Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

One danger when mountaineering or participating in back-country snow sports is running out of water. It may seem odd to run out of water when surrounded by snow, but eating snow actually promotes dehydration and hypothermia. Most adventurers rely on small gas stoves to melt snow. Now there is a way to melt snow without the use of finite resources. The H2 Snow is an alpine survival tool that melts snow into drinking water using human power. It has an unlimited melting capacity.

The H2 Snow was developed by RMIT design student Tim Lutton. It is a one litre drinking bottle that uses friction to melt the snow. Inside the bottle is a sealed copper tube fitted with silicone blades, in addition to, a specially-designed scoop to fill the bottle with snow. Once full, you can then insert the scoop into the bottom of the bottle, which becomes a handle. Operated by hand the user turns the scoop/handle to rotate the blades. This then creates heat through friction, which melts the snow. The H2 Snow can convert 200 grams of snow into 100 millilitres of water if operated gently for 20 minutes.

The H2 Snow joins other sports and survival innovations covered by Springwise. This includes sports gear that helps users survive an avalanche and a squeezable titanium water bottle. However, according to Lutton, the H2 Snow is the world’s first purpose-built snow melting tool that operates without a reliance on finite resources. “Where the sun can disappear for days and fuel sources deplete, H2 Snow is a simple solution that works again and again.”

Springwise have spotted various innovations in recent times that focus on streamlining education processes. Developers created a new font that aids memory loss to improve revision efficiency. A streaming service also offered students cheaper access to textbooks. Now a group of Chinese students have invented a new way to help students read their books.

The group of five students demonstrated their intuitive page-turning technology at Changchun University of Science and Technology.  The user wears a headband device connected to a physical page-turner. The device uses brain-sensing technology to identify when the user is blinking. This then sends a signal to the page-flipping receiver via Bluetooth. In so doing, books can be turned intuitively and with no movement from the user. Not only would this allow far faster reading times, it would also improve accessibility. Those with physical disabilities that inhibit movement would be able to read unassisted.

The device itself is simple in design and therefore inexpensive. The inventors believe it could help disabled students, the elderly, or even those in the music industry. Conductors and pianists also often need to turn pages whilst their hands are engaged. There are various industries in which such technology could be a key advantage.

The students’ technology is still under development but they have high hopes. Minor issues need some fine-tuning after initial consumer tests. Some feedback revealed that a flaw could be that readers would not be able to blink until they had finished the page. Further developments could see this innovation improve even further.

There are a number of situations in which spoken communication is vital, yet difficult to achieve. This includes when using full-face life support masks. A new solution uses a two-way, personal communication system that clips to a user’s back teeth. Dubbed the ATAC, or ‘Molar Mic’, the system is being developed by Sonitus Technologies. The company has recently been awarded a contract with the US Department of Defence to develop the system for the US Air Force.

The ATAC has already been tested by para-rescue personnel from the Air National Guard 131st Rescue Squadron. The squad used the mic during rescue operations following Hurricane Harvey in Houston. According to one Guard who used the device, “The ability to communicate by radio…enables us to execute in extreme conditions and save lives. But despite having amazing technology, communication still commonly breaks down because of the extreme environments where we operate.”

The microphone uses an audio interface and near-field magnetic induction. Embedded in a compact, custom-fit mouth-piece placed around a user’s back teeth is a tiny microphone and a speaker-transducer (for hearing). This allows the user to both talk and hear without external devices attached to the head. Locating the device on the teeth allows the body itself to block external noise and the user’s teeth and jawbone help to create an auditory path for hearing. The device joins other miniaturised tech recently highlighted by Springwise such as a miniature gyroscope and a sensor that fits on a tooth.

There is a great deal of concern among apiarists about the rate at which honey bees are disappearing due to colony collapse disorder. Bees are the primary pollinators of a huge variety of crops. This means their disappearance poses serious risks for agriculture and food production. Furthermore, it is estimated that thirty-five percent of global crop production, worth approximately 577 billion a year, relies on pollination by bees. A group of engineers at West Virginia University’s Statler College have recently come up with a solution. They have developed an autonomous robot prototype, called BrambleBee, which can pollinate plants.

