Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

There are already a number of websites that let people order glasses online, at considerable savings. Now, a company in California are taking things one step further with a device that allows users to test their eyesight at home. EyeQue have developed the VisionCheck, a personal vision tracker. The VisionCheck is an automated optical device that can measure and track reflective error, and allow users to order new glasses with the test results.

VisionCheck combines a cloud-based platform, a smartphone application, and a motorised optical scope. The scope snaps onto the smartphone screen. The user then places it against their eye to perform the testing. The accompanying app displays different images on the screen, while an internal motor rotates a series of lenses to measure the eye’s focus and astigmatism. A separate tool built into the app measures the distance between the pupils, and provides the spherical, cylindrical and axis measurements that are needed to make glasses. The data is sent to the phone via Bluetooth and then uploaded to the VisionCheck platform, where the results are processed. Consumers can use the results to order eyeglasses through online retailers from the convenience of their own home.

EyeQue are seeking funding on Indiegogo, where they have raised more than 475 percent of their goal. The VisionCheck is also available for pre-order through the company website. Costs start at USD 60. At Springwise, we have covered a number of other innovations that help people perform tasks that used to require experts. These have included headphones that let users test their own hearing and a printer that lets users print out their own Braille.

Springwise has already covered various sustainable forms of public transport, from electric taxis to travel subscription services. Now the Pakistani city of Karachi will benefit from zero emission public transport.

The Green Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) network will include 200 buses, all fuelled by bio-methane – essentially, cow dung. The raw materials for this fuel comes from 400,000 buffaloes in the area. Funded by the Green Climate Fund to an amount of USD 49 million out of a total cost of USD 583.5 million, the network will therefore eradicate pollution emissions that damage the environment. Not only is the new network greener, but also cheaper. They estimate it will cater to 320,000 passengers daily. It will also help to reduce planet-warming emissions by 2.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over 30 years.

The BRT aims to cover a 30 kilometre transport corridor that will benefit 1.5 million residents. It will add 25 new bus stations, safer pedestrian crossings, and bike-sharing facilities, to name but a few new features. The project also helps to prevent 3,200 tonnes of cow manure polluting the ocean every day. 50,000 gallons of fresh water will also be saved, as it was previously used to wash the waste in the ocean bay.

The buses integrate in stages and will become fully active in 2020. It is however doubtful as to whether 200 buses is enough to support the city’s already struggling public transport needs. Yet in tackling such a large and integral network, the environmental benefits could be huge.

Outdoor equipment maker Mammut Sports Group AG has released a new mobile app that uses near-field communication technology to connect with its products. The Mammut Connect app will allow users with an NFC-enabled smartphone to scan chips embedded in their Mammut products to learn more about them. Mammut claims it is the first outdoor brand to use NFC chip-reading technology in this way. The app also acts as a built-in social platform allowing users to share photos, videos and maps of their outdoor adventures. In addition to its other features, the app will also include videos and news relating to Mammut-sponsored professional athletes.

Swiss-based Mammut is hoping its new app will resonate with customers who want to communicate more with the brands they use. According to Mammut CEO Oliver Pabst, Mammut is building an entire ecosystem. “With Mammut Connect — a broad portfolio of real customer added value — we are creating an innovative platform and underlining our ambition to become digital leaders in the outdoor sector.” Pabst points out that customers today actively contribute and give feedback. Customers also have much more concrete demands than they did just a few years ago.

At Springwise we have seen how products are becoming more connected in order to increase customer interaction. We’ve previously seen goods personalised with tags that unlock digital content. More recently, we covered a beer label that uses NFC and facial recognition to communicate with customers through an app. By combining product information with lifestyle inspiration, Mammut is creating a new way of bringing interactive product information to the consumer.

For many businesses, a data breach can be a disaster. Breaches can cost businesses large sums of money and erode customer confidence. Yet the main source of most data breaches is not malware, but human error. According to information security company ShredIt, 47 percent of business leaders surveyed said human error by an employee had caused a data breach at their organisation. As many as one-third of these errors involved a compromised password.

Los Angeles-based Woven was founded to reduce the risk of enterprise security breaches by eliminating the vulnerabilities associated with today’s digital credentials. Woven does this by replacing passwords with cryptographic keys and multiple layers of biometrics and verifiable digital credentials. These credentials are attached to individuals, not companies, so can be taken from one employer to the next. To learn more about the vision behind this innovation and the future of cybersecurity, Springwise spoke to Woven’s founder, Jeff Hagins.

Hagins’ previous venture was smart home IoT platform SmartThings, which was bought by Samsung in 2014, just two years after its founding. While casting around for new ideas, Hagins was struck by the way that identity rests at the root of many cybersecurity problems. As an example, he points out that the root cause of a phishing attack is the fact that the user has no way of knowing whether the website they are looking at is authentic. Similarly, websites only know whether the person logging in has the right username and password, not whether those credentials have been stolen.

