Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

While apps such as Waze have harnessed the crowds to provide quicker routes for drivers, Mapkin is a new platform that lets friends send each other personalized directions, with custom instructions and voice recordings. Once users have created a route from one point to another, they can begin to add elements along the way. Choosing from a list of popular stop-off points or creating their own, they can include points of interest such as restaurants, gas stations and parking spaces. Mapkin enables users to also add their own comments along the way – directing friends to avoid a particular junction or simply making instructions clearer or more fun. To replace the limited selection available with standard GPS navigation devices, directions can be complemented with users’ own voice recordings. Maps can then be saved and shared with friends over email, SMS or social networks. Waze can help drivers get from A to Z with ease thanks to help from expert mappers, but – similarly to the automated Roadtrippers platform – Mapkin is more about finding parts of a route that others may not necessarily know about, making sharing directions fun. Could these two strands of community-based direction-giving be integrated? Spotted by: Leo von Wendorff Hot on the heels of our recent coverage of the MJ v1.0, a jacket that enables wearers to make music solely by gesturing, we’ve come across another example of wearable tech. Netherlands-based design group Studio Roosegaarde is set to expand its Intimacy 2.0 range of smart clothing to include a men’s business suit which turns transparent when the wearer is being untruthful. The group has already released its range of womenswear that turns transparent based on electronic signals it receives. The clothes used ‘smart e-foils’ that are naturally transparent but turn cloudy when light from LEDs are refracted through them. The dresses were connected to sensors that could detect the heart rate – when their bpm hit a certain point, the LEDs were turned off and the material became transparent. Now the studio hopes to apply similar technology to create a business suit for men that monitors their vitals to discern whether they are lying. Although essentially a high-fashion concept that professionals are not likely to ever willingly wear, the idea does recognize the recent call by consumers for business transparency and corporate social responsibility. Are there other ways wearable technology could more positively help us reveal aspects of our personalities? We’ve seen numerous mobile apps designed to improve drivers’ safety on the road, but Automatic takes what may well be the most comprehensive approach to date. With the help of a small device that plugs into the car, the Automatic app monitors that car’s health, makes money-saving driving tips, remembers where the car is parked and more. Users begin by plugging the Automatic Link device into their car’s data port; it supports every gasoline-engine car made since 1996, its San Francisco-based maker says. Once that’s done, the car and smartphone will automatically connect wirelessly whenever the user takes a trip. Among the services Automatic provides along the way are driving suggestions for better fuel efficiency, trip timelines including miles per gallon, and automatic crash detection as well as sending alerts to 911 and loved ones. Also available are engine-health monitoring and parking reminders. Pricing is USD 69.95. The video below explains the premise in more detail: Both the Automatic Link device and the accompanying app for iPhone 4S and 5 will be available to US consumers in July. For Android users, an app will be released this fall. Automotive entrepreneurs in other parts of the world: one to get involved in? Spotted by: Tracy Chong Smartphones and the information stored on them have become almost integral to our business and social lives, and we’ve already seen some companies offer mobile backup services for those whose handsets have been lost or stolen. But what if you’ve just left it at home and really need to get in touch with a contact whose number is stored on that very phone? A new app from Telefónica – TU Go – is enabling smartphone customers to use other handsets, tablets or computers to place and receive calls using their phone’s number. Developed for customers of O2, the UK subsidiary of Telefónica, the idea behind the app is that those who don’t have their phone on them can download the information to another device and log in using their existing phone number. They can then access a dashboard containing all of their contacts, call and message histories and voicemails. TU Go can also be used to initiate new calls or text messages to any number, regardless of whether they also have the app. The data is sent over a wifi or GSM connection, although they appear as a standard call or text on the customer’s bill – and are charged as such. Users can log in with their phone number on up to five devices. The app is currently available at no cost for pay monthly customers using a device with iOS, Android or Windows 7 platforms. The company plans to release the app for those on other tariffs in the near future. Phones have become much more than just calling devices since the advent of the smartphone, and now it seems we don’t even need the physical handset itself to make a call from it. TU Go could be useful for anyone who has left their phone at home, or let it run out of battery, but could also prove to be beneficial to those who need to contact relatives in emergency situations. Telecoms businesses – one to replicate in your part of the world? Spotted by: Murtaza Patel As the number of devices at our disposal continues to increase, authentication and security become more important than ever. Hard on the heels of our recent story about Passboard system’s mix-and-match approach, BodyCom is a new technology from Arizona-based Microchip that uses the human body as a secure communication channel. Launched at the Embedded World conference in Germany earlier this year, BodyCom provides embedded security that’s activated by capacitively coupling to the human body. Specifically, the system communicates bi-directionally between a centralized controller and one or more wireless mobile fobs, using the human body as the transmission medium. So, a gun could only be used by the person with the right key fob, for example, or a pet door could be secured so only the right pet can open it. Neither RF antenna nor wireless transceiver are required by the system, which also offers low power consumption. Other potential applications include security systems, patient monitoring, and gaming profile management. The video below explains the technology in more detail: It costs USD 