Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

The Royal Canadian Mint has unveiled its new glow-in-the-dark coin, thought to be the first of its kind. The CAD 2 coin has been created to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation and features two individuals paddling in a canoe beneath the northern lights. The coin has been made with ink that contains luminescent material so the aurora borealis design glows in the dark.

Three million of the special coins, known as a ‘toonie’, have entered circulation and it is thought that one in ten Canadians will see one enter their purses and wallets. Citizens also have the opportunity to buy the coin as part of a commemorative coin set with 150 pieces. The collection includes a CAD 20 fine silver coin featuring a new 3D dome dewdrop with a colourful bee and flower design by artist Alexandra Lefort, and CAD 300 pure platinum coin called Maple Leaf Forever, featuring pink gold plating and colour illustrations of Douglas Maple leaves by artist Margaret Best.

Innovative ways of revamping an age-old product is popular with creative startups, with a waterproof windbreaker changing into a parka jacket and an eco-friendly paint that helps insulate a room being two examples of recent innovations that have thought outside the box. How could one of your most used items be updated with technology to expand its use?

After making its mark on the people of Amsterdam, the Good Hotel has set up home for five years on English waters. Aiming to provide job opportunities and training to the local community by reinvesting its profits back into the business, the Good Hotel is the first of its kind.

It’s the brainchild of CEO Marten Dresen and two Dutch designers, art director Remko Verhaagen and lead designer Sikko Valk, who took on the challenge to build a community project that literally floated on water. Unlike other well known chains, this hotel works with its local community to help disadvantaged people get back into work and opens the door to a variety of options for people to learn new skills. It offers a long-term programme and, after completion of training, candidates will be offered paid work and then the opportunity to integrate back into the wider community.

As well as its workforce, the Good Hotel also sources its produce and materials locally, and works with partners in the community to do business. Its neighbours include new flat developments and it is located in the hotly anticipated Crossrail area which will increase links from Reading and Essex to London. The hotel has been designed with clean, minimalism in mind and of course, the cause is at the forefront. The design shows a blend of natural and the industrial, and visitors will definitely get the feeling of ‘locally sourced’. Charities have not been forgotten and the hotel donates GBP 5 to their NGO partner, Niños de Guatemala, from every direct booking, and local charities receive support building their businesses and a platform for new development.

The Royal Victoria Docks will now house the floating structure for the next five years. It was carefully transported to London from Amsterdam by barge. Similar projects include the Port X houseboat which was created in the Czech Republic as a home that can be customised to order and anchored both on land and water and the Waterspace H2Office, in the UK. Another similar concept, was the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Washington, which is also giving back to the community by getting guests involved in community projects during their stay.

Could this be a platform for other hotels, where buying a plot of land or renting a building or existing shop is a thing of the past?

Waterproof, solar-powered and free of any chemicals, the Tertill robot sounds like a gardener’s dream companion. It has been in development for over two years and is currently raising funds on Kickstarter (over USD 200,000 at time of writing,  surpassing its USD 120,000 goal).

The robot has been designed by inventor Joe Jones, who was the brains behind the Roomba robot floor cleaner. It is powered via the solar panels on its roof, and as soon as it has enough power it sets off on its mission to find and chop down weeds. It uses height as a means of measuring whether or not something is a weed or plant – if its object is over an inch the Tertill will leave the plant alone, but if  it’s shorter it gets snipped using a little cutting wire. The wheels are also designed to keep weeds from growing, trampling them as they sprout. Tertill also comes with plant collars that can be put around tiny plants to protect them from its wrath – it’ll touch the collar and immediately back off.

Connected to a user’s smartphone via bluetooth, the accompanying app (iOS and Android) shows the user information such as how many hours Tertill has been active, how much distance it’s covered, and how many weeds have been chopped. The Kickstarter page is open to pledges until July 12th, and customers can purchase a unit for a pledge of USD 249. The company aims to deliver by May 2018.

We are seeing more and more robots making things easier outside the home. Tarzan the Robot has been designed to help mass farming easier by monitoring crop health autonomously, and a robot fish has been engineered to help keep sea farms in good health. What other areas of life could such a robot assist with?

