Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

We have already seen solar panels that work in the rain, and now Soliculture’s LUMO solar electric panels are making greenhouses more profitable and energy efficient. LUMO panels convert green light to red, the color that plants use most for growth. By converting colors, rather than filtering them out, the panels have more light available for electricity production.

Using a red dye for the light conversion, LUMO panels are covered with Soliculture’s patented silicon photovoltaic strips. The red solar electric panels were field tested in California and Canada. The mix of distinct growing conditions allowed scientists and growers to experiment with a variety of plants. While most plants grew at an equivalent rate, some were found to be more disease resistant, with a longer production cycle and earlier maturation. No detrimental effects were found.

Fully customizable to any roof shape and glass size, large-scale use of the panels could generate enough energy to sell. Soliculture is further developing the technology to create the world’s first carbon neutral greenhouse. How else can solar panels be made more efficient?

The struggles of digital journalism has made one thing pretty clear: online media outlets need their readers and viewers more than their audience needs them. We have already seen a WordPress plugin reward their audience for abstaining from using adblockers. Now, GoGo takes this even further, by rewarding people for simply viewing articles and videos. The Indian platform sends personalized content to readers’ lock-screens and rewards them with credit every time they swipe or unlock it.

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Users first sign up to GoGo, and choose from 14 topics including Technology, Sport, Movies and Celebs, and more. They can pick whether they want the content in Hindi, English or both. Then, whenever their screen is locked, GoGo sends content to it. It can be anything from viral videos to the latest news stories. When they see something they want to view, they swipe left and are taken to the piece online. If they don’t want to read it, they swipe right to unlock and get a new offering. Both actions earn them points, which they can redeem as smartphone talk or data credit.

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Could this model be replicated in other regions?

Creating good transit apps can be difficult, given the vast amount of city (and worldwide) data app builders need to have access to. Aiming to address this, Transitland is an open platform that aggregates publicly available transport information from around the world.

The startup cleans the data sets, making them easy-to-use, and adds them to Mapzen, an open source mapping platform. Mapzen Turn-by-Turn is the platform’s transport planning service that, following its latest expansion, now contains data from more than 200 regions around the world on every continent except Antarctica. Transitland encourages anyone interested in transport, data and mapping to get involved, from adding data streams to sharing new apps and analyses. Mapzen Turn-by-Turn also manages all licensing related to use of the data, leaving developers free to discover and build. The platform is available to use for free.

We have seen a platform enable data sharing to help local communities and governments work better together, as well as a startup that visualizes government data so that it is easy-to-use for entrepreneurs. What other data sets can be made more accessible?

Despite countless advertising campaigns discouraging it, texting on the move is not going away. In response, cities have begun to adapt their infrastructure to better suit the ‘Smombies’ — smartphone zombies. Germany is experimenting with traffic lights in the ground at tram stops, and now the Australian government is also installing in-ground traffic lights on a larger scale.

Later this year, lights will be installed at five pedestrian crossings in the Sydney for a six month trial period. The project will cost the New South Wales government AUD 250,000 (USD 185,000) but could help to reverse a huge increase in the number of pedestrian deaths on NSW road, which jumped 50 percent from 2014-2015 to 61 casualties. The lights, which naturally align with a smombie’s eyeline, will turn red when it is dangerous to cross.

Could this system become the norm?

For those looking to cut down on their screen time, but lacking in sufficient willpower, Screeners are a pair of glasses that could help — as long as the wearer doesn’t mind being sightless four or five times a day. The glasses, designed by NYU student Chino Kim, automatically block the wearer from looking at screens by turning opaque whenever they detect one.

Inspired by his own desire for screen-free time, Kim created Screeners as part of a Machine Learning for Artists course. First, a webcam worn on the head processes all of the images the viewer looks at, and sends the information to an open source computer learning software called Wekinator. Then, whenever it detects a screen, it cuts the power to the glasses’ lenses. Because the lenses are made of smart film, the loss of power prompts them to turn opaque, blocking the viewer’s vision until they look away from the screen.

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Recently, we saw a hotplate powered by smartphones, which prevents diners from looking at their phones during mealtime. How else could tech be used to help people take a break from their devices?

