Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Foodies around the world have a new destination! FICO Eataly World opens in Bologna in November 2017, and on more than 25 acres of land, the biodiverse Italian food theme park will take visitors on a journey from fields and stables to kitchens, street-food kiosks and starred restaurants. Designed to introduce visitors to every stage of the food production process, FICO Eataly World is free to enter and includes more than 200 animals and 2000 crops.

The agri-park will be partially publicly owned, and more than 2,000 businesses are involved. Sustainability is a main theme of the space, with reclamation, reuse and solar as key components of new structures. Bianchi tricycles, equipped with shopping baskets, will be available for travelling around the site. Farmland will grow everything from olives and melons to grains, herbs and grapes, as well as providing grazing space for cows, pigs, goats and more. Forty workshops will allow visitors to take part in the making of food, including flour, pasta, cheese and wine. With multiple bars available, an on-site hotel continues the theme park feel and makes it easy for visitors to safely overindulge.

Other projects around the world finding ways to reduce food waste include laser engraving fresh produce to avoid the need for stickers and connecting farmers to consumers through WhatsApp orders. How might small agricultural and food processing interventions connect with each other to create economy of scale?

Losing key hand functions due to age or condition is life changing, as it alters the ability to complete even the most simple of tasks – a new smart glove called Nuada hopes to make such woes a thing of the past. Nuada is a hand function improving system that is safe, light and small and was designed to be affordable and non-intrusive. The solution uses thin, breathable, flexible and smart textiles that people can customize, using unique enhancement technology that aims to be an everyday essential wearable that people even forget they are wearing.

Nuada’s solution relies mostly on energy efficient and lightweight components, created to deal with heavy weight support while maintaining touch sensitivity and a non-intrusive relation with the users’ body. With an ergonomic and small design and with an extended life battery, it can be used in everyday life with comfort and discretion. The glove has special built-in tendons that support the hand when required, made possible by connecting the artificial tendons to a patented, specially designed system that is worn on the users’ wrist. In addition to the hand function support, Nuada is equipped with tracking components that collect metrics such as pulling strength, stability while pulling, and heart rate, and shares the data with users and healthcare professionals.

The gloves primary target is for healthcare purposes, helping those with ailments that deter them from making the most of their hands. Secondary target fields include professional activities and sports. Smart devices with the aim of improving physical ability are an innovative use of technology. Impressive uses of such technology include an electrical stimulation device that helps arm mobility in stroke victims, and a muscle activation tool that helps achieve good posture. How would you use such technology to improve your daily activities?

Researchers from the University of California San Diego have found that combining squid ink with light and ultrasound works as a dental imaging method to examine patient’s gums in a non-invasive, more comprehensive and more accurate way than current methods.

Dentists usually assess gum health using a thin, hook-like metal tool called a periodontal probe, which is marked with measurements and inserted between teeth and into gums to analyse whether and how much the gums have shrunk back from the teeth. This inspection of pockets, as they are known, finds healthy gums with a 1-2mm measurement, while 3mm or more is a sign of gum disease – the deeper the pockets, the more sever the gum disease. The method is uncomfortable for patients and lacks precision when it comes to diagnosis.

The proposed new method begins by rinsing the mouth with a paste made of commercially available food-grade squid ink mixed with water and cornstarch. The squid-ink-based rinse serves as a contrasting agent for an imaging technique called photoacoustic ultrasound. This involves shining a light signal — usually a short laser pulse — onto a sample, which heats up and expands, generating an acoustic signal that researchers can analyse. Squid ink naturally contains melanin nanoparticles, which absorb light. During the oral rinse, the melanin nanoparticles get trapped in the pockets between the teeth and gums. When researchers shine a laser light onto the area, the squid ink heats up and quickly swells, creating pressure differences in the gum pockets that can be detected using ultrasound. This method enables researchers to create a full map of the pocket depth around each tooth.

Combining technology with new concepts has helped efficiency in the dentist industry, with augmented reality providing patients with an insight as to what their teeth could look like with treatment, and 3D printed tooth aligners meaning trips to the dentist could be minimised. How else could dentistry be improved with the help of new technology?

