Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Brisbane, Australia-based new media artist Michael Candy has translated his interest in robots into a potential lifeline for bees. Pollination of crops by bee is essential to human food consumption, and bees worldwide are suffering. Maladies range from mysterious hive deaths to changing habitats. A number of projects are seeking ways to help support bee populations. An example is the wifi hive monitoring system which is helping smaller scale or personal apiaries remotely track hive health at a cost lower than commercial satellite monitoring. For airborne bees, drone pollinators are being developed to help reduce the volume of work required by each hive for continued crop growing success.

Now, with Candy’s robotic flowers, called the Synthetic Pollenizer, bees may have another aspect of support. With pesticides and other bugs harming many bee populations, robotic flowers could be a much safer way to pollinate. The Synthetic Pollenizer system is designed to sit in the middle of real plants in order to encourage the bees to use it. Each flower contains pollen and nectar, and the 3D-printed petals are modeled on those of the rapeseed plant. Currently in the conceptual stage, Candy has been working on the system for three years. He has gone through multiple iterations to get the color and shape just right to attract bees.

The flowers use a mechanical network to push synthetic nectar to the flowers to attract the bees. Once they land on the flower, the bees pick up pollen as they normally would on a real plant. Candy used a hive pollen trap to collect enough pollen to use in the robotic structures, which regulate the amount that is released to each flower. How could the teams behind sustainable development initiatives work with innovators in technology to achieve healthier bug and animal populations?

With the risks often associated with outdoor pursuits, it is important that people stay safe, and thanks to a variety of innovations, they are increasingly able to do so. The Waterlily Micro Turbine uses wind, water or manual power to charge electronic devices, meaning that walkers are free to explore the wilderness without worrying about running out of phone battery. Similarly, the device known as Beartooth connects to smartphones and means that users can communicate in areas where there is weak or no phone signal. The Slovenian invention of the OliLight aims to keep hikers safe by functioning both as a high-tech torch and as a personal rescue beacon.

The light is unique because it lights up the user’s surroundings in a 360-degree radius, as opposed to the traditional tunnel of light created by regular head torches. The light is dust and water resistant with a durable polycarbonate casing. Users can adjust the brightness of the torch in addition to selecting between adventure and urban mode. By emitting the brightest natural white light, the OliLight provides users with improved spatial awareness and depth perception in addition to enhancing visibility. The torch has an adjustable strap. It can be worn on the head or around the waist, meaning that the wearer retains complete freedom of movement. The device also features a unique distress sensing smart SOS designed to keep outdoor explorers safe. If the device detects any unusual acceleration, deceleration or other sudden movement it alerts the wearer with a 15-second sound alert. During these 15-seconds the user can cancel the SOS protocol in case of a false alarm. If not, the device sends an SOS message with the hiker’s GPS location via their smartphone. Simultaneously the light begins to flash Morse code distress signals in order to increase the probability of being seen by a rescue team. The device is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter, offering backers early access to the product before it reaches stores.

It is interesting to see how technology can enhance people’s experiences with nature, encouraging and facilitating outdoor pursuits. Long associated with indoor activities, how else could technological devices make the outdoors a safer and more inviting place?

We have seen many retail innovations demonstrating that the future of retail is both digital and offline. For example, a touchscreen corridor that uses image recognition and purchase histories to suggest and locate items to customers. Another example is this smart shopping trolley that charges customers automatically. A new startup, called DeepMagic, also uses digital innovations to enhance the experience of a physical store. Using Deep Learning Artificial Intelligence (AI), DeepMagic is enabling retailers to create unattended physical stores that are fully automated.

DeepMagic offers two products: the Qick Store Platform and the Qick Kiosk. The Qick Store Platform is a solution that lets customers shop with mobile scan and pay. Compatible with iPhone and Android phones, the shopper app also has integrated anti-theft controls. Using AI, computer vision and cameras, DeepMagic tracks the activities of customers in store and recognises any suspicious behaviour. Additionally, store managers can access this information in real-time.

The Qick Kiosk is a pop-up store that is fully automated. Image recognition software enables these unattended mini-stores to operate securely. The ideal positioning of Qick Kiosk is in places such as hotel lobbies and residential buildings – locations where shops do not exist but people would like to see them. Customers sign up on the Qick portal or mobile app. After signing up, customers can access and shop in the Qick Kiosk stores.

Products taken from retailers using DeepMagic are automatically charged to a customer’s account. Alternatively, customers can QickScan a label to arrange a home delivery. Unattended stores provide convenience to both retailers and customers through extending store hours, saving costs and automating check-out and security.

Gravitricity has received a GBP 650,000 grant from the British Government agency, Innovate UK, to help rejuvenate old disused mine shafts. By using an ingenious system that uses gravity and enormous weights, Gravitricity plans to transform the mines into hi-tech green energy generation facilities.

