Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

While Egraphs is helping sports fans to connect with their favorite stars in the online sphere – offering both digital autographs and a personalized audio message, our latest spotting GreenRoom is going one step further, by offering facetime with celebrities using video chat technology. GreenRoom has collected a roster of stars and experts for users to interact with – from Jackie Collins and Tom Hanks to health and interior design professionals. Those wanting to arrange a video link with their chosen celebrity simply register their interest and the time they would like to chat. After checking out – prices range from around USD 100 to USD 300 for 15 minutes – users are notified if the celebrity has agreed to the conversation or declined. If successful, customers are connected to their chosen figure via webcam. Chats can be either public or private, as determined by the celebrity or expert. Alternatively, customers can choose to receive a phonecall or have a message recorded for them. GreenRoom offers a unique way for people to gain rare one-on-one access to their idols or experts in their chosen line of enquiry. How else can the social web connect users with people they otherwise may never have encountered? When stranded in the dark with no power most people’s first reaction is to go in search of a flashlight. However, what happens when the device runs out of juice? Often a frantic and frustrating scrabble in the dark for the correct batteries follows, but now with Any Battery Light from Japanese Panasonic, four different battery sizes can be used to keep conditions bright. Panasonic’s BF-BM10 Any Battery Light is compatible with four different standard battery sizes, including AAA, AA, C and D. Up to 86 continuous hours of usage can be obtained from the device, which is due for release in Japan at the end of this month. Pricing on the flashlight, which will be available in both red and white, is expected to be JPY2,000, or USD 22, according to an Engadget report. It’s one thing to upgrade the style with which emergency supplies are packaged, but quite another to upgrade their capabilities as well. Emergency and recreation retailers around the globe: one to get in on? Spotted by Murtaza Patel Breaking down the boundaries between online and offline retail spaces is something that China’s virtual Ulitmate Yihaodian is currently aiming to do. Similarly, UK-based Slingshot is now offering a platform that enables consumers to place items found around the web or in real-world locations into their online shopping accounts. Those browsing the web may sometimes come across a product they want to buy and then navigate to a retailer’s site – perhaps a supermarket where they have an existing account – to purchase the item. However, with Slingshot, shoppers don’t have to leave the page they’re on. Companies taking part in the scheme – which so far includes major UK retailers such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Boots and Superdrug – can team up with brands to place the button either on the brands’ own sites, web banners or Facebook pages. Users already registered with Slingshot can then simply click to add the items to an existing account with a retailer. If they are not, then clicking the button will prompt them to link their existing accounts with Slingshot. Most interestingly, QR codes – which act as real-world versions of the buttons – can also be added to the actual products themselves, making it easier for shoppers to instantly purchase an item online that they have seen on the shop shelf. The following video shows the system in action: While many bricks-and-mortar retailers have benefitted from launching digital versions of their stores, the two have – for the most part – been separate entities for consumers. Could this kind of innovation bridge the gap between in-store and online shopping? Spotted by: Paul Hodges The Bruynzeel My Grip pen may have been designed for kids by kids themselves, but it seems safe to say it lacks at least one feature that most schoolchildren would surely value. Imagine a pen that alerts the user as soon as they’ve made a mistake, and you’ve essentially got the Lernstift, a new innovation from an Austrian startup by the same name. Electronics integrated into the Lernstift enable the device to recognize a wide variety of writing movements and alert the writer by vibrating when a mistake has been made. Specifically, two functions are available on the pen: Calligraphy Mode, which points out flaws of form and legibility, and Orthography Mode, which focuses on detecting spelling and grammatical errors. The company explains: “Lernstift’s subtle, yet unmistakable vibrating alert lets us know instantly and sensorially when a mistake was made. This makes Lernstift a unique and effective educational aid that makes learning a fun thing to do.” The video below (in German) explains the premise in more detail: Future versions of the Lernstift will include a dynamic pressure sensor and a networking module to connect with PCs and other devices, as well as an open platform for app development. Its Salzburg-based maker plans to launch a crowdfunding effort starting in February, it says. Education-minded entrepreneurs the world over: one to get involved in? Spotted by: Vitus Zeller We’ve already seen an electronic soup spoon that measures salt content and beverage test strips that reveal the presence of caffeine, so it stands to reason that a similar innovation could monitor