Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Water is one of the most valuable resources in our planet and we are constantly encouraged to use it more sustainably. For those who are looking for a smart way to save water in their homes, there is now the Livin Shower, which aims to create a “holistic shower experience”. Livin Shower warms up your shower and then pauses the shower stream once the water temperature reaches a pre-set target, so you can walk in and start your shower right away with just a press of a button. The device uses a temperature control algorithm to find the shortest amount of time needed to reach the target temperature, and allows users to pause and resume the flow while maintaining the temperature, minimizing water waste.

Unlike other smart showers, the Livin Shower can be installed in minutes by anyone using just basic hand tools – no plumber needed. It comes with a mobile app that not only lets you start the shower remotely, but also monitor water usage. The shower can also connect to music apps like Spotify to allow you to create shower play lists; and to voice apps to activate the shower with voice commands. The app also lets users create up to 10 profiles, each with its own pre-set shower temperature, music, and connection to other devices. The safety lock feature will also limit the temperature to a specified range – especially useful for babies.

The Livin Shower joins a host of other recent innovations that aim to turn just about everything in the house into a smart device. These include modular outlets and smart blinds that can generate electricity. Livin Shower is currently available on Kickstarter, with prices starting at USD 349. If the project reaches its funding goal, the showers could ship in the fall of 2018. The Livin Shower is expected to retail at around USD 599. What other household appliances could benefit from being turned into smart devices?

We have seen other health-related innovations in Sweden recently, such as a newborn resuscitation kit designed to guide caregivers, and the invention of bacteria-fighting plastics intended to stop infections from spreading. Now, Sweden has moved on to tackle the mental health crisis with the introduction of specialist ambulances to be used for mental health emergencies.

The Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PAM) has been trialled in Stockholm, and consists of an ambulance which at first appears normal, but in fact is specially equipped to tackle mental health emergencies. The ambulance travels fast, and inside there are comfortable seats instead of stretchers, warmer glowing lights rather than the traditional bright ones. The response team includes two mental health nurses and one paramedic, the presence of trained professionals marks a significant improvement from the previous system where police attended to such crises. In Stockholm PAM responds to an average of over 130 calls per month, most of which are related to suicide risk. The scheme is intended to tackle the large number of suicides and suicide attempts reported annually in Sweden, over 1,500 and 15,000 respectively. This unique scheme aims to destigmatize mental health and provide patients with expert care, the scheme is potentially going to expand to other regions in Sweden.

With the current mental health crisis, it is essential that innovative ideas are implicated to tackle the issue in new and more effective ways. How else might innovation help those suffering from mental health problems? Might we see these Swedish ambulances become a worldwide phenomenon, what other unique schemes could be developed?

We have seen innovative ways in which music recording can be facilitated, for example the 360-degree microphone which works as a portable recording device, and the tiny podcast studio known as the Pod which functions as a mobile recording studio. Nando’s have joined in with this trend, opening a high-tech recording studio in the downstairs of their Soho restaurant in London.

Aiming to combine their two favorite things, chicken and tunes, the opening of this recording venue has already attracted much attention from aspiring musicians, with the studio now fully booked until the end of March. The recording studio contains industry-standard equipment, branded with the Nando’s logo, and there is an in-house sound engineer to help the musicians. The studio is open five days a week and is a part of Nando’s four-year-old Music Exchange program, which, in their words “inspires the exchange of global music influences through mentoring, workshops, and explosive events.” Musicians may apply to use the studio online, and those who are successful will be granted a session in the Soho location.

Nando’s unique innovation aims to encourage emerging talent and provide those wishing to further their careers in the music industry with a valuable opportunity. How else could the music industry benefit from similar innovations? And how might Nando’s have revolutionized how we approach recording studios?

American outerwear brand Woolrich has recently opened a new flagship store in Milan with a twist – customers can try on Woolrich’s popular outwear in freezing conditions. The store features an Extreme Weather Condition Room with freezing temperatures, artificial snow and immersive footage of cold locations. The room was designed by the Japanese design studio Wonderwall, and reaches temperatures of -20º C.

In addition to the cold room, Woolrich’s store has a host of other amenities that are designed to appeal to the recent trend of experiential shopping. The entrance includes a lounge bar area, where customers can browse through magazines, surf the web or recharge their devices while enjoying an espresso. Nearby is a museum area, exhibiting many of the brand’s signature items, including woollen blankets and the iconic red-and-black Buffalo checked shirt. There is also a customisation atelier, where clothes can be altered or personalised. Finally, there is a winter garden, maintained by Japanese florist Satoshi Kawamoto.

