Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

A few years back, we covered ride-sharing site Hitchsters, which matches travellers to help them cut down on cab fare to airports in New York and San Francisco. Now, in the UK, Luton Airport has now joined forces with ride-sharing enterprise Liftshare to connect commuters en route to the airport. Interested passengers and airport employees can register to access a database of other commuters, dropping a line to those heading to the airport at a similar time. The site never reveals the user’s email or other contact information, and suggests that ride-sharers meet in a public place for the first trip just to keep things safe. The program, which is the first of its kind in the UK, is a smart move by Luton Airport. Not only does it improve its less-than-stellar transportation links to London, but it can ease its negative impact on the environment by helping to reduce the numbers of cars on the road. Key, of course, will be to make it easy and safe for travellers to share, and targeting frequent flyers seems like the way to go. Other airports to follow? Spotted by: Hard on the heels of our coverage of Kult—the vintage-arcade-machine-turned-3D-magazine—comes word of another paradigm-busting publication. Rather than breaking the mold on its form, however, this one shatters the norm by virtue of the fact that it was created and produced in 24 hours. The clock began at 3 pm Central European time on June 27, when an all-volunteer team of designers, photographers, writers and others began to work nonstop on 24Hour Magazine, beginning from scratch with no design and no content. Twenty-four hours later—at 3 pm on June 28—the magazine was ready for the printing press, featuring articles, photos and illustrations on topics including lifestyle, fashion, music and design. The point was not just to create a product, however. Rather, the concept focused heavily on the experience of the process as well. With that in mind, the Kortrijk, Belgium-based team meticulously shared the day’s experience with the world through a variety of social media and other online avenues, including live video feeds, Twitter updates, continuous blog posts and a behind-the-scenes Flickr stream. The 47-page magazine itself was produced using Issuu—the publishing platform we covered last year—and is now available online. The 24Hour team expects it will soon be available in print as well, both for order online and through select bookstores, priced somewhere between EUR 20 and EUR 30. Also on the way is a “making of” DVD and music created specially for the experience. No word yet on a next issue—or, indeed, on reactions to the magazine-cum-experience—but in the meantime, 24Hour Mag is actively seeking sponsors and advertisers. One to get involved with? There’s a new truck roaming the streets of LA—just in time for summer—and it’s being followed by legions of devotees who track its whereabouts via Twitter. It’s not Korean barbecue tacos on the menu this time, however—rather, it’s gourmet ice cream sandwiches. Much in the manner of Kogi Korean BBQ, which we covered earlier this year, Coolhaus sells handmade ice cream sandwiches from a pink and chrome converted postal jeep. Featuring local and organic ingredients whenever possible, Coolhaus sandwiches are 2-by-2-inch confections, about 1 inch deep, assembled to order using two cookies and a scoop of ice cream. Five architecture-inspired, “prefab” flavours are currently available from Coolhaus’s two-woman team (for example: the Frank Behry, made from sugar cookies and strawberry ice cream; the Mies Vanilla Rohe features chocolate chip cookies and vanilla ice cream), but customization is also possible, they say. The sandwiches are also available with an edible, rice-paper wrapping that can feature a brand, name or logo in edible ink. Pricing is about USD 3 per sandwich, or USD 3.50 with the edible wrapper, according to LAist. In addition to broadcasting information about its whereabouts via Twitter (@coolhaus), Coolhaus actually partners with Kogi in Venice on Saturdays, LAist reported; coming soon from its truck are edible spoons and popsicles shaped like famous buildings. Have we ever mentioned that everything can be upgraded? Well here it is again! Both Kogi and Coolhaus are perfect examples. Then of course there’s the fact that recessions tend to make people value little luxuries more. What’s next? How about mobile restaurant rows, like the one at Dwell on Design ’09 two days ago, which included the new Sprinklesmobile alongside Coolhaus, Kogi and others. (Related: More high-end dessert trucksSprinkles Cupcakes: Betty Crocker, upgraded.) Spotted by: LAist via Judy McRae Digital publisher Zinio has teamed up with Starwood to offer guests free digital copies of their favourite magazines. As of last month, a variety of well-known titles can be downloaded at Starwood’s Element hotels, with Aloft and Four Points by Sheraton joining at the end of the year. Zinio’s ‘digital newsstand’ can be accessed on guests’ laptops in their rooms, or via a kiosk in the lobby. After logging on to the Starwood portal and registering with Zinio, guests can select as many single titles as they wish, choosing from a wide range of popular publications like Caribbean Travel & Life, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, Field & Stream and Ski Magazine. (Prices for magazines purchased through Zinio are normally similar to those paid for paper copies.) With editions that can be read online or off—and that are identical to their printed brethren—travellers are freed from schlepping around a bag full of paper. Zinio gets the chance to demo its service to new users, and Starwood can offer its guests magazines they actually want to read, instead of a standard selection. And there’s an environmental benefit too, of course, which is fitting since Element is Starwood’s new ‘green’ brand. Reminds us of another download service for travellers we spotted recently: airline alliance offers free audiobook downloads at airports. Spotted by: We’ve written fairly extensively about city bike schemes already, and Barcelona’s two-year-old Bicing is a shining example. Now, bringing the service into the iPhone era, Bicing recently launched a mobile application that consumers can use to get location-based information about bicycle and parking availability. Residents of Barcelona use Bicing by applying for a personal card and then using that card to rent and pay for use of one of the service’s 6,000 bicycles. Bicycles can be picked up from and returned to any of 400 stations throughout the city. With the new iBicing application—downloadable from Apple’s iTunes Store for EUR 0.79—consumers can now see in advance the best place to find or bring back a bicycle. All they need do is send an SMS to “7010” for information about the availability of bikes and parking slots at the stations nearest them. iBicing taps the iPhone’s GPS capabilities to pinpoint a user’s location and select which stations would be most convenient, but users can also search for information about others. Google Maps with interactive navigation can be displayed as well. Bike sharing schemes are already laudable for so many reasons, most notably their benefits for the environment and urban congestion. Making such services more convenient for consumers through maps and the increasingly ubiquitous iPhone is the obvious next step toward realizing those benefits more fully. This is “mapmania” at work, as our sister site would say, and it’s one to emulate in bicycle-sharing cities around the globe! (Related: Zipcar’s iPhone app will find and unlock carsFree coffee for iPhone users at Swedish 7-Eleven.) Spotted by: Daniel Rodriguez Cutting both costs and carbon emissions, British supermarket Waitrose shipped its new range of ‘Virtue’ wines from Chile in 24,000 liter flexitanks and bottled them in the UK. One tank equals 32,000 bottles—or 16 tons of glass—that no longer need to be shipped. In addition, the bottles used are lightweight and made of 60% recycled material. Besides reducing carbon emissions, this shipping and distribution method lowers end-to-end production costs by up to 40%. Waitrose claims to be sharing these cost reductions with customers, charging GBP 3.99 per bottle. Currently on offer are a Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon and a Sauvignon/Chardonnay, both from Chile. They’ll be joined by two Californian wines later this season, and Waitrose is looking to further expand the method to other countries it imports wine from. A green innovation that saves money for both retailers and consumers? Producers and retailers: it’s time to get virtuous 😉 Spotted by: Maria Dahl Jorgensen Laundry detergent, toilet paper and toothpaste are not items consumers typically buy online, as the grocery stores, Wal-Marts and big box outlets of the world can attest. A new e-commerce site aims to change all that, however, by providing free shipping, streamlined reordering and a platform that allows consumers and manufacturers to connect. Just launched into beta this week, Alice offers more than 6,000 unique products from hundreds of different manufacturers. Its prices are 20 percent to 30 percent lower than those at other online stores, it says, and shipping is always free. US consumers begin by creating a free account and then selecting a list of all their favourite products, ordering only the items they need right then. Each shipment is bundled together in a single “Alice” box and delivered directly to the consumer’s door. Meanwhile, Alice organizes all the products on the member’s list, finds coupons and deals for them, and reminds them to reorder when they are likely to be running low. Although Wisconsin-based Alice works much like any other online retailer from the consumer’s perspective, behind the scenes it is more like a marketplace, allowing manufacturers to sell directly to US consumers. Alice makes no retail margin, and instead allows each manufacturer to control product assortment and pricing in its own direct sale to the end consumer. Because no retail middleman is involved, significant cost savings can be passed on to shoppers, the company says. In addition, Alice’s model allows brands to form a direct relationship with consumers, enabling personalized coupons, sampling and loyalty programs. Alice is actively signing up manufacturers during its beta phase, with plans for a full consumer launch in the fall. Those in consumer packaged goods: better get on board now! For all others: One to help bring to consumers in the rest of