alcohol content as well. Dhairya Dand’s Cheers ice cubes go beyond just measuring, however, by not only keeping track of how much the user has consumed but also by sending a text alert when that person is in trouble. Dand, a graduate student at MIT, was inspired to create his digital ice cubes when he drank too much at a party last fall and woke up in the hospital as a result of an alcohol-induced blackout. In response, he created Cheers, “self-aware glowing ice-cubes that beat to the ambient music,” as he describes them. Equipped with an LED, accelerometer, IR transceivers and a battery, the ice cubes measure not only the drink’s alcohol content, but also how fast and how much the user is drinking. At first the cubes light up green when the user begins drinking; over time they change color to orange and finally red as the user keeps drinking beyond the safety limit. Ultimately, the cubes send a text for help to a designated friend via the user’s smartphone. The video below explains the concept in more detail: Dand is now considering launching an effort on Kickstarter to bring his Cheers invention to market, according to reports. Food and beverage entrepreneurs: one to get involved in? Spotted by: Lily Dixon Connecting patients with doctors virtually is territory that startups such as Hello Health and Carena have already stepped into through video calling. Now InTouch Health is taking that concept back into the hospital with its RP Vita telepresence robot, enabling doctors to monitor and attend to patients in a different part of the building. The robot includes a camera and a screen, allowing two-way interaction between patients and doctors. Controlled through a specially-created iPad app, the robot can be directed to specific points in the hospital. It uses state-of-the-art navigation technology to move around buildings while avoiding those moving around it. Doctors can check up on patients to see how they are doing and provide assistance if necessary. Through InTouch Health’s TeleStroke and TeleICU platorms, patients can also gain access to experts in their field of care, who can guide them through necessary exercises and actions for recovery. The system also allows for conference calls so that multiple medical staff can interact with the patient at the same time. InTouch Health recently won clearance from the Food and Drug Administration to bring the device into hospitals. The RP Vita could make dealing with urgent patient consultations easier for health professionals, potentially saving lives in the process. Are there other industries that could benefit from telepresence devices? Spotted by: Lily Dixon TinyTap, which we first covered in August last year, is a games development app from Israel which allows adults and children to create educational games on an iPad. When we first discovered the company they were at a rudimentary stage where users could add photos and record questions to personalize their games, but not much else. Since then the company has made significant progress. As CEO Yogev Shelly puts it: “TinyTap has gone from the diapers and crawling phase to taking its first steps.” They have now released one of their most popular games, I Love ABC, as a stand-alone cross platform version for all iOS devices, a move which has proven a hit with their customer base: “This was well received and has already been downloaded over 10,000 times in just two weeks!” This success has encouraged further expansion, as Yogev elaborates: “We’re planning on doing the same with many of our other high quality games as well as with games produced by members of our community.” Moving beyond simple personalization of the gaming process, TinyTap has also set up a social marketplace where users can promote their own content and compare their creations with others’ own attempts. By developing this mini social network, the company has ensured that there is a constant conversation going on between users, and this provides a useful mode of feedback for the team. Users will now have their own profile which they can personalize and use to promote their content. Users can also sell their own content, turning TinyTap into an educational retail platform as well as a curation tool. The process of starting a new business has also proven to be a useful learning tool for the founders, where they can find out more about their customer base. “We quickly realised how important it is for TinyTap to have a community. We received a lot of emails from teachers inquiring how to share games with their students, who (since they’re kids) don’t have email access. And so the TinyTap Social Market was born. We built a fun and beautiful community which supports 11 languages and provides a super simple way of sharing and discovering games from around the world. This way a parent, a teacher, or class can now have a profile which students can refer to and use to discover new content on a daily basis.” One aspect of their business model that the founders were particularly passionate about was the interactive approach – rather than simply giving children an iPad with pre-selected content on it they encourage the user to curate and create their own content. This has meant that the company can ensure they are providing material that is relevant and interesting to the user, and gives the user the sense that they have a strong input into shaping the content. This has been particularly popular with teachers who encourage their pupils to use TinyTap to keep them engaged in the learning process.
