Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Researchers from the University of Turku, Finland, developed a reusable synthetic material that changes color when it detects UV radiation. Called SensoGlow, the photochromic material is made from a synthetic version of hackmanite. Hackmanite changes color when exposed to sunlight and is a naturally occurring mineral. SensoGlow also indicates the intensity of the radiation by changing the depth of the color. The darker the color, the more radiation is present. Because scientists create the new mineral in the lab, it reacts to any or all of UVA, UVB or UVC radiation. Color-changing materials are not new; what is new with SensoGlow is its durability.

Organic materials irreversibly change color by rearranging their molecules. Synthetic SensoGlow, on the other hand, stores electrons. That is what the Inorganic Materials Chemistry research group says makes the material long-lasting. Electron storage is reversible, which is how SensoGlow reverts back to its original color when out of the light. The new material should be easy to produce because it is made from relatively inexpensive materials. Scientists are focusing their development work on future applications of the material. Two of the first most usable formats are likely to be stickers and apps.

Materials science is fast changing the way everyday objects act and react. From leggings to wallpaper, new innovations are rapidly improving peoples’ lives. Regular tights-wearers know the frustration of always having to plan for the worst by carrying around spare pairs. A US based textiles company has a patent-pending design for tights that uses the same materials found in bulletproof vests. The leggings are snag proof and wearable for at least 50 times. In the home, high temperature resistant, inflammable wallpaper helps prevent a fire from spreading. It also detects fire and triggers an alarm. What other frequently used items would a materials upgrade improve?

In 1871, Jacob W. Davis and Levi Strauss created hard-wearing trousers designed for gold miners, made from fabric imported from Italy. When mass production began in 1873, the jeans had two pockets in the front and one on the back. Aside from the addition of two more pockets, and copper rivets, jeans have changed very little in the intervening years. Until now. Product designer Joe Doucet and luxury denim brand 3×1 have partnered to produce jeans designed for the 21st century. The luxury jeans have been updated to include technology that reflects the modern world.

The new Doucet 3×1 jeans are made from 12 ounce stretch selvedge denim from Japan. The larger pockets are made of a micro-fibre material that cleans and protect your devices from lint. The coin pocket has also been enlarged to accommodate credit cards, and lined with RFID blocking material, to prevent thieves wirelessly stealing data from your contactless credit cards. The back of the leg also has a reflective 3M strip running down it. The black strip is invisible during the day, but lights up at night to provide safety while cycling.

The jeans are available for both men and women, in both slim and straight fit. Both styles will retail for 395 USD and will only be sold at 3×1’s New York City store or online. Customers also have the option of having the jeans custom made – for 750 USD a pair. We have seen technology being applied to an increasingly wider range of products. Recently, these have included paint and car tires. Designer Joe Doucet specialises in reimagining everyday objects. He previously designed a 3300 USD gold-plated ashtray and a printer for text messages. What other products could benefit from an injection of high design and high tech?

Long gone are the days of heading to the high street to get a shopping fix. With the growing popularity of Instagram and the rise of the social media stars, retail has had to change the way they advertise. Celebrities were once the first pick of brands to wear its clothing. Now, there’s a far more socially accessible figure that can bring in sales – the influencer.

While retailers adopt this marketing strategy, shopping websites are ahead of the game. A new app called Browzzin does all the hard work for users, be it shoppers or social media sharers. Artificial intelligence-powered Browzzin gets users to upload images of products and tag retailers or brands selling the item or something similar. If their post leads to a sale, shoppers earn commission for the post. Commission varies between brands, ranging from 4 percent to 35 percent

In addition to the app’s shopping functionality, it also can be used to link through to catalogues so users can browse related items online. There is also editorial content for shoppers to read. Users can view their marketing and sales statistics and keep track of how much they have earned on the app. Over 2 million items from 10,000 brands are available on the platform at present. Browzzin hopes to expand its catalogue to 200,000 items per week.

Retailers can sign up to Browzzin’s PartnerApp to activate their inventory and take item orders from shoppers. The seller carrying the requested product closest to the shopper’s current location confirms its availability. Browzzin then informs the customer and the customer collects.

Shopping at the convenience of customers is the new approach retailers needs to take. Shopping on the go on an app that offers an AR experience, for example, will be popular. Delivering goods to a kiosk to be collected at the customers’ convenience is also a good way to cater to their needs. How else can stores optimize the customer shopping experience?

Despite the rise of digital technology, there are still many advantages to paper catalogues. Now, a Portuguese start-up is combining digital and print catalogues to give businesses and consumers the best of both worlds. Magik Book is a physical catalogue that links to digital devices. As the pages are turned, a smartphone or tablet responds with synchronised videos, animations, music, images, or interactive models. The Magik Book is designed as a marketing tool for luxury products and high-end brands such as automobiles, jewelery and hotel stays.

