Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Overconsumption of alcohol is a problem worldwide. According to Alcohol Concern, drinking alcohol is the third major risk factor for disease and death in the UK. Springwise has covered a number of innovations that aim to help curb binge drinking and the resultant negative effects. In the US, a wristband has been developed that measures blood alcohol levels, alerting drinkers when they go over the limit. And in Uruguay, a club rewards those who arrive sober with free entry. Now Alcosynth, attacks the problem from a different angle, aiming to do for alcohol what e-cigarettes did for tobacco.

Alcosynth is intended to mimic the pleasant effects of alcohol without leading to the negative physical consequences such as a dry mouth, nausea, a throbbing head or any of the long-term health issues. Its creator David Nutt, a professor at Imperial College, believes that the substance could replace regular alcohol by 2050. Nutt has now created around 90 different alcosynth compounds, two of which are currently being tested for widespread use. The effects last a couple of hours, as with normal alcohol, and will put an end to the possibility of feeling ‘too’ drunk. Describing how the substance works, Nutt explains, “We know where the good effects of alcohol are mediated in the brain, and can mimic them. And by not touching the bad areas, we don’t have the bad effects.” The second compound, Chaperone, will either be used simultaneously to moderate the effects of Alcosynth on an individual or, more controversially, to “sober up” quickly from Alcosynth at the end of an evening.

This development could have a significant impact on public health, alleviating the health problems caused by alcohol and thus reducing the burden on public health services. It is not yet clear whether the more controlled inebriation offered by Alcosynth will also reduce the social ills which can accompany alcohol misuse such as violence and drunk-driving. Are there other replacement substances that could be developed?

As drone use continues to grow, we’re seeing infrastructure develop to support the growing network, with recent spottings including flight insurance and dedicated drone airports. Now, a peer-to-peer drone rental service is in development.

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With Up Sonder, drone owners list their vehicles and availability and then users – who require them for specific tasks, such as weddings or sporting events – are able to request a rental. The selected drones are then delivered direct to users via a collaboration with UberRUSH (the Uber offshoot business-to-business courier). Owners are free to set their own prices – though recommendations are provided – with Up Sonder taking a small percentage of transactions (some of which is used to fund global clean water projects). Up Sonder also insures all drones in case of accidental damage while out on loan. Currently in beta, Up Sonder is available in New York, San Francisco and Chicago with free signup.

New uses for drones are being developed on a daily basis: what other services are required to support their use?

Frustrated by the amount of time it took to find, book and pay a reliable lawn mowing service, Robin founders created a simpler method. Homeowners answer a few questions to receive an online quote based on size of yard, frequency of visits and any extra work needed. Once payment has been taken, Robin contracts local, reliable lawn care companies to provide the service.

As well as providing responsive, app-based customer service, Robin also helps small companies. Lawn care business owners use Robin’s online booking and scheduling system to more quickly and efficiently manage their work. And while Robin is exploring the use of robotic lawn mowers, human contractors would still have work. Companies would lease a mower for basic mowing duties, while human teams manage the more complex tasks of trimming, weeding and fertilizing.

Multi-tasking is an interesting business angle, and recent examples include lawn-mowing postal workers in Finland and product testing that provides a public service in Brazil. How else could regular chores be made more efficient and or enjoyable?

Germany’s Junge Symphoniker Hamburg orchestra collaborated with wearable technology experts CuteCircuit to create the Sound Shirt. Wirelessly translating classical music into vibrations, the shirt lets deaf people feel what the orchestra plays.

The Sound Shirt software interprets eight types of instrumental sound, including that of the double bass, cello, horns and large percussion, as data. The data is then sent wirelessly to the shirt, where 16 micro actuators vibrate according to the intensity of the music. The orchestra is currently accepting expressions of interest from anyone interested in wearing a Sound Shirt to attend a Symphoniker concert.

As connected cities get smarter, inclusivity improves. Recent Springspottings include smart hearing aids that use IFTTT to personalize their use, and 3D prints of ultrasound scans for blind parents. How else could life events be translated into different sensory experiences?

Italian startup Olive Creative Lab’s first project, Sun Memories, brings mood lighting to life. No longer will users struggle to describe and share incredible sunsets or sunrises they have seen.

The Sun Memories wearable device records up to six hours of light using a light sensor. This data is then transferred by the accompanying app to the connected lamp. Using an RGB LED light, the Sun Memories Lamp perfectly recreates all the nuances of the recorded light from special moments and places. Color, intensity and shading are all reproduced, and the app allows for easy sharing of light recordings with friends and family. The founders of the Olive design studio say their future work will continue to focus on the intersection of graphics, products, interactivity and sustainability.

What other previously intangible moments could technology capture and recreate?

Website: www.olivelab.it

Material technology has made incredible advancements. One of the more notable recent examples covered by Springwise are this 3D printing pen that uses plastic bottles and bags a ‘ink’. Now the Hasso Plattner Institute’s Human Computer Interaction Lab has designed a system of 3D printing that creates objects that are able to move and distort, despite being made from one piece.

