Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Anyone who has ever been to a music gig in recent years will know how commonplace it has become for fans to record their experience with smartphones. Inspired by this, Crowdsync is now aiming to make these clips useful by matching multiple videos taken at the same time and location, and enabling viewers to use the footage to direct their own version. Those who have shot footage at any event can upload their clip to Crowdsync, which automatically searches its database to find video with matching geotags and timestamps. It then syncs the videos and allows users to view up to four synchronized angles at the same time. Swiping the screen loads a new camera angle in real-time and a timeline feature enables more intricate editing of the footage. In the future, the team hopes to add the facility to record any edited film. A demonstration of the app – which is available for free on the App Store – is offered in the video below: CrowdSync will be one of the startups at the Texas-based SXSW Music Accelerator in March, where concertgoers will be able to test out the app for themselves. Interactivity is increasingly an essential part of the entertainment industry, and we’ve already seen ideas such as Him, Her and Them, the film that Facebook users could edit themselves to change the story. How else can viewers be offered a more hands-on role in the creation of the content they consume? Spotted by: Murray Orange Much the way Little Pnuts sends young kids battery-free toys by monthly subscription, so the Little Book Club does something similar with books. Specifically, the California-based service sends kids three brand new books each month, including a combination of classics, bestsellers, and educational books tailored to the child’s current age and reading level. Targeting children up to age 6, the Little Book Club curates its monthly selections to suit the subscriber, ranging from image-heavy, brightly colored board books for very young kids all the way up to books designed to help older kids develop their reading skills. Each month there’s a different theme associated with the shipment – dinosaurs or colors, for example – and as the child’s reading and comprehension skills improve, the books they receive become more advanced. Once their child has outgrown a particular book, parents have the option of returning it to the Little Book Club for donation to foster children using a pre-paid, pre-addressed envelope. Pricing on the company’s monthly subscription service is USD 24.95 per month including shipping. Currently, the Little Book Club ships only within the United States, but service to Canada, the UK and Australia is coming soon. Education-minded entrepreneurs: one to partner with or emulate in your area? We’ve already seen the The New York Times offer media startups office space and advice. Now the Boston Globe is leasing out its empty office space to local businesses and art projects. Due to the economic downturn and shifts in the media industry, the long-standing daily has shed staff in recent years, leaving part of its second-floor office space uninhabited. According to reports, the paper is now inviting residents from the city – including tech startups and local bands – to make use of the facilities. The company’s Internet station RadioBDC operates from the building, as well as a majority of the newspaper’s writing staff, and the Globe is hoping to spark networking opportunities as well as creating awareness of local talent. The newspaper does not generally charge rent and instead seeks ways in which it can benefit from partnerships. The idea is helping the newspaper forge greater links with the community it serves, as well as making use of otherwise wasted real estate. As the publishing industry struggles, are there other private spaces that could benefit from being opened up for public use? Spotted by: Hemanth Chandrasekar It can feel like a risky business to have an item shipped across the world – senders and receivers must take it on faith that their packages will arrive safely. To try and provide some peace of mind, Cambridge Consultants developed DropTag. Consisting of a small sensor and an accompanying app, DropTag monitors a package’s condition en route and alerts users if it has been dropped, shaken or otherwise mishandled. “The explosion in internet shopping has led to a huge increase in the number of parcel deliveries,” explains Tom Lawrie-Fussey, Cambrdge Consultants’ business development manager. “But we’re probably all guilty of signing for a delivery on our doorstep without taking the time to unpack the items to check that the contents are in good condition.” DropTag is a simple, low-cost sensor that can be attached to the box and connects via Bluetooth Low Energy to the user’s smartphone, making it immediately clear if the parcel has been mistreated. With a maximum range of about 50m indoors, DropTag can be remotely interrogated at any stage of the delivery process. Therefore, as a parcel is moved around a warehouse or carried in the back of a van, users can remotely and automatically check the package at each stage of its journey. A plot mode, meanwhile, offers more detailed analysis. The video below explains the premise in more detail: Cambridge Consultants is now developing the DropTag sensor platform further, but it calculates that the device could run for weeks using just a single coin-cell battery. The product’s bill of materials, meanwhile, will be less than USD 2, it estimates. Logistics entrepreneurs around the globe: One to get involved in? Spotted by: Katharina Kieck We’ve already written about Watch2Pay‘s wearable payment device, and there are rumors currently suggesting that Apple is potentially developing its own smart watch. South Korea-based Moneual, meanwhile, has created the SCS1000 wristwatch, which could help those who are hard of hearing become more aware of their surroundings by providing alerts. Showcased at the 2013 CES recently, the Smart Care System device is able to identify different noises being made in the vicinity of the wearer. When it detects a sound that needs to be responded to – whether a car horn, doorbell, oven timer or crying baby – the