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I’ve always believed that we should try to create and store energy from unexpected places.  My suggestion would be to harvest the energy from subway station turnstiles as those are constantly getting moved every second during rush hour.  Perhaps that would be enough energy to power the entire train station.  Well as it turns out I’m not alone in trying to think of novel new ways to create energy.  Here’s a look at three ideas that try to tackle that same problem.

First up, we have SolePower a shoe insert that hopes to power mobile devices by collecting energy from the footsteps that a person takes throughout the day.  As the Huffington Post describes, “Cell phones are transforming lives in places like Sub-Saharan Africa, where they are crucial for advancing everything from education to medicine to commerce.  The problem? Many developing countries lack access to the electricity needed to charge mobile electronics. Over a billion people lack access to electricity worldwide, about 99% of whom live in the developing world.  Enter SolePower. Using a basic shoe insert, SolePower allows users to charge mobile electronics simply by walking. In capturing the kinetic energy of footsteps, SolePower’s shoe insert converts energy into electrical power that is stored in a battery for later use. The battery is then used to charge electronics like cell phones.”

Check out this video below to find out more:

Next up we have an audacious plan to capture energy from when you flush your toilet bowl!

According to Popular Science, “A team of researchers in South Korea have created a transducer that translates water motion—from toilets, raindrops, or other water-based uses—into electricity. The technical side is wonky, but essentially, by using the motion from a tiny droplet of water—30 microliters—the team was able to power a small green LED. It’s a proof-of-concept demonstration, but scale up to a flushing toilet or a rainstorm, and you can see the appeal.”

All due apologies to the NFL but we may need to steal the name Super Bowl for this awesome device if it ever makes it to market.

Last but not least we have a rather unusual concept that aims to create energy from an unlikely source: cow farts.  Although this sounds like something you might read in an article you find on the Onion this is actually a real concept.  According to Fast Company, “The project from Argentina’s National Institute of Agricultural Technology is only a proof-of-concept at this stage. But it is intriguing. Researchers put plastic backpacks on cows, then inserted tubes into their rumens (their biggest digestive tract). They extracted the methane–about 300 liters a day. That’s enough to run a car, or a fridge for 24 hours.”

As you can see whether we’re talking about cow farts, flushed toilets, or shoe inserts there are plenty of intriguing outside the box concepts for how we can create energy.  Which begs the question: what else can we turn into energy?

Is extracting energy from cow farts the Greatest Idea Ever?

As is to be expected when it comes to Google, Project Ara isn’t the only big project they’re working on at the moment.  Or, rather, it isn’t the only big project that they were trying to work on.  That’s because as Fast Company reports they were actually trying to make a working space elevator but unfortunately fell short.  At least for the time being.  As interesting and intriguing as that is what I’m really excited about is the recent news that came out around something that they might actually have more success in creating: a contact lense version of Google Glass.

Considering the negative stigma surrounding Glass turning them into contact lenses is a great idea.  Obviously Google had good intentions when they first created Google Glass but the general public hasn’t warmed up to them yet.  They’re considered a fashion foo-pah, the people who wear them are known as Glassholes, and there have even been laws passed banning their use in certain situations or in certain places.

Stoking all this negative sentiment are the privacy fears that have come to define our modern times with the assumption being that someone wearing Glass could be using them to spy on you in either a creepy or even malicious way.  In fact, this animosity is so great that Glass has become a symbol of sorts for the growing gentrification tensions between the rich and poor in San Francisco leading to people wearing Glass getting assaulted.   Those stories concerned me so much that when I had the opportunity to buy Glass for one day only last week I balked at the chance.  Glass contact lenses could change all that.

Aside from letting users avoid harassment and the stigma surrounding Glass these contact lenses would also have very practical uses.  According to PC Magazine the possibilities include the ability to take pictures and videos just by blinking, enhancing your peripheral vision to widen your field of vision in a busy intersection, giving law enforcement personnel facial recognition capabilities, and enabling people to zoom in to see further than they can on their own.  All of which are very useful attributes to have.

So how would they work?  According to Extreme Tech, “This new smart contact lens would have a tiny CMOS camera sensor just below your pupil, control circuit, and some method of receiving power wirelessly (more on that later). Because an imaging sensor, by definition, has to absorb light, it wouldn’t be transparent — but it could probably be color matched to your iris, so that your eyes don’t look too freaky.”

So if you were thinking about Google Glass you may want to hold off.  A better alternative may soon be on the way.  Let’s just hope though that Google can overcome whatever technological hurdles they may face going forward so that this project actually winds up with a better fate than the space elevator.

Is a Google Glass contact lense the Greatest Idea Ever?

“The smartphone is one of the most empowering and intimate objects in our lives. Yet most of us have little say in how the device is made, what it does, and how it looks. And 5 billion of us don’t have one. What if you could make thoughtful choices about exactly what your phone does, and use it as a creative canvas to tell your own story?”

That quote was taken from the Project Ara website and it pretty much sums up Google’s audacious plan to create a modular phone with components that can be swapped out to create custom phones.  That’s right.  The days of mass produced smart phones are over.  Soon we will all have a say in what our phones look like and what functionality they have.  I think this concept is extremely intriguing so I’ve decided to dive deeper into exactly how they work and why we should care.

