Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Vincross, a consumer robotics company based in China, has announced a new six-legged robot called HEXA. The device runs on the MIND operating system, which is based on the Linux kernal and has been adapted to run customizable routines for the robot.

HEXA comes with a wide variety of built-in sensors to help it move around, which also includes a camera and distance sensor. Users can control HEXA with a smartphone, and because of its unique design, it’s easily able to clamber over uneven terrain or even climb stairs. The robot is also clever enough to climb objects automatically, meaning that the user doesn’t have to control the individual legs to do it.

As impressive as its design is, the really innovative feature of HEXA is that it’s completely programmable. The robot comes with a development kit that encourages the user to create unique routines and programmes for it. These can then be uploaded to an online store to share with the HEXA community. Vincross hope that, over time, the community will transform HEXA into an adaptable device with a wide range of uses. With its comprehensive ecosystem of robotic hardware and software, the Beijing-based company is simplifying the programming of robotics and making them more accessible to all tech enthusiasts.

There’s plenty going on in the world of robotics. There’s a robot home assistant that can patrol your house for you while you’re away, and an ingenious snake-like robot can be used to inspect and repair complex piping systems that humans wouldn’t be able to reach. As robotics appear to be advancing rapidly now, what areas do you think could be improved through robotic assistance?

Led by scientists from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), a team of researchers created an app that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to identify East African crop diseases. First designed to identify problems with cassava, the team’s recent award of a Big Data in Agriculture USD 100,000 grant will be used to expand the app’s capabilities to include diagnoses of other root, tuber and banana diseases.

Currently being field-tested, the app’s initial results show successful diagnoses even when a plant appears healthy. When combined with the text message service, thousands of smallholders will now be able to access advice and support much sooner than previously, as well as better contain the spread of a disease.

Food insecurity is a growing challenge faced by countries around the world, with technology now often used to gather in-depth knowledge from farmers who previously had no means of sharing their insights. In South Africa, traditional fishers can log catches, contribute to government data sets and build relationships with markets via an app. In Pakistan, a wearable for cows helps farmers track the health, fertility, location and general activity of their cattle. How can a range of connected crop care solutions be combined to create regional (or national) improvements?

While cryptocurrency continues to gather greater recognition and spawns more innovations, as we’ve seen recently with an app that converts users’ spare change into their cryptocurrency of choice, now a startup has found a way to increase its profit margins — by mining with cheaper, renewable energy.

Austria-based HydroMiner is in the process of scaling up a project that uses hardware powered by hydroelectricity to mine cryptocurrencies. Mining is the process by which digital transactions are verified, creating new ‘money’, by adding a codified stamp of authenticity to the blockchain, or the digital ledger on which cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin are built, the miner is given fractions of the currency as a reward. Mining traditionally requires a large financial investment in dedicated hardware that must run continuously and a process where there is no guarantee of profit. However, HydroMiner have now built facilities, inside sea freight containers near hydroelectric plants on rivers just outside of Vienna, where electricity bills are 85-percent lower than the average. The efficient cooling systems are powered by water, which help create these greater potential profit margins.

The next stage is adding more of these specialized mining facilities and renting them out to other miners to avoid startup costs, as well as access to proprietary software that keeps the operation secure and functioning and expert guidance on hand if necessary. To do this, HydroMiner is currently undergoing a form of crowdfunding unique to cryptocurrency, an ICO (Initial Coin Offering), where users can buy into the project by purchasing etherium (ETH) ‘H20’ tokens, underwritten by smart contracts that, if all goes well, will see profit shared between investors down the line.

Cryptocurrency has already popped up in an array of industries to streamline processors such as paying international freelancers immediately, rather than with the delay of international bank transactions. Where else will we see their uptake?

Researchers at Paso Pacifico, a conservation group based in Nicaragua, have created a decoy sea turtle egg that is actually a GPS-GSM tracking device. The egg can be placed within a nest of real eggs, and when disturbed and stolen by a poacher, tracks the smuggling routes in real time. It is hoped the creation, named the InvestEGGator, will help put an end to the 90 percent of sea turtle eggs produced in Central America that are sold into the illegal wildlife trade, even being sold to restaurants as a delicacy. The financial incentive is overwhelming, as a single turtle egg can command USD 100-300 on the international market.

