Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Brain injuries in athletes have been big news in the United States, and were also a topic of discussion in last year’s Rugby World Cup. Concussions in sports such as American Football have been shown to lead to serious memory loss, depression and dementia, and have even been popularized in the recent film Concussion.

But now sports technology company Q30 Innovations has developed a new collar that aims to help reduce concussions. There are around 3.8 million sports-related concussions each year in the US alone, but Q30 Innovations believe their new sports collar could help to stop the brain ‘sloshing’ around inside the skull as a result of heavy impacts during matches.

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The collar, or band, gently tightens the jugular vein, which leads to an increase in the amount of blood inside the brain. This essentially creates a tighter fit for the brain within the skull, and reduces the degree to which the brain can move around. The u-shaped band applies about as much pressure as a necktie, and tests in animals suggest that these compressions reduced signs of brain injuries. The technology itself was actually inspired by research into woodpeckers and head-ramming sheep.

Q30 Innovations believes the collar technology could have a range of applications, from college sports players to dangerous work places and even protecting soldiers on the battlefield. Of course, introducing any equipment to the neck area of a contact sport athlete will require a huge amount of safety testing before being made publicly available.

Last year, we saw 10-second tests for head injuries that quickly checked eye movement and focus. How else could new technology provide protection for people playing dangerous sports?

While most organizations now come with a team of developers as standard, for the entrepreneur that is just starting out, learning how to code takes up time and effort that could be better spent growing a business or selling a product.

This is why saas.do has created software that allows anyone to turn ideas into code. saas.do listens to the user’s natural language and converts their instructions into lines of code, without the user needing to understand the first thing about programming.

saas.do’s software builder, alpha, helps users create their code. It operates through a chat-like interface, with users messaging instructions to the builder that then converts them into code. Alpha is based on Google Material Design. It allows users to simply drag and drop commands to create their code.

The video shows alpha Bot in action, and demonstrates that while it’s not necessary to know programming languages to use alpha, a degree of knowledge as to how programmes are built is going to be preferable.

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It also allows designers to add information from excel into their program, and features a range of themes that can make the application ready for mobile viewing and use.

Free demos of the saas.do are currently available on request. How else can developers make code more accessible to businesses and aspiring programmers?

Children learn in a variety of different ways and we have already seen a number of projects applying unusual learning methods to unconventional subject matter. For example, a paint set that teaches kids about color theory by removing the names of the colors, while another project enables children to improve their handwriting by letting them play the role of the teacher. Now, art supply designers Que Interesante have created a set of Chemistry Crayon labels, which use color to help budding artists learn the periodic table.

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The creators used a flame test to determine which color went with which element. For example, when Barium is burned it creates a green flame, so it is matched with a green crayon. Each wax crayon color has a designated label with the element name on it, as well as the name of the color. Chemical Crayon labels are available from Que Interesante’s Etsy store and come in packs of 24, 96 or 120,

Scientific elements are notoriously difficult to remember; the hope is that by making the words familiar and creating an association for the child, they will learn the names more easily. Could color be used to help children learn any other difficult subjects?

When a driver leaves their lights on, or a car alarm goes off endlessly, there is often little people can do to get in touch with the driver.

Looking to solve that, Plext enables smartphone users to message other drivers anonymously using their licence plates. To begin, users simply download the app and enter their license plate number. The licence plate acts as a substitute for a phone number, user name or ID, so messages can be sent through the app directly to the owner of a vehicle without needing to know the personal contact details of the driver.

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However, the messaging service cannot ensure drivers get these messages if they do not have the Plext app themselves. There is currently no way for drivers to send notifications from Plext to WhatsApp or as a text message, meaning the startup has had to improvise; they currently offer cards that people can leave on car dashboards with their Plext ID on it, so drivers can then check the app for the message.

We have already seen an on-demand smartphone app helping drivers in Canada find others who can help to give their vehicle a boost if the battery dies. How else can driving be made more connected?

Rightly or not, violent video games have often been criticized for encouraging aggressive and callous behavior in their players. In this context, virtual reality gaming — which is even more immersive and engrossing — could provide further dangers. But now, a team of researchers at Trinity College Dublin is attempting to invert that process and are harnessing those very characteristics to help teach peacekeeping skills, via a virtual reality game — Gaming for Peace.

Gaming for Peace is an online role-playing game that aims to teach its players peacekeeping skills such as communication, cultural sensitivity and gender awareness. It is intended to be used by EU military, police and civilian personnel who have been deployed in peacekeeping and conflict prevention missions.

