Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Of all the topics covered in school science classes, space is understandably one of the more elusive. That might be set to change though, as a new educational startup called Ardusat have dedicated themselves to enabling promising young scientists to conduct actual space experiments. Ardusat has partnered with satellite data company Spire to enable school kids and science club members to send ‘educational payloads’ up with every satellite, containing experiments of their choice.

Ardusat sell a variety of tool-kits, including the Classroom Launch Pack for educational programs. Costing USD 2,500, it gives teachers or club leaders everything they need to conduct experiments in the classroom or create prototype space tests. All experiments revolve around data collection rather than physical trials and each Space Kit contains various sensors found on real Spire satellites, as well as all the basic electronic components needed. The Ardusat website also hosts a vast number of resources and video tutorials to inspire and educate users.

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Ardusat recently launched their second annual AstroSat challenge, which saw 15 winning teams conducting experiments in space using a high-altitude balloon.

Are there other opportunities for companies and education providers to partner up and offer children more hands-on science experiences?

The scariest films often stay with us long after we’ve left the movie theater and gone home. For those who don’t find films quite scary enough, though, there is a new horror game app — called Night Terrors — which promises to transform any house into a petrifying hellscape. The app uses environment mapping, gyroscope sensors and the player’s own smartphone camera and flashlight to create an immersive augmented reality, complete with ghosts and psychopaths.

To begin, players choose an indoor environment and download the smartphone app. The game uses the phone’s camera to create a map of the player’s surroundings and then produces a story within it. The player then plugs in their headphones and turns off all the lights, using only the smartphone flashlight to explore. The flashlight is controlled by the game, throwing the player into darkness whenever the story dictates, but it also operates like a makeshift depth sensor, so that the game knows where the player’s walls are.

The basic structure of the story is always the same — a girl is trapped in the player’s home and must be rescued — but everything else about it adapts to the unique movements and surroundings. Players watch the story unravel on their phone screen as they move around their home, trying to avoid night terrors and survive — both the video and audio feed combine reality and photo-based special effects, creating a truly immersive experience.

Night Terrors is currently crowdfunding on Indiegogo, where backers can pre-order the game for USD 5. The creators have extensive plans for future developments including real-time biometric tracking, which monitors the users’ fear levels and adapts the scariness to suit the player. How else could augmented reality be used to heighten gaming experiences?

With many online publications funded by invasive adverts, it can feel like internet users are being sold something every other minute. Creating a more active, participatory shopping experience is a new app called MikMak. The app embraces the age of mobile advertising by giving the home shopping network a 21st century smartphone makeover. MikMak is a mobile video shopping channel aimed at millennials, that creates infomercials for each product it promotes.

To begin, users download the free app and create an account. Then, they can browse by product type, and watch a ‘minimercial’ for each item they like. There are a range of accessories, gadgets, home goods and more — all for under USD 100 — and new videos are uploaded nightly. All the goods promoted can be bought within the app.

MikMak is currently in Beta and the company behind it — founded by Rachel Tipograph — is creating a range of videos for each product in varying styles. Items are often presented by comedians from the stand-up circuit, with tones ranging from sincere and serious to comical and gimmicky — in order to ascertain which sits best with their audience. Each clip is thirty seconds long and the team can produce up to 25 in one day on a very small budget.

Is there potential for more mobile shopping channels for other audiences?

Anyone who lives in an inner city apartment knows that there isn’t always room for the kitchen table of their dreams. For homes where regular sized furniture only fits when the door remains ajar at all times, startup Be Elastic have created SNAP — a device that enables users to create tables out of any surface, in whatever irregular shape best fits their home.

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SNAP can transform any surface into a unique piece of furniture, simply by clipping onto the edge of the chosen tabletop and providing the legs. To begin, users pull down on the flexible portion of the device and attach the first SNAP to any flat edge. Then, by tightening the cable, the user creates a stable structure. The number of SNAPs needed depends on the size and shape of the table, but three or four will suffice for most creations. The makeshift legs can be removed and reused easily, since no holes or screws are required.

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The SNAPs are made of steel and four pieces can support up to 98kg. They come in two sizes, each with a different height option, and 16 color combinations. SNAP is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter, where pledgers can pre-order a set of two for an early bird price of USD 55. They are expected to ship in October 2015.

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SNAP is the latest in a procession of innovative, reconfigurable furniture options: Meccano Home, and OLLA both offer product lines which can be infinitely adapted to the maker’s needs. Are there other ways to make furniture more adaptable for consumers?

The process of scanning physical photos is enough to put most people off creating and updating a digital photo collection. But now, QromaScan is offering a simple solution – using a green screen lightbox, a smartphone and the scanner’s voice to digitize and organize old snaps quickly and effortlessly.

To begin, users unfold the portable QromaScan, connect it to their smartphone, and launch the Qroma app. Then, with the help of voice recognition, the user simply states the date, location and people in the first photo and the app creates searchable metadata. Next, the user inserts the photo into the device itself, placing it on the green screen. Inbuilt LED lights help the smartphone to capture the image with the perfect amount of exposure and white balance, eliminating glare.