The Gravitricity system works in a similar way to a clock weight. A cylindrical weight is suspended in the mine shaft and connected to a winch. This then enables for the systems capability to lift or lower the weight. As the weight moves, it generates electricity. Gravitricity claims that the system can be configured to produce between one and twenty megawatts of peak power. Simultaneously, it can also provide an output duration from fifteen minutes to eight hours.

If the plan succeeds, this can additionally provide areas struggling with the deflation of the coal industry with increased potential. For example, former mining communities could be revitalized with new jobs and financial stability. The funding will be used to design and build a 250 kilowatt concept demonstrator. The company hopes testing for this will start towards the end of 2018. Furthermore, Gravitricity are developing the site and engineering designs to test the full-scale prototype, with the hope for final installation in a UK mineshaft by 2019 or 2020.

“As we come to rely more on renewable energy, there is an increasing need to find new ways to store that energy. We can then produce quick bursts of power exactly when it’s needed,” says Charlie Blair, Gravitricity’s Managing Director.

There have been many significant developments in the world of sustainable energy. This solar plant in Australia uses molten salt to store energy, and a Dutch company has designed a lamp that uses photosynthetic processes to harness power from living plants. How else can businesses network with others in a community to promote renewable energy?

Airport passengers are captive audiences, and terminals and airlines continue to work hard to find new ways to help people make best use of their travel time. Bespoke experiences are one way in which companies can stand out from the competition. For a trans-Atlantic flight, one airline is providing unique inflight theatre experiences, with staff creating immersive, live, three-act theatrical performances. For certain drink connoisseurs, a Scotch whisky brand is providing multi-sensory bars exclusive to only a few duty-free European locations. The bars also provide charging points and insight into the creation of every drink, including the smell, taste and touch of the ingredients.

Springwise recently wrote about Cathay Pacific and their beer brewed exclusively for inflight consumption. Now, the company has launched a ‘Travel Well with Yoga’ wellbeing program. Travel Well with Yoga encompasses a series of six videos designed for ease of use in an economy-sized airplane seat space. Instructors from the Pure Yoga company take passengers through a range of stretching and meditation exercises. Meant for use before, during and after a flight, the exercises help maintain joint mobility and improve relaxation and overall calm. Most passengers are aware of the importance of good circulation during long periods of sitting still, and the videos are accessible in four different languages, including Cantonese and Japanese.

The program is now available on all Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon flights from the Lifestyle section inflight entertainment. The founders of Pure Yoga are passionate about the practice’s holistic benefits and see the partnership as a way to reach new audiences. As part of the Travel Well with Yoga wellbeing program, the Pure Yoga company is also offering Cathay Pacific Marco Polo Club members a 50 percent discount on studio joining fees and complimentary upgrades at locations across Asia and North America. How could other businesses use similar approaches to encourage their staff to complete wellbeing activities during the workday?

As wearable tech becomes increasingly common, we have seen a variety of clothing able to adapt to suit the wearer’s body temperature. For example, the Chromat Aero Sports Bra which opens 3D printed air vents to cool the wearer down as their body temperature rises. Another example is the cold weather wear designed by Polar Seal which keeps wearers warm by integrating lightweight heating pads into their garments. The Boston-based company Ministry of Supply have gone step further and designed an advanced wearable technology, claiming to be the first intelligent heated jacket.

The company launched in 2013 and aims to take a more scientific approach to design. Ministry of Supply focuses on clothing that is both comfortable and fashionable. Their most recent product, the Mercury Intelligent Heated Jacket, features built-in heaters which are virtually weightless. The heaters are controlled to a smart thermostat. This will react to the temperature of where the wearer is, but also learns the user’s preferences over time. A two-layer waterproof breathable membrane keeps the wearer dry in rainy weather, while S. Cafe insulation uses coffee beans to absorb and neutralize odor. The pockets of the jacket can be used to warm up your hands while also allowing you to charge your phone wirelessly using the jacket’s battery pack.

In addition to all of these functions, the jacket is convenient and machine-washable. The jacket can also be activated via the wearer’s voice through Amazon Alexa, meaning that the user can give spoken instructions regarding the temperature they want. Currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter, the company aims to ship the product to backers in November 2018.

As wearable technology advances, will consumers only require one smart item of clothing in the future? How else could wearable tech become a part of our everyday lives?

Advances in health care have seen the advent of increasingly personalized health care, including 3D-printed vitamins and a wearable that personalizes users diets. Now, researchers at the University of Copenhagen and Abo Akademi University in Finland have developed a way to tailor doses of medication to each patient. The team devised a way to ‘print’ medications onto an edible substrate using inkjet printing technology. The drugs were printed in the form of a QR code, which contained information about the drug and the dosage. The drugs can be printed in dosages tailor-made to each patient. Pharmacists or nurses can then scan the QR code to check that the patients are given the correct medication, before the patient pops the printed sheet in their mouth.