A joint initiative between the UK and US-based Arrhythmia Alliance, Happitech in the Netherlands, and Bug Labs in the US have launched its Heart for Heart app with the help of the Dutch Heart Association. The app is a simple tool to monitor heart health. Users place their finger on the camera lens of their phone and hold still in order for it to take 90 seconds of heart rhythm data, which will be used in research to find a cure for Atrial Fibrillation, also known as AFib, the most common heart rhythm disorder.

The app is based on technology called PhotoPlethysmoGraphy (PPG), which measures light reflected in the blood. Blood absorbs light and each pulse increases the blood flow in the body and fingertips, so heart rate can be measured by looking at the changes in light absorption. This method is similar to that used in a pulse oximeter and many wearable fitness trackers on the market. It can also recognise the difference between a regular heartbeat and an irregular one.

Data collated form the app will be made anonymous, compiled and visualised ready for analysis by medical professionals. In addition to the heart rhythm measurements, age, location, gender, weight, conditions and lifestyle is required to be submitted by users.

Technology to aid health and wellbeing is a popular market of late, with the smart t-shirt that has an embedded respiratory monitor and a bra that assists wearer in detecting breast cancer symptoms both available to consumers. Would you entrust technology to monitor your health?

The growing IoT network is making the world a much more connected place, and we’ve seen how IoT networks can be applied to everyday situations — a previous example being a set of bluetooth smart tags that help users find their keys and other essentials. Using a similar approach is Colombia-based Totto, which has designed a backpack that alerts users to forgotten items.

The T-Track backpack is a connected transporting device designed for modern lifestyles. Powered by a chargeable pack, which also functions as a charging USB port, T-Track has a Bluetooth-enabled ‘brain’. This connects to a collection of smart tags attached to the user’s items. The brain will therefore detect if these items are in proximity. If one of them is too far away, the backpack will vibrate to let them know something’s missing. Users register items through the associated app for iPhone or Android devices, where users can create groups of items for different contexts, such as the gym or work, with the app informing users of exactly what item is missing. T-Track is also trackable through a GPS signal in the app should users forget the backpack itself. T-Track also features a range of ergonomic and practical extras, such as hidden pockets and hard casings.

Currently crowdfunding on Indiegogo, T-Track should launch the early bird backpacks, available as a perk for a USD 99 contribution, by late 2017. How else could smart tags and other IoT objects alter users’ everyday environments?

The Barcelona-born Bios Urn was the first product created by the company of the same name, allowing the bereaved to use a 100 percent biodegradable urn that is built with a special capsule to meet the needs of a growing tree. A prepared soil mix that contains an expansion disc and seed is placed on top of the urn, with the disc expanding to incorporate with the ashes.

The newest partner product Bios Incube is a system that allows users to create an extra connection with their urn. A sensor placed on the surface of the soil tracks and waters the tree using the five-gallon water tank inside the Bios Incube. It collects soil and environmental data and feeds back to the owner via an app.

The Bios Urn simply slots inside the Bios Incube, and the urn will biodegrade during a period of incubation to become part of the soil and subsoil. Once the tree is grown, the Bios Incube controls the size of the tree and lets the owner transplant it wherever desired. The new device only needs to be charged for 30 minutes every three weeks. The Bios Urn costs USD 145 and the new Bios Incube costs USD 550 from its website.

Environmentally friendly products have experienced a hike in popularity in recent years, with trainers made from algae harvested from waste streams and beach plastic repurposed in kitchenware hitting the market of late. What item would you like to see an environmentally friendly version created?

A lot people take up running thinking the only measurement they need to know is shoe size. They have no idea what words like pronator, supinator and neutral even mean in the world of running trainers and it’s only usually after suffering chronic knee, ankle or back injuries – and then being advised by a physio during treatment – that they start to get clued up on the subject. But the equipment that scans feet – like this FeetID Ecosystem – is expensive and far from omnipresent. Flagship running stores in the world’s largest cities will have 3D scanners (that are usually GBP 20-30 a scan unless you buy a pair of very expensive trainers with the scan), but many people still don’t have access to the tech.

