We hope that you’ll find these concepts as inspiring as we do, and that they spark even more innovation in the year to come!
Perhaps more than any other trend we’ve seen over the last 12 months, the boom in the maker movement has been the most noticeable. Services such as Fictiv arrived on the scene, offering a service that could rapidly 3D print prototypes and then deliver them the same day. By making prototyping easier than ever before, such companies will only serve to increase the number of amateur (by name — not nature) designers in 2015. Perhaps the most intriguing of all the maker movement facilitators spotted last year, however, was the Scribble pen. The pen features two ends — one with a nib and one with a scanner. Users can press the scanner against any surface to capture its color, which is then translated into an RGB value. The inks inside the pen are mixed to match that value, and the user can then draw in the color just scanned.
Last year we saw two innovations looking to tackle a much under-reported issue in poverty stricken areas. Namely: the severe shortage of backpacks for children to transport their books during their long walks to and from school. First we saw the ingenious Aarambh project in India, which upcycled old cardboard boxes to create school bags that then transformed into desks to improve pupils’ comfort and posture as they worked — rather than have them write with their books on the floor.
Also looking to tackle two problems at the same time, Repurpose backpacks are made from 100% recycled material from old plastic bags. Not content with driving recycling while providing backpacks however, Repurpose then attached a small solar panel to the top of each bag that’s capable of capturing the sun’s energy while students walk to school. When they arrive back home, the bag is capable of powering a small lamp for up to 12 hours so that they can complete their studies at night — without the need for harmful kerosene lamps.
Drones could truly become mainstream in 2015. We fully expect distributors to begin using them on a wide scale, and we equally expect legislation to be ramped up to ensure the safety of the skyways. One of the most interesting applications for the technology, however, could actually be for healthcare. San Francisco pharmacy QuiQui is already set to offer 24/7 delivery of pills and prescriptions via drone, and we also have hopes for the first ever ambulance drones this year. Alex Monton’s original working prototype has already garnered much interest, promising to deliver a drone equipped with a compact defibrillator, medication and CPR aids, as well as other essential supplies, in around one minute after assistance is requested via a companion app. Once it lands, the drone’s built in intercom enables paramedics to direct a member of the public in offering aid.
Here at Springwise we’ve lost count of the number of articles we’ve read recently telling us how time-poor the average consumer has become, as they’re bombarded with ever-increasing volumes of information. (The irony that we’re increasingly feeling bombarded by the number of articles on the subject, has not been lost on us). The truth of the matter remains however, which is why Spritz was so popular with our readers. The team behind the mobile app believes that humans can reach much, much faster reading speeds by using their system of ‘streaming’ text at up to 600 words per minute. Based on the theory that most readers are slowed down by the movements of the eye as it scans lines of text, Spritz squeezes entire novels into a small, 300 pixel-wide space and flashes each word for a brief fraction of a second. It’s remarkably effective, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see the tech applied in a wide range of applications over the next few years.
There was another innovative technology — also designed to facilitate reading — that stood out for us this year. The FingerReader initiative from MIT provides visually impaired readers with a wearable ring that can scan written text and read it out loud. The innovation could open up the vast amount of literature still unavailable in Braille to blind and visually impaired readers.
The Internet of Things boom is only going to grow stronger than ever in 2015, and we’ve already seen plenty of truly remarkable intelligent and connected devices on our virtual pages. There’s the table that detects the food placed upon it and makes recipe suggestions, and the Roost smart battery which replaces standard 9V batteries in any smoke alarm to upgrade it with smart capabilities. The Roost demonstrates a trend we expect to see more of over the next few years: retrofitted smart device upgrades. Until the cost of smart devices comes down, products that promise to upgrade existing “dumb” devices should do well.
With the rise of the Internet of Things will also come the need for intelligent interfaces for users to control all of their devices. We’ve seen the Homey system that uses voice recognition to enable users to simply speak orders to their home, but it was Jibo which stood above the rest. A cross between Pixar’s animated lamp and R2-D2, Jibo is a friendly robot that uses facial recognition and natural language processing to offer personal assistance in the home. Jibo learns what its owners’ faces look like, as well as their voices, so it knows who’s speaking to it and who it’s addressing in its Siri-like natural voice. It can sync with other smart appliances and learn homeowners’ preferences and daily habits.