The device enables users to position photos in perfect alignment with the smartphone camera, meaning there is no need for cropping or adjustment. It also enables photographers to capture the back of their photos if they want to preserve any handwritten documentation or notes. Users can then browse and edit their photos within the Qroma app and import them to their camera roll or computer.

QromaScan is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter, where pledgers can pre-order the system for USD 35. The product is expected to ship in July 2015. Could the QromaScan be used for scanning documents as well?

Internet algorithms are helping users find their dream jobs, their future partners and now, their ideal mastermind group. Mastermind groups are small peer support networks in which members offer each other assistance on business and personal development — through feedback, accountability and idea exchange. MindFind is a platform which enables users to find their mastermind soul mates by matching profiles based on age, location, interests and availability.

To participate, users simply fill out a short survey, detailing their interests, skills, accomplishments and expectations. They are prompted to explain the projects they are working on and what kind of help they are looking for. Then, MindFind matches suitable applicants and introduces them to each other.

What other collaborations could be engineered online?

We have seen a number of products — such as HUSH2 — which aim to provide short-term housing for the displaced or homeless in the wake of conflicts or natural disasters. These shelters are undoubtedly vital but they are essentially temporary, so New Story — a non profit based in Haiti — has another solution. New Story is a crowdfunding platform which enables families to raise the USD 6,000 necessary to finance building a new, long-term home.

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New Story has partnered with Mission of Hope, which sources families in need and helps them to launch a crowdfunding campaign via the platform. Potential donors can read the family’s story and see a breakdown of expenses — including materials and labor — before choosing to donate. All the money raised goes directly to each project, which is then carried out by local contractors in Haiti. The houses, which are three room block homes, are usually completed within two months, after which families post video updates for their donors.

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We have seen crowdfunding used by nonprofits before — Kangu, for example, enables backers to send their money to specific individuals at risk of dying during childbirth. Are there other causes which could encourage donations by crowdfunding individual projects?

In Argentina alone, 6 million physical books are published each month, which amounts to 45 million pages per day — or to put it another way, a whole lot of trees. At a time when an area of forest the size of a football pitch is lost every two minutes, Argentinian children’s book publisher Pequeño Editor has launched a project called Tree Book Tree, in order to educate and inspire their young readers about the need for ecologically responsible behavior.

The project creates bespoke storybooks that can be planted, and will grow back into trees. Hand stitched copies of the children’s book “My Dad Was in The Jungle” are made from recycled acid-free paper and biodegradable inks and the cover is embedded with native jacaranda seeds.

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The book is aimed at children aged 8-12 who, after reading, can plant the book and watch the tree grow as they do. Each copy comes with planting instructions and the book has also been displayed in bookshops, where it can be seen germinating. How else could physical products be adapted to educate young users about how they are made?

Using keywords to locate documents can be a frustrating process — more often than not the searcher ends up with far too many files, or none at all. Even if a keyword search yields a likely list of documents, the chance of discerning the right one from its title alone can be slim, especially if the author is someone else. Now, a plugin called Peruse is giving the process of locating files a much needed makeover, by implementing a more ‘human’ approach.

Peruse uses natural language to conduct its file searches. Users search with descriptions and phrases that occur instinctively, such as ‘PowerPoints I sent to George’ or ‘PDFs over five pages long.’ For the first time, search software has been adapted to suit actual human organizational techniques rather than the other way around. The creators of Peruse intend to develop their product further still to enable users to search for specific facts within documents — concentrating initially on spreadsheets — though this feature has yet to be integrated. The platform works by plugging into the user’s cloud storage. Currently the software is compatible with Box and Dropbox, and there are plans to integrate with further services.

We have seen a number of other products — such as Didlog — which are helping to streamline information exchange within businesses. How else could tech be used to reduce the amount of time workers spend searching for information?

As one in six Americans struggle with hunger, food insecurity in the US is clearly an enormous problem. Trying to combat it, we have seen initiatives such as Food Cowboy matching up food suppliers with local non-profits, who will take the food they’re throwing away. Tackling the problem in a different way is Minneapolis-based charity Matter, in partnership with Good in the ‘Hood, who are using the city’s social service infrastructure — including the police department — to distribute healthy food boxes to those in need.

The project aims to reduce hunger and obesity: with both conditions being understood as symptoms of the same poverty. Studies have found that obesity rates are 145 percent higher in poor counties, which heightens the risk of diseases such as diabetes. The initiative aims to provide healthy food as well as education by distributing boxes containing nutritional shelf-ready foodstuffs such as cereal bars, fruit and oatmeal, alongside healthy eating tips.

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The local police are often the first to see signs of homelessness and malnutrition within the communities they are patrolling and as such are in a unique position to respond to those in need. Matter has also partnered with a local hospital and various schools.

Could this initiative work in other parts of the world?