In the past, we have seen a wide variety of innovative lighting designs, such as a lamp that mimics natural light, to prevent seasonal affective disorder. Innovative ways are also being developed for using biological materials to filter pollutants out of the air, including a street-side column filled with algae. Now, a design engineer has developed a way to combine the two with a ‘living chandelier’ that not only looks beautiful but also absorbs carbon dioxide from the air and releases oxygen. The Exhale Chandelier is the work of Julian Melchiorri, the first Engineer in Residence at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

Melchiorri based the chandelier on his previously developed ‘Silk Leaf’, an artificial leaf made of chloroplasts (the chlorophyll containing part of the plant) stabilized in a silk protein. Water and nutrients are supplied to the leaf through osmosis, in a similar way to how natural leaves work. For the Exhale Chandelier, Melchiorri adapted the artificial leaves into 70 petals in three different sizes. Each petal contains green algae, sustained by a drip-feed of nutrients and water, and lit by LED lights. The algae absorbs carbon dioxide and ‘breathes out’ oxygen. The effect is a unique lighting fixture that purifies the air naturally.

Melchiorri envisions his artificial leaves and chandeliers eventually being used in applications such as ventilation systems, as free form surfaces for interiors, or even in space exploration. His goal is to develop new ways to mimic biological mechanisms to efficiently solve problems in an aesthetically pleasing way. In the future, will technology that mimics biological processes be capable of improving the urban environment on a large scale?

Before the days of mass-produced clothing, many people had their own tailors to create bespoke, made-to-order suits and dresses. Until today, this kind of service has been out of the financial reach of most. Now, there is an alternative for those who don’t want cookie-cutter clothing and, unsurprisingly, it uses digital tools to transform a traditional service. Frilly, a Los Angeles-based online atelier, allows customers to choose a piece of clothing, and then customize almost everything about it – from hem length and color to material and style.

Frilly co-founders Jeni Ni and Shangwei Ding were inspired to start the business while out shopping one afternoon. The pair realised that there was always one aspect of every garment that they were not happy with. The realised that if they could devise a system that would allow people to change those nagging details, then customers could be completely happy with every purchase. They then spent three years designing the 3D simulation software to bring their dream to life. The Made to Measure Service uses an advanced AI algorithm to tailor garments to a client’s unique measurements. Customers chose and customise their pieces online, which are then handed over to a designer to create. As each variable is changed online, Frilly’s proprietary software allows the customer to see the effect in real-time on screen. A model gallery and a pop-up window provides recommendations from the designer, and demonstrates how to adjust each piece to achieve the exact look the customer wants, as well as offering a 360 degree view of the item’s details – from draping to the weave and texture of the fabric.

Frilly’s made-to-order model also reduces waste and overbuys. Fabrics are chemical-free and the company is also committed to offering sustainable options, such as the use of recycled fabrics. From made-to-order liquers to bespoke popsicles companies are offering more and more ways to customise the shopping experience. What other ways might exist to bring customization to new areas?

We have seen ways in which robots that mimic biological structures can read sign language and search for the sources of water pollution. Now, a team of engineers from Japan’s Kyoto University, Kanazawa University and Okayama University have developed a snake robot that is capable of wiggling through complex pipe structures to aid inspection and repair.

Despite their very simple body design, snakes are capable of using many different forms of locomotion, such as lateral undulation and pole climbing. Researchers studied the movements of real-life snakes to try and achieve a similar range of motion. The researchers designed their robot snake to mimic movements such as the sinus-lifting motion, where the snake moves forward by lifting and twisting parts of its body; and the side-winding motion. The robot duplicates these real-life movements to slither over debris and to climb up cylindrical objects by winding around them.

The snake robot is around six feet long and weighs approximately 20 pounds. It is equipped with a camera and high-performance sensors that allow it to weave its way through complicated networks of pipes. The robot keeps track of its location by monitoring its own echoes. According to Kyoto robotics professor Fumitoshi Matsuno, the robot will be upgraded to be water and dust resistant in the future. The team is currently studying how to control snake robots in complex environments such as disaster sites and plant facilities. The engineers have already devised a way to use the snake like a robot arm by lifting up the ‘head’ and a way for two snakes to carry a load between them. In the future, the researchers hope that the snakes can be used for checking sites that are dangerous for humans to enter, such as in decommissioning work at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. What other uses might there be for a snake-shaped robot?

Spotted: Sephora’s marketing campaign for the Beauty Insider Community was a great example of a traditional retail brand utilising social media platforms to shift the business towards a more UGC-based focus. It enabled shoppers in their community to communicate directly with beauty experts and fellow shoppers alike, helping them make better-informed decisions about their purchases. 

While encouraging users to actively participate in the community, the campaign also allowed anyone to be an “expert” as they can review a product based on their own experience.

Using UGC influence, Sephora’s campaign created a “micro-influencer” base of users who are actually fans of the product or company. The campaign was also successful using UGC as visual commerce. Not only were users able to review the products, they were also able to post pictures alongside their recommendations. 

