Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

The desire for smaller, more efficient items has driven movement towards more home-based, smarter equipment. A design student created vacuum-sealed, waterproof packaging that cooks food in the washing machine.  In healthcare, an updated home first aid kit has touch-screen how to guides. Along the same vein, China’s Xiaomi corporation now introduces a small, tear-drop shaped, wall-mounted washing machine.

The new appliance is slim, opens from the front and makes far less noise than a traditional machine. Called the MiniJ, the wall-mounted washing machine is the latest in the company’s series of small and portable appliances. Designed for visual appeal as well as practicality, the MiniJ uses an LED touchscreen. Additionally, an accompanying app provides remote access and management to the machine. There are eight different modes available for washing, including one super hot level of 95 degrees Celsius.

Marketing of the machine focuses on it being the perfect size for washes of delicate items of clothing such as underwear. Thanks to the high temperature, it is equally useful for especially dirty items like baby diapers. Also due to its small size, the machine is much quieter than a traditional sized machine. The decibel level is 45 when the machine is working. Attached to the wall by a simple wall bracket, the washing machine costs USD 379. It is currently available in China only, although experts predict that it will be made available internationally fairly soon.

Development of smaller, more efficient devices mean it is ever easier for technology to become a seamless part of the average home. What other frequently used home kits and gadgets could be made more efficient through a minimal design?

At Springwise, we have explored several innovations in retail that focus on turning shopping into an experience. These have included a street that focuses on sustainable shopping and a store in Shanghai that includes a relaxation room for men. Now, retail innovators Evvo have developed plans for turning supermarket shopping into a personalized experience centered around technology. Dubbed Superlab, the project began as a research study into how supermarkets can best align online shopping with physical shopping. Based on this research, Evvo envisioned the supermarket of the future.

Evvo’s futuristic designs offer a totally personalized supermarket. It features specially trained staff to discuss the customers’ dietary needs and previous shopping habits. Staff would also help customers develop weekly menus, before selecting food items to fit. Items will largely be chosen from a touch screen, rather than by walking around the store. However, some items will be displayed on shelves in an exhibition space. Instead of lining up to pay, shoppers can pay at the screens, and the food will either be brought out to them or delivered to their homes.

Evvo also proposes ways for SuperLab to stay connected to customers, learning when customers will need a product and placing it on their shopping list. By gauging its customers’ needs, SuperLab will be able to hold a minimum amount of stock, reducing wastage and transportation miles. By having fewer shelves, it will also have less packaging. The concept store will also focus on sustainability. It will grow some fresh produce on site, and primarily feature food grown using biodynamic methods. In addition, the structure itself will use recyclable materials with ecological coatings such as Krion K-life. SuperLab is primarily an exercise in envisioning what a store of the future might look like, there are no plans at present to build one. Will stores like SuperLab be the supermarkets of the future?

Long gone are the days of finance management revolving around trips to a local bank branch or depositing paper cheques. Once an industry people were most sceptical of due to security, fin-tech is now booming. Constantly evolving technology means that what was once deemed impossible is now a reality, helping the public trust new innovations. A European bank even uses video identification to process customers wanting to open a bank account, streamlining the usual journey to a branch that would be required. Elsewhere, an online platform in Nigeria is helping people save by remotely managing their money day-to-day.

Springwise originally wrote about the fin-tech company Acorns back in 2014. We detailed its business offering that provides users with an option to invest a few cents with every purchase. Acorns has now expanded even further with its new debit card model. Designed by the San Francisco-based firm Ammunition, the debit card automatically rounds up purchases to the next dollar. It then deposits the extra cash into a savings account. This means the user’s savings will grow without them actually having to think or make a special effort.

Additionally, the Acorns debit card is made out of tungsten, a rare heavy metal that is very different to a regular credit card. Noah Kerner, Acorns’ CEO, wanted the card to portray the companies ethos while also making a statement about the person who uses it. He explains “We didn’t want to go down the path of metal cards, of feeling too high-end–or even over-designed. The company is all about investing, saving and taking care of finances so our design is focused on that”. The card is also linked to customer’s bank accounts so it can offer mobile check deposit and check sending, direct deposits, free bank-to-bank transfers and unlimited free or fee-reimbursed cashpoint withdrawals.

In an era where people have never been more mindful about how they spend their hard earned money, the Acrons card offers a stress free solution to save. How could you use micro-investment within your business operation?

La Famille – a confectionery based in Takamatsu, Japan – have put an innovative twist on the German baumkuchen (baum cake). Baum cakes have a dark chocolate and black cocoa base and are a very popular dessert in Japan. La Famille’s creation, ‘Baum Records’, is a record-shaped dessert that can play a customizable song or message. A successful crowdfunding campaign secured the products commercial launch in Japan.

Baum Records works by connecting to COCOAR2, a free augmented reality app that is compatible with both iOS and Android. Once consumers download the app, and hold their smartphone over the dessert, an image of a spinning baum record appears. Users can then select a customized song or create a personalized message to accompany their baum cake. The cake is priced at 1,800 YEN and comes with a lyrics card. La Famille’s AR feature transforms the timeless chocolate cake into more than a dessert, adding an element of entertainment. As well as entertaining the consumer, the custom recordings are a fun way to send a card to say congratulations or wish someone a happy birthday.

