Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Animal lovers don’t like to go anywhere without their dogs and cats, but public venues aren’t so keen on filling their space with pets — aside from the occasional pet-friendly hotels we’ve seen in the past. Opening this weekend in London, Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium is not only open to cat-lovers, but even has its own resident felines to entertain guests.

Located in the borough of Tower Hamlets, the café offers a typical menu of tea, coffee and cakes — as well as its own merchandise range — but also has its own roster of 11 cats-in-residence sourced from rescue homes across London, which customers can play with in the designated cat room. Visitors pay a GBP 5 cover charge and will need to wash their hands before and after entering the room, but while they’re in there they can stroke the cats until their heart’s content. The design of the tearoom is friendly to cats, with plenty of features for climbing and scratching. There’s also a cats-only garden where the pets can go if they’ve had enough of human attention. When the cafe’s closed, passersby will still be able to check in on the animals through the window, or the site’s live webcam feed. The promo video below introduces the cats along with some funky music:

The cat café craze is already a hit in Japan, but it seems the idea could be a viable one in other locations around the world. Due to high demand, currently customers need to arrange a reservation in advance if they’re planning to visit, and the tearoom is already fully booked until 17 March, with priority given to those who backed the tearoom’s Indiegogo funding campaign last year. With London also set to get it’s own dog-themed café — House of Hounds — later in the year, are there other venues that could benefit from a pet-friendly attitude?

While organic, fresh, gourmet superfood salads straight from a vending machine are making healthy meals a cinch, let’s face it — sometimes all you want is a burrito. Burritobox is a new vending machine that delivers five different types of filled tortillas on demand.

Currently installed in two locations in Beverly Hills, California, the 24/7 machines feature a touchscreen that enables users to order one of five burrito flavors — including interesting combinations such as chorizo sausage with cage-free eggs and cheese and roasted potato with the same accompaniments. Once a selection has been made, users pay USD 3 plus tax by card. The burritos are kept chilled and the machine uses a customized, steam-based cooking system to deliver the wraps hot in around a minute, with sour cream and guacamole included on the side.

While the quality and taste of the food is up for discussion — reviewers at laist.com describe the burritos as “colorless and unappetizing” — the accessibility of a meal previously only available at walk-in restaurants such as Taco Bell and Chipotle could be a pull for customers who find themselves craving in the middle of the night. What other meals could be delivered by automated machines such as this?

When it’s time to redecorate, homeowners typically use tester pots to see exactly what paint will look like on their walls. This can leave a temporary mess in their home while also contributing to waste when the packaging is thrown away. While digital alternatives such as Decolabs have used augmented reality to virtually alter what a space looks like, iPatch is a simple sticker that can be added and removed from any surface without damage.

Created by the UK’s Colour & Paint, the service enables customers can choose the shades they’d like to try on the company’s website. Rather than send them a tester pot, which uses up more paint and often comes in a tin or plastic container, the company simply brushes a flat layer of the paint onto a square card that mimics the texture of plaster. The card is flexible and includes a slightly adhesive back that allows it to be attached to any surface in the home. Redecorators can easily see what the color will look like in various parts of the house without making it permanent, and the tester can even be carried from house to house. The video below explains more about the idea:

iPatch offers a nuisance-free and eco-friendly way to test out new home designs and is currently free to order in the UK. Are there other simple, offline solutions that can do a better job at demonstrating a product than digital alternatives?

Regular readers of Springwise will remember PartTimeLove.co.uk — the service we recently covered that aims to connect those who are too busy to maintain an everyday relationship. Aimed at couples who perhaps don’t have time to organize a romantic evening, Unbox Love now promises to deliver fun dates in a box.

According to its creators, today’s relationships are often a work of compromise, with couples fitting in date nights in between other commitments and all to often falling back on a restaurant dinner or night in with a movie. Unbox Love enables couples to subscribe to a monthly box that gives them the inspiration and tools to create an evening of unorthodox activities. Although the company is currently being secretive about what will be included in its first box, it says that the ideas will “allow couples to learn about each other, experience something new together, and make memories that will last”. Couples can open the box together on the night of the date in order to create some excitement and surprise about what they will be getting up to.

Each box costs USD 50 — potentially cheaper than the average restaurant date — although the service is currently limited to the US. Are there other ways to put the spark back into relationships?

Smartphones come with a number of technologies that enable them to detect the presence of objects that have gone missing, from GPS and Bluetooth, to RFID — which has been used in innovations such as the Bikn locator tag. Other items that currently aren’t enabled with such technology are still prone to evade discovery however, especially when it comes to kids’ stuff at school. From Australia, StrayHat is using QR code name tags to make the return of lost objects easier for parents.

