Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

In the case of a sudden accident or health problem, a matter of seconds’ difference in the response times of emergency services can be the difference between saving a life and losing one. The irony is that there could even be trained first aiders nearby, but there’s usually no way of letting them know they’re needed. Now two apps — GoodSAM and PulsePoint — both let those with life-saving skills to receive alerts when an emergency happens close by.

The GoodSAM app comes in two versions — the Alerter and Responder. Those facing an emergency can use the Alerter app to instantly send a call for help to any responders in the vicinity, along with their exact location. At the same time, the country’s emergency number is also called. Those who have first aid or medical experience can download the Responder app, which pushes a notification to their device whenever someone needs help. If they’re unavailable, they can choose to reject the request and the Alerter will be notified. If accepted, the app offers a map and directions to the location of the incident and the two parties can communicate through an in-app messaging service.

Watch the video below for a demonstration of how the system works:

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The PulsePoint Respond app works in much the same way, although is mainly focused on sudden cardiac arrests and those who can offer CPR resuscitation. Additionally, anyone in the community can use the app to track emergency activity in their neighborhood. Local authorities can also implement the PulsePoint system across their jurisdictions, with community outreach strategies and project management services included starting from USD 5,000.

Both apps could become a valuable tool to ensure emergency situations get the help they need as quickly as possible, ultimately saving lives. Are there ways that governments could use crowdsourced data such as this to improve their emergency response rates?

One of the most annoying aspects of grocery shopping for consumers is arriving at the store to find the items they wan’t are sold out. There’s typically nothing supermarkets can do about it at the time, but now Shelfie is giving customers rewards for tracking empty shelves, delivering the data to stores to help them avoid stock defecits.

Developed by Cincinnati-based marketing analysts Datacrowd, consumers that download the app can take a ‘shelfie’ — a picture of the empty shelf and accompanying product tag — every time they come across one. They can then send the image along with their GPS location to the Datacrowd team. In return, they’re offered reward points that can be redeemed in store, or used to spend on other participating brands. Datacrowd then alerts supermarkets with data about when, where and which products are out of stock, enabling them to tweak their inventories to reduce the incidence of empty shelves.

Shelfie is free to download from the App Store and Google Play, although it’s currently only available to US consumers. Are there other ways for national and international businesses to tap crowdsourcing techniques to monitor performance at even their most far-flung locations?

While general elections in the UK typically receive a moderate voter turnout — usually above 60 percent — there's still widespread disaffection with politics and voter numbers have been dropping since the 1950s. Young people especially aren't engaged by political activity in their region and learning about it isn't mandatory in schools. Now a new campaign in the country is looking to change this with Ask Amy, an app that uses artificial intelligence to provide kids with answers to their questions about politics.

Designed by the Tell Me About Politics campaign, Ask Amy is designed to look just like a messaging app such as WhatsApp, and users can send any message they like at any time of the day. Amy — who is powered by natural language processing and artificial intelligence — is able to make sense of the question or concern and deliver relevant and unbiased information in a friendly way. Rather than plain text messages, Amy is also capable of pulling up images, videos and even interactive content. For example, a young person could tell Amy that they don't see the difference between each of the parties they can vote for, and they'll receive a prompt to take a Buzzfeed-style quiz to determine which one best represents their views.

Watch the video below to learn more about the app:

Ask Amy is currently in prototype stage and has already been trialled among young voters. The Crowdfunder campaign aims to provide enough funding to improve the AI and add features such as tracking specific political issues and contacting local MPs and councillors. It runs until 17 October.

While the AI perhaps gives attention-bereft youngsters instant replies to their questions, could this kind of app benefit from using real people to provide more tailored advice to potential voters?

Crowdfunder: www.crowdfunder.co.uk/askamy

When it comes to dieting, most of us require a bit of friendly encouragement — or harassment — in order to stick to weight loss goals. In the past, we've seen innovations such as the Virtual Fridge Lock leverage embarrassment as a motivation tool, using a sensor that detects when users raid the fridge at nighttime and letting their friends know by posting an update on their Facebook profile. Now an app called Rise wants to help users reach their dieting goals by connecting them with a remote personal coach, who checks up on them daily.

