Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Technology company Blockchain for Change has launched its own app named Fummi to connect the homeless with services they require by helping them create a digital identity. Fummi is an android app that uses blockchain-based SmartID to transform services for the underserved and underprivileged. Its three key features are the Digital ID – Change Pass, safe store of money in the SmartWallet, and acting as a marketplace for service providers and beneficiaries.

Around 3,000 homeless people in New York will receive a smartphone as part of the rollout, beginning the process of creating a digital identity for them. Fummi is preloaded on to each phone, which is provided by Life Wireless. The company started by distributing phones in the Bronx. The service groups create the blockchain identities for the homeless and once on the system, they can then open an account, receive money, and track activity. Fummi shows when someone has checked into a shelter, how much they paid for showers, haircuts, and clothes, their available balance, and so on. It is hoped that the platform will help give the homeless the boost they need to create the lives they desire.

The prominence of blockchain technology being integrated into different industries is apparent in a number of new innovations being recently unveiled, such as a gamified offering being built on the Ethereum network, and a platform to tackle extremist views. How could blockchain have an impact on your company’s operations?

Fashion retailer Zara has installed a self-service kiosk at one of its Spain stores to provide a flexible shopping experience for online customers. When a package arrives to the kiosk, the customer receives a notification and can go to the location to pick up their item at their convenience. The CleverFlex kiosk, provided by Estonia-based technology company Cleveron, has the capacity to store up to 4,000 parcels, double the amount of the Walmart’s pickup towers.

The CleverFlex has a sleek white exterior and a modular design that allows retailers to customize its height and width according to their aesthetic preferences, and even being able to hide it behind a wall. The kiosks have been created to further streamline the customer online shopping experience, with the CleverFlex retrieving the correct parcel for a shopper in a matter of seconds. Its creation is another step in simplifying the connection between a retailer’s online entity and physical stores. CleverFlex also has some some self-learning capabilities as it can remember parcel traffic peak times and predict user activity based on past data to optimize its workflow.

Self-service kiosks are popular across all industries, with deliveries that go directly to a smart locker streamlining the pick up process for the residents of one building, and a pay-as-you-go pantry placed within an office both proving popular. How could the self-service model be implementing at your business?

The SeeColors app from Samsung has been created to make it significantly easier for people suffering from color blindness – or Color Vision Deficiency (CVD) – to adjust their TV’s color settings for a more accurate display. Samsung believe that the majority of those affected by CVD are completely unaware of their condition. They claim that the app is so accurate that users may discover that they are suffering from the condition even if they weren’t previously diagnosed.

Samsung worked with the Budapest University of Technology‘s Klara Wenzel, who developed the Colorite Test, a way of letting people self-diagnose the extent of their CVD with color filters and mathematical models. The user downloads an app to their Galaxy smartphone and also their TV, they take the test on their phone and then sync it with their TV to upload the results to its color settings.

This isn’t the first time that smartphones have been used for testing eyesight, though. EyeQue have developed a miniscope that attaches to users’ smartphone screens and, via an app, can be used to undergo simple diagnostic tests. As most smartphones have high quality front-facing cameras and iris scanners, can you think of any other ways that phones can be used for health purposes?

Exercise has come a long way since the days of baggy t-shirts and basic equipment. From the yoga apparel that helps aid form as the user moves, to the muscle activation device that assists the way exercise junkies move when performing routines, technology is thriving in the industry and adapting the way people move their bodies.

Researchers at New York’s Binghamton University have thrown their own offering into the mix with their creation of a stretchable battery. The innovation, which is an entirely textile-based, bacteria-powered biobattery, could one day be integrated within workout apparel and be charged with the wearer’s perspiration. The research has been led by Professor Seokheun Choi who has previously worked on a battery activated by saliva and a biobattery powered by dirty water.

Compared to traditional batteries and other enzymatic fuel cells, microbial fuel cells can be the most suitable power source for wearable electronics because the whole microbial cells as a biocatalyst provide stable enzymatic reactions and a long lifetime. Sweat generated from the human body can be a potential fuel to support bacterial viability, providing the long-term operation of the microbial fuel cells. How could such a creation power your operations?

Politicians are infamous for answering questions with a different question, and often not even answering at all. There is one new politician on the block who won’t be able to avoid such queries – virtual offering SAM. Created by entrepreneur Nick Gerritsen in New Zealand, the AI-powered bot was made with the aim to close the gap between what voters want, what politicians promise, and what they actually achieve.

SAM’s goal is to act as a representative for all New Zealanders, and evolves based on voter input. It is directly connected to all New Zealanders through social media, and can be talked to any time, anywhere. SAM analyses everyone’s views, opinions, and the impact of potential decisions, promoting better policy for everyone. SAM’s conversational abilities are still developing, but its progression is assisted with more interactions with different people. The Marlborough entrepreneur wants SAM to run for Prime Minister at the next election in 2020.

Artificial intelligence is integral to many innovations coming to fruition for a plethora of industries, such as the technology being used as part of property management, and its use to detect cancerous growths. With the possibilities seemingly endless for AI, how could you incorporate it into your business model?

Technology has embraced the fight against pollution, with the creation of a compostable water bottle to help prevent plastic pollution and concentrated cleaning materials that reduce waste in addition to being environmentally friendly. Now, a new bioplastic named Restology has been created to help reduce air pollution by making it into a design tool.

Restology is a gelatin-based bioplastic. A recipe was made including activated charcoal, pigskin gelatine, glycerine and water, with multiple bioplastic types available to create. This biomaterial has proven to be more advantageous than common bioplastics.

