Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

We have already seen how innovation can help those with disabilities, from the website Clickability which allows users to rate disability services, to the app London Accessible which guides disabled people through the Tube. Edinburgh-based company Neatebox has developed a solution to empower disabled people in their daily life. With this new application, coined the Welcome app, users are able to tailor their travel needs accordingly.

Neatebox is a company seeking to lead society to become a more inclusive and welcoming place. The Welcome app means that those with special requirements can communicate their needs to staff ahead of time. For example, by explaining their needs before arriving at Edinburgh airport, staff are able to provide tailored support to disabled passengers, while also helping airport staff to offer a more respectful and personalised customer service. This means that disabled people are saved the anxiety of arriving at the airport and seeking out support. It also gives individual businesses and areas of the airport the chance to offer tailored care to those in need.

The application is available for download for the individual user, while venues can sign up to a SaaS license model. Gavin Neate, the founder of Neatebox said “it is this totally inclusive approach to the provision of a service which allows me to visualise a time in the future where equality is neither given nor taken but is set as a default within our society.”

It is amazing to see what technology can do to facilitate communication where it is most needed. How else might innovative ideas be able to influence society and change people’s attitudes? To what extent could the lives of those with disabilities be improved with other similar inventions?

Kumbaya’s goal for its zeroXess connectivity platform is to reach a billion or more of the residents around the world who are not yet online. Currently, four billion people globally are not connected to the internet. More than one billion people do not have regular, reliable access to electricity. By solving the electricity challenge with a sustainable smart solution, Kumbaya will make a significant impact on the United Nations’ number one sustainable development goal. Furthermore, increasing access to technology, education and infrastructure should mean that poverty will be on the decline.

Sustainability is, of course, a key component of the company’s zeroXess product and platform. The home energy system uses 120 watt solar panels to run the touch-screen connectivity hub. The hub has six USB ports, four LED fixtures and built in health sensors. This allows for direct one and two-way communication. Local radio and television stations are broadcast by the hub, as well as internet access. It endeavours to provide educational and entertaining content for all. The content library contains lessons on topics as diverse as entrepreneurship, literacy, nutrition and agriculture. Moreover, the company is always looking for material with which to expand.

The system also makes available the ability to send and receive money securely. This opens up an entire new world to small businesses and local entrepreneurs. Making the zeroXess system affordable is crucial to its success. It is something the company is continuously working on with a number of partners to help make the system as widely available as possible.

Other projects using mobility and renewable energy as the means to bring resources to remote communities include a portable sterilizer and a traveling recycling plant. The sterilizer makes surgery accessible and safe for communities without reliable sources of water and electricity. And the mobile recycling machine turns plastics into indoor/outdoor tiles. What type of information and support could be particularly useful for citizens immediately after they gain regular access to the internet?

Given the current state of the planet, and the pressing need to reduce air pollution, it is unsurprising that we have seen developments in innovative ways to purify our air. For example, this Peruvian billboard delivers clean air to the environment, helping to tackle the high levels of pollution in Lima. Another such innovation is the Rotterdam-based giant vacuum cleaner which not only creates clean air, but also sucks in pollution and turns it into jewelry. This new tower in China, claiming to be the world’s largest air purifier according to its operators, is another example of a technological solution to clean air pollution in cities.

The tower is currently undergoing testing by researchers at the Institute of Earth Environment at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The project’s lead researcher, Cao Junji, has found that the tower has already succeeded in improving the air quality within 10 square kilometres of its position in the city. The tower is over 100 meters tall and works by sucking in polluted air. It then filters this through a network of greenhouses surrounding the base of the tower. The polluted air is heated up by solar energy as it passes through the greenhouses. The heated air rises up through the tower and flows through multiple cleaning filters, until it is ready to be released as clean, purified air.

Despite the lack of sun during the winter months, the tower still functions thanks to the coatings on the greenhouses. This means that the glass can absorb solar energy much more efficiently. The project is hoped to lead to the construction of much bigger towers in future which could help purify the air in other cities.

It seems of paramount importance that air pollution is reduced as soon as possible. How else could cities be made safer and healthier places to live? What other technological innovations could facilitate cleaning the planet’s air?

Israel start-up White Raven is developing a visual search engine for places. The landmark recognition engine uses a camera to extract visual clues from the environment. Consequently, the system can identify places and businesses in the surrounding area. White Raven claims that their deep-learning software can identify landmarks even under major variations in angle, lighting and resolution. The company calls its product, “a middleware between mobile operating systems and location based applications.”

