine where users are, but also which direction they’re facing. Which gets interesting when combined with the phone’s camera, which is what the Dutch bank’s new tool does. How that works? A cash-seeking user opens Wegwijzer, selects the camera mode, and holds the phone as though to take a picture. Layered over the live image of what’s in front of him, is a label showing where the nearest ATM is, literally pointing to the building that houses the machine. Which, for most people, is a far more intuitive way to find an object than by looking at a map; it’s the phone equivalent of asking a human and having them point to what you’re looking for. Another application that uses augmented reality in a similar way is the Wikitude AR Travel Guide, which taps into location-based Wikipedia content to give travellers details on landmarks they view through their Google phone. ING Wegwijzer was launched today and is available for free through Android Market, the Google equivalent of Apple’s iPhone App Store. As mobile devices become increasingly well-equipped, opportunities abound for brands and entrepreneurs that can help consumers find whatever it is they’re looking for. Time to start brainstorming and hiring developers! 🙂 (Related: Entertainment mapping tool uses compass and GPS — Using pictures to give directions — Mapmania.) P.S. ING developed Wegwijzer with Mobilizy (of Wikitude) and SPRXmobile. More/better images of the app in action can be found in Maarten Lens-Fitzgerald’s Flickr set. Urban bike-sharing is coming to North America in the form of Bixi, the new high-tech public bike system developed for the city of Montreal. Bixi follows the standard bike sharing principles: users take a bike from a stand, ride it to where they want to go, and drop it at another stand when they’re done. To make the concept even more attractive to users, bikes will be equipped with RFID tags so that users can track availability online; real-time information is beamed to the web from the system’s solar-powered bike stands. Users will pay a membership fee of CDN 78 for one year, CDN 24 for one month or CDN 5 for one day. The first half hour of every trip is free, rising to CDN 12 per hour for extended periods of use. The aim is to encourage short trips, and fees compare favorably with the price of a monthly bus pass (CDN 66.25). One reason for the system’s low cost is the long-lasting bikes, which were designed by Michel Dallaire and are expected to provide 75,000-100,000 km of travel. Bixi’s full launch is scheduled for April 2009, when 3,000 bikes will be installed in 300 locations across the city. Taking Montreal’s fierce winters into account, Bixi will operate from April to November. If it all goes according to plan, the city will end up with a financially independent yet affordable scheme that will keep its residents fit and safe and its environment clean and open. (Related: City bike schemes — Bank-sponsored bike sharing.) Spotted by: Roberta Steinberg Feeling there were limitations of working with a conventional label, British beat duo Groove Armada left Sony BMG and teamed up with Bacardi in April of last year to offer fans music in a new way. Rather than restrict song sharing in order to sell more tracks, the band offers incentives to those who spread their music the furthest. Six weeks before Groove Armada will be releasing their new EP through traditional download stores, the first track appeared Bacardi B-Live, where registered users can download it for free. They can access the second track as soon once they’ve shared the first with 20 friends. The third MP3 can be heard when the first has been shared 200 times, and the fourth when 2,000 ‘friends’ have hear the first track. Sharing is made easy by supplying users with widgets for their websites and Facebook profiles. The sharing application was launched last week and will be available until 2 March 2009. Bacardi also funded the creation of Groove Armada’s latest release, scoring the rights to use the music in advertising and other promotions. B-Live also hosts and streams live music events around the world. Groove Armada claims to be pleased with the arrangement because it lets them give away their work and build a dialogue with fans. “It encourages people to interact with the music in a slightly deeper way than just nicking and downloading it,” says Tom Findlay, one half of the duo, in a BBC interview. It’s not just distribution that’s been upended by the internet: band funding, management and festivals are also evolving. There’s still a huge potential to rethink business models in this industry. Time to get creative! Spotted by: Susanna Haynie Almost a year ago we wrote about BlakeMakes.com, a blog that helps food manufacturers distribute samples of their products to bloggers with influential voices. Working on much the same theme, WIN it gIRL is a new site gearing up for launch this spring that aims to connect consumers and brands. WIN it gIRL will be a free, monthly e-mail newsletter and blog that features articles and reviews about the latest topics in style, wellness, living, technology and travel. Partner manufacturers will send samples of their latest products to WIN it gIRL, who will review them on her blog. Readers will then be directed to participating blog sites for details about exclusive monthly