Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Engaging and motivating employees to work hard is a challenge for companies large and small, and we’ve seen solutions ranging from a site that tracks morale to a company that uses upgradable lodgings as a way to reward its interns. Recently, however, New Hampshire employee recognition specialist A&R Sawyer came up with something new: My Corner Office, a soon-to-be-launched social network platform that companies can use to engage, motivate and reward their employees. In My Corner Office, every employee and manager has their own “corner office” splash page to display and collect service awards, which recognize their accomplishments on the job. “Think Facebook but with service awards instead of status updates,” A&R Sawyer explains. Other features that can be incorporated in employees’ virtual offices include a bulletin board for news updates; a trophy case for displaying virtual rewards and achievements; a scrap book containing a history of awards, milestones and feedback; and a link library. Perhaps most interesting of all, companies can also add a customized employee recognition store in which employees can spend points earned through the My Corner Office program. Pricing on My Corner Office hasn’t yet been set. In addition to desktop use, however, the platform will also support access via smart tablet kiosks, a mobile web app, and even scratch tickets and reward cards. Metrics and reporting functions will be available for managers. Entrepreneurs and managers around the globe: one to keep an eye on? Hard on the heels of our recent story about Stockholm’s Clarion Hotel, which lets artists pay for a night’s stay with their work, comes word of yet another enterprise accepting barter payments. The spotting this time? None other than a parking lot in Mendoza, Argentina, that enables patrons to pay for their parking with items they no longer need. The scheme – which accepts any second hand items, even old magazines – is being run at three parking lots owned by Ivan Caraganopulos and his family in Mendoza, according to a recent MDZ Online report. Caraganopulos’s decision came in large part as a recognition of the financial strain affecting most consumers in the area, but so far he apparently hasn’t had cause to regret it. In fact, as a result of the overwhelmingly positive response from drivers, it has reportedly turned out to be a profitable one. Tough times call for tough measures, as the old saying goes, but that doesn’t mean the dark clouds of economic hardship can’t have a silver lining. One for inspiration! Spotted by: Miguel After having discovered the Virtual Fridge Lock we got word of yet another offering designed to employ peer pressure with users’ best interests in mind. Rather than dieting, however, the latest spotting focuses on personal relationships. Specifically, Guaraná Antarctica’s Ex-Lover Blocker app aims to give friends the tools they need to help a heartbroken friend get over an ex-lover. Guaraná Antarctica is a popular Brazilian beverage brand, and its new Ex-Lover Blocker app is designed to give lonely hearts the strength they need to resist calling ex lovers. Friends of the lonely heart convince him or her to install Guaraná Antarctica’s app, which was created by DDB Brazil. Within the app, the ex’s phone number can be blocked, and a set of trusted friends can be chosen to prevent further emotional damage. Specifically, in the event the broken-hearted user tries to call his or her ex, the app won’t allow it; at the same time, an alert is sent to the user’s trusted friends, giving them the opportunity to intervene. Meanwhile, the app reportedly also reminds the user of why the relationship didn’t work in the first place. If the user bypasses the app and calls the ex anyway, a notification is posted on Facebook for all his or her friends to see. The video below portrays the premise in action: Peer pressure and shame have been effective deterrents to bad behavior for generations. App-minded entrepreneurs: how could you apply that concept for good in today’s mobile-minded world? Spotted by: Murtaza Patel Reminiscent of the way the Fairmont Royal York hotel installed a three-hive apiary 14 stories up above the streets of Toronto not long ago, so New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel is now raising thousands of honey bees on its own urban rooftop. In fact, roughly a quarter of a million bees now make their home atop the Waldorf-Astoria. Not only does the hotel stand to reap a considerable supply of locally sourced honey in return – an ingredient that will be featured in its restaurant’s menu – but it also aims to help provide pollination to support the city’s recent campaign to plant a million new trees over the next decade. Guests at the hotel can also tour the six rooftop hives, according to a Huffington Post report. The video below explains the project in more detail: As bees continue to face an uncertain future, efforts like these offer the potential of a win-win-win for the bees, the hotels, and the planet. Hospitality providers around the globe: time to get involved in something similar yourself? Spotted by: Murtaza Patel Last year we spotted 15gifts offering individuals struggling to think of ideas for presents a curated selection of recommendations based on their friends’ online profiles. Now Pickie aims to provide personalized product catalogs for the user to browse for themselves, based on the items being discussed by their friends on social media sites. Currently in private beta, Pickie customers first enter details about themselves – such as gender and product interests – before linking their account to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social networks. The site then collates data on what contacts on these network users are talking about and filters it into its recommendation service, thereby aiming to offer a more personal and intuitive guide to shopping. On top of this, articles about shopping and products are also delivered to customers based on the items coming up in their account. Those looking to be a part of Pickie need to request an invite via the site’s Facebook page. The service is based on a similar premise to Vineloop — that users value recommendations far more when they know they are being drawn from trusted sources such as their friends. However, will the startup be able to set itself apart from the multitude of social shopping ventures popping up online? Spotted by: Hemanth Chandrasekar We’ve already seen online platforms being used to organize concerts on a small scale with Belgium’s Slowbizz. Coming out of the Netherlands, Planspot aims to be a more comprehensive way to promote events — combining social media and online marketing planning. Set to be launched in September, the platform enables users to create an event, which can then be easily published on social networks without leaving the Planspot website. Twitter hashtags and events created on Facebook prior to signing up can be imported and synced with the user’s account and statistics – including numbers of attendees and those interacting online. All interaction with the event’s social media pages and announcements are aggregated and presented in one feed on the site. Organizers also gain access to a Press Center, where they can create professional press releases, import a database of contacts and receive suggestions for media partners. Companies looking to sponsor events can sign up as a media partner and set target industries to have suitable events recommended to them. The team behind Planspot are currently working on integrating LinkedIn, Foursquare and the Dutch social media site Hyves. The service will be free to use when it launches, although potential members need to request an invitation. The following video offers a demonstration of the site: Planspot aims to save time and make it more convenient for businesses to manage and promote their events. In what other ways could consolidating the power of social networks be useful? We’ve seen a few startups taking advantage of the open source Arduino circuit boards, using the devices for printing text onto coffee foam or building controller creation kits. In what is probably the most ambitious Arduino project we’ve seen, ArduSat is preparing to launch a small satellite into space that can be programmed by anybody. The brainchild of a team of Masters program students at the International Space University in France, the project will send into space a 10cm x 10cm x 10cm satellite, equipped with 25 sensors – including GPS, accelerometers and spectrometers – three cameras and Arduino circuit boards. Once in position, paying customers can book time using the satellite either with their own custom-built programs for scientific research or just to control its location and take pictures of the earth. Those designing their own programs can upload the code to ArduSat, who will test it on a replica located on the ground before sending it to the satellite. Any data gathered is sent back to the customer via email once their time slot has ended. Currently on Kickstarter, the lowest pledge to gain access to the satellite is USD 150, which enables users to take up to 15 pictures. A USD 300 pledge gives donors the ability to broadcast a personal message from space, while USD 325 and upwards awards pledgers three days or more to run their own experiments. The ArduSat is expected to be up and running by July 2013, having already achieved its funding goal. The ArduSat is the first example of an attempt to make an aspect of space exploration affordable for the average person, although not surprisingly prices are still fairly high. The team explain that large donations could bring the end cost down; investors – one to get involved in?
1. World’s first plastic-free grocery aisle opens in Amsterdam 