Every day at Springwise we receive hundreds of ideas submitted by our spotting network for us to review, of which we only publish three a day. Because of the sheer volume of tech innovations that are brought to our attention on a daily basis, it’s perhaps no surprise that Pumpipumpe stood out… Ideas don’t come much simpler or low tech than this. Pumpipumpe is a Switzerland-based project that encourages residents to place stickers on their mailbox to denote the goods they’re willing to lend to their neighbors. Each sticker comes in the form of a small blue square that features illustrations including a bike pump, lawn mower, kitchen scale, children’s toys, and even internet access and fancy dress costumes. The idea is that homeowners place the stickers corresponding to the items they own on their mailbox, letting passersby know that they can knock on the door and request to borrow something. There will inevitably be security concerns with such an initiative, but in trustworthy neighborhoods the idea has obvious merit.
Wearable tech innovations continue to dominate the spottings we receive from our Springspotter network (along with 3D printing examples and the Internet of Things). 2014 saw the introduction of a suit that enables wearers to pay for goods with a swipe of their sleeve and gym wear with embedded sensors that offer detailed and precise data about muscle growth and technique, to name just a few. Another stand out innovation from this still relatively new field was the Navigate Paris jacket, which has been designed to help individuals navigate the streets without looking at their phone or a map. Wearers first sync the jacket to their smartphone, and then enter their desired destination into the companion app. The jacket will subsequently deliver small vibrations in each sleeve to let wearers know where to head. The innovation could prove to be more than a convenience, as it enables walkers to keep their eyes on their surroundings as they travel, potentially reducing the number of accidents on roadways.
Those interested in the booming wearable tech trend would also do well to take a look at Mbientlab’s small Bluetooth chip, which has been designed to help makers create their own wearable technologies.
We saw some truly innovative marketing campaigns last year, and some of the most impressive came from the world of print media. There was the advert in Contigo magazine for Brazil-based department store C&A which featured working Facebook like buttons, and there was the Mawbima Mosquito Repellent Paper from Sri Lanka, which was printed with a special ink designed to repel mosquitos and stem the spread of Dengue fever.
Perhaps the stand-out campaign from last year, however, came from Nivea in Brazil. The print campaign featured a section of the page that could be ripped out and turned into a trackable wristband for children. Once a child was wearing the band, parents could track that child’s location while they relaxed on the beach, and receive an alert if their child wondered too far away. The campaign stands out not just for the technology behind it, but for the way it uses that technology to support Nivea’s brand position as “protectors”.
As cities become more and more congested, the need for innovative solutions to over crowded public transport systems is becoming ever more apparent. This is the problem Urban Engines is looking to tackle, and their work in Singapore could set an interesting precedent for the rest of the world in 2015. There, commuters who have signed up to Urban Engines and registered their commuter cards can earn rewards when they travel. They will earn one point for every kilometre travelled during peak hours, or triple that amount when travelling off-peak. The points earned can then be converted into discounts on future journeys, or put towards an in-app raffle game, where they have the opportunity to win sums of money. Urban Engines claim there’s been a 7 to 13 percent reduction in journeys made during peak hours, with 200,000 commuters taking part.
It’s a similar approach to US-based Ohmconnnect, which aimed to encourage homeowners to switch off devices when dirty power plants were serving their house. The app notified customers of the best times to reduce energy use and offered cash rewards for doing so.
Wearable technology means humans are creating more data than ever before. The trick for businesses is finding a use for that data that the consumer will find helpful (rather than creepy). Two such innovations from healthcare and finance stand out as a good example for others to learn from:
Health Insurance company Harvard Pilgrim Health Care’s EatRight Rewards scheme works by tracking employees’ food shopping habits. While that may sound invasive to some, the company do so in order to offer cash bonuses to employees that buy fruit and veg at the supermarket.
And equally looking to reward a healthy lifestyle, Alfa-Bank in Russia created a fitness account with a high interest rate of 6% per annum. However, users could only transfer funds into that account, and benefit from the interest rate, by syncing their Jawbone, RunKeeper or Fitbit fitness tracker with the bank. For every step run, users would be able to transfer 1 to 50 cents into the account.
And, of course, we couldn’t write a top ten without taking a look at some of our favorite Weird of the Week articles from the past year…
There were a number of contenders for the “weirdest” innovation from the last 12 months. While the 3D printed urns that are designed to look like the head of the deceased raised a few eyebrows here at Springwise HQ, the winner of the Weird of the Year award goes to the methane backpacks for cows. Looking to address the fact that methane released into the atmosphere is damaging to the environment, each backpack is designed to collect 1,200 liters of various gases emitted by an individual cow each day. The pack is then taken to a lab to separate the 250 to 300 liters of methane contained inside. The gas can then be compressed and stored in containers, ready for use to power a fridge or even a car.
Perhaps what’s most surprising about this admittedly ridiculous looking innovation is that it is, in fact, a solution to a very real problem. Much more useless, but equally as entertaining, is the Somebody app, which turns text messages into face-to-face interactions with strangers. If you haven’t seen the promotional video for that yet, we urge you to take a look…