Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

We recently wrote about a Denmark-based scheme that gives cyclists traffic priority. In another leap to encourage citizens to cycle, the Netherlands city is trialling a method to speed up cycle journeys in the rain.

The city council has installed sensors connected to traffic lights that can detect when it’s raining. Traffic lights on Rotterdam cycle paths already have dedicated phasing for bike lanes, and now on a wet day, wait times for cyclists are cut from three minutes to 40 seconds. So while drivers, dry inside their cars, have to compromise and wait a little longer, cyclists can get to their destination faster. The trial is currently limited to one set of traffic lights, with plans to expand to other crossroads around the city.

Not only is cycling in the rain uncomfortable, poor vision and slippery roads create likely hazards. How else could cities create shorter cycle journeys for bad weather conditions?

The last couple of years have seen countless innovative working spaces emerge, in the face of terrifying statistics about the dangers of sitting at a desk all day. We’ve seen magnetized desks for horizontal workers , convertible desks that enable mid-afternoon recharge naps, and numerous standing desks. But research shows that simply standing still during work hours might have just as many negative health implications as sitting, so startup JumpSport is offering a solution in the form of the Wurf Board — a springy platform that encourages movement and gentle exercise throughout the workday.

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The Wurf Board is an inflatable paddle board designed as an accessory to a standing desk. Drop-stitch construction creates tension between the top and bottom surfaces, creating a bouncy platform that encourages continuous micro movements. Users simply stand on the Wurf Board while they work and make constant subtle movements, which can improve posture and blood flow, and strengthen their feet, legs, core and back. The device is light and portable and can be easily slipped in and out of position. It can also be used as an exercise mat — for brief bursts of at-desk cardio.

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The Wurf Board is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter where pledgers can preorder one from USD 159, for expected delivery in February 2016. JumpSport will donate one Wurf Board to local schools for every 10 devices purchased. Could other sports equipment be used as inspiration for office furniture?

We have already seen Pijon offering to send struggling students and ‘mom’ package, and now New York millennials in need of some motherly TLC can now rent the services of Nina Keneally, who runs the one-woman business Need a Mom. Aimed at struggling youngsters who need a ‘mom but not their mom’, Keneally charges around USD 40 per hour to provide ‘motherly’ services including wardrobe clear-outs, resume reviews, ironing, or a cup of coffee and a chat.

Photo: The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian

Inspired by the requests for help and advice from young women at her yoga class, Keneally launched the service in October and already has six regular clients. The Need a Mom website promises that Keneally — as temporary mom — won’t ‘question your lifestyle choices’ or ‘keep you on the phone for 45 minutes talking about the neighbors cat.’ Instead, clients can get right to the nitty, gritty of being looked after without inconvenient guilt or having to give anything back

Keneally is a mother of two but has no professional qualifications as a counselor or therapist. Instead she promises advice, and will help clients find a doctor or professional help if they need it. Are there other niche society roles that could be packaged in this way?

In China, the renovation costs of making old villages inhabitable is often prohibitive, due to the need to tear down structures in order to rebuild. Now, the People’s Architecture Office has developed a solution in the form of the Courtyard House Plugin — modules that can be attached to existing structures without any destruction, and assembled in a day.

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As part of the Dashilar Project in Bejing, the prefab modules are currently be used to renovate a historic commercial street. The system — consisting of light, inexpensive panels — enables people with no special skills to construct house-within-a-house structures on existing properties. The self-contained panels incorporate insulation, wiring, plumbing, windows and both interior and exterior finishes. There are a range of plugins, including some with sliding doors and others that have septic tanks. The parts snap and lock together with a single hex wrench, providing a new home or office space at a fifth of the price of building a new courtyard house. This module is especially useful in courtyard neighborhoods where one part is still inhabited and another needs renovation.

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Where else could the Courtyard House Plugin system be used?

Despite currently lagging behind many of their neighboring EU countries, the Netherlands aims to generate 6,000 megawatts of sustainable energy on land by 2020, which will require an unprecedented level of growth. Hoping to help propel the movement, sustainable energy provider Qurrent is collaborating with Jora Entertainment on plans for the world’s first sustainable theme park.

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The amusement park will use wind turbines both as the energy source and infrastructure for rides. The 8,000 square meter park will include the Beaufort Buster — a wind turbine-cum-waterslide, and the Newton Nightmare — a 95 meter drop tower ride. It will also aim to normalize the use of wind power for its visitors and educate them about the benefits of the sustainable energy.

How else could renewable energy be incorporated into entertainment sites?

When parking up for the night, truck drivers often keep the engine running to keep the cabin warm while they sleep. But this habit is wasteful of fuel and damaging to the environment, plus it can result in uncomfortable early-morning dehydration — as anyone who has accidentally left their heating on all night can testify. Now, Idle Smart is a heating control system, similar to Nest, that enables truck drivers to program the heat to come on only when the temperature falls below a set number.

