Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Searching for an environmentally-friendly replacement for the ubiquitous plastic bags used in retail around the world, EnviGreen’s founder spent four years working on a solution. Using a combination of 12 ingredients that include bananas, flower oil, tapioca and corn, Envigreen bags are organic, edible and naturally biodegradable. Left alone, the bags decompose in about three months. Using water, they can be disposed of in a day or even seconds if using boiling water.

Production has started in Bangalore, and the company plans to expand into other cities before beginning distribution to smaller business owners. The bags are currently being used by several large retail chains in India, Abu Dhabi and Qatar. EnviGreen’s sustainable approach includes working with local farmers to source raw materials.

With more than one million plastic bags used every minute, there is a long way to go to substantially reduce plastic waste. Luckily, projects around the world are finding ways to make a difference, from boots and bags made from recycled plastic gathered in Haiti to a micro-library made from upcycled plastic ice cream buckets. What other common products that end up as waste could be replaced with an organic version?

In Africa, over 80% of the adult population prefer to pay with their mobile rather than bank card. Over the years, we’ve written about a number of projects operating in the rapidly expanding area that is mobile money services. In Kenya, this app integrates short term loans for entrepreneurs with mobile banking. And in Tanzania, this clinic uses mobile payments to facilitate treatment. Now, DusuPay is hoping to integrate what has become quite a disparate infrastructure, broken down by telecom provider and country boundaries.

In Africa, each country has between three and five different mobile money services. Someone using Airtel for example, can’t accept mobile money payments from MTN. Similarly, users in Uganda, can’t accept mobile payments from Kenya. DusuPay changes all that, allowing global businesses to make and accept mobile payments across Africa, crucial for businesses operating in one or more of the continent’s countries, which collectively now constitute a USD 1.9 trillion dollar market. Funded by private investors, the startup aims to remove the bottlenecks faced by firms by integrating various countries and operators. Access to the service is through a subscription fee which costs from GBP 4.99 but is only charged to the merchant. The company has also integrated other modes of payment, including bitcoin, credit and debit cards and PayPal. Co-founder Ntende Kenneth explains, “Mobile money has surpassed banking as a mode of payment in most African countries. Considering this is the way people have opted to pay, it is making more and more sense for international businesses to tap into it, rather than forcing them to pay using cards.”

Launched in Uganda, the startup is now active across Africa, in Tanzania, Cameroon, Kenya and Ghana amongst others. It has even expanded to the Philippines and India. With plans to scale to all African countries and other developing markets, could DusuPay be adopted by developed markets too?

Rather than rely on once-yearly spot checks of traffic throughout the city, Montreal, Canada, decided to build a more comprehensive picture of what was working well, and what wasn’t working very well, around the city. Working with traffic management company Orange Traffic, the city installed more than 100 sensors along the busiest vehicular routes. The sensors pick up mobile phone Bluetooth signals, making the system inexpensive to use and install as no additional hardware or devices are needed.

Once the sensors pick up a Bluetooth signal, they track it through several measurement points to get an idea of how fast or slow traffic is moving. The data is sent to the city’s Urban Mobility Management Center. City officials are keen to emphasize that no personal data is recorded as Bluetooth signals cannot be linked to individuals. Traffic management and urban planning teams will be able to use the data to redesign problematic intersections and improve the overall mobility of the city’s streets and transport facilities.

Smart cities are those making safety and efficiency a priority, from providing digital driver licenses in India to crowdsourcing a map of cars in bike lanes in New York City. How could driverless vehicles contribute to improved pedestrian safety?

Combining the capabilities of public transport and driverless vehicles, PLP Architecture’s CarTube system could revolutionize cities around the world. All the vehicles that currently crowd city streets would be swapped for smart, driverless ones that travel through small, underground tunnels. Because they use artificial intelligence, driverless vehicles are able to drive much closer to each other than cars piloted by humans. And by reducing the space between cars, more vehicles are able to use the transport system and travel at steadier speeds.

The team behind the proposal says that travel times could be reduced by up to 75 percent, with a journey from Heathrow Airport to the City taking 14 minutes. Users of the new transport system would book journeys via an app, which would estimate the length of time the trip would take and calculate the appropriate fare. PLP is currently approaching a variety of partners to discuss funding the proposal.

Making mass transit more efficient is a huge project for smart cities worldwide. Norway has proposed an underwater floating tunnel to help citizens travel more quickly and smoothly across and around the country’s many fjords, particularly in extreme weather conditions. China has tested a two-lane, car-straddling bus. What are the possibilities for combining some of the most recent public transport projects?

Children’s charity Plan International worked with community mapping company Crowdspot to create the Free To Be map. Free To Be asked women in Melbourne, Australia, to share their experiences of living and working in the city, pinpointing places on the map where they felt safe, happy or unsafe. The goal of the project was to gather data on sexual harassment, provide specific incidents as well as general trends to city planners and officials, and make the city a safer place for women and girls.

Now closed to submissions, the Free To Be map includes contributions from 1300 people. The gathered information is being shared with the police service, public transport officials, bar owners, architects, the city council and others. The campaign will provide updates on its progress with the mapped data and encourages people to sign up for updates via the Plan International website.

Many services offer women-only options, like taxis with female drivers specifically for women, trans women and young children. Technology-based personal safety innovations tend to focus on communicating geolocation to nominated contacts, like this app-connected life jacket. How else could technology be used to increase personal safety by identifying and capturing perpetrators?