Researchers at Binghampton University have developed a disposable biobattery shaped like a ninja star, which can provide power to small devices for up to 20 minutes using only a few drops of dirty water. When opened up, the eight modules of the USD 0.75 origami battery connect. Then, once dirty water is added, the bacteria powers a process of bacterial metabolism, which creates a small amount of electricity. This power can then be used in the field to run LEDs or small medical devices such as pregnancy tests and HIV tests.

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The ninja star battery is an adaptation of another paper-based design, created by the same team at the New York university. The new version, a 2.5 inch wide star-shaped frame, has increased power and voltage. Each module contains within its paper layers, an anode, an air-cathode and a proton exchange membrane. To use, individuals pull apart the folds creating fluidic pathways that connect the sections, exposing the cathodes to the air. Then, they feed a few drops of dirty water into an inlet in the centre. The water travels down the pathways into the cells and prompts the chemical reaction, which in turn produces electricity.

The devices are more sensitive than purely paper-based versions, while still being cheap and convenient enough to be used by medical testers and researchers in the field. What other uses are there for accessible bio-batteries?

There are dozens of products, such as this at-home micro roaster, that can help amateur baristas perfect their coffee-making at home. But the one thing that makes the most difference to a good home brew is the freshness of the beans. Now, Voltaire is an IoT, portable coffee grinder that monitors the beans and re-orders the user’s favorite coffee when they need a fresh supply.

Once they are roasted, the quality of coffee beans begins to diminish in a matter of days. But lots of factors can affect how quickly the coffee loses its best flavors, so it is impossible to predict an exact best before date. Instead, the Voltaire grinder uses a sensing platform to measure bean freshness, using an algorithm that takes into account everything from roast date and bean variety to gas concentration, temperature, humidity and bean mass. It connects to a smartphone app and tells the user when the beans are beginning to degrade. Users can choose to either receive notifications or have their beans automatically re-ordered before they go bad.

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Voltaire’s algorithm will get smarter and more precise as the number of users increase. The smart grinder is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter. Backers can pre-order the device from USD 199. Could similar sensing and recording systems be used for other food and drink items?

Dubbed Godspots, the free wifi is available to anyone, inside and outside the churches. Initially available in 220 churches, the Protestant church plans to expand the network to all 3,000 of its buildings in the Berlin-Brandenburg region.

Germany has lagged behind other European countries in connectivity, something that Church leaders are hoping the Godspots will help change. The Church says the network is secure and will not have advertising. When first accessing a Godspot, users are greeted by a homepage of the church with local faith community information, details about the building itself and other faith-related material. If the goal of connecting all 3,000 Protestant churches is reached by May 2017, the project may be expanded nation-wide, including to Catholic churches.

Two of the first to offer the wifi are Berlin’s French Cathedral and Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. As making internet connection easier becomes a worldwide project, everything from smart trashcans to sidewalk pavement stones can be used as wifi hotspots. Could the next disruption be in finding ways and places to disconnect?

Even clean energy power plants can be detrimental to the local area because they are so often visually imposing. But recently we’re seeing architects adding value to the structures, by integrating features for use by local people. A Copenhagen power station was designed to include an art piece and ski-slope, and now the Lausward Power Plant in Dusseldorf doubles as a tourist attraction by housing an observation tower.

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Lausward Power Plant is a clean energy power station, designed by German architecture firm Kadawittfeldarchitektur. Visitors can reach the building’s highest point — called the City Window — via a lift. Then, they can view the entire city from 45 meters off the ground through a glass facade.

How else could imposing structures be adapted to provide additional value for locals and tourists?

Drones are now so reasonably priced that they are available to most consumers who might want to buy or rent one. Now, HandiDrone is an initiative that enables those with mobility issues and disabilities to experience them too, while potentially setting them up to become drone pilots.

HandiDrone is a collaboration between the digital agency Kindai and LADAPT — the French association for social and professional involvement of people with disabilities. The aim of the program is twofold: to enable participants to experience the tranquility and control of being outside their own bodies through FPV flying, and to expose them to the emerging job of drone pilots, which could be compatible with their disability.

The drones used in the project are adapted from existing models, and as the program expands, LADAPT are encouraging makers to create low budget drone modifications so that the experience can be made available to more people.

How else could those with disabilities be included more pointedly in emerging fields?