Create the Future. Today

Centralized storage in the “cloud” is becoming an increasingly ubiquitous option for consumers’ digital belongings, but tangible goods are still typically hauled off to expensive self-storage units when they can’t be accommodated at home. New Jersey-based StorageByMail is a company that aims to change that, however, with a service that lets clients send their possessions through the mail to the company’s central warehouse for flexible offsite storage. Similar in many ways to Garde Robe‘s service for clothes and Dorm2Dorm‘s solution for college students’ possessions, StorageByMail maintains a world-class storage facility that’s also used by brands including Bloomingdale’s and Tommy Hilfiger. Customers of the service begin by creating an account and an online description of any package of goods they’d like to send into storage. Next, they print a custom, prepaid USPS shipping label for each box they’d like to send; for users on the go, there’s even a mobile app to send a label to the nearest fax machine. Either way, those labels ensure safe passage for the goods through the U.S. Postal Service to StorageByMail’s warehouse. When the customer wants them back, he or she simply requests return delivery and the company will ship them out the next business day. Storage pricing ranges from USD 4.99 per month per cubic foot for a pay-as-you-go option to USD 249 per month for an annual plan including 100 boxes of any size and free return-trip shipping. For consumers with just a single box to store, there is no charge. A video on YouTube explains StorageByMail’s concept in further detail. We’ve already noted on many occasions the ownership-averse nature of today’s transumers, who don’t want to be tied down with possessions when they aren’t currently using them. Mobile consumers, however, are likely to find StorageByMail’s location-independent service equally compelling, as are space-strapped urban dwellers. One to partner with or emulate in your part of the world? (Related: Personal data storage with emergency accessConsolidated storage space for product warrantiesMore ways for consumers to rent out unused spaceA virtual vault for information-age valuablesOnline receipt organizer thinks inside the boxKey storage & delivery service in Manhattan.) Where Nadanu‘s online giving platform was designed specifically to mimic the experience of dropping coins into a real-world collection box, the Salvation Army has begun tweaking its traditional red kettles to accommodate digital payments. The Salvation Army is by no means new to online giving. For about six years, it’s been operating its Online Red Kettle program to let fans collect on its behalf as “online bell-ringers.” Last year, in fact, nearly USD 2 million were raised for the charitable organization that way. A new iPhone app for the same purpose is expected to increase that this year, as is a new national “text-to-give” program enabling donations via text message. Specifically, through Dec. 24, donors can text “GIVE” to 85944 to make a USD 10 donation to the Red Kettle Campaign. Perhaps most interesting of all, though, is that the charity has been experimenting with new cashless kettles featuring an attached credit card reader that accepts credit and debit cards and prints a receipt. When the new program launched late last year, cashless kettles were available at more than 300 locations in more than 120 cities across the United States. Even better than the convenience factor for consumers is that in pilot tests in Dallas, Los Angeles and Colorado Springs, the average donation increased from USD 2 when payments are made using cash to about USD 15 when credit or debit cards are being used, the Salvation Army says. Charities around the globe: take note! (Related: Donated guerrilla campaign promotes the Salvation Army.) Spotted by: Chicago Sun-Times via Jim Stewart Websites like SpotScout and Google Open Spot can help urban drivers find a place to park, but typically they rely on other users to post the relevant details when a spot opens up. A new solution now at work in Issy-les-Moulineaux, France, however, uses in-ground sensors to provide such information automatically. The brainchild of Paris-based SmartGrains, ParkSense is an integrated solution based on specially designed sensors that are placed directly in the ground in parking areas. The presence of a vehicle changes the sensor’s ambient magnetic field, allowing it to infer whether or not there is a vehicle in a particular spot. The durable sensors are also connected in a mesh wireless radio network, allowing each one to report any spots that open up. Drivers, meanwhile, can use the free ParkSense iPhone app to see the resulting information as to what parking spots are available nearby. SmartGrains’ sensors are resistant to vandalism, skidding, water and dirt, and they last at least three years in between battery changes. The system as a whole is suitable for indoor and outdoor use in streets, parking lots, retail settings and airports, SmartGrains says, with obvious benefits in the form of consumer convenience, reduced congestion and less gas wasted. Some 30 percent of most urban traffic consists of drivers trying to find spots, SmartGrains notes. Municipal planners around the globe: one to bring to parking-weary drivers in your part of the world? (Related: Marketplace for long-term parkingOnline exchange for parking spaces.) Spotted by: Irene Festa Making everyday products more functional for senior citizens doesn’t have to mean making those products more ugly, as UK home renovation firm Ruby Slippers has already demonstrated. New York-based Omhu is a company with a similar philosophy. Its flagship product — the Omhu Cane — is a walking stick that brings smart design and new style to a category sorely in need of upgrading. The Omhu Cane is “a walking stick with attitude,” in the company’s own words. Inspired by Scandinavian furniture as