Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

“If you want to control global warming, the first thing to go after is soot” so says Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford University. Soot in the environment is widely recognised to be damaging to health. The World Heath Organisation estimates that 5 million plus premature deaths are attributable to air pollution both indoors and outdoors. Here at Springwise, we have already seen a  shirt that detects air pollution and changes colour to alert the wearer and a wearable sensor that helps keep track of pollution wherever the user is. Now, from Bangalore-based Graviky Labs comes Air-Ink – the first pen to recycle air pollution and use it as ink.

Air-Ink builds on technology from the Fluid Interfaces Group, part of the MIT Media Lab and makes use of Graviky’s earlier innovation Kaalink to obtain its raw material. Kaalink is a cylindrical retrofit to vehicle exhausts which Graviky claims can capture up to 95 percent of particulate matter pollution. The captured carbon is then separated from the other heavy metals and carcinogens and combined with oils to make the final products, including pens, oil-based paints and spraypaints.

Preventing pollution from causing ill-health is a laudable aim in itself: recycling it into useful products is neater and less wasteful. What other ways are there to make use of the  byproduct of fossil fuels?

We’ve seen how virtual coach apps and wearables have diversified into a number of sports, such as an attachable device that monitors kayakers’ performances, smart wristbands that can help you train for five different sports, and now golfers are the latest to benefit.

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IOFIT, an offshoot of Samsung Electronics, is a smart golf shoe that enables golfers to improve their swing. The shoes connect wirelessly via blutetooth to iOS and Android smart devices, so that users can record their golf swings via the IOFIT app. The shoes record weight distribution and power output as the user swings, and also features a video mode so that users can see how their data translates to their body movement. Data points are gathered via thin pressure sensors embedded within the shoe’s outer soles, with users also able to share and compare their performances with friends and professionals.

IOFIT are currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter, with shipping of shoes in all sizes and a range of colors expected in February 2017.

What other sports equipment could benefit from connected pressure sensors?

www.iofitshoes.com

As bots get better and chat more realistic, artificial intelligence (AI) increasingly lightens the administrative load. To do lists can now be created from any online text, and AI lawyers are helping with everyday legal research. The travel industry, which combines the need for good customer service with a high volume of repetitive and data based queries, is one sector that is taking advantage of bots’ capabilities to quickly answer customer queries or direct them to a relevant website page. Now, for the many companies whose employees undertake business travel, 30SecondsToFly’s bot takes charge of the entire process. Named Claire, the technology uses text messaging to chat with employees.

Once installed in a company’s software system, Claire takes on all the necessary administrative tasks of booking trips. After setting the parameters of company travel, Claire provides oversight for management teams and assistance for employees. Users begin the process by texting a request for a flight, and Claire books everything according to company policy. She also solves transit-related problems in real-time, helping reduce some of the general stress of travel. Having recently finished beta testing, with an invited group of users, 30SecondsToFly will fully launch Claire this autumn.

Will smart travel become increasingly connected, from booking to check-in and return?

We’ve seen how assistive haptic wearables can enable those with limited sight to navigate more easily around town or allow blind swimmers to know when to make a turn. Now, a new wearable is opening up the technology to wider applications.

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Moment, from Somatic Labs, works like a smart watch, connecting to smart devices via an app to offer a range of customisable haptic features. The ‘vibrotactile’ wearable is capable of producing combinations of vibrations via four resonator points located at each corner of the watch. This allows the user to assign unique patterns for specific incoming calls and alerts, as well as more esoteric features such as a metronome for musicians or the ability to have vibrations reflect directionality when using navigation apps. Moment will begin shipping in fall 2016 at an early bird price of USD 129, with plans for a hackable API and integrated IFTTT features.

Of course, it’s not just those with partial or no vision who can benefit from haptic feedback. We’ve seen sports fans feel the emotions of their favourite rugby players through a haptic jersey and firefighters use haptic signals in low visibility. In what other contexts could haptic feedback replace or enhance visual/auditory signals?

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and the US Department of Homeland Security are developing a machine learning system to help feed relevant information and recommendations to firefighting teams in real time. The Assistant for Understanding Data through Reasoning, Extraction and sYnthesis, or AUDREY, is an AI system that gathers data on emergency situations and guides responders, enabling them to better deal with situations.

Equipment to help first responders safely and effectively save lives and minimize damage is constantly evolving — such as devices designed to improve navigation in smoke-filled buildings through vibrations or thermal imaging. The new system was designed to be part of the IoT and to coordinate those kinds of wearable technologies. For example, the whereabouts of each responder can be tracked through GPS, and sensors in the uniforms could track the concentration of dangerous chemicals or gases in the air, and the temperature in different parts of the building. “When first responders are connected to all these sensors, the AUDREY agent becomes their guardian angel,” says Edward Chow, the research’s program manager. “Because of all this data the sensor sees, firefighters won’t run into the next room where the floor will collapse.”