contests, through which they have a chance to win said products. Those who win will then be given the option to keep their prizes, or to donate them to their favourite charity. The website explains: “WIN it gIRL is more of a social experiment than a typical promotions company, in that it is free to its readers and its partners. A scrappy and money-conscious consumer, WIN it gIRL created her website to not only benefit from the featured products and services, but to allow other women and organizations to do the same. As an added value, WIN it gIRL allows brands to reach their target market in an effective and cost-saving manner.” Indeed, traditional advertising is struggling, to put it mildly. Provide a good alternative, and you’ll create benefits for brands, consumers—and you! WIN it gIRL currently seeks partner blogs and brands for its upcoming launch. One to get in on early….? Last week we wrote about MealBaby, a site that helps friends take care of each other in times of need. Then one of our spotters alerted us to FriendlyFavor, a start-up that helps people ask directly for things that could help them out. Launched just last week, FriendlyFavor is an all-purpose request tool developed to complement social networks such as Facebook and MySpace by enabling users to leverage their trusted networks of friends, family and colleagues for help with referrals, recommendations, advice and other favours or requests. People seeking a babysitter, job referral or help moving a couch, to name just a few examples, can all use FriendlyFavor for free to ask for help online—sending their request only to the contacts they trust—as can people with favours to offer, such as extra tickets or leftover moving supplies. The platform was designed to eliminate the hassle, wasted time and confusion that can accompany traditional favour requests, providing instead a one-stop site for managing everything from the initial request to the thank-you once a favour has been granted. For thank-yous, FriendlyFavor provides options through several channels, including gift cards from leading retailers such as Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Nordstrom and REI; charitable gift cards via TisBest; as well as cash, “good karma” or “Swap Shop” options, enabling users to offer goods or services in exchange. Optimized for Facebook Connect, FriendlyFavor’s platform can be easily licensed for corporate networking and intranets, online communities, and alumni or nonprofit groups, the company says. Seattle-based FriendlyFavor generates revenue from technology licensing, targeted online advertising, affiliate marketing and sponsorships. In the coming months the company plans to add new features including the ability to save and name custom contact lists as well as Open Social and mobile integration. One to partner with—or emulate—in your neck of the friendly woods….? Spotted by: Ozgur Alaz With a few exceptions, few restaurants go out of their way to publish the nutritional information about their food, at least not in any obvious way offline. Much the way D+caf Test Strips have blown the proverbial lid open on caffeine content, however, Fatburgr is a new site that puts together in one place the nutritional facts about a variety of fast-food restaurants and chains. Some 20 restaurants are currently listed on Fatburgr—including McDonald’s, Subway and Chili’s, for example—and more are being added every day, the company says. For each of them the site lists the calories, fat, carbs and fibre content for each menu item, and users can sort the list by any of those criteria. Listings can also be searched by food type, and all data is available by iPhone for those needing to make ordering decisions on the go. Fatburgr is free to use. Besides equipping consumers with information that can help them stay healthier, of course, Fatburgr is also a nice example of what our sister site trendwatching.com would call transparency tyranny, leaving companies with nowhere to hide the facts they might prefer not be known. On that note, Fatburgr has even set up a “wall of shame”—though it’s still empty—for restaurants that won’t fork over their nutritional information. Restaurants around the world: Be prepared to open up the truth about your food, or this could happen to you! 😉 Spotted by: Cecilia Biemann Dire reports from the world of newspapers and magazines may suggest the printed medium is on its way out, but a new Chicago start-up doesn’t think so. Rather, it’s beta-testing a plan to publish a raft of free print publications in local communities across the US. With a heavy emphasis on the local, The Printed Blog is an independent outlet that aggregates user-generated content from the internet and publishes it in print. The result is a fully tactile newspaper that reads and functions like a web feed, but that can still be spread across the breakfast table or enjoyed on the train. Bucking the “one-size-fits-all” trend followed by many newspapers, The Printed Blog aims to choose the content of its many local editions to reflect the votes of local readers, who will ultimately be able to express their preferences on its site. Content will include not just blogs but also photographs, puzzles, events, reader comments and other items of local interest. The paper is currently still testing its