Kids’ school uniforms are already often labeled with name tags so that if they go astray, teachers or fellow pupils can return them. StrayHat aims to make this process a lot smoother. Parents first order tags from the StrayHat site at a cost of AUD 20 for 60 tags, with each label featuring a QR code. When items get lost at school, smartphone owners can simply scan the code using the app, available for free from the App Store. The app instantly sends a private message to parents or owners that details the item that’s been found and a map pinpoint of the location of its discovery. An arrangement to return the item can then be made.

Although StrayHat doesn’t guarantee that all lost items will be found, it ensures that discovered items have a greater chance of being returned. The labels are also small enough to be attached to almost any object — from clothes to lunchboxes and even jewelry. Are there other ways to track personal items with minimal investment?

Web URLs can be a mess of letters and numbers, which often prompts businesses to use shortening services such as Bitly to make them more presentable — or tweetable. However, a new project believes that the abridged nature of online communication is killing people’s desire to read. Turning URL shortening on its head, URLITERATURE is a service that lengthens any web address with text from popular books.

Created by Russia-based booksellers RESPUBLICA*, users simply enter the URL they want lengthening at the project’s website. They can then choose between titles ranging from classics such as The Complete Sherlock Holmes and The Count of Monte Cristo to more recent releases like Nick Hornby’s 31 Songs. The address is then turned into a synopsis of the book for people to read before they click on it. After they’ve clicked, the website is loaded with a banner at the top that offers more details about the book and a chance to buy it from RESPUBLICA*. Here is a link to this article rendered through URLITERATURE:

www.urliteratu.re/In-1960-Jack-Kerouac-was-near-breaking-point-Driven-mad-by-constant-press-attention-in-the-wake-of-the-publication-of-On-the-Road-he-needed-to-get-away-to-solitude-again-or-die-so-he-withdrew-to-a-cabin-in-Big-Sur-on-the-Californian-coast-The-resulting-novel-in-which-his-autobiographical-hero-Jack-Duluoz-wrestles-with-doubt-alcohol-dependency-and-his-urge-towards-self-destruction-is-one-of-Kerouac-s-most-personal-and-searingly-honest-works-Ending-with-the-poem-Sea-Sounds-of-the-Pacific-Ocean-at-Big-Sur-it-shows-a-man-coming-down-from-his-hedonistic-youth-and-trying-to-come-to-terms-with-fame-the-world-and-himself-/2587

The video below also offers some more information about the idea behind the project:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N28z-vKd1js

While the generated URLs aren’t exactly the most readable pieces of text, they serve as an attention grabber that could direct recipients to a book they might be interested in, which is the most effective part of the scheme’s effort to boost reading. How else can URLs be customized to help other worthy causes?

Food trucks are a common sight in Boston, Massachusetts. Whether its The Taco Truck at Harvard Square, or Roxy’s Grilled Cheese wagon at the Boston Public Library on a Friday, the concept of meals on wheels is a popular one. So much so, in fact, that the local government decided in December 2012 to launch its own version — a mobile City Hall that travels to every neighborhood, offering up a menu of civic services.

At that point, City Hall To Go was essentially a prototype service, initially developed as part of the Bloomberg Mayor’s Challenge. Although it wasn’t a finalist, the City of Boston ended up using the idea anyway. Now, under the lead of Director Danielle Valle Fitzgerald, it offers 44 different services on board, with consistent usage by constituents.

The primary aim of City Hall To Go is accessibility for citizens. The real Boston City Hall — an imposing piece of 1960s brutalist architecture designed by Kallmann McKinnell & Knowles — is located downtown, in one of the northernmost parts of the City’s jurisdiction. That means that those in southern neighborhoods like Hyde Park or West Roxbury can face up to a 2 hour round trip to carry out tasks they can’t complete online. The project makes things easier by bringing the City Hall to every resident’s neighborhood at some point in the year, a schedule they can keep up to date with on social media. The scheme’s Twitter account is particularly active, even getting followers to vote on where the truck should head next. In the past 12 months, it has succeeded in visiting every neighborhood in Boston’s 50 square miles.

The City isn’t hoping to cut back on other services by distracting residents with a flashy red and blue truck either. Fitzgerald says: “You can still call the Mayor’s Hotline, use our Citizen’s Connect Application from your cell phone, or contact a Neighborhood Services representative, but now there is a truck in your neighborhood where you can submit paperwork or file a complaint before getting into your car.”

While you might expect the project to come with a unique headache of paperwork, cramped office space and citizens constantly requesting the truck come to their part of the city, the biggest setback has actually been maintenance of the truck — a repurposed Bomb Squad vehicle from 1985. City Hall To Go has its own team of auto mechanics that keep the truck roadworthy, getting it back up and running when something like the radiator cops out (like it did in December last year). Additionally, if on-board technology such as the copier breaks down, many services can’t be provided. “With the help of our auto mechanic and technological teams, we are able to fix these problems and get back on the road as quickly as possible – but we have definitely learned the importance of redundancies and the ability to think quickly and creatively,” Fitzgerald says.