Springwise has previously covered an innovation that helps those in an emergency receive advice on how to deal with the situation. How else could AI be used to manage IoT devices to help save lives?

Do good neighbours make good fences or good fences make good neighbours? Who knows. But in July 2016, Singapore’s Housing Development Board, in partnership with manufacturing company 3M Singapore, announced plans for the research and development of materials designed to absorb, reflect or reduce the transmission of noise between urban apartments in close quarters.

The plans are part of a wider scheme to become a wholely smart city. The contract is worth USD 10 million and other areas of development include a smart traffic light system that feeds into a wider energy saving drive across the city-state. In terms of noise reduction, areas to be explored could include the study of suitable materials for walls, floors and windows that can absorb, reflect or reduce the transmission of noise within flats, to create a more pleasant living environment. HDB’s chief executive officer, Dr Cheong Koon Hean, said: “We are living in a fast-changing urban landscape, with new planning issues to tackle and new housing needs to meet. We need new partnerships and innovative ideas to keep HDB moving forward.”

Springwise has seen some interesting ideas in the category of smart cities, such as this innovation that uses bacteria to generate sustainable light. What other innovations could address the need to update our urban lifestyle?

Estream, from South Korean company Energy Nomad, is a solution to the high costs and immobility of many current forms of sustainable energy. A lightweight, portable generator, the device converts water power into electricity.

The thermos-sized device has been designed to work in shallow and slow moving bodies of water, making it as ideal for campers and hikers as it is for communities without access to reliable power sources. Once fully charged and disassembled, the Estream has several USB ports and can charge an iPhone twice. It can also be used as a waterproof lantern. Energy Nomad is currently raising funds on Kickstarter and has already met its initial goal of USD 80,000.

How could this idea of personal power be adapted for use in improving high-density urban housing problems?

As the foundation for much of the world’s construction, concrete’s capabilities are under scrutiny. Projects improving the material include an augmented variant that de-ices itself and an eco-friendly version that captures carbon dioxide. Looking at ways to enhance its strength, a team from Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) Industrial Infrastructure Innovation Centre invented ConFlexPave. Flexible and stronger than traditional concrete, ConFlexPave bends under pressure rather than cracks.

Created by mixing polymer microfibers with traditional construction elements, the new material is much lighter and, for the first time, bendable. The combination of strength, flexibility and lightness allows pavement slabs to be precast. This could more than halve construction and installation time for large paved areas such as roads, sidewalks and parking lots.

Where else could increased flexibility lower maintenance, and thus environmental, costs?

Staying healthy and knowing what goes into their bodies is increasingly important to consumers. We recently covered this service that provides personalized consultations from nutrition experts over Skype. Now there’s a new innovation that’s revolutionizing the food label: Sage.

Sage blurs the lines between interactive web app and food nutrition label. It is a platform that provides information on over 20,000 existing fresh and packaged foods (currently mostly organic brands from Whole Foods). While the US Food and Drug Administration has recently overhauled the design of food labels, upgrading the clarity and including some explanation on how to use it, Sage Founder Sam Slover believes there is more to be done. Designed to be more intuitive, Sage deconstructs food data to create customized content and infographics. Slover aims to help people understand what a food’s nutritional content actually means in the context of their health, activity levels, and fitness goals. “We want to unlock data and give it back to people in ways that are actionable,” he explains.

The pages lists exercise equivalents, allergy information and the product’s country of origin. For those unsure what some of the ingredients are, they can click on, for example Niacin, to find a description in layman’s terms. The service also offers users the ability to personalize the information they are shown.

Could this model be used for cosmetics or other consumer products?

Creative, sustainable travel options are revolutionizing the industry. Accessibility experts run a travel site specifically for those with additional mobility needs. A peer-to-peer platform connects like-minded travelers over the age of 50, providing opportunities to make new friends. For on-the-go, bespoke travel consultancy services, new iOS travel app Lola combines artificial intelligence with expert staff.

Currently invitation-only, Lola chats with travelers to help with any travel tasks. If a flight is cancelled, the Lola team finds alternatives. If a traveler wants to check out the local bar scene, Lola provides recommendations. Lola staff book tickets for events and tailor advice to everything from weather to airport security gate wait-times.

Now available in the United States, international versions are planned and a fee structure is being considered. Lola can be used to plan international travel, but presently only accepts US dollars. Despite fears of a robot-led future, could the combination of AI efficiency and human personality provide the ultimate customer service?