model, but its first issues are scheduled to hit the streets of Chicago and San Francisco today. It will ultimately be distributed to neighbourhood pickup points in A.M. and P.M. editions. The Printed Blog has already received permission from about 300 bloggers—including the Daily Kos—to publish their work in exchange for a share of ad revenue, according to a report in The New York Times. Some 15 advertisers signed on for the first issue, the NYT reported. The startup reportedly plans to put commercial printers in the homes of its distributors as a way to keep printing costs low. Will The Printed Blog succeed in reinventing the local newspaper? Time will tell. Meanwhile, one to watch! (Related: Free daily pays bloggers.) Spotted by: Martina Meng Given the current state of the economy, it’s timely to see a makeover of an age-old form of personal loans. Borro claims to be the world’s first online pawnbroker. The company, which was launched in August 2008, offers short term loans to customers who cannot borrow from banks or have maxed out their other options, giving them cash for jewellery, gold and memorabilia. After filling out an application form describing the valuables they wish to pawn, a borrower is offered a loan of up to 40% of an item’s value. Should they take the plunge, the borrower couriers their item to Borro, receiving their loan via bank transfer or postal order. Interest on loans accrues at 6% per month (lowered to 4% for loans over GBP 1,000), and loans must be repaid within 6 months for the pawned item to be returned, unless an extension is agreed in writing. Loans of GBP 100–GBP 100,000 are available, with Borro stating that over 85% of borrowers repay their loans on time and in full. The site brings an ancient system into the 21st century, providing a convenient form of short-term credit that could be cheaper than unauthorised bank overdrafts or payday loans. It also creates a certain degree of transparency for customers, since everyone is offered the same rate. And sending items in by courier eliminates the potential awkwardness of dealing with an offline pawnshop. Based in Oxford, Borro currently only serves the UK, though European and US expansion plans are in the cards. Spotted by: Cecilia Biemann It’s probably safe to say that most consumers would like to make their lives more “green,” but that the devil lies in the details. Much like the UK’s Green Homes Concierge, which we wrote about last year, New York-based Green Irene aims to help consumers reduce their homes’ carbon footprint. Green Irene’s flagship service is its Green Home Makeover, which it offers for USD 99. As part of that service, one of Green Irene’s local eco-consultants will spend 60 to 90 minutes walking through a consumer’s home and developing a customized set of recommendations for saving money, energy and water, and for just living a healthier life. Topics in the inspection include energy and water conservation improvements, alternative energy sources in the area and financial incentives such as tax credits, and consumers also get a 6-month subscription to the company’s Ask Green Irene online service. When it comes time for implementation, Green Irene’s eco-consultants sell many green solutions themselves and can also make referrals to green-minded contractors in the company’s Sustainable Contractor Network. In addition to home makeovers, the company also offers Go Green Workshop parties, “EZ Bulb Swap Outs” and makeovers for offices. Green Irene provides training and business set-up help for its territory-based network of eco-consultants, each of whom works independently, and is currently recruiting through a separate site. Contractors, meanwhile, are invited to apply for membership in its partner network. One to get in on early…? Spotted by: Judy McRae Consumers longing to try out the latest mobile devices—whether for fashion or for function—must typically wait for their current contract to expire before trying something new. Aiming to make it possible to sample both more widely and more often, Rentobile provides a wide selection of the latest cell phones for rent on a monthly basis. Users begin by deciding if they want to become a Rentobile member or simply rent as a guest. Membership rates begin at USD 5 per month; in exchange, members enjoy the site’s lowest rental rates and other privileges. They then browse Rentobile’s collection—including sections for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon as well as unlocked models—and choose which they’d like to try out first. All models are either new or in like-new condition, Rentobile says, with monthly rental rates beginning at about USD 15. Consumers can rent the device of their choice for as little as a month or as long as they want. A USD 9.95 round-trip shipping charge is assessed up front, so when they’re ready for something new, they simply return the item for free and tell Rentobile what to send next. Launched last year, New Jersey-based Rentobile brings the Netflix model to cell phones, joining a long list of companies that have already brought it to toys, books and snacks, among other goods. All of which should please transumers, consumers who crave opportunities to experience products without contracts or ownership. One to bring to other parts of the world! Spotted by: Susanna Haynie