‘Fake news’ videos cover the internet. Videos often lack the supporting, contextual information needed to verify their authenticity because it’s difficult to attach this data to a video and as a result, those making and sharing them don’t bother. The result is they gain traction and are often picked up by the established press. Now, Videopath, offers a way of embedding web content easily into videos.

The Berlin startup offers those making online video content a way to bolster editorial credibility and help viewers to identify legitimate video sources. The technology behind Videopath provides a new way to bring sources and calls to action into the player. Viewers can click on the sources and more information opens directly in the player. Because video is dynamic, with things moving from frame to frame, creating a clickable video with moving hotspots is a challenge. But Videopath’s builder – a simple, intuitive interface – means anyone can quickly put together one of these videos. CEO and co-founder, Anna Rose explains, “With Videopath we are bringing the contextual power of the web into video. Our dream is to help infuse more information into video and present this to viewers in an organised way that empowers them to learn more about the topic.” Those building videos can include the latest updates by adding a Twitter feed, linking to contextual information on the Wikipedia page or raising money for a cause by adding a donation form directly into the player. The company say they have seen significant engagement, with over 30% of viewers clicking to see extra content.

Springwise recently wrote about this video plugin which allowed viewers to access information about the places, words, and music contained within video clips. As people increasingly consume information from short form video, will products like these become more relevant?

Currently available for heart, ear, nose, throat and orthopedic procedures, Biomodex’s 3D printed organs are helping surgeons prepare incisions and the overall operation plan. Using MRI scans and ultrasounds, Biomodex’s multi-material 3D printing processes replicate patient-specific organs. The combination of different materials in the printing process allows the simulated organs to closely match aspects of the human body that are unique to each individual – tissue and bone densities and the placement of veins and arteries.

As well as patient-specific organs, the printing process developed by the company allows for the production of disease and injury-specific replicas that are ideal for medical education. Replica organs also save time and money by reducing the amount of each that is needed to prepare and store the cadavers and animals that are currently the traditional materials for surgical training. The Biomodex team plans to expand its range of replicas to all areas of medicine and continues to refine and improve the printing process to make each organ as realistic as possible.

Virtual reality organ simulations are also helping surgeons train and practice. And 3D printed micro-organs are helping scientists study tissues and diseases without using animals. How else could the medical profession benefit from advancements in 3D printing processes and materials?

Peer-to-peer fintech innovations have become increasingly popular in recent years. Back in 2013, we wrote about this peer-to-peer lending platform that allows individuals to borrow money from others for any project. Then we covered a service that enables businesses to take immediate payments from customers online without giving out private information like their personal email and phone number. INSTO is a simple, peer-to-peer payment platform that allows buyers to afford larger expenditures by setting up payments over time, and sellers to set up automatic payment schedules with clients.

Claiming to be the world’s first person-to-person payment platform, the US based startup works as follows. Buyers and sellers sign up to the service via the website or by downloading the app. They agree on the payment terms and the platform automatically processes each scheduled payment, notifying both parties as it does so. Details of the payment plan are easily accessible at any time. The service is free for buyers, and through 2017, for sellers too. INSTO+ protection offers extra protection to the seller, guaranteeing payments up to a total of USD 3,000, and can be paid for by the buyer, seller, or simply absorbed into the purchase price. The platform is designed to help users in two ways: To buy or sell anything from a used car to regular dance classes; and to schedule recurring payments for larger expenses such as rent.

Will we see competitors in this space that offer even more advanced features?

Image source: INSTO

In the past few months we’ve covered a number of VR innovations on different themes. From bedtime stories that teach children about financial management to VR simulations helping viewers understand what it feels like to be ‘inside’ news stories. We even wrote about a music venue that caters specifically for virtual reality events. Offering a new addition to VR cultural productions is Night Fall, a performance designed by the Dutch National Ballet.

Produced in partnership with Samhoud Media and Chester Music, and backed by Samsung, Night Fall is the first ballet choreographed especially for VR to ensure that the dancing works in a 360-degree immersive setting. Created in August 2016,

the piece contains original music composed for the film by Robin Rimbaud and performed by violinist Pieter van Loenen. It explores the boundary between dreams and reality, and is inspired by the famous ‘white acts’ from Swan Lake and La Bayadère. Using Google Cardboard or Gear VR headsets, viewers are placed in a virtual dark room alongside a violinist and dancers.

How else will we see VR enhance the cultural sector?

The Brooklyn, New York-based app team says that Crushh is like a trusted friend. The app reviews relevant text messages and calls to produce an overall picture of the state of the relationship. From who likes whom more to how the relationship has changed over time, the app uses the data and its own algorithms to provide users with a relationship rating.

Available for use with Android devices, users download the app, select a contact for analysis and let the algorithm run. Users’ contacts won’t know their communications are being analyzed, and the app team asks users to send in feedback if a rating is especially inaccurate. To increase accuracy over time as the algorithm gets smarter, users can add additional information. Maintaining privacy is paramount, and the app’s website states that no one can read a user’s texts. Currently available as the beta version via invitation only, people who are interested in the app can request an invitation. Once fully released, the app will remain available through referral and invitation only.

Technology is doing its best to find ways to make social data more valuable. Commitment rings prevent partners from watching ahead on Netflix, and geotagged social media information is being added to business maps for real-life layers of cultural information. How else could intangibles be analyzed for new insights?