For many, especially the young, one of the biggest obstacles to home ownership is saving up enough money for a down payment. According to a report by Inside Mortgage Finance, over the 12 months to August 2017, around 1.5 million borrowers have purchased homes using less than a 10 percent down payment. Buying with a low down payment increases the amount these buyers need to borrow, raising their monthly mortgage payments and making home ownership even more of a stretch. Now, a new lender believes they have found a way to help homebuyers raise their down payment as they buy.

Seattle-based start-up Loftium provides prospective home buyers with up to USD 50,000 for a down payment. In exchange, the home buyers must agree to continuously list one bedroom on Airbnb for between one and three years, and share around two-thirds of the income with Loftium. To make hosting easier, Loftium supplies automated messaging, smart pricing, an automated keypad for the front door, linen and toiletries for the spare room, as well as cleaning resources. The company determines the size of down payment it is willing to put up by using an algorithm that predicts how much income a room is likely to generate. Home owners are given just eight ‘freebie’ days a year to use the room for their own purposes, but if the room does not generate enough income to cover the down payment within the agreed-upon contract period, Loftium takes full responsibility for the loss.

At the moment, the program is only available in Seattle, where buyers are able to apply the down payment only to mortgages financed through Umpqua Bank. In the future, Loftium hopes to expand to more cities, and to work with a wider range of lenders and rental services. Other companies have already attempted to address the high cost of buying with innovative housing solutions such as a rooftop micro-house built around an air duct, and quickly built mini-homes constructed inside empty buildings. What part will Loftium’s model play in helping more people to buy homes?

Researchers from Germany’s Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics have developed a robotic airbag that inflates when the machine is operating at high velocities. In the modern age where robots are gradually being introduced into working environments such as warehouses, they pose level of risk to their human co-workers as machines can malfunction. Researchers believe this cushioning could eliminate such risk and a call for extra safety sensors being installed on every robot deployed in such an environment.

Robots can come in the form of that similar to a human, or simply an ‘arm’ programmed to perform a particular manufacturing task within a factory, for example. The airbag is specifically created to be effective in actual collisions in addition to detecting potential collisions. If a person is in the work area of the robot, the airbag is activated as soon as the robot starts a movement. This means that the airbag is filled with compressed air and encloses the tool and the workpiece with a secure air cushion pad. By releasing the air, the full functionality of the tool is restored. Two integrated pressure sensors are used to ensure proper operation and enable collision detection.

Experiments have been carried out with the airbag, and it was found that MRK requirements – that of robots and human working side-by-side – could not be met without the use of the airbag. The airbag was presented to the public for the first time in 2016 and won the EUR 20,000 KUKA Innovation Award at the Hanover Fair 2017.

The integration of robotics into the mainstream still seems hard to believe, and that of something created for films. Robots are being used in factories to assist with the creation of shoes and are even helping farmers make more affordable biofuels. What form of robot has the biggest impact on your life without you even considering it bizarre?

Much to the distress of fans, ticket counterfeiting and re-selling has become a big business, with brokers using bots to buy up the entire supply of tickets to high-demand shows in just minutes. These are then sold on to fans at huge mark-ups. According to a 2016 report released by the Office of New York State Attorney General, and reported in Forbes, “Ticketing, to put it bluntly, is a fixed game… On December 8, 2014, when tickets first went on sale for a tour by the rock band U2, a single broker purchased 1,012 tickets to one show at Madison Square Garden in a single minute …” According to TicketMaster, purchases by brokers contribute to around 60 percent of sales to popular shows.

Now, two students at London’s Imperial College London have devised a system which may prevent brokers from buying and reselling tickets at high prices. Annika Monari and Alan Vey have created Aventus, an online ticketing system that uses blockchain protocols to give every ticket a unique digital identity, which can only be changed if the ticket is resold through the Aventus platform. Tickets are linked to the individual buyer using a picture of their face, a credit card or other form of ID, which is encrypted on the ticket. Because each ticket is issued with a unique identifier on the blockchain, counterfeits cannot be created.

By ensuring that sales occur through Aventus, event organisers can cap the resale price of the tickets and make sure tickets are available to a wide audience. All events listed on Aventus can be made accessible to any application using it (unless forbidden by the organizers), creating a wider market. Monari and Vey have also promised that there will be only minimal fees for using the system, to lower the barriers to its adoption. The company plans to work with third party developers to support the creation of other applications on top of the services layer, such as applications that will allow organizers to create promotional schemes to encourage ticket sales or reward ticket buyers. Aventus plans to launch the site in spring 2018.

We have recently seen how blockchain protocols can be used to securely store ID information and target fake news. Will Aventus be successful in using blockchain to end unscrupulous ticket reselling and counterfeiting?