The InvestEGGator is a low cost dummy turtle egg with an internally embedded tracker, created using a 3D printer. It replicates the appearance, weight, and feel of a real turtle egg, it is easily deployed at low risk to investigators, can be programmed, and is monitored remotely using web-based and smartphone applications. Its low cost allows for deployment of many units at once. The goal of the InvestEGGator project is to deter and reduce the illegal trade of sea turtle eggs and contribute to the long-term survival of four endangered marine turtle species, with the aim of perfecting the technology and making it readily available to sea turtle conservationists worldwide.

Technology has the capability of making real change to the damning effect of poaching, with one zoological society collaborating with a tech company on a sensor and satellite network to trace poachers, and another innovation adopting AI software on drones to monitor wild animals and poachers. How could trackers be used within your operations to boost efficiency and pinpoint weak areas?

Engineers at the University of British Columbia will see the first real-life application of its new seismic-resistant, fibre-reinforced concrete at the seismic retrofit of a Vancouver elementary school. The material is engineered at the molecular scale to be strong, malleable, and ductile, similar to steel, so it is capable of dramatically enhancing the earthquake resistance of a seismically vulnerable structure when applied as a thin coating on the surfaces.

Researchers subjected the material, called eco-friendly ductile cementitious composite (EDCC), to earthquake simulation tests using intensities as high as the magnitude 9.0–9.1 earthquake that struck Tohoku, Japan, in 2011. A 10mm-thick layer was sprayed on to walls as part of the test, and the movements did not break the seal. EDCC combines cement with polymer-based fibres, fly ash and other industrial additives, making it highly sustainable. By replacing nearly 70 percent of cement with fly ash, an industrial byproduct, the amount of cement used can be reduced. This is an urgent requirement in terms of sustainability, as one tonne of cement production releases almost a tonne of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and the cement industry produces close to 7 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Other EDCC applications include resilient homes for First Nations communities, pipelines, pavements, offshore platforms, blast-resistant structures, and industrial floors.

The way in which concrete can be manipulated in the modern day takes its uses far beyond once it once was. Researchers have created an even stronger form of concrete by integrating recycled tyres, and electromagnetic radiation can be used to detect corrosion within the building material. How could taking a new approach to an age-old product or system change your business perspective?

We have seen ideas designed to make it easier for women to start up their own businesses, such as a crowdfunding platform that donates to female entrepreneurs in developing countries, and a global women’s network. Now, an Indian company hopes to make it easier for thousands of women to build their own local retail business.

The goal of Bangalore-based startup GlowRoad is to give Indian housewives and stay-at-home mothers a low-risk way to start their own retail businesses from home. Founder Sonal Verma, a former physician, acquired reseller portal LocalQueen in June, and has recently secured USD 2 million in Series A funding from Accel Partners to develop the company. GlowRoad plans to use the funds for acquiring more resellers and developing its technology platform. The company connects manufacturers with resellers, using drop-shipping to keep overheads low. GlowRoad’s 100,000 registered users build their own online store using the site, then sell their products locally through WhatsApp groups or in person. GlowRoad claims that its resellers currently complete around 1,000 transactions every day.

Verma’s goal was to develop a company that could empower women, especially those in more traditional areas of the country. Re-selling is a popular occupation for women in India, with the number of “housewife resellers” expected to reach 23 million by 2022. GlowRoad joins several other Indian programs aiming to help women entrepreneurs, including POPxo.com, a digital publication targeted at young women, which recently raised USD 2.7 million in a Series B funding round; and SheThePeople.TV, a digital storytelling platform for women. What other types of online platforms might help women to develop their own businesses?

Using RFID tagging and the IoT, Cup Club allows coffee customers to return their cups to any participating store, regardless of the company in which they made the purchase. A winner of the New Plastics Economy Circular Design Challenge, the new ecosystem provides a product, service and business model. The founder of the company says that the new approach can scale quickly because it does not rely on brand loyalty.

Cup Club works by providing multiple drop off points available across all businesses, making it easy for customers to participate. And the reusable cups make multiple marketing campaigns possible. Retailers subscribe to the service, and Cup Club does all the work of recycling and reusing. The combination of RFID and IoT technology will allow the startup to track individual cups and reward their users for being in the system. Tested in London in 2017 with plans for a city-wide rollout in 2018, the Cup Club team plans to expand the approach to another scourge of environmentalists everywhere – plastic drinks bottles.