Visitors to the truck will find a ‘menu’ of services they can take advantage of, from settling a parking fine and applying for a dog licence to picking up some recycling bin stickers and registering to vote. Throughout 2014, the team hopes to add the provision of moving permits and sorting out business paperwork to its roster, as well as building a regular email newsletter to keep citizens even better informed about the trucks whereabouts. At the same time, the project also hopes to visit even more of Boston’s residents: “Our long-term goal is to have the demand to scale the program so that we can reach even more neighborhoods each week.”

The service has also been a learning curve for the team. Rather than deal with citizens over the phone, the truck enables representatives to truly get out into the community and interact with the people that make up Boston in a more personable way. “Each neighborhood has varying priorities and concerns, and it has been amazing to learn so much from our constituents and be able to develop our program with that information,” Fitzgerald says. They’ve been tempted — like many startups and fledgling businesses — to take up the more exciting opportunities involved in trialling an innovative service, but by listening to its users have instead focused on creating a regular schedule that isn’t interrupted by PR events or the seasonal calendar. “The fact that residents know when to expect us in the neighborhood is really paying off.”

City Hall To Go has been a success for both Boston City Council and the residents that use it. “Every day we are making government services more accessible to constituents. For example the average constituent who needs to register to vote takes almost an hour out of their day to commute to City Hall, find a place to park, wait in line, and then commute back to their neighborhood,” Fitzgerald explains.

“Today, he or she can submit paperwork from the City Hall To Go Truck in their neighborhood. With this service, we’re giving time back to constituents.”

You can read more about City Hall To Go here, or visit the City Hall To Go website at www.cityofboston.gov/cityhalltogo.

Bottle caps typically serve a humble purpose and aren’t really thought of as the most practical invention ever — instead, they contribute to more than USD 1 billion worth of plastic waste that ends up in US landfills each year, rather than being recycled. While in the past we have seen initiatives turn them into mini indoor gardens, a new scheme called Clever Caps has redesigned them to give them extra use as Lego-style bricks after they’ve finished their life as a bottle cap.

Created by Brazil-based innovative packaging developer Clever Pack, the caps are designed initially as standard PCO 1881 finish bottle tops that provide a secure seal for beverages. However, once they’ve served their purpose as a bottle cap, the ridges on top and underneath mean that each one can be clipped onto another. They don’t need to be thrown away, or even recycled — the Clever Caps can be saved each time a bottle is finished and used to create a collection of building blocks, either as a children’s toy or as a tool for innovators to design with. The caps even work with existing brands such as Lego, offering even more possibilities for creation when they’re combined with different shapes. All of this is achieved without significantly adding to the material used to create the initial bottle cap. The video below explains more about the project:

Clever Caps offer an environmentally friendly solution to the production of bottle caps while also adding value to the objects to encourage consumers to re-use them. Are there other ways packaging can be redesigned to be used after it’s served its initial purpose?

We’ve already seen how smartphones can be leveraged to aid global causes such as cancer research with Samsung’s Power Sleep app. Now UNICEF is challenging smartphone users to make a difference by ignoring their devices through the Tap Project app, which helps provide a day’s worth of clean water to children in need for every ten minutes users refrain from touching their phone.

Developed by creative agency Droga5, the app requires smartphone owners to navigate to the Tap Project minisite in order to take part. After tapping the Begin button, the site then uses the device’s accelerometer to detect if the phone is being left untouched. For each ten minutes users can spare checking their Facebook, the charity says that Giorgio Armani, which is sponsoring the project, will donate cash to help provide one day’s worth of clean water in areas where it’s a luxury. The idea is to get users to give up something fairly inconsequential for a short period of time to make a big difference to someone’s life elsewhere in the world.

Are there other ways to disrupt the way consumers use their smartphones to get them to think about or even participate in social causes?

Web analytics tools are great for website owners who need to know how many visitors they’re getting, where they’re coming from and what content they’re engaging with. However, it’s typically left up to them to figure out the hard part — working out how to optimize content to give readers what they want. Echobox is a new app for content creators that actually gives them actionable tasks to help their writing go viral.

Aimed primarily at news publishers, the app eschews the bare facts, figures and graphs offered up by other analytics service. Rather, it uses algorithms and machine learning to give users plain English recommendations for tailoring both their site and writing to make it more suited to the way audiences already engage with it. The important numbers are instead encoded within these task suggestions. For example, the app may tell site owners that 75 percent of people stopped reading a particular post because it was too long, and that they should try cutting it down to a similar length to their most popular posts. It also offers advice on the optimal times to share certain posts on social networks to boost the number of eyes on their work.

By giving publishers actual tasks to help them improve their site for readers, Echobox not only gives website owners data but also crunches it for them too. The service is currently in private beta, but is already being used by a major new publisher, according to TechCrunch.Are there other data services that could be automatically processed to offer a more human-friendly interface?