But it’s a tech that might soon be redundant. Ad agency Neogama came up with a truly innovative idea for its client Asics. It’s a double page spread print ad that unfolds like a mat and is covered in thermochromic ink. The user steps onto it, and the ink reacts to the feet’s heat, illustrating the foot shape. The user merely compares the result to the examples down the side to see which category they fall in, and can then make a much more informed choice either down a sports store or online. And while it maybe Asics who ran the ad – all running shoes are made to the three main gaits so the results from the thermochromic ink would help a runner regardless of what brand trainers they prefer.

There are other ways of finding out more about your feet as a means to running, such as Under Armour’s smart running shoe which helps to reduce injury. What other high tech applications could traditional print media be used for?

In an era where the term ‘fake news’ has become commonplace, news app Read Across the Aisle by US-based BeeLine Reader is designed to help users break out from the ‘filter bubble’ of media sources they are inclined to read from by offering articles from opposing angles. The app, which is Kickstarter funded, hopes to combat political polarization by allowing readers to see the partisan bias of the news sources they are accessing. It tracks the user’s own political news bias over time, and finds reliable new sources from both the left and right wing to offer a reader a well-rounded spectrum of approaches.

Research has found that Internet users, particularly in the realm of news and social media, tend to immerse themselves with those who have similar opinions, meaning other information can be missed or deemed false. App users are informed when their reading habits skew too far to one side of the political spectrum, and are consequently prompted to read articles written by the press from the opposing side.

As the once-popular newspapers have made way for online news consumption, technology to support the industry has excelled. Recent innovations covered by Springwise include a blockchain transparency tool applied to newsfeeds to create algorithms of trustworthy news sources, and a news website that encourages readers to empathise with opposing views. How varied is your news consumption?

UK-based Sensate is a new wearable that can track and decelerate stress as it strikes. The device is held in place with a chest strap, and works with smartphone headphones and the accompanying app to measure and respond to stress indicators such as heart rate, respiration, posture, temperature and mood. When these factors are recognised, Sensate plays relaxing music through headphones that can be felt via the device. Its creators claim it creates relaxation quicker than traditional meditation techniques.

Sensate integrates Vagus Nerve Stimulation to stimulate the nervous system using sound, and the audio-based Brainwave Synchronisation to guide brain activity, both of which are techniques proven to support stress reduction. The biometric data gathered by the wearable can be viewed on the app, which tailors the low frequency sound waves it emits to a user’s chest so it responds to immediate stress-relief needs. Sensate will begin a crowdfunding campaign later this month.

Wearable technology that aims to improve a user’s health is a popular market, with the smart t-shirt developed with a respiratory monitor and the breast cancer-detecting bra being two recent creations in the field. Could a variety of wearables be combined into a single device to improve overall health?

We have already seen modular plant pots that create vertical home gardens, and a plant wall that can purify indoor air. Now, a German company is taking things a step further with an innovation they hope will be an answer to creating low-cost, low-maintenance outdoor urban greenscapes. The company has developed a freestanding plant filter, the CityTree, that can clean the surrounding air of particulate matter while offsetting 240 tons of CO2 equivalents per year. The 12-foot-high unit combines a vertically-installed moss culture with vascular plants for a green wall that can ingest particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ozone, and has the same cleansing effect as 275 urban trees but at 5 percent of the cost and just 1 percent of the space. Thanks to solar panels and a fully automated provision of water and nutrients using a built-in tank, the CityTree requires only a few hours of maintenance each year, and has a production footprint of just four tons of CO2.

On top of its environmental benefits, the CityTree contains sensors which collect and analyze environmental and climatic data, which is used to regulate and control the unit from a distance, and ensure that the plants thrive as the weather changes. CityTree also contains room for visual or digital information displays that allow advertisers to rent space on the unit, and for advertisers who prefer non-digital advertising, messages can be spelled out by using plants of different colors. The units can also include benches, wi-fi hotspots and e-bike charging stations.

CityTree is the brainchild of clean tech start up Green City Solutions , which was founded in 2015 to develop innovative ways to fight air pollution. The CityTree has already won numerous green awards in Germany and Europe, and the company hopes to, “create living conditions that allow all people around the world to permanently have clean and cool air to breathe … linking the natural abilities of plants with cutting-edge Internet of Things technology in a unique way,” in order to contribute to intelligent city design. What other city landscapes might benefit from thinking vertically, rather than horizontally?