With billions of coffee cups and lids discarded each year, and most cup reuse schemes notable only for not working, a number of recent projects are helping find ways to make the entire product supply chain more sustainable. A new cup made from the husk of coffee beans reduces waste at the farm, and a zero-packaging grocery store brings the eco-savings into the home. How could other industries with only tangential interaction with coffee, food and beverages get involved?

For women who do not want to take hormone replacement therapy, plant-based supplements have become a popular option for managing the symptoms of menopause. Now there is another option – beer. New Hampshire’s Portsmouth Brewery has released a beer containing ingredients, which could potentially alleviate the symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and insomnia. Joanne Francis, co-owner of the brewery, says that at first her staff reacted with “disgust and horror” at the idea of a brew aimed at menopausal women, but Francis did not give up. “ … Remember, many [women] have been enjoying craft beer since the whole movement began in the mid-80s. We have purchasing power and we deserve this empowering elixir!” While testing recipes Francis and her team consulted with women’s health practitioners and herbalists.

The beer, named Libeeration, is a gruit style ale containing a combination of ingredients, including motherwort, lemon balm, chamomile, stinging nettle, mugwort and rose, designed to help women deal with the hormone changes that come with age. The beer is finished with Saphir hops, which add a tangerine note to the finish and can help with sleep.

Although clinical trials have reported no significant reduction in the symptoms of menopause from the use of herbal medicines, and Libeeration doesn’t make any “medicinal claims”, this is the first beer aimed directly at a segment of the beer market that is often over-looked but has great purchasing power. In that sense, it is certainly a liberation for women in the often male-oriented world of craft brewing. Libeeration is available in bottles from the Portsmouth Brewery until supplies run out. We have already seen beer made from urine and beer designed to be drunk at high altitudes, could beer that serves medicinal purposes be a way to target a specific market segment?

We have recently seen the introduction of some innovative biometric systems, such as chip implants that can be used to pay for train fares and the use of heart dimensions as ID. Soon, tourists visiting Japan will have the option of using next-generation fingerprint-based biometrics to ease their travel. Biometric authentication company Liquid, Inc. has begun a full-scale introduction of Touch & Pay, a fingerprint authentication system that will allow tourists to register and buy train tickets, sightseeing tours, check in at hotels, pay for goods and services, and even ship parcels home using fingerprints alone. Tourists will no longer need to worry about lost wallets, remembering pin numbers, or long lines for tickets.

Tourists register their address, personal ID, fingerprints, and payment methods on Touch & Pay’s Total Wallet before leaving home. Once in Japan, they can then pay for goods and services across the country using fingerprints alone. The biometric system is designed to use far more fingerprint feature points than other types of biometric systems. These fingerprint feature points are digitized and encrypted, making it impossible to recreate the fingerprint, even if the data is stolen. The system claims to be 90,000 times more accurate than standard fingerprint or vein authentication. The system uses machine learning index search technology to speed up the authentication process, making it possible to handle large numbers of users at one time.

Touch & Pay is one of several infrastructure improvement projects being promoted by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, with a goal of improving travel and business opportunities in the country. Field trials originally took place in around 220 popular hotels and sightseeing spots in smaller cities, and now a full-scale roll-out has begun in facilities all across Japan. The system is planned to be fully operational across Japan by 2020. How might similar biometric payment systems eventually change the way we shop and travel everywhere?

Libre is a tool, platform and currency designed by Open Knowledge Brasil to support quality journalism and foster more trusting relationships between the public and media organizations. Eliminating a publication’s dependence on advertisers is an important first step in building that trust. Libre contributes by providing the means for readers to microfinance the individuals and companies they believe in.

Supporters sign up to a monthly plan and then click the support button to send a small payment to the individual writer or business. Subscribers can cancel at any time. Every BRL1 in a reader’s account equals the same amount of Libre credit for the recipient. If an account holder doesn’t distribute their entire monthly subscription, each “like” increases in value as the subscription is divided equally among recipients. Currently in the test phase, the platform is now accepting applications from parties interested in being supported by the currency.

The rise of fake news has seen a corresponding increase in innovations focusing on clarity, from blockchain-based algorithm rankings requiring third-party proof to an app that suggests additional reading to help readers diversify their news intake. How might marketing campaigns and advertisers use the trend for transparency to build more trust with their audiences?