Here at Springwise, we have published many innovations that use smart technology to improve the way consumers interact with food. Whether it’s ordering food, preparing food or the actual eating experience itself, smart technology is transforming the food industry. One example from Qatar and the US is artificial intelligence that can suggest recipes based on images of food. Using a deep-learning algorithm, this technology can predict the ingredients used in a meal from only a photo. Another innovation from the US is an app that uses Snapchat to create augmented reality images of restaurant food. It allows customers to preview a virtual menu before deciding what food to order. How else can smart technology create a more immersive and entertaining eating experience?

American underwear manufacturer Fruit-of-the-Loom is betting people won’t notice its latest advertising campaign. It has been designed to be so subtle that hardly anyone notices it. The campaign promotes the brand’s new Everlight collection. A line of men’s and women’s underwear so light that people won’t even know they are wearing it. Together with an advertising agency, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Fruit-of-the-Loom created a poster to give participants directions to find USD 1800. Additionally, the company viewed the campaign as a good social experiment to see how many people would get involved with advertising today.

The creative team set up props around the Lower East Side of Manhattan, along with hidden cameras. The props gave clear instructions on how to find stashes of cash with Everlight underwear placed nearby. One poster contained a QR code with instructions to punch through the poster to retrieve USD 1851 hidden just behind it. In this case, the purpose of the poster was to celebrate the year Fruit-of-the-Loom was founded – 1851. The agency reported that of the millions of people in New York City, only six people initially noticed the signs and found the money. Furthermore, according to CP&B, even after the first person noticed the poster hiding the money, it took him nearly two hours to decide to punch through it and take the cash.

Other props also included cash hidden behind a tiny, red door; a tiny, inflatable tube man holding instructions for finding cash; and a viewing scope pointed at a brick wall – passersby look through it to see instructions to finding rewards.

In a world that seems at time overrun with advertising, it takes more and more to get noticed. At Springwise, we have covered a number of unusual advertising campaigns. These have included a feature film used to encourage organ donations and the use of naked-eye AR. Will more ad campaigns embrace subtlety in the future?

At the Mobile World Congress in Shanghai last month, Qualcomm unveiled a new chip specifically tailored for kids’ smartwatches. Child-friendly wearables are a growing niche in the Chinese electronics market, with an estimated 25 million sold in 2017 alone. The Snapdragon Wear 2500 is the first refresh of Qualcomm’s smartwatch chip product line-up since 2016. It offers a much-needed upgrade to the relatively bulky design and disappointing endurance of most Wear OS smartwatches today.

Based on Android ‘Oreo’, installing Snapdragon Wear 2500 requires just 512MB of storage and boasts up to two days’ of battery life. It comes with 4G LTE and uses sensor fusion technology to deliver more accurate location tracking for anxious parents. The chip also keeps children connected with their parents though a range of high-quality messaging options. Examples include video calls, text, voice intercom/recording and 4G apps. Additionally, tap-to-pay technology permits kids to leave their wallets behind for everyday purchases at school. On top of benefits relating to expanded mobile capability, Qualcomm’s chip could revitalize the ailing industry of smartwatches. According to International Data Corp, the global wearables market is projected to reach 219.4 million units shipped by 2022. Smartwatches will account for two out of every five wearable devices shipped. Chinese smartphone giant Huawei will be the first to integrate the Snapdragon Wear 2500 into its wearable devices.

Panjaj Kedia, Qualcomm’s senior director of wearables, describes the new chips as ‘dedicated’ to use cases. It seeks to bring rich multimedia content and integrated learning experiences to children while providing parents with peace of mind. The platform supports gesture-based gaming and educational apps. Qualcomm Voice Activation is also incorporated, supporting popular AI-based voice assistants like Amazon Alexa or Cortana for natural dialogue.

The intersection of wearable tech with younger consumers presents ‘the unique opportunity to transform how families connect, live, work and play’, says Kedia. We have already seen innovations aimed at children like the Urban Canary, a bird-like toy that tracks pollution in a child’s surroundings. The AI-enabled ‘Woogie’ is another piece of kid-friendly technology that personalizes learning. How else can device makers better cater towards, and improve, the user experience of young children?

Website: www.qualcomm.com Contact: corpcomm@qualcomm.com

Serial Box aims to be the “HBO for readers,” and its serial books are written just like TV shows. It releases book ‘episodes’, via an app, over a 10 to 16-week ‘season’. Each story has three or four supporting writers and its own ‘showrunner’ – in television, this is the person who has overall creative authority and responsibility for the show. Rather than chopping up existing novels and sending them out in small chunks, writing teams specially-write stories to fit into the format. This is similar to the way a TV series is created.

According to Serial Box founders Julian Yap and Molly Barton, there is a lot of evidence that people are reading more than ever. However, now they are reading in much shorter bursts. Many people have trouble fitting a complete novel into busy lives. For this reason, Serial Box have designed each episode to take around 40 minutes to read. Similar to the time it takes to watch a TV show.