After answering some questions about their lifestyle and weight loss targets, Rise matches users with 5 different experts that are registered dietitians. Users select which one they'd like to work with and their chosen dietitian will be on hand to give advice and review their progress at least once every 24 hours on a weekday (although many will also reply on a weekend). Dieters can take a photo of each meal they eat and the experts will respond with guidance about whether they're on the right track. They'll also offer advice about healthy options when eating out or writing a grocery list, as well as friendly encouragement.

Typically, a diet coach would charge more than USD 300 a month to guide customers through a weight loss program, but Rise users pay USD 15 a week. Although it doesn't offer calorie tracking like many other services, the app has already received positive reviews regarding its success at helping to shed weight. Are there other ways remote guidance through smartphones can help consumers to keep on track of their life goals?

The technology we use is made up of lots of different components and widgets, and if one breaks then the whole device or machine can be rendered useless unless a replacement can be found. The problem is that these pieces are often unlabeled and difficult to identify for those wanting to repair their own appliances. Partpic lets consumers or businesses simply snap a photo of the broken part they need and lets them know where they can order a new one.

For many non-technical people, it's hard to explain to repair experts exactly what part they want to buy. Even if they know the general name, they become nonplussed when asked what size, type or shape they need. Using the Partpic app, they can now take a photo of the part they need to replace and the service automatically searches a vast visual database to match it. The app provides them with the name and specifications of the piece so they can contact their local hardware store. If they're not sure which store they need, they can also find a nearby dealer through the app.

Watch the video below to learn more about the service:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Olq-h6PLJo8

Partpic can be used by both consumers and businesses who want to avoid having to purchase an entirely new machine when only one part is broken, and can also help hardware stores locate the pieces their customers need. Are there other ways to use visual search to identify unknown items — whether technical or otherwise?

Sign language is a great tool to help deaf and hearing impaired communicate with those who can understand it. Unfortunately, most non-deaf people don’t have an impetus to learn it unless they regularly speak with deaf people. Innovations such as the Ukraine-based Enable Talk has already attempted to tackle this problem by developing smart gloves that can translate sign language into speech in real time. Approaching it from a different angle is the Dubai startup KinTrans, whose Hands Can Talk project has developed software using Microsoft Kinect technology that detects hand gestures and converts it into audible words for a non-deaf audience.

Developed as part of the Turn8 accelerator program, the system is designed for formal situations such as conferences and lectures where the speaker can be placed in front of the Kinect sensor. The software requires a short setup to help it locate the position of user’s hands and face. After that, the speaker can use sign language and the system will detect what they’re saying and translate it into speech in real time. Users can set multiple languages, including English and Arabic, meaning that the software could help deaf speakers transcend both the spoken language barrier, as well as national language barriers.

Watch the video below to see a demonstration of the service:

Although the system currently requires use of the Kinect hardware, could software soon be developed using the gesture-tracking technology of wearable tech such as Google Glass, enabling deaf people to seamlessly interact with the non-deaf in any situation?

Two of the biggest trends of 2014 so far have undoubtedly been The Internet Of Things and 3D printing. Fusing the “maker” ethos of the later with the tech of the former, our most recent spotting should come as no surprise then. Mbientlab makes it easy to connect almost any product to a smartphone through an innovative and powerful API and Bluetooth Low Energy technology.

Mbient lab’s MetaWare chip aims to empower developers and designers focused on the wearable tech market. Both the tiny form factor of the chip and the technology it boasts makes it ripe for installation within garments — opening up an array of new possibilities. The technology is designed to make it much easier for companies to focus on their core expertise and to broaden their creative horizon, knowing that their developers can use the chip to more easily create unique, wearable tech experiences. The chip itself is around the size of an American quarter, capable of communicating with the user’s smartphone through Bluetooth technology — compatible with either iOS and Android. The chip has built-in components such as an accelerometer, an RGB LED, and a button which, when activated, will use Bluetooth connectivity to communicate with the user’s smartphone.