Hagins explains that, “The technology used in cybersecurity systems has actually been around for a long time. It is based on what’s called public key encryption (PKI). This involves the use of two cryptographic keys – a public key and a private key. The keys are very long strings of data. When sending a message, the sender generates a cryptographic signature, using their private key. The receiver can then use the public key to verify that the signature is correct. These cryptographic key pairs can be used instead of passwords.”

While PKI is not new, what has changed is the development of blockchain technology. This allows data to be stored in a way that you can prove the data has not been modified. Says Hagins, “Fifty years from now people will look back and laugh at us because they won’t understand why it took us so long to figure these problems out. What is new though, and part of what makes all this work, are technologies like blockchain. Not from a crypto-currency perspective … but rather blockchain as a mechanism for storing information and then being 100 percent certain that that data hasn’t changed.”

Hagins goes on to explain that once companies realised there was a real security problem with passwords they developed two-factor authorisation to add security. However, many consumers find two factor authorisation inconvenient, so rarely use it. And now many of the two factor authentication solutions have themselves been found to be vulnerable. “We kept building on top of passwords when what we should have been thinking about is how do you get rid of passwords instead. Passwords are part of the problem, not part of the solution.”

Rather than passwords or two-factor authorisation, Woven has created a system of multi-factor identification which uses “a combination of the private key, biometrics and other factors.”

Woven begins by taking a digital picture of a paper identity document, like a passport or driver’s licence. Woven’s software then runs forensic analysis to make sure that the document is real and has not been tampered with, and to extract the information. They then access data sources to verify the information before creating a digital version of the identity document. That digital document is then cryptographically signed by Woven, using their private key.

Hagins predicts that one day this Woven-issued digital identity document will be replaced with a government issued digital credential: “Of course, we look forward ten years from now to a world where your government-issued ID is actually going to be digital to begin with. But we don’t live in that world yet, so today [we] have to actually start with the Woven app on your phone and an actual identity document.”

When users want to share their digital identity, such as when starting a new job, they would sign it using their private key. This proves the document is authentic and belongs to the user. The private key itself will be held in secure hardware on the users’ phone, inside a special cryptographic processor. This may sound futuristic, but Hagins points out that this system is actually already in existence. “Guess what, every phone since the iPhone5 already has this… Even our software does not have access to these keys. The only thing we get is the public key.”

Given that Woven’s system is based on existing technology, there are a still a number of challenges to be overcome before it can see widespread use. Chief among them is the need for a new standards infrastructure. “Standards are hard, getting everyone to agree is never easy… The good news is we know how to solve these problems, but we have to get agreement on exactly what that looks like and that’s going to take a few years.”

Widespread use of distributed identity will also involve creating new ways of looking at privacy. Hagins describes the main problem as creating a system of distributed digital identity while at the same time protecting users’ privacy. He feels that the system will be a failure if all it does is place checks for users’ identity in the hands of central authority.

Privacy initiatives like GDPR are putting an emphasis on privacy and consumer rights to manage their own information, yet what Hagins really wants is to allow people to manage their own personal information. “I want to be able to control for what purposes [someone] is allowed to use my information and if I change my mind, I want this to be easy – I don’t want to have to go back to their website and log in… I want to do this from one place, from my identity wallet…”

For Hagins, initiatives like GDPR have added friction to the online experience. He envisions a system that removes that friction while still maintaining privacy. This system could allow, for example, people to share health data but not identity; or to allow marketers to use demographic information to present users with products without knowing their identity or contact details. Says Hagins, “It’s all about finding the right balance.”

For the future, Hagins sees the rise of distributed digital identity pushing out other types of cybersecurity solutions, because they will no longer be needed. “There’s a lot of cybersecurity solutions today that focus on trying to detect the bad guy… but [with] distributed identity… I won’t need to know anymore who the bad guys are because you will already know who the good guys are. If we lift everybody else up, from an identity perspective, then the bad guys identify themselves, because they’re not properly identified.”

While Hagins realises that distributed identity will not eliminate all forms of cybersecurity threats, he hopes that it will help to eliminate profit as a motivation for cyber-attacks. “It’s not like digital identity is going to magically solve all of our security problems… Our goal should be that internet hackers are not an industry… We have to create a world where you can’t make money being a hacker… That’s probably a 20-year journey.”

Woven is scheduled to launch at the end of March, 2019. Read more about Woven

Our Gen-I series focuses on students and young innovators bringing fresh ideas to their industries. Our latest feature showcases the talent of six young entrepreneurs who have been nominated for the prestigious Morgan Innovation And Technology (MIAT) Prize 2019, an annual initiative from Morgan Innovation & Technology Ltd. helping companies and inventors bring their new products to market.