The catalogue folds out into a stand, which angles the device towards the user while the book itself lays flat. Each catalogue comes with a custom-designed app which shows content tailored to each page of the book. Viewers can gain the tactile satisfaction of holding a physical object, while also viewing an augmented reality experience. According to Hugo Ribeiro, founder of Magik Book, the catalogue sets itself apart as a marketing tool. It combines physical and digital, traditional and contemporary, to create “a more personal and memorable customer experience”. The Magik Book apps are tailor-made for each client. They can include media, such as panoramic photos and interactive videos, or tools such as a click-to-buy option or an email update registration. The tech does not require any batteries or pairing, and is compatible with all iOS and Android devices.

Magik Book has also recently announced the launch of an online platform called the Magik Book Creator. This will allow SME businesses to design their own catalogues. It will also allow them to upload their own digital content to synchronise with each page. This combination of digital and physical fits in with a number of recent innovations that aim to bring augmented reality into the retail space. These include an in-store AR experience and an AR display screen. Will all catalogues now be moving to use AR?

We have seen innovation play a key role in many creative industries. Music is certainly one of these. The startup GreenNote created a device which allows users to listen to the sounds made by plants. Moreover, the invention Soundbops gives children an intuitive way to learn music through experimentation. Now, Frettable seeks to facilitate music making through a new mobile application. The technology allows users to produce sheet music simply and easily.

Frettable is aimed at musicians of all levels. It is not necessary for users to have any prior knowledge of music theory before using the application. The idea was thought up by Greg Burlet when he struggled to write music with his long-distance bandmate. He begun work on the technology in 2015, experimenting with the possibility of a machine recognizing musical notes. Frettable uses technology similar to that used in speech recognition. The application uses artificial intelligence in order to convert the sound into written music. The more the application is exposed to instrumental sounds, the better it gets at recognizing them.

Additionally, Frettable analyzes the instrumental recording to write it out. It is polophonic in that it is able to handle singular notes and chords. It can also generate tabs for string instruments. This makes it easy to share music and receive feedback from a community of musicians. Users can share and comment on each other’s creations via Frettable’s online community. Users can also inspire one another by collaborating on publicly-posted songs.

Perhaps this is just the beginning of artificial intelligence’s role in music-making. Could this technology lead to a future of international remote musical collaboration?

Puma in collaboration with MIT Design Lab carried out a project testing the uses of living materials in sportswear designs. Specifically focusing on bacteria, the project titled Adaptive Dynamics: Biodesign exhibited its results at Milan design week. The project features a total of four designs – the Breathing Shoe, the Carbon Eaters T-shirt, Deep Learning Insoles and Adaptive Packaging.

The Breathing Shoe is a self-adapting trainer. It uses bacteria to create a unique pattern of air passages for the wearer. The bacteria is embedded in cavities inside the material of the shoe. As the wearer is active, they generate heat. In response to the heat, the bacteria eat the material, forming air passages that are unique to each wearer. Another design featured at the exhibition is the Carbon Eaters T-shirt. The T-shirt enhances sports performance using colour-changing technology. A small button on the T-shirt contains organisms that can detect substances in the air. If the surrounding air quality will affect the wearer’s performance, the button will change colour as a result.

The collaborators also created Deep Learning insoles. The insole collects biological data to measure factors such as fatigue and wellbeing. It works by using bacteria in the insoles which respond to the long-term and short-term sweat chemicals of the wearer. Electronic circuits translate these changes into data and transmit it using micro-controllers. The fourth design in the project is Adaptive Packaging. It is made from a biologically programmable material. The material emits gasses in response to heat, causing it to inflate and therefore change shape. In addition to being adaptive, the packaging is also biodegradable.

Here at Springwise, we have previously published biodesign creations that use living materials to achieve innovative results. One example is a company that bioengineers spider silk to make clothing. Another example is a wallpaper that uses bacteria to harvest energy. How else can businesses incorporate living materials into designs to enhance product performance?

Advertising is increasingly becoming multi-sensory, creating experiences not limited to the visual. We recently published an advertising innovation that uses a scented bus shelter to promote a vegan cookbook. To stimulate the senses of passersby, the advert releases a sweet chocolate fudge cake scent. Another multi-sensory innovation is a whisky bar that lets visitors touch, smell and taste the ingredients that make the product.