watch vibrates and displays a message on the screen. The device could help make the lives of the deaf easier, while also helping them remain safe in potentially dangerous situations. Indeed, it also features an emergency function, which sends out a request to relevant services. The video below from DeafTechNews (presented in sign language) shows the SCS1000 in action: The company has built a prototype that runs on the Android 4 operating system, although no information about when it will be available or how much it will cost has been released. How else can wearable technology play a part in daily life? Spotted by: Raymond Neo Regular Springwise readers may wonder why Robohand isn’t ringing any bells. This is because the project was originally known as Coming Up Short Handed, before adopting their catchier new mantle. The two founders, Richard Van As and Ivan Owens, came together to form the project because they wanted to build inexpensive prosthetics to offer an alternative to the expensive models available on the market. Back when we first covered it, the project was in its early stages and the two men had only built a prosthetic prototype. Since this starting point they have made considerable progress, despite the fact that their team consists of just the two of them, as Ivan attests: ‘We started with no employees, just a project involving two guys. We are still just the same two fellows doing work with the support of our families.’ The idea for Robohand came to Richard when he lost four fingers in a wood-working accident. He looked into the cost of a prosthetic, but all the models on the market were far too expensive. Instead of saddling himself with the loss of four fingers, he decided to create his own mechanical replacement. At the same time, Ivan was building mechanical hands for use as props and Richard saw a video of his working process on YouTube. He got in touch with Ivan and the two eventually decided to pool their skills to help those who were unable to afford costly prosthetics. The two founders have had to become very good at remote working, as Ivan is based in Washington State, US and Richard in Johannesburg, South Africa. As Ivan puts it: ‘What drove us crazy when getting our project going was the challenge of being separated by 10,000 miles and having to develop ways to work together on designs despite the distance and inability to meet up in person.’ In fact, they have only spent four days working together in person. They are constantly in touch over Skype and email to keep track of each other’s progress. This is crucial as they both work on one prosthetic together so must ensure that the project makes sense as a whole. Since the beginning of this year two children have benefitted from their prosthetics – Liam and Eden. 5-year-old Liam was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome which left him without any fingers on his right hand. After visiting Richard at his workshop in South Africa he came away with a basic prosthetic that allowed him to grasp a pen and write with it. They also discovered during the process that Liam is right-handed as he was writing his letters in reverse with his left hand. Since his visit Richard and Ivan have built him a full working prosthetic, complete with fingers, and Liam is now able to pick up small and fiddly objects such as coins. Eden has recently been fitted with her new prosthetic in her requested color, pink, and is now able to pick up and throw a ball. It is achievements such as this that keep the two founders inspired: ‘We are motivated by the needs of individuals who could benefit from increased functionality with their hands and fingers… but who lack the resources to acquire a device.’ In January the Robohand founders made their design for Liam’s prosthetic freely available on the Thingiverse site, ensuring that their quest for open and affordable prosthetics could spread a little further afield. So far all their finances have been collected through crowdfunding, with a small amount coming out of their own pockets. This does limit their scope slightly, as the cost of machinery and materials mounts up. The hope is that as more people see their good work they will receive more donations. Although their funds are small, this hasn’t restricted their ambition for the project: ‘We are very happy with the way things have gone. Within five years we hope to have an established non-profit organization operating in both the US and South Africa and will have an increased outreach with our devices.’ They are planning to apply for tax exemption as a non-profit organization so that their funds can stretch further. ‘We will be applying for 501c3 status in the US and then, as time goes, partnering with people to teach others how to produce these systems so that, hopefully, access to these systems can be increased.’ The two founders have a strong vision for their project, and are willing to put financial success to one side in order to undertake work they are passionate about. ‘We believe that the best model for companies of the future is to find a way to do good work in the world while supporting one’s family. If you seek this path, it will be rewarding in more ways than just monetarily. It doesn’t bring in a six figure salary, but one can always look themselves in the mirror and believe that what they are doing is worthwhile.’ Ivan expands: ‘We do not sell anything, so financial results aren’t in the picture. As far as tangible results, however, there are now 4 people out there in the world who have a mechanical finger replacement who would have otherwise had nothing… and they all received them at no charge from our project. Things are expanding rapidly, we now have many more people who we have begun creating systems for.’ They are currently working on a prosthetic for four-year-old John. This project will provide a new challenge for the founders as John won’t be visiting either of their workshops, meaning that they only have plaster casts of his hand to work from. As part of the design process they will make use of Makerbot, a 3D printer that Springwise has covered previously, in order to print off test designs which they can then use to develop into a fully functioning prosthetic. It must be immensely rewarding for the two men to see the joy their prosthetics bring to people, and Ivan is emphatic in his faith. ‘Honestly, I cannot imagine myself doing anything else at this point in time.’ Richard’s accident could have resulted in a swift end to his career as a woodworker, however the two men’s perseverance has ensured that this potential tragedy has been transformed into an opportunity for many people to benefit from. You can read more about Robohand here, or visit the Robohand website here. While there are numerous devices designed to help those in the developing world have access to cleaner water – take the Eliodomestico for example – not many can boast the ability to also boost local economies. The University of Virginia’s PureMadi filter is made mostly out of local clay, sawdust and water and can be easily made by workers in the communities that use them. The filter is produced by mixing the three materials and pressing the mix into a mold. When fired in a kiln, the sawdust is burned off leaving miniscule pores to allow water to seep through, but not the impurities often found in natural water sources. A coating containing silver or copper nanoparticles is then applied to disinfect the water that passes through the device, removing disease-causing pathogens. The PureMadi filter is bowl shaped, enabling users to place it on top of another bucket to collect the water. The project has also produced the MadiDrop, a smaller tablet-shaped version of the filter that can help clean untreated water. In addition, the University of Virginia has already established a factory in the Limpopo province of South Africa that is operated by local workers, with aims to create around ten similar ventures in and around the country. The video below explains the project in more detail: Considering that a fair number of products intended to help those in developing countries come from innovators from outside the community, PureMadi aims to also boost the local economy by providing work and income opportunities to the citizens who use the devices. How else can non-profits look to lay the foundations for local enterprises in poorer countries? Spotted by: Murtaza Patel Innovations such as DesignYourDorm have already harnessed computer graphics to simulate potential interior design ideas. Now Decolabs is enabling homeowners to overlay furniture items onto images of their actual rooms, before gaining approval from the community and purchasing the products. Those downloading the free iPad app first take pictures of the room they would like to decorate, then browse the e-catalog for products. Using augmented reality, users can then rotate and place items as they see fit within the space. Decolabs offers markers that can be printed off and placed in the room to enable real-time virtualization. Finished designs can then be uploaded and shared with the Decolabs community, who can offer feedback and suggestions for the space. If users are happy with their selection and approval from like-minded peers, they can go ahead and order the products through the app. Decolabs uses technology to enable homeowners to fairly accurately visualize how their interior design plans will look before making a large investment, while also connecting with others to gain feedback and offer their own. Could this be picked up by mainstream homeware retailers? One of the first things those starting a new food or drink business will want to know is which dishes they should include on their menu and how they should be priced. Food Genius is a platform that lets food and drink vendors quickly put together a dish concept and – by analyzing the ingredients in dishes on over 100,000 menus across the US – see how much the average consumer would pay for it. The first company to complete IDEO’s Startup-in-Residence scheme, Food Genius started with the intention of creating an app to help diners find restaurants serving the meal they wanted to eat by sourcing a large database of individual ingredients found in existing menu options. During its time in the mentoring program, the company eventually realized that this information could be leveraged for a more useful tool. Users now search the database for the basic ingredients in their proposed meal – for example ‘chicken’ and ‘pasta’ – and Food Genius offers up information on which nearby restaurants serve dishes with those ingredients, which other foods are often paired with them and existing popular recipes that include those items. It includes accurate data on the number of menus that include a dish with the search terms and the distribution of additional ingredients in those meals. Users can refine their search, specifying the exact type of pasta they want to use, for example, or discovering which pasta type is most often used with their other ingredients. All of the data is displayed through a visual user interface to make it easier to quickly take in the search results. The video below offers more information on the service: Basic access to Food Genius is priced at USD 2000 a month, with extra features included on more expensive packages. Could this kind of well-designed big data service be useful in other industries? Spotted by: Murtaza Patel We have seen solar energy used in playgrounds before, with the Son-X Octavia adding an electronic game element to children’s swings. Now energy company NRG Solar has broadened this approach by installing photovoltaic panels at a school playground in New Orleans. Located at the Dr Martin Luther King, Jr Charter School for Science and Technology in the Louisiana city, almost 400 panels have been included on a canopy that shelters the playground. The electricity generated is used to make the space more engaging for children, powering fans, water dispensers, garden irrigation systems and illuminated inspirational sayings. Additionally, the renewable energy can be diverted to power one-third of the school’s peak electricity demand if necessary. Seeing as solar power can provide a more interactive environment for children without using unnecessary energy, perhaps all entrepreneurs working on outdoor installations or games should be considering solar power add-ons? Spotted by: Murtaza Patel