White Raven’s system is designed to be used with a video stream from a moving camera. This makes it potentially useful for helping self-driving cars to find their way. It will also support systems that can superimpose names and information about shops and other places onto a screen as drivers pass by them. White Raven is using public mapping data to create a city-by-city index with information such as addresses and tourist information. The company claims that the system has already achieved a greater than 93 percent accuracy in identifying places. In progression, they have recently begun working with automakers to develop ‘infotainment’ systems for cars. This can not only tell drivers and passengers where they are, but will allow for the creation of augmented reality experiences and games on any connected device with a camera.

We have recently seen deep learning and AI developed for a wide variety of innovative uses, including automating retail and interior design. White Raven has already developed a system for public transport that uses screens in buses, taxis, and trains to superimpose real-time location information on video feeds from the vehicles’ front and rear cameras. It’s also building location-based AR gaming services to keep passengers entertained on their journey. What other uses might there be for very accurate localising software?

Launched on the annual World Day Against Cyber Censorship (March 12), the Uncensored Playlist project made previously censored articles freely available. Using 10 articles written by five journalists, the project pairs the written pieces to music. Streaming music platforms are freely available in most countries that deny the freedom of the press. With this in mind, ‘Reporters Without Borders’ in Germany saw an opportunity. Working with journalists from Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Egypt, Thailand and China, the project produced 10 pop songs using native instruments and musicians.

The lyrics of each song are the words of a censored article, and the campaign uses #truthfindsaway to spread awareness. The Reporters Without Borders Germany team partnered with digital production company MediaMonks and creative agency DDB Berlin on the project. Available on Spotify, Deezer and Apple Music, the playlist uses relatively innocuous titles and neutral artwork to evade government censors. Should the original tracks get blocked, the campaign team already has alternative song titles ready in order to re-release the work.

Information on the journalists and their work, including the topics they cover that meet with censure by their governments, is also available on the Playlist’s website. On the music streaming platforms, their identities are protected by aliases.

Fake news has received a lot of coverage by media outlets around the world. Innovators are therefore developing more ways of testing what is being published. One startup is applying the transparency of blockchain transactions to news sources. Moreover, a team of researchers have developed a game to teach people to recognise and avoid disinformation and fake news. How else can people living outside dangerous regions of the world use connectivity to help those living within?

In Dubai, up to 80 percent of vegetables are imported from other countries. Badia Farms is looking to change that.

Most of the produce used in Dubai has to be flown in from an average of over 3000 miles. This not only adds significantly to the carbon footprint of most dishes, but it also means the freshness of the produce is compromised. To overcome this issue, Badia Farms is introducing hydroponic farming techniques to the area. Hydroponics is a method of cultivating plants indoors without the use of soil. The plants are instead cultivated in containers along with a nutrients mix designed to maximize growth rate and quality. As each individual plant is given a micro-lot of nutrients to grow in, all plants can be placed uniformly in trays. They are then stacked up to twenty levels high along walls, hence the name ‘vertical farms’.

The vertical farms are subjected to highly controlled water levels and light. LED lighting provides the solar energy required for growth. This again maximizes the process by ensuring there are no cloudy days to slow growth rates down. The closely monitored plants are then picked for taste, and delivered straight to the restaurants, providing much fresher produce. The whole process results in a vastly reduced environmental impact. The method uses 90 percent less water than traditional farming and much less space. The plants produced, include kale, cress, and mustard, among others. Furthermore, the plants are non-GMO and pesticide free, and will be delivered to restaurants for use on the day they were picked for a high quality dining experience.

With increasing land aridification combining with an expanding urban sprawl into non-farmable land, it’s no wonder we’re seeing more innovations like the Badia Farms project. Following on from other examples including app-controlled vertical farms for the home and mobile farms on bikes in Beijing, where else could we see hydroponic farms cropping up?

When people want to tone their muscles, they often use a trainer to help them get into shape. Now, New York’s Financial Gym is taking a fitness-inspired approach to helping people tone up their finances. During the initial ‘workout’, clients are first asked detailed questions about their finances. This includes how much money they make, how much debt they have, and their financial and personal goals. From there, clients are assigned a trainer and a customised financial fitness plan that breaks financial goals down into a series of simple, achievable steps.

We have seen many apps that offer to help people with their finances, including an app that helps people find the best exchange rates and an app that helps freelancers even-out their income.The Financial Gym does not use apps. Instead, clients are given a paper folder of detailed to-do lists, including what types of credit cards to apply for, how much debt to pay off each month, and the amount of money they need to save to reach their goals. Over the following months, trainers check in with their clients to make sure they are on target. They will also adjust their plans if necessary. Clients are graded on their financial fitness – straight A’s will earn a badge, failure to save could earn a D.