Furniture company IKEA has released a new advertisement in the United Arab Emirates called the IKEA Sömnig advertisement. The advert was designed in collaboration with IKEA and Memac Ogilvy. Sömnig means sleepy in Swedish and relates to the adverts design which aids people to fall asleep. Featured in an issue of a UAE based magazine called Good magazine, the advert has multi-sensory features. Readers can pull out the page and place it on their bedside table to help promote a better night’s sleep. Once folded into shape, the advert stands upright on a surface.

IKEA Sömnig features two tabs that users can activate. The first tab activates white noise. It is chargeable using a USB port, creating a white noise machine. The second tab releases a lavender scent and the white noise sound waves help circulate the fragrance. In addition, the ink used to print the advert is infused with lavender. This specific sound and scent are part of the design because white noise and lavender have links to improving the quality of sleep. With an advert that helps people sleep better, IKEA intends to demonstrate the great sleep their collection of IKEA Sömnig beds and mattresses offer. How else can companies use multi-sensory advertisement to promote products, services and experiences?

As festival season approaches, each year a huge amount of trash is left behind by festival-goers. This includes thousands of cheap tents. Most of these end up in landfills, wasting resources. Dutch company KarTent has come up with a sustainable solution – a cardboard tent. The tent has recently won the prestigious Red Dot Design award. They are designed to be purchased and transported in bulk to festival sites. When the music is over, the company will also arrange removal and recycling of the tents.

KarTent claims each tent can absorb up to 400 percent of its own weight in water and still retain its structural integrity. The cardboard also remains cooler than traditional tents on hot days. Jan Portheine, co-founder of KarTent, explains that the tents are a lot thicker than regular cardboard. Additionally they don’t have, “any coating to ensure they are fully recyclable. It will also stay dry during your event since the water will never penetrate and the structure won’t collapse.” The company claims that the KarTent is more energy-efficient to produce than a regular festival tent, requiring just half the amount of carbon dioxide.

Another fun feature is that the tents can be customized with festival logos or left for festival-goers to decorate. KarTents launched in Australia last year at the Yours and Owls festival in Wollongong and are already in use at other festivals in countries around Europe. The company is hoping to expand even further, and is launching new products, such as cardboard seats, trash cans and pallet boxes made from recycled KarTents. KarTent joins a host of innovative and advanced recyclable products. These include shoes made from recycled gum and packaging that can be returned for reuse. What other everyday products might be made from recyclable materials?

Noise is inevitable in open plan offices, especially as increased numbers of citizens become city dwellers. Simultaneously, noise pollution has come to be recognised as a health hazard. Innovations such as an app that reviews restaurants, theatres and other public places based on noise level are trying to tackle the problem. Additionally, in Ukraine, several workspaces are testing a prototype of a noise-cancelling helmet-type device.

Taking such noise-cancelling technology to the next level of scale is a solution from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Designed by researchers in the Centre for Infocomm Technology, the device attaches to the grille of a window and works in a way similar to that of noise-cancelling headphones, but on a much larger scale. A small, eight-watt speaker that is connected to a processing unit creates anti-noise signals that match the incoming noise. When the two waves of sound meet, they cancel each other out. Most importantly, the device works even when windows are open using a microphone to identify external noise. Early tests show that the device is capable of reducing noise pollution by up to 50 percent. Sounds that were studied include construction, trains, roads and jet engines. The team is focusing development of the device on reducing its size, improving its effectiveness and mass production.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research are changing the way we look at walls. No longer just the perimeter of a room, the team have created smart walls that sense activity within the space. Researchers found they could use conductive paint to create electrodes across the surface of a wall. This enables it to act as a touchpad to track users’ touch and an electromagnetic sensor to track electrical devices. The innovation, called Wall++, could help users place or move light switches or other controls anywhere on a wall. Moreover, it could also be used to control videogames by simply using gestures.

The electrode wall can operate in two modes – capacitive sensing and electromagnetic (EM) sensing. In capacitive sensing, the wall functions like any other touchpad. When a person touches the wall, the touch distorts the wall’s electrostatic field. In EM sensing mode, it can detect the electromagnetic signatures of electronic devices, enabling the system to identify the devices and their locations. Furthermore, if a person is wearing a device that emits an EM signature, the system can track the location of that person.

The technology costs just 20 USD per square meter, and is created using simple tools such as a paint roller. Wall++ hasn’t yet been optimised for energy consumption. However, it is estimated the wall-sized electrodes consume about as much power as a standard touchscreen.

Touchscreen technology enables innovators to expand their offering to the public. Once simply an idea, the systems are now much more accessible and easy to integrate into products. From the touchscreen tablet in its rawest form that helps elderly people stay connected, to the steering wheel with an embedded touchscreen, technology is expanding constantly. How else could touchscreens be integrated into everyday appliances?