Natalja Genina, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacy at the University of Copenhagen explained that, “This technology is promising, because the medical drug can be dosed exactly the way you want it to. This gives an opportunity to tailor the medication according to the patient getting it.” The researchers demonstrated that the substrate used for the printing held the pattern of the QR code well enough to allow accurate scanning. They are now working to refine the methods to allow for practical use of their system.

The researchers hope that in the future pharmacists will be able to use regular printers to print drugs onto edible ‘paper’. According to Professor Jukka Rantanen, from the University of Copenhagen Department of Pharmacy, “If we are successful with applying this production method to relatively simple printers, then it can enable the innovative production of personalized medicine and rethinking of the whole supply chain.” It is estimated that, in the UK alone, around GBP 300 million worth of medicines remain unused each year. Printing medications to order could help to reduce that wastage, leading to substantial financial savings. What other ways might printed medicines save money?

Innovation has played an important role in making travelling by car as safe as possible. For example, the creation of an AI system which is able to detect when someone is texting and driving. Naturally there has been a focus on the safety of children in cars, and thus smart technology implemented into a car seat design is a popular solution. We have previously written about a self-installing car seat that allows parents to easily and correctly install car seats.

A new car seat has recently been released by German car seat company Cybex. This new model, called the Sirona M, provides parents with new and improved safety features. The car seat has a smart chest clip that syncs with the installed vehicle receiver and the caregiver’s smartphone. The smart chest clip uses SensorSafe 2.0 technology in order to provide the caregiver with detailed information about the well-being of the child.  For example, notifications are sent if the temperature of the car is too hot or cold, if the child has been seated for too long, or if the child unbuckles themselves whilst the vehicle is in motion.

The accompanying application is usable by parents whose child is in the care of someone else. The app sends notifications to their mobile device with the GPS coordinates of the vehicle’s last known position. This feature enables parents to be aware if their child is alone or forgotten in the car. The car seat also has an adjustable linear side-impact protection system, helping to keep the child safe in the event of a crash. In combination with the head and shoulder protectors, this design is able to absorb up to 25 percent more impact.

Other features include a cup holder, an energy absorbing shell, one-hand adjustable recline, magnetic belt holders and a dual level indicator which indicates the correct seat angle. The seat is suitable for children ranging from newborns up until children aged four. It is currently available to purchase online in several retail outlets. How else could technology help us keep our children safe?

We have seen many solutions that tackle the issue of food waste, such as grocery stores introducing new pricing systems to ensure products close to expiring will sell. One example of this is a real-time pricing solution that uses radio frequency identification (RFID), electronic shelf labelling, and a dynamic pricing engine to offer cheaper prices. Another example is an automated discount rack that reduces prices for expiring products both online and in store. A new solution, called RapidMathematix, also aims to reduce food waste using deep learning algorithms and machine vision.

RapidMathematix provides automated retail pricing for fresh produce, changing the prices of produce depending on freshness, market conditions and competition. This ensures that customers get their money’s worth of what they pay and that stores are able to reduce food waste by offering discounts. Data collected from various sources about freshness, location, product and demand level is processed by RapidMathematix’s algorithms to offer the most accurate prices. Additionally, the system is connected to electronic shelf labels, enabling it to calculate and recommend prices in real time.

IoT devices are also integrated into the RapidMathematix system and are used to gather information from inside the retail store. For example, information is collected from products, the shop floor, shelves and customer devices. The data offered by the system can also be used to negotiate prices with vendors, beat competitor prices, and give users more control over their pricing decisions.

Research has shown that people talk differently to children depending on their gender. Without even realising it, adults tend to talk to boys in terms of their abilities, but to girls in terms of their looks. Over time, this difference can affect how children, and in particular girls, see themselves, and can affect their self-confidence. Finnish child rights organisation Plan International, in conjunction with Samsung Electronics Nordic, decided to try and change this unconscious behaviour with a predictive text app. Sheboard seeks to empower girls by raising awareness of the impacts of gendered speech.

As users are typing, Sheboard will suggest gender neutral words as well as words that are designed to empower girls, such as “I’m capable” and “I deserve”. The app also swaps stereotypical expressions with those that are more positive. The goal is to remind girls about the qualities and abilities they have. In the words of Nora Lindström, Plan’s Global Coordinator for Digital Development, “We want to help people see the impact that words have, and make them consider ways in which they can change how they talk in order to empower girls.”

In developing the app, Plan had girls and women of different ages contribute their personal empowerment phrases. Plan acknowledges that technological innovations in and of themselves won’t change gender-stereotypical behaviour. However, the hope is that the app will lead to a greater awareness and understanding of these issues and in Finland and elsewhere. The app is currently available on Google Play. Sheboard joins other girls-power products such as an app that adds augmented reality statues of remarkable women to public places and toys designed to encourage girls to enter STEM fields. What other ways are there in which technology can help empower girls?