Amsterdam has been at the forefront of a number of innovative ideas – the world’s first stock exchange was established in the city in 1602, and in 2016 Amsterdam was the setting for the test of the world’s first driverless passenger bus. Now, British environmental campaign group A Plastic Planet and Dutch supermarket chain Ekoplaza have teamed up to create the world’s first entirely plastic-free supermarket aisle to help shoppers cut down on plastic packaging.

Read more here »

2. AI solution generates yield prediction for commercial greenhouses

With a global food crisis becoming ever more worrying, we have seen innovation help make farming more efficient. Motorleaf has now taken advantage of cutting-edge technology to provide advances in prediction services for commercial greenhouses. With the belief that technology is proving to be key to a sustainable future for agriculture worldwide, using artificial intelligence and machine learning, Motorleaf have been able to help improve the greenhouses’ predictions and reduce financial loss.

Read more here »

3. Norwegian hotel in arctic circle produces more energy than it consumes

A dramatic new hotel under construction in Norway will combine high design and high sustainability. The Svart hotel is a collaboration between the architecture firm Snøhetta, Arctic Adventure of Norway, and construction company Powerhouse. The hotel will open in 2021 and will be entirely sustainable, energy efficient and also produce a surplus amount of energy that will be shared with the grid. It will be located at the foot of the Svartisen glacier in northern Norway, just above the Arctic Circle.

Read more here »

4. Monitoring system protects Brazilian rainforests

With the world’s rainforests in danger, it is unsurprising that innovation has stepped in to try and stall the damage. A non-profit technology startup, Rainforest Connection, wants to save our rainforests and recognises their importance to biodiversity and air quality. They have developed a bio-acoustic monitoring system which uploads rainforest sounds to a platform that can be accessed and shared worldwide. This real-time data helps inform land management, policy changes and resource distribution. By monitoring the sounds of the rainforest, the organisation is also able to pick up on sounds related to poaching.

Read more here »

5. New modular public toilets can recycle water

San Francisco is introducing new public toilets with modular pods that can be used as information kiosks and also recycle water. Created by architectural firm SmithGroupJJR, the AmeniTree toilets will connect to the city sewer, water and electrical lines and the city intends to use them for the next 20 years.  As well as being a point of information for the public, the city intends the kiosks will offset the costs for the new toilets. They will display advertising and messages to the public from city agencies about relevant events, programs and issues.