well as “bicycles, hockey sticks and skateboards,” the cane features cheerful colours and a generous birch handle with grip strips that not only offer better hold, but also don’t slip when leaned against a wall. The wood is hand-treated with Livos oil for an all-natural, non-toxic, plant-based finish, while the lightweight, high-strength aluminum shaft is finished in American bicycle paint. The Omhu Cane’s patent-pending tip, meanwhile, is made from the same material as high-performance athletic shoes for cushioning, traction and support. Available in six colours, the Omhu Cane is priced at USD 125. Aging may be inevitable, but drab style and lackluster performance don’t have to be. Good design, in fact, is just one more way to target the senior demographic in a positive, empowering way — as opposed to all the early approaches focusing on illness and limitations. There will be more than 1.5 billion people worldwide over the age of 65 by the year 2050, according to the US Census Bureau. Isn’t it time to upgrade the way they’re served…? (Related: Phone support for seniors, by seniorsFun and funky first aid kitsBeing spaces for seniorsTravel insurance for over-60sHealth and wellness shop focuses on seniorsStylish fire protection kits.) Spotted by: Coolhunting Back in June we wrote about Swedish T-Post’s Real Life Superhero Contest, which asked entrants to don a costume and then take to the streets to help others. That contest has since ended — unfortunately, with mixed results — but now there’s a whole website dedicated to much the same idea. Meet the Real Life Super Hero Project, a place where ordinary citizens can learn about and be inspired by those whose actions make a difference every day. The Real Life Super Hero Project started off as a photographic gallery by California-based photographer Peter Tangen that was designed “to shine some light on this new breed of activism and altruism, through a photographic installation to benefit the established organizations the superheroes believe in,” in the site’s own words. And indeed, the stark, artistically styled photographs on the site emphasize the superhero qualities of the altruistic individuals being portrayed. Since its initial launch, however, the site has expanded to the point where it now aims to be a “launching pad of something far greater—a living, breathing community that inspires people to become the positive forces for change we all can be,” it explains. “To become more active, more involved, more committed, and perhaps, a little super in the process.” Video interviews with the superheroes profiled are available for viewing on the site along with portraits, profiles and even posters. Part of each hero’s profile are links to the charitable organizations he or she supports and believes in. The Real Life Super Hero Project may not be a typical Springwise topic, but as a lovely illustration of the random-acts-of-kindness theme we’ve been tracking, we couldn’t resist mentioning it. One to check out and be inspired by! (Related: Clothing brand rewards fans for being kind onlineFree umbrellas on rainy days aim to inspire kindnessMore cards promoting random acts of kindnessCards to inspire random acts of kindnessRandom acts of kindness for Hyatt’s most loyal guestsClothing brand asks its wearers to be kind.) Spotted by: Katherine Noyes The design-your-own trend is one we’ve seen brought to countless product categories already, including — on several occasions — dresses. What’s interesting about New York-based Coco Myles is that it brings the concept to bridesmaid dresses, allowing the bride to choose the colour scheme while the bridesmaids design their own styles. Consumers can create a variety of types of dresses at Coco Myles, including those intended for special events such as weddings and proms. All dresses are custom-made to the customer’s specifications and then cut and sewn by hand by a team of professional dressmakers. That’s all well and good, but the company really caught our eye for its special services for brides and bridesmaids. Specifically, brides can use the site’s tailored interface to choose the color and other features of their bridesmaids’ attire while permitting the wearers to choose a style that is right for their own tastes, body type and comfort. Available in sizes 0 through 32 — including maternity designs — Coco Myles’ custom made-to-order dresses take only about five weeks to produce and cost approximately USD 150. A Bridal Fabric Reservation System even lets brides make sure that their bridesmaids’ dresses are all cut from the same bolt, no matter when they get ordered. There’s no doubt letting consumers design their own dresses is a smart move, but targeting the niche of bridesmaids’ dresses is particularly smart. It’s a rare dress indeed that can please every wearer, so putting the bulk of the design decisions in the hands of the bridesmaids themselves is bound to make for happier bridesmaids — and happier brides. (Related: Design your own swim shorts, earn up to $1000Design your own jeans, custom-made for $145.) Spotted by: Murtaza Patel Aimed at amateur cooks who dream of starting their own restaurant, a Dutch site called Tweetjemee helps people sell home-cooked meals and desserts to others who live nearby. After signing up with Tweetjemee, the Buurtchefs (neighbourhood chefs) upload pictures and descriptions of the meals they’re offering for sale. They list when the food will available, their preferred pick-up times and the item’s price. Customers select a meal in their neighbourhood, make payment to Tweetjemee and pick up the food at the agreed time. Payments are transferred to the chefs monthly, minus a 30% listing fee for Tweetjemee. 