Financial advisor Shannon McLay was inspired to open the Gym. She realised that many ordinary people wanted to talk to someone honestly about how to manage their money. The Gym offers a human connection where people could feel comfortable talking about their finances. Plans start at USD 85 for a monthly meeting, an on-call financial advisor, and an individual financial fitness plan. The Gym also has weekly wine and learn sessions on topics such as Money Mindfulness and the Art of Travel Hacking. What other services might benefit from a similar in-person approach?

We have already seen a variety of innovations designed to keep people safe at night. For example, the smart bike light which texts friends if a user crashes, tells riders about potholes and deters thieves. Meaning that cyclists can ride in the dark without having to worry about their safety. We even saw a move towards this latest innovation from the Vollebak back in 2014, when Henrichs developed a range of fashionable hi vis cycling gear, in an effort to encourage riders to prioritize their safety by giving them a more attractive option than the traditional gear available. Now Vollebak have designed a lightweight, minimalist and less intrusive way to wear hi vis, with their new Black Light clothing line.

The clothing line consists of four layers: a jacket, baselayer, midlayer and t-shirt. All four of these items have been specifically designed to provide maximum comfort whilst ensuring that the wearer stays safe. The jacket weighs just 450 grams and is highly breathable. It is also waterproof to 15,000 millimeters and is fitted with twenty-two reflective dots. It is these reflective dots which, although seemingly black, keep the wearer safe. Each dot is embedded with 60,000 black glass beads, which shine brightly when light hits them at night, making sure that the wearer is visible. The dots are cleverly positioned, so that they light up the parts of the body which typically move most. This ensures that when they light up, the wearer is easily recognizable from any angle.

Could this be the end of traditional high vis gear? As we are seeing a trend in increasingly tailored sportswear, how else can products be innovated to better suit the needs of users?

As good customer service and short waiting times become increasingly expected, it is unsurprising that innovative solutions have been devised to make the process of running establishments in hospitality as efficient as possible. For example, the recent invention of a smart beer tap, speeds up serving time and provides the perfect amount of foam in each pint, whilst simultaneously tracking sales. Another similar improvement is the underground pipeline in Bruges, which supplies a brewery with beer directly from their supplier.

Six electrical engineering students from Queen’s University Belfast recognized the current issues with changing a keg. They decided to bring bars into the twenty-first century with their invention called KegoMatic. Currently, changing a keg means about a ten-minute wait. The tubes fill with foam, and the first couple of pints are undrinkable and must be thrown away. KegoMatic means that several kegs can be connected at once, and automatically changes when a keg is empty. This means no waiting time and no more wasted pints.

According to co-founder Connor Carville, “For an average bar in Northern Ireland, our system would immediately save GBP 2,500 annually, purely because it means their beer lines won’t fill up with foam. When a keg runs out, the foam fills the line and that takes 1.5 or 2 pints to clear. Those pints are put down the drain”. Whilst it is relatively simple to connect several kegs at once, it is harder to tell how much beer is left in each keg. Their solution to this is to place each keg on a base with built-in weighing scale. They then analyse the weight change over time. In order to calculate the rate at which beer is poured, it thus helps with stock management.

How else could pubs and bars be modernized and made more efficient? Could this technology be applicable to other industries to help them to avoid wastage and improve customer service?

Hunting for property to buy or rent can often seem like a tedious chore. To spark the interest of buyers, especially younger buyers, French real-estate agency Evidence Immobilier decided to take a new approach, by turning apartment buying into an escape room game that allows potential buyers to explore the property while looking for clues and solving puzzles.

Viewers are first blindfolded and locked in one of the apartment rooms. They then have to use their observational skills to find clues, solve puzzles and eventually unlock the door and escape. The game is designed to encourage the would-be buyers to view the entire property in detail, while also having fun. It also encourages the buyers to explore areas of the property they might have not looked at on a routine visit. There is also more to the game than fun. If the would-be buyers manage to escape the apartment in 18 minutes or less, Evidence Immobilier will cover the costs of all the paperwork required to complete the purchase.

Evidence Immobilier has currently set up the game in a single apartment in Montpelier, France, and for a limited time only. Of course, winners are not under any obligation to purchase the property, but Evidence Immobilier is hoping that the approach will help get people more interested in viewing the property, as well as bring publicity, and buyers, to other properties. The escape room game joins other unique marketing strategies recently covered by Springwise that draw on the trend for valuing experiences over objects. These include an interactive retail space for emerging brands and a restaurant where diners can buy all the furnishings. What other products or services might benefit from an experiential approach to marketing?