To begin, players will enter the game as avatars from a different organization than their own. They will often be a different gender or nationality. They will then be confronted with various challenging scenarios set in conflict zones such as Afghanistan, Palestine and Libya. By forcing them to view the conflict from various perspectives, the games aims to help the player learn vital soft skills such as communication and cooperation, gender awareness and cultural competency skills. Players will also be able to evaluate the game and add their own experiences of peacekeeping, enabling the game to continue developing over time.

The game is being funded by a EUR 2 million grant from the European Commission. It is expected to be completed in 2018. How else could virtual reality be used in education?

Female guitarists have always had to make do with instruments designed to favour the male body. It certainly hasn’t held them back, but the weight, size and design of most guitars can not only make them harder for women to play, but can also be one of the factors that put girls off from picking one up in the first place. Now, guitar-makers Ernie Ball and musician Annie Clark (who plays under the moniker St. Vincent) have created Clarke’s dream guitar with the female body — breasts and all — in mind.

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Unlike many products ‘for women’ that are simply a repackaged version of the original, the St Vincent signature guitar, was designed specifically to solve the problems of existing guitars. The guitar weighs only seven pounds — significantly less than rock and roll classics such as the Sixties Strat or Seventies Les Paul. It is also slender and hangs low on the body, leaving room for the player’s breasts and waist. All the features of the model — such as mini-humbucker pickups, a rosewood fingerboard, a neck in Vincent blue finish — were selected by Clark herself to suit her personal playing style.

The St Vincent signature is for sale now from Ernie Ball stockists for USD 1899. Could other instruments be adapted to better suit different body types?

As with many ticketed services, train fares can vary widely for the same journey, depending on demand and temporary promotions. Save a Train is a new website which helps customers get the best price by telling them when to cancel and rebook their tickets and get the best fare.

Save a Train was created by 3D-Innotech Venture Studio. To use, customers simply book their train as normal and choose the fair with the free cancellation policy. Then, they enter their ticket details into Save a Train. The program will monitor the prices continuously and alert the customer if and when the price drops. Travelers can then visit their train provider and rebook their tickets at a saving.

Save a Train is currently only available in France but is expected to expand into other territories soon. We have already seen a startup offer a similar automated function for hotel customers and another which guarantees the best price for online services even after purchase. Are there any other purchases that could be hacked in this way?

We’ve seen how an app is looking to change the way people read news by providing three different reports from three different perspectives for each story. Now Quartz has developed an app that sends news alerts through SMS, gifs, and emojis.

Quartz’s app aims to deliver a new way for readers to consume mobile news. With around 60 percent of readers accessing their content on mobile devices, the business and technology website’s new app aims to deliver news in a manner similar to texting or instant messaging — sending photos, gifs, links and letting the reader decide what they are interested in.

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Quartz says the app aims to keep readers informed and entertained, mixing more light relief style storytelling with daily news. When readers interact with the notifications on their phone or Apple Watch, it brings up the full news story, most of which only take a few minutes to read.

Some of the more quirky features include emojis to notify users of economic developments on Apple Watches, or haikus to update users on stock market performance. The app also integrates advertising onto the platform, with the aim of showing them unobtrusively and in parallel with content.

Quartz is now available in the App Store. In what other ways can news providers optimize their stories for smartphones and smartwatches?

We have already seen headphones that enable two listeners to share an audio experience wirelessly. Now Ekko Audio is a system that enables four or more listeners to access music from an existing audio system, simultaneously over wifi.

To begin, users plug in their Ekko base to a power source and connect it to their hi-fi, games console or television. Then, each listener takes a removable sound puck, which forms a wifi connection with the base — they will work within 100 feet of the system. Users can then plug any pair of headphones into the their puck via the cable jack, and use it to control their own volume. The pucks automatically charge when placed on the base and last for about 4.5 hours at a time. The system can also be used for streaming music digitally.

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Ekko plan to launch a Kickstarter campaign in the coming months. The system could be used to create DIY silent discos or at house parties in quiet neighborhoods. How could brands make use of Ekko’s social listening function?

Startups face the constant worry that their idea won’t take off due to a lack of visibility. Entrepreneurs with small advertising budgets and resources can have trouble getting the coverage they need to help boost uptake, while medium size businesses can fail to compete with major corporations’ R&D spending.

This is the problem Iterate is trying to help solve. The platform serves as a matchmaking service between corporations and entrepreneurs — corporations post challenges online and work with startups to experiment with new technology and ideas.

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Iterate provides a community for startups, and curates a group of entrepreneurs who can help companies with business challenges and develop new ideas. Iterate believes that through working collectively, startups and companies can compete with the research and advertising money spent by giants such as Amazon.

We’ve already seen apps that enable startups to pitch to founders using Vine-like videos. How else can startups and large companies network better to discover new ideas?