According to Andrea Cané, Creative Director of Woolrich International, “The store will of course be fully integrated with our online promotions and services. It must change its look constantly, and come alive especially through events. It is our calling card.” Woolrich invested nearly EUR 1.5 million in the 700 square meter store, and is planning to open similar flagship stores in New York, London, Tokyo and Paris. We have seen other experiential retail spaces recently, including an interactive retail space and a store that combines technology with luxury shopping, but this is the first one with a room that offers freezing conditions. What other types of experiences might stores offer shoppers?

We have already seen a number of products on the market which aim to help blind people learn braille and enhance their experience. Among those products are a literacy tool enabling independent learning and a tactile tablet which allows the visually impaired to experience graphical content. Like any other skill, the sooner a child can learn braille the better, however most available products are often considered too complex or expensive for parents to buy.

In their mission to help their visually impaired child, US-based couple Beth and Jake Lacourse have developed an affordable child-friendly device to teach braille in a simple and fun way. The BecDot gets its name from the couple’s young daughter, Rebecca, and is aimed at teaching braille to young children and toddlers. The device consists of four braille cells which react to objects that have pre-programmed near-field communication (NFC) tags attached to them. Once a tag is detected, for example a toy cat, the word cat appears in braille, combined with a sound if the teacher or parent wishes to upload one. The device uses an Arduino Uno microcontroller to drive each individual dot and thus create the word. The prototype was made by 3D printing and allows children to learn the alphabet and to identify short words consisting of up to four letters. The toy also lights up and emits sounds, making it more fun and enjoyable for children to play with. The device, although still in the prototype phase, should be marketed at under USD 100 when it is completed, making it considerably cheaper than existing products of this kind.

This innovative product could revolutionise the way in which visually impaired children partake in society, hopefully driving down blind unemployment rates, and helping these children to integrate from an early age. How else could technology be used to improve the prospects of visually impaired children? Is there still room to make such a device more accessible to those in need?

To understand how information flows and is used in the brain, scientists must map the structure of the neurons inside the brain and body, developing a sort of Google Earth view of the brain. We have seen several innovations in creating 3D images for commercial use, including an app that can create 3D images within Google Maps and a device that can turn a phone into a 3D camera. However, the imaging and processing techniques that are most commonly used for brain scans require decades to produce a complete map – longer than the timespan of a typical research career. This is because they typically require researchers to physically section and image the specimens. In addition, each technique only gives a partial picture: medical-type imaging reveals connections between brain regions; visible light microscopy images neuronal circuits at the cellular level; and electron microscopy (EM) identifies synapses and intracellular structures. A paper published recently, however, outlines a new technique that could develop a complete image of the brain at a rapid speed.

Dr. Ann-Shyn Chiang is Director of the Brain Research Center at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. His team has developed a method of imaging using synchrotron X‐ray tomography to quickly create 3D images of neurons. A synchrotron accelerates electrons to produce an extremely powerful source of X-rays. Previously, Dr. Chiang’s team spent a decade mapping the neurons in just half of the fruit fly brain. As proof of concept, using the new technique, the team took just 10 minutes to image the entire fruit fly brain. The team has also used the technique to image a whole mouse brain. Dr Chiang’s hope is that this technique will make it possible to image the individual neurons in the entire human brain – a long-standing goal for neuroscientists.

Chiang believes that AI is likely to play a key role in future advances in this and similar procedures and that with the increasing rate of technological breakthroughs, “a comprehensive X-ray mapping of the human connectome [the neural connections in the brain] should become feasible in the not-too-distant future.” Because this is a very large-scale enterprise, he is also advocating an international collaboration involving the 30 synchrotron facilities worldwide. What advances could come from an ability to rapidly create 3D maps of the entire human brain?

Soccer is one of the most popular sports on the planet. There are amateur soccer leagues operating in almost every city in the world. Many of these teams would like the opportunity to video and stream their matches and training sessions, but cannot afford the cost of a camera operator and vision mixer.

Veo, a Copenhagen-based startup, may have a solution. The company’s goal is to “democratize the recording of football” by using artificial intelligence (AI) to direct the filming, making it possible to create quality videos without paying an expert. The innovations joins other recent advances in technology for sport, such as a sports video intelligence platform that provides instant analysis and a drone that can analyse the condition of the playing field.

Veo has created a device consisting of two 4K cameras mounted inside a specially-designed box, which can be positioned on a tripod along the field’s halfway line. From this position the camera can record a 180-degree panoramic view of the entire field. After recording, software guided by AI adjusts the video to follow the action, using virtual panning and zooming. Although this means that some of the final image is cropped out, starting with 4K means that the resulting video quality is high enough for playback on smaller screens, such as smartphones and tablets. Coaches and players can also manually edit the video after the match, by choosing the virtual camera angle and where to zoom.