10% of that cut is donated to The Hunger Project, a global non-profit organization committed to ending world hunger. The notion of selling home-cooked meals seems to be catching on — last year we covered BookofCooks, the US-based online marketplace for home-cooked meals, and earlier this month we wrote about Super Marmite, a French network that enables cooks with too much food to sell their extra servings. While food safety might be a concern, we like the concept of neighbourhood chefs offering busy or kitchen-averse consumers an alternative to professionally prepared meals. And, of course, making some money on the side. (Related: Selling is the new saving.) It’s not uncommon for educators to use student response systems (SRS) to engage their students and assess learning through polls, quizzes and other interactive tools. Most such systems rely on specialized devices known as “clickers,” however, and they’re also typically expensive and difficult to use without training. Enter Top Hat Monocle, a Canadian company that has developed a system in which students can use the portable devices they already have, including cell phones, laptops and iPods. Teachers begin with Top Hat’s monocleCAT by registering for free and then creating an online course in about 60 seconds, the company says. Top Hat’s design team then works with the teacher to create tailored interactive content. An intuitive tool can help create questions, or existing ones can be imported; a free training program, meanwhile, offers advice culled from other professors using the system. Either way, the system can then be used to conduct polls and quizzes, interactive demos and collaborative learning exercises in class via students’ own devices. Students can participate anonymously or for a grade, and their aggregated responses can be graphically represented in real time for all the class to see. Individual grades, on the other hand, can be exported to a spreadsheet at any time. Students register to use monocleCAT at their campus bookstore; pricing ranges from CAD 6 per month to CAD 120 for lifetime access. Just as mobile apps have come to dominate many companies’ interactions with consumers, so it makes perfect sense to see mobile devices put to work in the classroom. An offering similar to Top Hat’s, incidentally, comes from Poll Everywhere. Either way, the potential is exciting not just for teachers but also for speakers and event organizers. One to help localize and bring to your neck of the global auditorium..? This is the fourth in a series of posts on traceability. Written by Springwise, and supported by IBM. Check out our previous posts on milk tracking by a Swedish dairy, a registration service for product recalls and supermarkets offering increased food traceability, or read more about building a smarter planet. _________ While traceability often deals with consumer-centric issues like toy recalls and contaminated peanut butter, a new product tracking app aims to protect not consumers, but manufacturers. Specifically, the children and adults who make the products we buy. Launched in time for the holiday shopping season, Free2Work‘s iPhone app hopes to educate consumers about forced and child labour. It gives ratings for products like Hasbro’s Beyblades, Pillow Pets, Apple’s iPad and other popular items. Manufacturers are assigned grades based on their policies, implementation, employee empowerment, response to child labor and transparency. Free2Work was developed by the Not for Sale Campaign and the International Rights Forum. Bama Athreya, Executive Director of the International Labor Rights Forum, explains: “A broad range of certification programs exist that claim to protect worker rights. The volume and variety of these systems and product labels can be confusing to consumers. Free2Work helps to reduce the confusion and demonstrate to consumers how each program differs.” The app’s current list of brands and products is limited, and a barcode scanner for easy access to information would be more user-friendly. And, since each company’s rating can only be based on publicly available information, the scorecards might not be accurate. Still, it’s a first step to increased transparency about child and forced labour, helping consumers make informed shopping decisions that could pressure brands into ensuring that their factories and those of their suppliers are entirely free of forced labour. Spotted by: Katherine Noyes We’ve seen numerous efforts to reduce the energy used and urban congestion created by the small-package delivery industry, including both neighbourhood pickup spots and a ride-sharing program for packages. Combining a little bit of both ideas, bring.BUDDY is a program that will soon be tested out by DHL to recruit city dwellers to deliver packages along urban routes they’d be taking anyway. Created last year for DHL by a team of students at the HPI School of Design Thinking at Germany’s University of Potsdam, bring.BUDDY taps all the consumers moving through a city each day, whether via bike, public transport or on foot. Interested participants indicate their travel route for the day using a downloadable smartphone app; a text message then lets them know of any packages needing delivery along the way. When there is such a package, the participant picks it up from the local kiosk where it’s waiting and delivers it as they go about their daily business. In exchange for their help, the program rewards them with points that can be redeemed for free train tickets, merchandise coupons or CO2 credits. A .pdf brochure and a video on YouTube both explain bring.BUDDY in more detail. As part of an effort to reduce its own carbon emissions, DHL will reportedly begin a pilot test based on bring.BUDDY and its network of DHL Packstation kiosks later this year. As with any service like this, of course, trust issues will have to be overcome. Nevertheless, the project’s potential to make dedicated delivery vehicles superfluous, at least in urban areas, is nothing if not compelling, with benefits including less congestion, lower delivery costs and reduced emissions. One to watch, try out or get involved in…? Spotted by: Doug Caldwell