3 to USD 4 to add BodyCom technology to a device, according to an MIT Technology Review report. Security-minded entrepreneurs: one to get involved in? Spotted by: Murray Orange Educational children’s games have delved into territories such as environmental responsibility before – regular readers may remember our coverage of Play Rethink, for example. Treading the line between entertainment and education can be a tough act to pull off, however. MELTDOWN – a new board game from Germany – innovatively incorporates real ice to demonstrate the plight of polar bears whose habitat is being affected by global warming. Developed by communications agency Kolle Rebbe for the German children’s science magazine GEOlino, the game requires players to first fill a mould with water and place it in the freezer. When ready, the mould can be tipped out onto the sponge playing board to provide the stepping stones that help a polar bear family get to safety at the center of the board. As the game goes on the ice melts, absorbed by the sponge – highlighting the threat that real polar bears face due to greenhouse gases causing rising temperatures in the Arctic. The video below shows the game in action: Rather than relying on familiar board game tropes, the creators of MELTDOWN devised their own way to visualize and bring to life an important environmental issue. Are there other ways kids – or adults – can be encouraged to engage with important issues through fun activities? Spotted by: Raymond Neo Travelers heading outdoors usually have to decide which home comforts they’ll have to leave behind. However, we have seen a few innovations that conveniently combine products, such as the Springtime picnic basket that can transform into a set of tables and chairs. Our latest spotting is the Speaker Blanket, a mat that keeps picnickers off the mud while providing music to complement their outing. Designed by UK gifts company Spinning Hat, the blanket comes with an integrated stereo speaker system and 3.5mm jack, enabling users to plug in their portable music player or smartphone. When they’re finished with the mat, it can be simply rolled up with the speakers attached and comes with a handle for carrying ease. The Speaker Blanket retails at GBP 34.99 and is available for pre-order on the Spinning Hat website. The Speaker Blanket is an example of combining two items that naturally go together – especially for keen festivalgoers wanting to enjoy music outdoors in the summer weather. What other products could do with being merged for greater comfort and convenience? Spotted by: Smith Alan The Object Recognition Scanner has already hinted at a world without the need for physical barcodes. Now Mobeam has reformatted barcodes for the digital sphere so they can be read from phones by existing point-of-sale laser scanners. Due to the way traditional scanners work, a simple image of a barcode on a smartphone can’t be read, leading to the rise of mobile-enabled scanning technologies such as NFC and QR codes. Mobeam converts any physical code designed to be read by lasers – such as barcodes, loyalty cards, train tickets or lottery receipts – into a pulsing light that isn’t visible with the human eye, but can be detected by traditional checkout or handheld scanners. The result is that – rather than remembering to put that discount coupon in their wallet or print off an event ticket before they get to the venue – consumers can simply receive codes straight to their phone, while businesses don’t need to change the way they keep track of stock. For all the potential of QR and NFC, Mobeam has cleverly spotted the potential of an alternative for vendors who aren’t prepared or don’t have the money to replace their hardware. Given the ongoing ubiquity of laser scanners in supermarkets, this is a large market. As evidence of this, the company has already struck a deal with Samsung to include the technology in its Galaxy S4 smartphone as standard. Could this be the future of mobile commerce? Spotted by: Murray Orange San Francisco’s BetterDoctor platform has already been helping patients find the best health professionals to see them at late notice. Now India-based is offering a service that matches those in need of surgery with customized care packages based on their medical records. Aimed at those who have been advised to undergo medical procedures by their doctors or GPs, but want to ensure they get the cheapest deal or the best surgeons, Medeel first invites patients to detail their treatment needs and upload their medical records using its secure submission process. Medeel then shares this information with local hospitals that offer the required surgery. After around two or three days, customers receive customized healthcare plans from those hospitals, enabling them to choose the one which is the most suitable for their situation. Users can accept a deal through the Medeel site and are offered contact details to arrange the surgery once the process is completed. While Medeel could help Indians cut the cost of necessary surgery, it can also be used to find doctors who cater to their specific needs, ensuring they get the treatment that is right for them. Could this work in other parts of the world? Spotted by: Murtaza Patel We’ve seen a couple of efforts to introduce quick and easy banking services in developing nations. Now addressing the topic of credit-worthiness, Cignifi aims to help banks meet the needs of the 2.7 billion such people worldwide by offering credit and marketing scores for consumers using just mobile phone behavior data. Developed with the help of behavioral mathematicians to assess credit risk using as little as four weeks calling history, Cignifi’s new platform offers what it claims is the first to deliver credit and marketing scores for consumers without credit histories using mobile phone behavior data. Specifically, the Massachusetts-based company’s patent-pending analytics platform uses mathematical behavior models to turn billions of raw mobile phone calls, messages, and payments into various consumer scores, including risk scores rating the likelihood of default or delinquency and response scores rating the likelihood that a consumer will use a particular financial product. Scores are created “from a combination of behavioral and time-related attributes, but do not rely on any location data or content information from voice calls or texts,” notes Cignifi, which stresses that mobile users’ privacy remains protected as data is not linked to specific individuals unless they request a quote. There’s a big world of financially underserved consumers out there; all that’s been missing is a way to assess and then serve them accordingly. Financial-minded entrepreneurs: Time to get involved? Spotted by: Paulo Almeida