While the cameras are expensive, Veo plans to use a subscription model, where clubs pay an annual fee, starting at an estimated USD 2500 for use of the camera and all editing. Clubs can also purchase an upgrade to embed their sponsors’ logos onto the videos and highlights, which could potentially provide an additional revenue stream. To date, Veo has raised EUR 2 million in seed funding. The company expects to launch in Europe early in 2018, with a worldwide release later in the same year. What other sports could benefit from this type of technology?

As every bicycle rider knows, the key to safety is being visible to the other vehicles on the road. A French startup called Cosmo Connected is hoping to make this easier for riders with a smart light that attaches to the back of the helmet using magnets. Cosmo already makes a similar light for motorcycle helmets, called the Cosmo Moto, and is hoping the new light, dubbed the Cosmo Bike, will be the first in a series of lights for a variety of uses, such as skiing, horse riding, construction, delivery workers, and police.

The Cosmo Bike weighs in at 80 grams (about 0.17 pounds), has eight LED lights – four red and four yellow, and comes with a dedicated app. Smart features include automatic turn signals that can be activated through SatNav in the app or manually using a remote control that attaches to the handlebars. There is also a deceleration light that tells other road users when the rider is stopping or slowing down, and a fall detector that can alert emergency contacts or the emergency services if the rider is injured. Users will also have the option of subscribing to a service that can notify friends, family and emergency services in the event of an accident.

While the Cosmo motorcycle light is already available, the company hopes to have the bicycle version ready in mid-2018. The company expects the light to retail for around USD 60. The smart light will join several other IoT products aimed at improving safety and security, such as a robot that can patrol homes while the owners are away and equipment to aid in firefighting. What other IoT products might help to make sports or activities safer?

Much of consumer neurological testing focuses on gauging consumers’ responses to what they see and hear. But consumer responses are not black and white, like or dislike. In fact, people experience a wide range of emotions in response to products and experiences. Shoppers may become initially excited by certain brands, but then become overwhelmed by choices and lose interest; viewers may become frustrated, bored and entertained in the course of watching a single video. Now, MIT Media Lab spinout mPath has developed a way to measure the exact moment when consumers feel these subconscious responses. Their work allows companies and organisations to better refine their products and services to match consumer expectations. According to mPath founder and CEO Elliot Hedman, “Right now, companies struggle to understand their customers’ emotional needs or wants. But if we listen a little to consumer emotions, there’s a lot of room for innovation.”

To collect data, the startup created the MOXO sensor – a wearable that looks like a bulky smartwatch. The sensor wirelessly measures changes in skin conductance (small electrical changes across the skin), which reflect different types of activity in the wearers’ nervous system. Spikes in conductance can signal stress or frustration, while dips may indicate disinterest or boredom. To gain a more accurate picture of consumers’ responses to specific stimuli, mPath combines the MOXO with eye-tracking glasses or cameras, to identify where a person was looking at the exact moment of an emotional spike or dip. The resulting approach, dubbed ‘emototyping’, creates a more in-depth, precise emotional profile of consumers than previous forms of market research. It is especially useful when studying children, as it can be difficult for children to describe what they feel.

In addition to retail studies, the system has been used to help engage new audiences in classical music, and to track peoples’ fear levels throughout different parts of a haunted house. The company is also working with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to develop methods to encourage reading by better understanding when children feel overwhelmed by reading. In the future, Hedman sees the MOXO as a potentially useful tool to help therapists understand what children with autism are feeling, and to allow educationalists to design curriculum and classroom experiences that are more engaging. The MOXO and mPath join other consumer neuroscience innovations such as an AI marketing tool that provides detailed analytics and a cooking app that helps convince kids to eat more healthily. What other uses could the MOXO have for helping children and retail companies?

Canada-based startup DoseBiome has created Qii, an all-natural tea drink that has been scientifically proven to help improve oral health. When teeth are exposed to acids it can cause erosion of the enamel, which has a critical pH level of 5.5. The pH from beverages such as soft drinks, fruit juices and bottled teas contain a much lower pH point so products maintain flavour, texture and improve shelf life. Qii is different as it is formulated to have a shelf-stable pH of 7 – Qii translates as seven in Mandarin – so it contributes to a neutral, non-acidic oral environment.

Available in green tea and oolong tea flavours, Qii contains XyVita ­– a xylitol formulation that has a sweet profile. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is non-fermentable by the caries-causing bacteria. This means that unlike other common sugars used in foods and drinks, XyVita is tooth-friendly and does not promote the development of cavities. The drink has also been regulated as a dietary supplement by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

New approaches and innovations have impacted the oral hygeien industry in recent months, with squid ink found to help dentists detect gum disease and a recyclable, battery-free electric toothbrush coming into the market. How could you incorporate new approaches to old routines?