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Idle Smart is comprised of a smart thermostat and Android app, which can be controlled by the driver or remotely by the fleet manager. To begin, the user launches the app and selects their desired temperature. Then, while they sleep, if the temperature dips below it, the system will automatically start the engine and keep it running until the cabin is back in the desired warmth range. Similarly, if the battery voltage gets low — as often happens when drivers run their electronics off of them — Idle Smart will automatically run the engine, avoiding expensive battery replacements.

Idle Smart costs USD 45-90 a month per truck, but can save companies up to USD 3,000 per year and significantly decrease pollution during idling. Fleet managers can access various diagnostics, to keep track of each truck’s usage and savings. Could other smart household tools be adapted for use on the road?

Elderly people are often hesitant to seek support from the community, either for fear of being a burden or simply because they don’t know where to turn. Now, cashier staff at Albert Heijn supermarkets in The Hague, are being trained to keep an eye out for signs of loneliness, forgetfulness or neglect in older customers, so they can refer those in need to care specialists.

The Super Care project was launched in collaboration with care organization Royaal Zorg and will see 20 Albert Hejin staff trained to identify and discuss problems seen in elderly customers. When a potential problem is spotted, the cashier can ask the customer if they would like to talk to an instore volunteer, who can refer them to a doctor or welfare organization if necessary.

Linda Noteboom — an employee of both organizations — was inspired to launch the initiative after the loss of a regular customer, which caused her to consider if she could have done more to help. The scheme is taking place at two stores in the Loosduinen and Escamp areas, where there are a large number of elderly customers.

We have seen a few examples of employees making use of their contact with people to provide an additional service, such as Minneapolis police officers who distribute free healthy food packages to hungry citizens they encounter during patrol, and the tattoo artists who are trained to spot signs of skin cancer. Are there other initiatives that could combine employment and public service in this way?

For comedians and other performers, the proliferation of smartphones in their live audience is no doubt becoming a seemingly unavoidable annoyance. On top of easily distracted patrons, the glow of the screens can disrupt the show and unpolished live videos inevitably find their way onto YouTube. Offering a solution is Yondr, a San Francisco-based startup that produces smartphone-locking pouches, which enable artists and venues to create phone-free environments, preventing audience members from accessing their devices during performances.

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Yondr’s technology is already leased out to schools and theaters. The setup enables visitors to keep hold of their phones, but prevents them from taking devices out of cases that auto-lock within a given area. Now the startup has partnered with comedian Dave Chappelle, and the pouches will be handed out to audience members at his upcoming shows. Comedians have long struggled with the smartphone dilemma: requests to refrain from device use often fall on deaf ears, and mandatory smartphone storage can lead to long queues and encourage theft.

Where else could this tech be used?

The exploding popularity of streaming services including Netflix has significantly changed how the public consumes television shows. TV is in a golden age when it comes to the quality of content and the ease of accessibility, but changing viewing habits has meant the ability to discover new shows by chance is waning — in the past, viewers of live television often stumble across new shows they come to love, but this phenomenon is much rarer in the world of on-demand television. Now, Molotov is seeking to bring back the serendipity to TV watching in an on-demand world.

We have already seen a number of firms attempt to reinvigorate live TV habits. Sky and EE record hours of live TV to allow viewers to scroll back through it, while premium service Sky-Q aims to make it easier for viewers to find live, recorded and on-demand TV on one platform. Molotov has been founded specifically to combine the best of live TV with on-demand viewing.

Molotov’s TV platform lists the available channels, and enables viewers to personalize their program guides with the channels they want to watch. In order to bring back discoverability to television, the interface highlights which shows have performed unexpectedly well on social media, and which are particularly popular among a user’s Facebook friends.

Viewers can also bookmark shows and search for new programs by inputting data ranging from the names of actors to politicians. Molotov is the brainchild of Jean-David Blanc and is set to launch in France next year, having signed up about 80 channels to the service. It rebroadcasts free channels and will take a cut of subscriptions on pay-TV. The next step is to roll it out internationally.

Could other new forms of media consumption take learnings from more traditional models?

We first wrote about Local Motors one year ago, when they unveiled the world’s first publicly available 3D printed car. Now, the company has revealed plans for the LM3D, an infinitely recyclable, 3D printed motor vehicle.

The LM3D model, built in partnership with IBM Watson, Sieman’s Solid Edge, IDEO and SABIC, currently has 75 percent 3D printed parts from a blend of ABS plastic carbon fiber. Designed with current and future IoT networks in mind, the LM3D will have smart, inbuilt hardware and software. With sustainability at the core of the design, parts can be manufactured directly from digital files at ‘Microfactories’, reducing the costs and carbon footprint associated with molding, casting and machine use. Users could recycle parts indefinitely, replacing damaged bodywork or upgrading as newer parts are developed — the idea is that owners would only need to buy one basic car body for a lifetime. Local Motors will launch a crowdfunding campaign in 2016, and continue development towards a 90 percent 3D printed car, with safety standards that exceed current guidelines.

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Between 3D printed bodies and driverless systems, the field of vehicle automation will play host to many more innovations in the coming years. What are some other consumer needs of future driverless passengers?