The BrambleBee is equipped with localisation and mapping algorithms. The robot detects flower clusters using an on-board camera. Additionally, after mapping plant locations, the BrambleBee choses where to pollinate by balancing the number of reachable flower clusters that are ready for pollination with the distance needed to drive to pollinate them. Once in place, the robot scans the plant and uses a robotic arm to apply the pollen. The pollination mechanism is designed to mimic the action of bees. It is also able to distribute pollen into the pistils without damaging the flowers.

BrambleBee joins other innovations that seek to automate agriculture. These include AI that can predict crop yields and a robotic cucumber harvester. According to researcher Yu Gu, “The project allows the development of a complex autonomous robotics system that can work in a common agriculture setting.” The robot is currently limited to pollinating bramble plants (blackberry, raspberry, etc.) in a greenhouse environment. However, the researchers are working on adapting BrambleBee to other environments.

People use backpacks everyday and Springwise has followed various innovations designed to make them smarter. From this connected backpack to a geofence system to keep belongings safe, innovations to help consumers on the go are proving ever more popular. Yet similar ideas can also be applied to help those in the workplace. A student designer has considered how intelligent backpack design could help porters in India.

Rishabh Singh of IIT Bombay has designed the SAHAYAK to help railways porters reduce the strain when carrying heavy loads. These workers provide an essential role in moving luggage around Indian train stations, one of the busiest transportation areas in the world. Despite that, they are often badly paid and suffer from various health afflictions as a result of the physical strain of their work.

The backpack lessens the burden of the workers by equipping the porters with a backpack to transfer the load from the wearer’s head to his shoulders. This protects the spine and also reduces the likelihood of health complications. The design uses an inexpensive torsion spring that distributes the load throughout the backpack’s frame. In so doing, the load born by the user’s head and neck diminishes by 75 percent.

Such redistribution of weight could play a life-changing role for many manual workers. In this workplace, manual labour is unavoidable and breaks may be hard to come by. Changing the way the work is therefore key.

SAHAYAK is the latest in a line of Singh’s projects. It is currently still undergoing development but prototypes are underway.

Springwise have often featured innovations focused on helping people manage their finances. An app helps create investment portfolios, and this startup uses AI to offer loans to first-time buyers. Now another financial platform is focusing on giving financial support to new parents.

Storkcard aims to help parents manage the financial burden that often comes with having children. The average family’s childcare costs is 53 percent of the total income in the UK, demonstrating a high drain on a household’s resources. This can lead to financial stress and can have further knock-on effects to the health of the entire family and even divorce rates. Storkcard hope to alleviate such problems by offering more financial security to young parents and families.

The Storkcard platform offers a variety of services to promote healthy wellbeing in young families. The main product is a low-rate credit card that can help families manage the high costs of raising children. The prepaid card also offers parents retail discounts for relevant shops and budgeting tools. Participating shops range from Boots to Mamas & Papas. There is also a benefit scheme on offer, Storkcard for Business, that helps companies better support their employees’ childcare costs. The entire platform is also tied together by a supportive community, the Storkcard Village, that brings parents together through mutual experiences.

The services aim to be easily accessible, with an upfront fee of GBP 5.95. There is currently availability to sign up to their waiting list to get access to the card and platform benefits.

The latest iPhone comes equipped with a dual camera and laser sensor. Even if you do not plan on ever owning an iPhone, this laser and camera combo is an important innovation. It will allow the phone to act as a depth sensor. This in turn will open up new possibilities for augmented reality, facial recognition and security. So how does depth sensing work, and why is it an important innovation?

A conventional camera translates the 3D world into a 2D image. However, humans do not see the world in 2D. In order for computers to see the world as humans do, they need some way to determine depth. Depth carries critical information. Applications such as autonomous driving, robotics, and virtual reality rely on the ability to determine how far apart objects are.