Wearable technology is already establishing itself as a major industry, and innovations such as Mbient lab’s chip will only accelerate the industry’s growth. Which other sectors could benefit from a similar piece of technology?

Because sounds are often the first indicator of a dangerous situation, the hard of hearing are frequently forced to react late. We’ve already seen South Korean-based Moneual create the SCS1000 wristwatch, which can help those who are hard of hearing become more aware of their surroundings, but by focusing on software, our newest spotting has the potential to be of even greater use. The Otosense app translates sounds into visualizations, vibrations, flashes, and other cues for the deaf to see or feel.

The app works in a similar fashion to Shazam, but instead of identifying a song, it can match sounds against its built in library in order to work out what real-world event is occurring. Should a user suspect that a certain sound — perhaps unique to their home or place of work — won’t be present in the Otosense library, they have the option to record up to 10 sounds to be added to the existing database. The company aims to be able to support up to 50 unique sounds per user by 2015.

Once the app is installed, whenever a sound occurs that is recognized by the database — be it a fire alarm or the sound of glass breaking, for example — the software will display a customizable visual alert in real time on the user’s smartphone or tablet, with the option to introduce vibrations as well.

Crucially, an Internet connection is not required for the app to function. However, when there is a connection, any sound recorded by OtoSense on an individual’s smartphone is automatically synced with their tablet and/or other smartphones via the cloud, effectively creating a “listening network” that is capable of notifying users of dangerous events remotely.

In addition to smartphones and tablets, the app is also compatible with the Pebble smart watch and, perhaps most intriguingly, the Phillips Hue smart light. With the latter, the lights in the entire house could be made to flash or change colour in response to a dangerous sound. The mobile app is currently only for Android devices and the iOS app will be available this October. It’s free to download during the launch period.

Are there other ways where similar technology could be used in everyday situations?

We’ve seen waste coffee put to use generating energy on a small scale in the past, but now UTZ certified’s Coffee Wastewater project is turning toxic wastewater — produced by coffee farming — into energy on a far larger scale, tackling climate change and protecting water resources in the process.

Ordinarily, the wastewater created by coffee farming is toxic, and if left untreated, it can contaminate water resources nearby with harmful effects on flora and fauna. The Coffee Wastewater Project by UTZ tested wastewater from a range of coffee farms of varying sizes and created treatments and mechanisms to reduce the environmental impact. While the wastewater is usually left untreated and disposed of in nearby rivers, the company now uses the wastewater to generate energy. The resulting resource – Biogas — can be used to power local mills and villages, and improve indoor environments for families by replacing firewood with domestic gas stoves for cooking. UTZ certified labels all products produced with the system in place, to assure the consumer that the product they are buying is produced with a sustainable future in mind.

The systems were installed in eight coffee farms in Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala. The positive environmental and economic impact of the project affected 5,000 people in the region and has inspired UTZ Certified to replicate the initiative in other countries. Is this an idea ripe for rapid international expansion?

With thousands of furniture catalogs being pushed into mailboxes everyday, alongside endless images of aspirational lifestyle apartments in the media, it’s perhaps inevitable that today’s consumer is more paticular than ever when it comes to interior design. In an effort to help them source exactly the right item, LikeThat Decor is a visual search app that will present consumers with items similar to those featured in photos they upload.

To get started consumers can either select an item of furniture from the app’s built in gallery, or upload their own picture — either a photo they have taken themselves or an image from the web (most likely Pinterest or Tumblr). The app then analyses the image and presents the user with similar and complementary items — drawn from the app’s extensive database of millions of products from thousands of top furniture brands. After the consumer has found an item they like, they can click to make a purchase directly from the retailer.

Both the website and iOS app are free of charge and an Android version will be released later this year. Are there any other departments where visual recognition could aid search in a meaningful way?