The founders have also encountered some surprises along the way, mostly in the demographic of their user base They expected to primarily engage parents, who could then encourage their children to create their own games, but conversely it is the children who have embraced the technology most readily. Yogev explains: “We launched with a call for grownups to create content for kids, but it turns out that the users who are the most passionate about TinyTap are kids! And it makes perfect sense when you think about it. Kids love to create and explore. They use TinyTap to build games about anything that interests them such as dinosaurs, the solar system or even celebrities. This proved to be a highly engaging and effective way for a child to learn new things.” The team have a number of plans for how to develop their product, and the future is looking dynamic. “We’re working on releasing a variety of new game creation tools enabling users to develop far more complex games. These tools include shape puzzles, audio tags for free exploration in pictures as well as video pages between interactions. Imagine watching recording a video of your child and then pausing to ask a question. Our new game creation tools will make this and much more possible!” For example, a game creator could record footage of their child going about daily activities, and then pause the video to ask questions of their child who is watching the footage back, based on what they see on the iPad screen. These improvements and expansions have largely been made possible by a successful launch campaign and the media coverage that entailed. “Very shortly after Springwise wrote about us we received a seed investment of $USD 500K from a new Israeli Micro-VC – Inimiti, coincidence? I don’t think so.” Of course, the road hasn’t been entirely smooth for TinyTap, and they have had to sacrifice certain opportunities in order to focus on games development. “Since being featured in Springwise we focused mainly on development. Unfortunately because of this we neglected other important things such as creating more TinyTap Games like the 12 games we already have. It also means that we’ve missed out on great partnership opportunities with amazing kids companies. We wish we could have focused on working closer with schools around the world. But that’s all going to change.” In looking back over the past year’s progress Yogev is philosophical: “Time is your ultimate co-founder as it’s always besides you wherever you go. Sometimes it moves too fast and your progress lags behind. But sometimes as it progresses so too does the project and more people hear about what you’re building daily. You learn more every day and must iterate very fast to make sure the users feel that there is someone there, someone who listens and who’s working on the product to make it all it can be.” With this positive attitude, the TinyTap team clearly have the right approach to see them through developing their business beyond the startup stage. You can read more about TinyTap here, or visit the TinyTap website here. Homeowners can better protect themselves from the risk of fire using platforms such as Prepared.ly, but how can firefighters also improve their safety? One solution is the Kopin Golden-i Wireless Headset, a head-mounted computer that enables firefighters to analyze a situation and make smarter decisions. Much like Google’s forthcoming Project Glass, the Golden-i headsets house a camera, microdisplay, GPS locator, speech recognition and gesture control. This allows users to benefit from computer technology while keeping their hands and concentration free on the task at hand, making it especially suitable to servicemen. Using data such as maps, heat profiles, oxygen levels and heart rate – as well as audio and visual connectivity to colleagues and staff – firefighters can gain a better overall view of the situation, helping to save lives as well as protect themselves. Kopin has also developed headsets tailored for police officers and paramedics, hoping the devices could improve performance in all branches of the emergency services. In which other industries could this technology be beneficial? Spotted by: Murray Orange The Spanish government has already provided a way for the public to gain access to digital book chapters under its National Reading Plan. Now the County of Bexar is looking to shortly unveil BiblioTech – the first entirely digital public library in the US. While other libraries may have enhanced their print collections with new technology, the BilioTech will be an entirely new public space equipped with computers, e-readers and wifi access. Upon launch, the county hopes to have around 10,000 titles available to peruse on its devices. Personnel will still be on hand to help customers with their research and members will be able to take their e-books home with them by checking out e-readers. The authorities currently have plans to locate in the surburban South Side of San Antonio, where it will act as a cheap way for those outside of the city to access library resources. With the web fast becoming the primary way to share information, it seems likely that there will be many ventures such as this in the near future. Could a digital public library work for your part of the world? The Thirsty Bear pub in London has already put tablets to use by enabling customers to order drinks on the devices. Now France-based Livmenu is using the same techonology to help diners see each meal being prepared to get a better idea of what it will look like. One of the problems with trying a new restaurant is that customers are often anxious about ordering unfamiliar dishes. Even when pictures are included on a menu, it can still be hard to judge. The Livmenu system allows diners to peruse a text menu on tablet computers handed out by waiting staff – much like a standard menu – with videos showing the preparation of each item available upon tapping the option. The visual menu enables customers to make better decisions about their meal, therefore potentially improving their experience and leading to increased return visits. Videos are high definition and Livmenu places an emphasis on sleek design, making the system suitable for both mid-range and haute cuisine restaurants. New technologies are helping traditionally text-based communications benefit from more visual and interactive forms. Could this be the future for food and drink venues? Spotted by: Murtaza Patel