Many authors who write serial fiction find that most of their money actually comes from selling the completed work as a bundle. But the founders of Serial Box are banking on the appeal of serialised fiction that is packaged more like television. The company have just launched a new programme – micro-fiction Mondays. Every Monday they will release a new 150-character-or less story. The company hopes these micro stories will provide a very quick get-away for users of the service. This is not the first app we have covered that is aimed at readers. We have also recently seen an outdoor library that encourages the love of books and an app that adds custom images and music to books. Will Serial Box’s model encourage more people to read?

One common tool for fighting cancer are vaccines that stimulate the body’s immune system to destroy tumour cells. In order to trigger the cancer fighting cells, called T-lymphocytes, to act, researchers use small pieces of protein called peptides. However, when peptides are injected directly into the body, they are broken down before they can reach their target. In order to prevent this from taking place, the peptide needs to be protected in some way once it has entered the body. Now, researchers at the universities of Geneva (UNIGE), Freiburg (UNIFR), Munich, and Bayreuth, and a German company AMSilk may have found a way.

The researchers used synthetic spider silk, which is lightweight and biocompatible. Additionally it does not break down quickly at body temperature. Peptides are inserted into the silk to form injectable micro-particles. The silk creates a protective layer around the peptides. This allows them to reach the lymph node intact, where T-lymphocytes are found. In tests, the team found that the use of the silk capsules led to an improved immune response. Researchers feel that, because of its heat-resistance, this technique could also be useful in transporting vaccines to areas where there is no reliable refrigeration.

According to the researchers, one limitation is in the size of the microparticle that can be encapsulated in the silk. While all peptides are small enough to be used with this technique, future studies may focus on determining if it is possible to use the technique with larger antigens, such as those used in standard vaccines against viral diseases. It is clear that more and more scientists are gaining inspiration from nature. At Springwise, we have seen this with an edible paint inspired by beetles and an airless tire inspired by coral. What plant or animal will inspire the next scientific innovation?

Dubai-based airline, Emirates, has recently introduced 3D seat and cabin models on their app. This makes them the first airline to use web virtual reality (VR) technology on its digital platform. The model is a visual engine that displays an immersive, 3D and 360-degree view of the carrier’s interior cabins. It simulates both the Emirates A380 (a double-deck, four-engine jet aircraft) and Emirates Boeing 777 (a long-range, twin-engine jet aircraft).

The VR tools gives customers the opportunity to familiarize themselves with their future aircraft in clear detail and from various different angles. Passengers can navigate the Economy, Business and First-class cabins, as well as the exclusive Onboard Lounge and Shower Spa. It is compatible with all smart devices without requiring any external applications or plugins. There is also an option for hands-free cabin navigation and seat booking using VR headsets such as Google Cardboard. In addition to the new 3D models, high-quality product videos are also available on their website. Similarly, they function as a guide to the variety of features unique to the Emirates on-board product.

The central aim is to supply customers with better pre-purchase information and a sense of control over their flying experience prior to boarding. Emirates hopes to ease common travel consumer pain points like limited legroom and bad airline interactions. A smooth journey is especially important for long-haul passengers. Other examples of airline innovations seen previously include simulated VR trips to New York, Paris, Rome or Hawaii by Japan’s First Airlines. In Lithuania, a new assistive software was developed to make take-off – the point at which most fatal incidents occur – safer. British aviation start-up Waves Technology also introduced an on-demand air taxi service for flights between the Channel Islands and mainland UK. What other technologies are disrupting the aviation industry?

At Springwise, we have seen artificial intelligence systems designed for an increasingly wide range of uses. These have included marketing, branding and music composition. Now, AI is being used in the study of eruptions. Volcanologists have devised an AI application that can analyze the shape of volcanic ash. There are many different types of volcanic eruption – from explosive eruptions to lava flows. By studying the ash produced, volcanologists can gain insight into the type of eruption that occurred. This can help response teams, for example, by letting them know how large an area to evacuate or whether there will be more eruptions in the near future.

Until now, categorizing ash has largely been done by eye. This is time-consuming and relies on highly-trained experts. Now, scientists from the Earth-Life Science Institute at the Tokyo Institute of Technology have developed a way to use a convolutional neural network (CNN), a type of AI often used to analyze images, to categorise volcanic ash particles. The researchers first trained the system by generating thousands of two-dimensional images of ash particles. Then they classified the images into one of four basic shapes: blocky, vesicular, elongated, or rounded. They then fed these images into their CNN software to teach it what to look for. Additionally, the resulting AI program is 92 percent successful in accurately categorising the shape of a particle.

In order to increase the usefulness of the program, advanced magnification techniques, such as an electron microscopy, can be used to add colour and texture to the results. This could provide even more information into the type of eruption behind the ash. The volcanology program has demonstrated that CNN can be usefully applied to analysing a wide ranges of images. In the future, this technique could be used to analyze other types of particles. How might this type of CNN help scientists understand other microscopic phenomena?