There are three main methods for depth sensing: structural light, time of flight and camera array. In structural light, a laser is used to project a known pattern. A receiver then detects any distortion in the reflected pattern and uses this to calculate depth. This method is very accurate, but is sensitive to environmental brightness, so it’s usually only used in dark or indoor areas.

In time-of-flight sensing, a laser sends a short pulse of light to a target object. A sensor then records the time it took the pulse to reflect back. Because the speed of light is a constant, knowing the time it takes the light to reach an object and return allows the system to calculate how far away the object is. The components needed for this must be highly accurate and are expensive. They also use a lot of power, so are usually found only in high-performance devices. However, time-of-flight can also be determined by sending out a modulated light source and detecting the phase change of the reflected light. An LED can be used as the modulated light source, which is cheaper and more energy efficient than a laser.

The third major type of depth sensor is a camera array. In this approach, multiple cameras are placed at different positions to capture multiple images of the same target. The system uses this ‘stereoscopic’ view to calculate depth. The simplest and most common camera array, found in some smart phones, uses two cameras which are separated to mimic human eyes. Although the camera array may seem like the simplest option, calculating the depth requires complex machine learning algorithms and finding matching points on the target image.

Despite the challenges, depth sensors are becoming more common for a range of uses. For example, depth information is necessary for human-machine interaction in virtual and augmented reality devices. Depth sensors allow virtual objects to be placed in the correct locations in the VR/AR environment. This is very important for VR/AR applications that are used, for example, to train surgeons or pilots.

Depth sensing is also key to navigation, localisation, mapping and collision avoidance. In order for vehicles to move and navigate on their own, they need to know where they are in relation to everything else in the environment. Robots used in warehouses also rely on depth sensing to know where the target object is and how to reach it.

Most facial recognition systems use a 2D camera to capture a photo and send it to an algorithm to determine the person’s identity. However, this type of system is easy to fool if the algorithm cannot tell a photo from a real person. Depth sensing allows more accurate facial recognition and can measure more features of the face. This leads to better security, and can have other applications. At Springwise, we have already seen this with the development of algorithms to detect emotions using the iPhones’ depth sensor. Time-of-Flight depth sensors are already being used in gaming, to detect hand gestures.

The recent publication of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in October is yet another stark warning to us all of the limited time remaining if we are to keep global warming below 1.5C. There is now no doubt that environmental concerns should sit at the top of global business and political agendas, marked urgent.

Maintaining and promoting a healthy planet is at the heart of the One Percent for the Planet mission. Founded in 2002 by Yvon Chouinard and Craig Mathews, One Percent for the Planet is an international organisation whose members contribute at least one percent of their annual sales to support environmental causes. One Percent for the Planet connects businesses and individuals partner with non-profit organisations (NGOs) active in the field and guides them to develop the most appropriate relationship.

Following the success of the second Global Summit in Colorado, One Percent for the Planet members based in Europe gathered in Amsterdam on 15th November for the first European Summit to celebrate their shared environmental commitment and address our planet’s biggest challenges. Joining the event, our contributor Piotr Kowalczyk, Transformation Consultant at Re_Set, (sister organisation to Springwise) and proud member of One Percent for the Planet, collected his 5 key takeaways from a day of debate, creativity, fun and real dedication to the cause.

1. Increase philanthropy for sustainability: Philanthropy is usually a force for good which helps resolve the world’s biggest problems. What is striking is that only 3 percent of total philanthropic giving goes to environmental causes – thus highlighting the opportunity to increase this kind of donation. This idea was discussed at length in Amsterdam and One Percent for the Planet members agreed to focus on this in the year ahead.

2. Business collaboration with NGOs: The time when ecology and business do not share the same ambition is over. The One Percent for the Planet European Summit proved that corporations and NGOs can start pragmatic collaboration to address specific issues and align common sustainability goals. Springwise has partnered with the Wild Trout Trust in the UK to ensure that rivers are clean enough for trout to thrive. Check out other recent case studies here.

