Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Taking from the viral nature of terror and crime stories, the US Army is hoping to use people’s desire to report suspicious activity on social media through its new crime reporting app. The iWatch system brings the principle of a neighborhood watch to the smartphone age.

The app has been designed for use by US military personnel and their families following several high-profile lone shooter incidents on army bases, and has been rolled out to 20 domestic bases so far. The app processes crime tip-offs using its algorithm within eight seconds, far quicker than a 911 caller.

The app’s algorithm also helps to filter out reports that are baseless or feature a racial bias, putting the emphasis on behavior and not appearance. Tips can also be accessed by any authorized crime agency — who can add extra information — and officers can respond to anonymous tips using text chat.

The army hopes the app will encourage positive reporting — what they call “see something, say something” — and developers have also used the system in schools to encourage the anonymous reporting of bullying.

Last year, we saw police in the UK using video chat to speak to witnesses remotely. How else can security services embrace social media and messaging apps to encourage crime reporting?

The recent explosion in shale natural gas extraction in the US has massively improved the nation’s energy portfolio, reducing its reliance on coal and oil imports. But at least two percent of natural gas resources are lost through leaks of the greenhouse gas methane at production sites.

Now a new drone, the RMLD-Sentry, is set to help monitor and reduce the amount of gas wasted in onsite leaks. The UAV will use a remote methane leak detector to check for gas escapes, and reduce the cost of going to sites manually. If methane is detected, the drone will attend the site and search the gas well until the source of the leak is found.

The drone is being designed by Physical Sciences Inc., using their standard miniature UAV, along with the monitoring technology developed by Heath Consultants Inc., Princeton University, the University of Houston, and Thorlabs Quantum Electronics.

The developers say the drone will be able to provide 24-hour surveying to gas extraction sites, while improving the safety and sustainability of the gas wells.

We have already seen Norwegian researchers develop smart undersea oil pipes that check themselves for leaks, and carbon capture technology in Switzerland being used on an industrial scale for the first time. What other emerging technologies can help make old oil and gas infrastructure safer and cleaner?

As search engine rankings become evermore important, companies are hiring costly SEO specialists to help their sites gain more exposure and click-throughs. But for smaller startups that cannot afford to hire someone, Webpage.ly could offer an affordable alternative. The subscription platform aims to help web developers make their sites more searchable.

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Webpage.ly uses an algorithm that learns how to boost contextual webpage content over time. It analyzes visitor search behavior and page rankings to suggest keywords that enable developers to produce higher-impact SEO content. While suggestions are made by the artificial intelligence, users will still have the final say by approving content for their website. Still in pre-beta, Webpage.ly is currently available for subscription at USD 54 for a four-month period.

We have already seen AI software being used in the workplace for a variety of functions, from writing personalized emails to hiring the best team fit. How else could artificial intelligence optimize workflow?

We’ve seen wearables that track individual fitness levels for a variety of exercises, and now kayakers can access the same level of feedback thanks to the Motionize app.

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Using a kayak-mounted smartphone (in a waterproof case) and a Bluetooth-activated gyroscopic sensor that is fixed on the paddle, Motionize assesses the kayaker’s ability and offers personalized feedback and coaching tips in real-time. Users can access detailed data on their paddle stroke’s length, technique and power output, all of which are shareable on social media so learners can boast about their progress. The Motionize sensors are available for USD 499 and can also sync directly with business partner Garmin’s smart watches.

How else can wearables and devices be adapted for personal performance tracking?

With resources becoming scarce and pollution levels rising, organizations must now adapt to ensure their business practices coincide with sustainable development. The innovations below highlight some our latest sustainable energy solutions to help your business thrive.

1 Money-making boiler generates electricity and cuts CO2 emissions

Nerdalize came up first in our top 10 business ideas and opportunities for 2016. The data storage company makes use of the waste heat from stored servers, and uses it to warm homes. Flow Energy’s microCHP boiler similarly generates energy as a byproduct of heating consumers’ homes, and could earn households up to GBP 500 per year.

Read more about Flow Energy »

2 In Colombia, semi-hollow brick design will keep buildings cool

Many countries are actively searching for alternatives to environmentally unsustainable materials such as clay fired bricks. Bloque Termodisipador BT is a re-engineered clay brick that has a semi-hollow core, which will naturally regulate a building’s temperature. We also saw an eco-friendly brick made from recycled industrial waste. Cement is another essential building material that was the subject of innovation — Cortex is an easily transportable cement alternative, which takes the form of rollable concrete sheets that are activated by water.