The MIAT 2019 Prize consists of £31,000 of Research & Development services, £5000 of consultancy services, and £5000 of legal services to further develop their product. This adds up to a total value of £41,000, a substantial amount for any budding innovator and enough to help get promising ideas off the ground.

The Prize came about to identify and support the next generation of world changing innovators across sectors. Located in Petersfield, UK, Morgan Innovation & Technology Ltd. sought to support innovations that have the potential for positive impact on society as a whole. The 2019 finalists exhibit a range of potential innovations with a special focus on health and medical treatment, from a robotic arm to a smart bracelet for menopausal women.

One finalist, Llyr Williams is from WASE, a wastewater treatment company. He seeks to improve sanitation facilities for 2.5 billion people across the world and thereby reduce child mortality. To do so, he has devised a decentralised wastewater treatment system. If Williams succeeded, he would complete one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Current forms of waste treatment often result in widespread disease, especially for women. WASE helps to prevent the contamination of local drinking water by treating waste 10 times faster than standard methods. The system can also generate high-energy biogas for use in cooking, increase crop yields through its fertiliser byproduct, and provide water for irrigation. This wealth of benefits all comes in a modular system that can adapt to different environments.

Next in the ring, Robert Paterson devised a custom-fit, Smart Mouthguard, ORB. It is designed to prevent the misdiagnosis of sporting head injuries. The secondary aims are also to improve the understanding of risks for contact sport players and support player performance improvements. Contact sports players often experience two problems: that of serious health risks from frequent concussions, and lack of access to proper sport analysis tools. ORB could solve both of these issues by providing biometric insights that have as yet gone untapped and also gathering data to promote further research into concussion.

David Barton and Heather Smart from Kaydiar Ltd. received Morgan Technology’s attention because of ZeroSole. This patented insole aims to treat and prevent diabetic foot ulcerations, improve patient quality of life, and reduce the burden on the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). The offloading design reduces pressure on the foot, thereby assisting in ulcer recovery and hopefully avoiding future complications or hospital visits. The high-quality material of medical grade silicone can provide long-term shear-resistant support.

Dr. Heba Lakany from the University of Strathclyde was nominated for the prize because of TAHARAC. Her team’s robotic arm exoskeleton aims to improve the rehabilitation experience for people with upper limb disabilities. The high cost of such prosthetics mean that many patients never reach their full potential for rehabilitation. The arm is powered by a rechargeable battery, making TAHARAC lightweight, well-balanced, and easy to use. This innovation will provide accessible and affordable devices to assist those with upper limb disabilities to better rehabilitate. The end goal is therefore to ensure people remain active in the community.

Nawar Al-Zebari‘s catheter made from smart materials, NuCath, aims to improve patient welfare and save the NHS over £2 billion every year. The device will reduce chance of urinary tract infections. These currently account for 40 percent of hospital-acquired infections. Their reduction could save staff, and indeed the NHS as a whole, huge amounts of time and money. The more efficient design and change in materials should reduce the chance of such diseases to occur, whilst removing the need for additional training or procedures.

Peter Astbury also earned a place on this nomination list with his designer smart bracelet Grace. Already featured on Springwise, his device aims to improve the health and wellbeing of menopausal women across the globe. The stylish wearable can automatically detect and prevent hot flushes before the user even realises they are having one. The main benefit for users would be the decrease in sleep disruption. This can account for various health risks for menopausal women.

Springwise are keen to see the results of this game-changing prize. The future for all of these innovations is particularly exciting for the health sector in general. We will be keeping a careful eye on how all of these innovations evolve further down the line.

At Springwise, we have seen advertising that has been personalised using AI and ads projected onto car windows. A new initiative uses advertising to help the homeless. Swedish advertising company Clear Channel owns around 1,000 digital billboards. Last year, the company began to wonder if the boards could be used for other purposes. Working in cooperation with the city and with homeless charities, Clear Channel launched the Out of Home Project. The project replaces some of the billboards’ adverts with directions to the nearest homeless shelter whenever the temperature drops below 7 degrees Celsius.

According to Stockholm’s shelters, homelessness in the city is on the rise. When temperatures dip below freezing, being able to quickly find a shelter can be a matter of life and death. Organisations such as churches and community centres are committed to opening their doors as emergency homeless shelters. While many of the homeless are aware of the location of permanent shelters, they may not be aware of the nearest of these emergency shelters.

The new ads direct people to the shelter nearest to each billboard. They also include information on where to donate necessities, how to become a volunteer and nearby day shelters for breakfast and warmth during the day. All of the ads are run for free. According to Ola Klingenborg, Vice President of Northern Europe, Clear Channel International, “Our billboards are located where people are, and thanks to technology, we can develop solutions that can help both people and cities. This is something we see as an extension of our work in creating true value in the cities we operate in.”