3. Build long-term relationships: This may seem obvious, but to achieve results long-term commitment is crucial. Kate Williams, the brilliant CEO of One Percent for the Planet, emphasised that progress mattered more than perfection. Corporations and NGOs must engage in long-term relationships to get the sustainability message across. Successful businesses of all sizes now develop a coherent sustainability vision at the heart of their strategy and business model, and empower both employees and customers to drive the change.

4. Pioneers drive change at every stage: Smaller business size doesn’t reduce opportunity. Speakers talked of Patagonia (also founded by Yvon Chouinard) which demonstrates the journey growth of a business with a clear vision for positive change from the outset. This point was reinforced as the Summit took place at the amazing new Patagonia store in Amsterdam. Patagonia is now a global success story and the tremendous number of Small and Medium Enterprises members of One Percent for the Planet demonstrate not only that smaller companies can make a significant contribution but that it actually helps them succeed.

5. Support One percent for the Planet’s European expansion: The rallying cry – One Percent for the Planet is now committed to increase activities to reach a wider European corporate audience, aiming to double in size by 2020. The crowd gathered in Amsterdam responded positively to the call, demonstrating our appetite to spread the message and be ever more engaged. Naturally Springwise and Re_Set will be at the forefront of this movement.

During the preparation of seafood, large amounts of water are used and pumped out as waste. For example, around 50,000 litres of water is needed to process each ton of peeled shrimps. The water that is discarded in these processes contains valuable nutrients. These nutrients could be recycled back into the food chain as aquaculture feed. However, there has been no way to extract them from the waste water – until now. The NoVAqua project, coordinated by Professor Ingrid Undeland at Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology, has now developed a way to extract nutrients from processing water.

Using a two-step process, the research team managed to recover up to 98 percent of the protein and 99 percent of the omega 3-rich fats from the water. The process produced a semi-solid biomass and a nutrient-rich liquid. The biomass was then used as a component of salmon feed for salmon, while the liquid was used for glazing frozen fish, to protect it from going rancid during shipping.

According to research lead, Professor Ingrid Undeland, “The backbone of our project is a circular approach. In the past, we had a more holistic view on handling of food raw materials, but today so much is lost in side streams. Furthermore, we are in the middle of a protein shift, and there’s a huge demand in society for alternative protein sources”. The NoVaqua project joins other recent projects intended to develop such alternate protein sources. These include a range of lichen-based food and a drink made from soy pulp.

Artists, content owners, publishers even brands face a dilemma in the digital age: how to share their work while receiving credit, ensuring the best representation of their work or brand and, hopefully, increase their revenues. At Springwise we have already seen some solutions applying blockchain technology to support journalists and musicians. In an era of image-sharing, SmartFrame has developed a platform to give back control to everyone with images online, both individuals and business alike.

SmartFrame is a subscription-based platform. SmartFrame’s patent-pending format encrypts the original image file and then streams the image to the browser in a secure format. Through a set of decryption keys the image is then reassembled on the web page each time it is viewed. The SmartFrame panel offers image owners full control over their content at all times. It allows them to update, edit or revoke the image at anytime, anywhere it is featured on the Internet both dynamically and retrospectively. In short, where a jpeg would have previously been uploaded, an embed code is simply used in its place. Every image in a user’s account has its own unique code automatically created when the image is uploaded.

Because there is a call back on the server each time the image is requested to be viewed, SmartFrame also tracks all engagement and interactions with the content and reports back full image analytics to the content owner in terms of where the image is shared, viewed, clicked etc. SmartFrame is also invisible to web crawlers and bots and claims to be the most secure image format on the Internet today. Through the customer dashboard, users can also create custom campaigns with bespoke banners and manage blacklist domains. Customisable buttons linking to social media platforms or e-commerce websites can be easily added.