The innovation uses a new technology called metamaterial, a type of material defined not by its substance but by its internal structure. The structure is made up of a series of grids formed in different patterns which result in different levels of rigidity. As in the door latch in the video, the more flexible sections can shear along an edge. This process allows them to move more freely but also enables them to pull or push adjacent, more rigid sections of the grid structure. Hasso Plattner Institute researcher Patrick Baudisch explains the benefit of the technology, “The ultimate vision is to design the inside of objects” giving them “unexpected functionality.” The fact that the objects can be made from one piece without screw, bolts or other fixings means construction is simpler. No assembly of fiddly pieces is needed.

The Hasso Plattner Institute has also created a supporting custom editing software which allows users to predict how the mechanism will react when force is applied to certain areas. So far, researchers working on the project have used flexible silicone; however, it could theoretically be made from any elastic material that can withstand high levels of pressure without breaking. Spring steel is cited as ideal but is as yet not possible to fabricate using 3D printing.

The material has been used so far to make door latch and a pair of pliers. How else could this technology be used?

With food technology producing everything from vegan meat to algae cubes that can taste of anything, eating “real” food could become redundant. One of the problems with many of the food products available today is the high sugar content. MycoTechnology has found a solution with its organic ClearTaste powder. ClearTaste blocks bitter receptors on the tongue, making food taste better, thus reducing the need to add sugar.

Grown from mycelium, the culture that produces mushrooms, ClearTaste is mostly carbohydrates and works with almost any other substance. The powder is so effective that only very small quantities are needed. ClearTaste is already used in a variety of products, including drinks, supplements and powders. The company’s development goals include looking at ways in which mycelium could be used to help alleviate the world’s dependence on animal products for protein.

How might food technology work with the locavore movement to help end hunger?

Modular building and connectivity are helping improve community responses to health emergencies and natural disasters. This smart first-aid kit has a one-touch connection to emergency health teams, and these modular eco-homes are meant to withstand earthquakes. With more than 20 million refugees worldwide, emergency shelter is desperately needed, globally. ShelterPack, designed by Hakan Gürsu of the design consultancy company Designnobis, is a true temporary home.

From a container that is only 31 centimeters high when fully compressed, each ShelterPack provides a bathroom, kitchen and bedroom for four. The Golden Award winner at the 2016 A’Design Awards, ShelterPack also provides running water and furniture, and collects rainwater via funnels on the roof. A skylight reduces the need for artificial lighting, and each apartment takes only a few hours to construct.

As the number of displaced persons worldwide continues to grow, how could the ideas behind temporary emergency shelters be expanded to support peoples’ integration into a new country?

Digital media has revolutionised the sports industry and helped to create new commercial opportunities. To take soccer as one example, an estimated 500 million Facebook users are ‘hardcore soccer fans’. Whilst those on the social media platform may represent only a tiny fraction of total fans of the sport, the community constitutes a real commercial opportunity for the sector. Sport organizations like soccer and basketball clubs have increasingly been using media platforms to create content that adds value for fans and now comes the drive to monetize this value. In 2012, we looked at social network that helps brands connect with runners for sponsorship opportunities. At development level, we’ve also seen fanbases used to fund college basketball players. Providing a more sophisticated solution is Brandtix which combines elite athletes’ social media appeal with their performance on pitch, to provide a real-time picture of their brand value.

Created by a team of experienced sports marketing professionals and technology experts, Brandtix allows players and clubs to capitalise on their social media presence, and brands to enter into sporting sponsorships with confidence. The platform conducts an exhaustive analysis of players, teams and fans and allows clubs’ marketing teams to simultaneously monitor a player’s real-time on-pitch performance, their social media activity and the resulting fan sentiment for both. Chief Executive Jon Rosenblatt emphasized the uniqueness of the innovation, explaining that because the data is provided in real-time, it “allows agencies, sponsors, clubs and agents to make more informed endorsement and sponsorship decisions than ever before”. The innovation demonstrates the power of social media to increase the popularity of players and make them more appealing to sponsors.

The platform also works with clubs to inform them which players are popular in a particular region to enable clubs to bring on board the most relevant sponsors. Could we see this kind of complex algorithm applied to other areas of potential investment?

Self-driving cars are not a new idea, and Springwise has covered a number of innovations in the area, most recently the launch of a fleet of self-driving taxis in Singapore. We have also seen architectural projects focussing on modular canal boats designed to meet various needs such as this Dutch design. Offering an innovation somewhere between the two, Roboats are autonomous, floating, temporary structures.

Born from a research collaboration between the Dutch Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ‘Roboats’ will aim to transport people and goods within the urban environment, to create temporary, on-demand structures (such as bridges or stages) whilst, simultaneously, gathering environmental data. With a budget of EUR 25 million, the project is the first research program into the new technology. The aim is to gather data on how waterways can be used to improve the city’s efficiency and quality of life for residents. So, for example, the boats will be equipped with sensors enabling them to detect pollution and disease in the water. Carlo Ratti, Professor at MIT and principal investigator in the Roboats program, explains the aim is to create, “a dynamic and temporary floating infrastructure…that can be assembled or disassembled in a matter of hours.”

Amsterdam has been chosen as the location to conduct the research because nearly a quarter of the city is taken up by its waterways. The first prototypes will be released in 2017. With floating student accommodation and buoyant prenuptial houses, could under-utilized urban waterways be the next frontier for infrastructure design?