Smart homes are becoming commonplace in urban environments, with 16 percent of the US population alone owning some form of smart tech. Now a smart security system could provide a smart solution to domestic parcel delivery thefts.

eDOR describes itself as a smart door delivery and security system. The system works in three parts: eDOR, eBOX, and eTETHR. eDOR has the appearance of a regular door. The simple design offers 24/7 automated delivery pickups via its smart security system. Its two-way camera and keyless entry system allow delivery workers to deposit packages without a homeowner present. The second product, eBOX, takes the system one step further, with expanding modules that allow for larger parcels to be deposited safely and locked away from potential thefts. Finally, eTETHR is a digital version of the first two products, ideal for use on temporary or smaller domiciles. Sensors and alarms detect packages and monitor their position until the homeowner returns.

Both eDOR and eBOX connect to a mobile app so that the user can track and update the status of their parcels on the go from anywhere in the world. All three systems are customisable and modular, and so can adapt to suit any sort of property. The patents are currently pending, but they expect to be in production during 2019.

Many more innovations have sprung up around the sector of smart homes, from IoT air ventilation that adapts to current conditions to intelligent systems that learn from the domestic users.

Bees are vital to agriculture, but in recent years, they have been prone to colony collapse disorder, which decimates the hives. One of the main culprits in colony collapse disorder is the varroa mite. The varroa is a parasite, which invades the hives and is very difficult to eradicate – until now. A French startup called Beelife has developed a beehive, called the CoCoon, which can help destroy varroa mites that have invaded a hive.

The CoCoon takes advantage of the fact that bees can withstand much higher temperatures than the mites. The new hive uses a solar panel to power a heating system that gradually brings the hive’s interior temperature up to 42 degrees Celsius. This is hot enough to kill the mites without damaging the bees. The CoCoon can also cool the hive during hot weather, monitor hive activity and sound an alarm if somebody tries to steal the hive.

The CoCoon was unveiled at this year’s CES, and is expected to be available for purchase in late 2019, retailing for around 950 USD each. While this is pricey, its makers argue that the CoCoon can pay for itself in three years. They point out that it cuts the cost of chemical treatments and can increase honey production by keeping the hive at the optimal temperature. The CoCoon joins other innovations that focus on making agriculture more efficient and reducing the use of chemicals. These include using AI to protect crop yields and remote-controlled farming.

Art has always embraced new technologies to push forward the vanguard of culture. Auction house Christie’s has already put the first AI-generated artwork under the gavel. Also, an exhibition at the Guggenheim lets users explore potential future societies using a stock market analogy. Now, a new project takes aim at Eurocentric views.

SAVVY Contemporary has created a project called Spinning Triangles to mark the centenary of the iconic Bauhaus building. The organisers have developed a minitiurised version of the Bauhaus’ workshop wing and put it on a truck bed.

The mobile Bauhaus looks like a tiny home inside. It will provide a space for workshops, symposiums and collaborations, and also a small reference library. The organisers will drive the Bauhaus from Dessau, Germany, where the actual Bauhaus is located, then stopping off in Berlin before heading to Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Hong Kong to develop a new school of design. The project’s aim is to share ideas with local artists, dispelling colonial interpretations of non-European art. Design and architecture professionals from all over the world will help participate in developing a new school of design. The organisers hope the project will help the Bauhaus to ‘un-school’ old ideas, looking forward to a more informed future.

Woven is a SaaS product that reduces overall information security risk by eliminating the top vulnerability ─ passwords. According to Woven, more than 80 percent of all enterprise security or data breaches are the result of a compromised password. Woven prevents this type of breach by replacing passwords with cryptographic keys and multiple layers of biometrics and digital credentials. Because Woven provides digital credentials to individuals, these credentials can be taken from one employer to the next. This could help businesses reduce IT support costs by eliminating the need for new ID verification and password resets. New employees would come with their own ID credentials already in place.

Los Angeles-based Woven is headed by Jeff Hagins, who also founded four previous startups, including smart home IoT platform SmartThings, which was sold to Samsung. While casting around for new ideas, Hagins settled on digital identity because he saw it as the root cause of many online problems. At the heart of this is ensuring that the person signing in is actually who they say they are. Woven aims to solve this with its verifiable identity product. The company chose to begin with enterprise applications, but they plan to also develop a consumer product in the future. Woven is scheduled to launch at the end of March, 2019.

Cybersecurity is projected to be a USD 232 billion industry by 2022, and innovation is helping to drive this growth. We have recently featured a SaaS platform that helps to prevent image theft by letting users control how their images can be viewed and shared online. Previously, we covered an encrypted messaging platform that uses end-to-end encryption to hide users’ identity from the app.