Read more here »

6. Stronger concrete made using waste vegetable

Concrete manufacture is a major source of pollution. The production of Portland cement, a main ingredient in concrete, is estimated to be responsible for up to 8 percent of the total worldwide emission of carbon dioxide. Now, engineers at Lancaster University, along with industrial partners at Cellucomp Ltd, have come up with another method. They have devised a way to strengthen concrete and make it more environmentally friendly by adding extracts from root vegetables.

Read more here »

7. Town gets its heat from a data centre

A newly designed town in Norway are building a data centre that provides heat to its surrounding buildings. The Lyseparken data centre is the pilot in The Spark project by architecture company Snøhetta and is estimated to be live by 2021. Data centres are traditionally large buildings that are located in remote areas because they occupy a lot of land. However, new designs for smaller data centres are suitable for constructing in urban areas such as cities and towns. As well as enabling faster data transfer, urban data centres are an opportunity to make use of excess heat that these buildings produce.

Read more here »

  8. A biodegradable textile grown from live organism

A team of students at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, led by assistant professor Theanne Schiros, have developed a method to grow textiles using algae. Biodegradable clothing offers an array of environmentally-friendly benefits, from reducing waste in landfills to lowering levels of pollution. Following the success of the project, Theanne Schiros has also launched a biomaterials company with her colleague Asta Skocir, called AlgiKnit. Together, they hope to one day produce clothing made from algae on a commercial scale.

Read more here »

 

9. Eco-friendly natural deodorant offers recyclable refills

Natural deodorant brand Myro has launched its offering that will appeal to the eco-conscious. The recyclable deodorant is made without aluminium, parabens, phthalates or talc that are often found in standard deodorants. Instead, Myro is created using clean ingredients such as barley powder to keep users dry and essential oils that release scent gradually. The deodorant’s case is a refillable pod that is made of 50 percent less plastic than a standard deodorant, with a cap that locks to prevents leaks.

Read more here »

 

10. Cruise ships use fish waste as fuel

An expedition cruise ship is making big strides in protecting marine environments. Hurtigruten Cruises have started a green initiative to use waste fish parts as biofuel to power their cruise ships. The leftovers from fish processing for food, mixed with other organic waste products, can produce a biogas. The gas will then convert into a liquid and function as a fuel source. This fuel can thereby power various Hurtigruten expedition cruises aross their 17-ship strong fleet.

Read more here »

We’ve already seen in-seat food and drink ordering at live sports games via the Yorder app. Now, fans who have spotted empty seats in a better location can upgrade their tickets instantly with Pogoseat. Benefitting both fans and teams alike, the smartphone app seeks to enable customers to move to prime seats left unfilled at games in a quick and convenient way. Fans can see a map of the stadium they are at and the app recommends the empty seats with the best views. Once the desired seat is selected, users enter their payment details and are free to make their way to the new vantage point. Supporters gain a better view of their team and can ensure they can sit next to their friends after the initial ticket purchase. Teams are also able to increase their ticket takings, reduce the number of instances of unauthorized seat swapping and better engage their fans. The app is only available at participating clubs. The video below explains more about the concept behind Pogoseat: Pogoseat is just another in a long line of startups looking to make the most of unused opportunities, with taxi firms and property owners already getting involved. Does your sector have an area of dormant potential ready to be tapped? Spotted by: Hemanth Chandrasekar Online security and privacy is becoming is a rising concern with the increasing amount of information individuals store online and on electronic devices. We recently wrote about a USB key that enables users to delete data remotely, and now Ford has collaborated with ad agency Ogilvy Paris to produce Keyfree Login, a browser extension that signs into websites only when users are at their computer. The French branch of the motor company was inspired by the keyless entry technology already developed for its cars, whereby keyfobs automatically activate the unlocking of the vehicle through RFID tags as the driver approaches it. Those using Keyfree login – which currently takes the form of an extension for Google Chrome – install the application on a computer with Bluetooth connectivity and enter in the login details for sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google. Following this, a cell phone or other portable Bluetooth device is chosen as the activator. If the device is too far away to connect via Bluetooth, all online accounts are inaccessible. Whenever the selected device comes into range – up to 30 feet, depending on signal quality – login details are unlocked. The following video demonstrates the concept further: According to reports, the service was initially made available but then pulled by Ford due to concerns over its lack of encryption of login details, meaning the site is down at the time of writing. The team behind the innovation are now working to improve its security features, as well as adding the ability to log in manually when the chosen device is not present. A spokesperson for Ford France’s Keyfree Login team said: “Our teams are already working toward a new release as quickly as possible and we will keep you informed on its availability.” Keyfree Login aims to keep unauthorized users from breaking into others’ online accounts by offering an alternative to browsers’ saved passwords function. Is this something that will put computer users’ minds at rest, or do the current flaws raise too many concerns about security? Spotted by: Hemanth Chandrasekar