the shop-weary world? There’s nothing original about canned food—except when it’s the restaurant that comes in a can. Sitting in Montreal’s old shipping port, the Müvbox is a standard shipping container that’s 8ft deep and 20ft long. The wonder moment comes when it is miraculously turned from a container into a ‘chic fast food’ restaurant in 90 seconds at the touch of a button. Müvbox features a fully functional kitchen with enough space for four members of staff and a wood-fired pizza oven. The walls of the container collapse to create a covered patio with enough room to serve 28 people, half of whom can be seated at small bistro tables. The concept has some laudable eco features, too: the structure is a reused container and little construction is needed to install it. Müvbox’s floor is made from recycled tires and its roof contains solar panels to provide up to 40% of required energy. And it’s easily shipped by land or sea. The food is mostly local, too, serving lobster rolls, seafood pizza and other local lobster dishes. Müvbox wasn’t developed as a one-off restaurant: it’s a business concept that can be used the world over. The price of the unit comes in at USD 150,000, and the basic design can be tailored to other business’s needs. (Related: In Malaysia, shipping containers pop up as budget hotel roomsPop-up nightclubShop-in-a-box.) Spotted by: Daniel Jusseaume Our coverage of ad-supported FreePaperCups earlier this year sparked quite a reaction from eco-minded readers, many of whom very rightly pointed out the wastefulness inherent in using disposable cups. We’re happy, then, to present the KeepCup, a sustainable, reusable alternative designed to reduce the massive waste created when coffee cups are meant to be thrown away. The average paper cup consumes 2.5 times its final weight in raw wood, and is also coated in a polyethylene lining that makes it not just waterproof but also unrecyclable. Similar in intent to I Am Not a Paper Cup, the KeepCup is a lightweight, reusable and recyclable cup crafted from polypropylene—otherwise known as No. 5 food-grade plastic. Two sizes are currently available—a small, 8oz. size and a medium, 12oz. version—with both a large, 16oz. size and a “Babycino” 4oz. size on the way. Particularly notable is that Australian KeepCup replicates standard sizing on disposable coffee cups commonly used by baristas, so it can be substituted for paper cups without any modification; the small and medium cups fit directly under the nozzle at the coffee machine. Cups, lids, plugs and silicone bands can also be mixed and matched to create colourful combinations, and the cups are dishwasher-safe on the top rack, with an estimated lifespan of four years. Melbourne-based KeepCup is targeting cafes and employers with the product; corporate branding is available. Introductory pricing on the KeepCup begins at AUD 7.80 for the small version, increasing to AUD 9.80 in July. KeepCup is currently seeking “crusaders” to manage and distribute its cups in overseas markets. Given that Australians alone use some 500 million disposable cups each year—throwing out 951 every minute—there’s sure to be considerable opportunity in virtually every neck of the woods. One to get in on early! 😉 Spotted by: David Cairns With all the benefits of carpooling, it’s no wonder the ride-sharing services are coming fast and furious. Hard on the heels of our recent stories about Galpshare and NuRide comes Mega Car Pool, a travel matching service in New Delhi that rewards drivers for giving rides. Those interested in carpooling through Mega Car Pool begin by registering with the service, which will then conduct an identity verification process for security that includes a home visit and presentation of residential proof, driving license and citizenship ID. Prospective members also fill out a questionnaire with details about their regular travel habits and preferences in a travelling companion, including gender and whether or not they smoke. (No personal details are ever revealed to ride companions, and the service even has a “women’s club” for all-female drivers and rides.) Members are then given a smart card with ID code, and a GPS device is installed in their car. Next, information about members’ routine trips—such as daily commutes to work—are fed into Mega Car Pool’s computer for matching with members looking for rides; ride-seekers without cars of their own can become members only if referred by one who owns a car. Matches can be made for both routine and ad hoc trips; either way, each time a car-owning member provides a lift, the kilometres travelled are recorded by the installed GPS. Those kilometres are then translated into credits, which are added to the driver’s smart card account and can later be used for free rides with another driver, or be donated to another member for rides of their own. In addition to matching drivers with those seeking rides, Mega Car Pool also provides additional services including a panic button, traffic updates and emergency assistance when a car breaks down. Mega Car Pool is currently operated by infrastructure construction company HICC Ltd., and a similar concept is currently being considered for implementation by the Delhi government as a complement to public transport. Spotted by: Vikrant Rai