Its porosity makes it permeable to fluids and outside influences, its biodegradability makes it capable of being broken down, and its conductive and compostable. Its uses include indoors, as a modular system in walls and ceilings to absorb pollutants in interior spaces, and outdoors, providing an alternative facade system designed according to the required airflow. How could you incorporate such innovations into your office or home?

A special promotion by the United States’ JetBlue airline sold out within minutes, causing the company to restock for a second round of sales. Called Get Packing!, the board game is a race to get ready to travel and comes with the ultimate prize of a free round-trip ticket. Designed for three to six people, players roll the dice to move around the board, picking up essential items for their trip along the way. Wild cards allow people to steal from each other, and the first person to be fully packed wins.

The speed with which the first offering sold out caused some consternation, among potential buyers as well as airline staff. Some members of the public received confusing messages that made it unclear whether or not a sale had gone through via Amazon. The airline said that it was investigating each sale to ensure that the game was bought by people, not bots. The free flight is open to U.S. residents only and must be taken by the end of 2018. There are also some restrictions, including times of year when it cannot be used.

So many flights are taken each year globally that airline passengers are potentially very valuable audiences for brands. How a business catches peoples’ attention varies, with campaigns and projects ranging from a free luggage wrapping service that includes a marketing message to in-flight theatre performances on transatlantic flights. What type of innovation would help link smart accessories with bespoke in-air experiences to give flying, even in coach class, a more luxurious feel?

For those new to oenology, choosing the right wine can be daunting. A new device, developed in a partnership between tech researchers and sommeliers, aims to take the guesswork out of choosing fine wines. Called MyOeno, the pocket smart scanner analyses wines and sends all the information to the user’s smartphone. The scanner, which is designed to be dipped into a glass of wine, uses visible and near-visible spectrum analysis to examine the wine. The device measures the absorption of different wavelengths of light and uses a proprietary algorithm to identify characteristics such as strength, tannins, acidity, and aging.

MyOeno is designed to be used with its free app, which acts as a personal sommelier to users faced with a daunting choice between hundreds of bottles at a store or restaurant. After drinking, users rate each wine and add tasting notes in the app, so that over time MyOeno builds up a personalized profile of the drinker, and can recommend bottles based on their individual likes and dislikes. Users can also take a picture of a label and ask MyOeno to check whether the wine is likely to match their tastes, or enter the wine by keyword and find its acidity, intensity and tannins. The app can also recommend the ideal cellar aging time for each wine.

MyOeno is another in a growing list of devices and apps designed to give almost everyone access to specialist information. These include an app that can spot pancreatic cancer and fitness apps that keep track of your health goals and then send snaps of the fitter you to your social network. MyOeno is currently finishing a round of fundraising on Kickstarter and already has products ready to ship and in stores. with prices starting at around 92 USD. Will app-linked devices like this eventually replace experts in other fields?

A project by physical chemistry teams from the University of Konstanz and University of Stuttgart, led by Professor Helmut Cölfen, may have found a way to make cement that is much stronger and more fracture resistant than current versions – using lessons learned from sea urchins. Sea urchin spines are made mostly of calcite, a mineral that is usually very brittle. However, the urchin spines are interspersed at the nano level with softer disordered layers. When force is applied to the brittle calcite, the energy is transferred to the soft layer, which prevents cracking.

As each component in cement sticks to all the others, Cölfen’s team needed to reorganise the cement at the nano-level in order to duplicate the type of fracture resistance found in the sea urchin spines. The team achieved this by identifying molecules that acted like mortar within the cement, allowing the creation of nano-layers within the cement which assembled themselves in an ordered manner. Cölfen describes the process as “encoding fracture-resistance at the nano-level.”

When tested, the new material was found to be more than one hundred times more fracture resistant than the concrete commonly used. To put this in perspective, a pillar made from this new cement could be built 8,000 metres high, or ten times as high as the current tallest building in the world, before the material at its base would be destroyed by its weight. Cölfen explains, “Our cement, which is significantly more fracture-resistant than anything that has been developed thus far, provides us with completely new construction possibilities”. We have already seen construction embracing new types of building materials, such as concrete reinforced with old tyres and drywall made from recycled materials. What new possibilities for building and construction could take place using the new super-strong cement?

Cracked windscreens and phone screens may soon be a thing of the past. Japanese researchers have just developed a type of glass that can heal itself from cracks and breaks. Most screens are made from high molecular weight polymers, which are robust enough to withstand everyday use, but are difficult to repair once cracked. This is because the polymer chains are too heavily entangled to be easily rejoined once broken, and require temperatures of around 120 degrees celsius or higher in order to reorganise their cross-linked strands. Now, a group of researchers, led by Professor Takuzo Aida from the University of Tokyo have found a way to make glass that can be sealed at much lower temperatures.

Grad student Yu Yanagisawa was preparing a low molecular weight polymer to use as a glue, by combining the polymer polyether with the sulfur compound thiourea. He discovered that once cut, the edges of the new substance would stick together again after pressed for 30 seconds at just 21 degrees celsius. Yanagisawa reported that he had to repeat his experiments several times before he believed the results. His hope is that the self-repairing glass can reduce the need to throw away or replace broken items, leading to less waste.

While smartphone manufacturers have already experimented with some self-healing materials, these have only been capable of healing minor scratches. Given that a 2015 report by Motorola found that 30 percent of smartphone owners in America were walking around with a broken screen, Yanagisawa’s discovery is bound to meet with relief from phone owners and manufacturers. We have already seen a soft robot hand that can repair itself when heated and a bioplastic that can self-heal using water. Will the new glass join these self-healing materials to make cracked and broken screens a thing of the past?