Read more about Bloque Termodisipador BT »

3 UK motorways could soon have an in-road EV charging lane

We have seen apps that help shoppers find items they see in magazines, or let them take photos of any outfit to find out where to buy it. But tracking down products after seeing it on television still requires laborious investigation. Now a new app is offering an instant search function for products users see on TV.

Ever offers a two screen experience, so the entertainment is not interrupted while users shop. To use, viewers launch the app while watching shows or films. Whenever they see a product they love, they can press the Ever button to instantly find and purchase the item — users can even shop for homeware and onscreen locations, and book a holiday at, say, Verdana Palace in Malta, where scenes from Game of Thrones was filmed. The app uses real-time frame capture, and a deep learning detection system to identify items in the frame. It will also offer cheaper alternatives for budget-conscious users.

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The developers also offer Ever Extension, which provides the same experience for laptops and tablets, so users watching a YouTube video or live-stream can easily search for products.

Ever offers shoppers a seamless way to identify and purchase items they see onscreen, while providing video creators with a new channel to monetize content. What are some other ways to integrate digital entertainment with e-commerce?

Women’s sport in traditional muslim countries has often come under attack. Football virtually disappeared from Afghanistan during the 1990s, when the national stadium was used for public punishments, but the sport has made a recent resurgence. Following an official lifting on the ban in head coverings in football by Fifa, Danish sportswear manufacturer Hummel has unveiled new football team shirts that allow female players to compete while maintaining a modest attire.

The women’s kit for the Afghanistan national team features an undergarment that maintains an integrated hijab-like base-layer. Former women’s team captain Khalida Popal, who helped work with Hummel in designing the shirt, said: “It was a huge honor to captain my country, but it was an even bigger honor to be seen as a role model and an inspiration for thousands of young girls and women in Afghanistan.”

Although many matches have had to be postponed or cancelled due to Afghanistan’s history of conflicts and foreign interventions, football remains popular, with the men’s team winning the 2013 South Asian Football Federation Championship.

Sports kit for muslim women has been around since 2006, but how else can women’s sport be encouraged to thrive in prohibitive countries?

Much of peer-to-peer messaging is not truly private, and often the data users create is not always under their ownership — even when messages are encrypted, its security can be undermined when sent across multiple applications. As the recent legal battle between the US government and Apple shows, privacy remains a major issue for technology companies.

Developers at Sesame have been working on a social messaging app, which features functions that protect users’ privacy. On top of end-to-end encryption, users have legal ownership and control of their content, and are able to ‘unsend’ and delete their messages, files and pictures at any time, even years after. The app also enables customizable permissions, so users can disable forwarding, go off the record, control who can save their messages, as well as set time and view limits on each item they send.

Sesame also provides a digital assistant — Personal Cognitive Agents — which will monitor user’s data on each thread, and make sure that recipients are in compliance with their privacy wishes. The software is capable of machine learning, and changes when communicating with different people. Users can also run independent audits at any time and be assured that all their permissions have been followed.

We have already seen a keyboard extension app that sends hidden, encrypted messages. How else can apps give users more control and protection over the data they create and send?

Winter weather can wreak havoc with flight schedules. We recently wrote about a de-icing concrete that could be used at airports to prevent cancellations, and now researchers at the University of Michigan have developed an ice-repellent spray, which could be applied to airplanes — and other machinery — to prevent them from freezing over.

The “icephobic” coating is made of common synthetic rubbers and could provide a green alternative to chemical melting agents or costly defrosting systems. When sprayed onto a solid surface, the substance, because of its rubbery texture, uses interfacial cavitation to repel the ice. As a result, it is significantly easier to remove ice that forms on the surface because the two materials do not bond to each other.

The researchers envision the spray being used on freezers, wind turbines or oil rigs. What other applications are there for the “icephobic” coating?

Hotels are often left with unfilled rooms, which is why we have seen websites offering to cancel and rebook rooms for customers, and make the most of fluctuating room prices. Polish startup Findbed reverses the booking process by enabling customers to name their ideal price, leaving the hoteliers to decide whether or not to accept their offers.

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We have already seen taxi and private jet services use the ‘name-your-price’ business model. Now, FindBed enables customers to book a room at a rate of their choice. To begin, customers declare their desired price and the platform sends out the offer to all appropriate venues. Then, the manager of the hotel has three hours to decide whether or not to accept the offer. Finally, the customer is sent a list of all the places that will offer a room at that price and they can choose their favorite.

What other industries could integrate this model?