According to the Verge, “these smartphones would begin as simple skeletons that owners would have to flesh out with everything from a processor and display to a cellular radio and camera. Each of these pieces would be sold as a small square or rectangular block, called a module, which can be slid into and out of a phone’s skeleton depending on what its owner wants and needs — Google is even expecting to see some nontraditional cell phone parts pop up, such as an incense burner.”

In other words you’ll have the chance to create your very own phone letting you give more emphasis to the features that you care about the most, say the camera, while neglecting those that you don’t care about.  A marketplace will be created along side the Google Play store enabling users to browse modules and select the ones they want.

So why should we care?  Well, in reference to Samsung’s latest phone, the Galaxy S5, Time magazine stated that the phone’s “headline improvements included a better camera, a fingerprint scanner and a heart-rate monitor” before adding that, “In a world of modular phones, you might be able to pick any or all of those features and add them to the phone you already have. You’d even be able to pick among multiple cameras, or choose quirky features not meant for the masses…”

This means that aside from giving consumers the freedom to design the phone that works best for them there is a tangible benefit to utilizing a modular phone: they last longer.  No longer will you be a slave to the never ending two year cycle of phone upgrades.  Instead these phones will last three times as long as you upgrade specific features on your own schedule.

Not only that but Google also plans on offering a basic phone for around $50 that won’t come tied to a carrier.  In fact, as Time magazine explains it, “wouldn’t even be capable of working on cellular networks — just Wi-Fi.  But owners could upgrade their grayphones on the fly as their needs changed and budgets permitted.”  This could go a long way towards giving the billions of people in the world who still don’t have a phone basic access to one.

So, will everyone want one?  Well, if people are willing to pay way over market value for a gold iPhone as a way of expressing themselves then I think it’s safe to say that people are going to want to use a Project Ara phone to express themselves even more.  Sure there may be some resistance at first from those among us who still need to call a relative to figure out how to DVR something, but I think those concerns will fade away once the early adopters prove how easy it is to set up a phone and swap out parts.  And once someone comes up with a really clever hack that revolutionizes what we can use our phones for then everyone is going to want to get a modular phone and swap in that cool new feature.

That to me is really the best part about this project.  Who knows what someone might dream up.  With millions of people free to tinker with the modules we could be on the verge of revolutionizing exactly what a phone looks like and how we interact with it.  Forget about using the phone as a creative canvas to tell our own story.  We could soon be writing a whole new story.

Is a modular phone the greatest idea ever?

A children’s book that teaches young girls how to code. An apartment complex that gives residents a free bike. Gym classes that cost less the more frequently you attend. These are just some of the amazing ideas from around the world that get compiled and disseminated daily by the folks at Springwise, a company dedicated to scanning the globe for inspiring new business ideas. I mentioned this company yesterday when writing about a database of ideas that I’d like to create as they are one of the only places that I know of to maintain a database of their own.

To find out more about this amazing company and their desire to make the world a better place I exchanged emails with Chris Kreinczes, Springwise’s Managing Director. With over ten years of experience as a writer, public speaker, and trend watcher Chris has a wealth of knowledge about innovation. Here’s what he had to say:

Q: I believe that the work that you are doing over at Springwise.com is very important as you are helping to spread great ideas and promote a culture of innovation. Would you agree with that sentiment? What is it that you hope to accomplish through Springwise?

A: The primary aim of Springwise — be it online or through our presentations — is to inspire. We believe that there is room for innovation across all industries, and collaborations and genuinely creative and uninhibited thinking are the key to unlocking this. One of the advantages of a platform such as Springwise is that we cover innovations from a broad variety of sectors, enabling readers to draw inspiration from perhaps unexpected sources.

Q: You’ve been described as an innovation expert. In your opinion what kind of innovations can we expect to see over the next decade? What’s going to be the next big thing? Will it be 3-D printing? A new material like Graphene? Something else?

A: Certainly wearable technology is the next major frontier for digital. All of the big players are moving with pace into this area, and startups will be pushing the possibilities at the same time. 3D printing has been around for a while now, but as materials become cheaper and printers become more capable, it could soon have it’s day in the mainstream. The exciting thing here is that it’s a technology which will have ramifications everywhere, from supply chains, to retail environments, to clothing.

Q: Everyday, you and your team have to come up with three new inspirational business ideas. Is it ever a struggle to live up to that standard?

A: We have a team of 17,000 Spotters globally who send in roughly one hundred innovations a day, sourced from around the world. With that many ideas to analyse we usually have the opposite problem, whereby it’s hard to limit ourselves to 15 a week.

Q: What separates a great idea from the pack? Are there certain things that you look for when evaluating a product or company?

A: Our main criteria is that the innovation must be in some way genuinely innovative. Another company offering a “Buy One Give One Model” won’t cut it, unless it’s a genuinely remarkable and unexpected application. We’re looking for the model or central premise itself to be innovative. Secondly, the company must have just come to market, or be on the brink of coming to market — we steer clear of concepts that may never materialise. Lastly, we’re always interested in a range of ideas from across the globe, as well as a strong mix of digital and physical innovations.

Q: Thanks to shows like Shark Tank it seems that entrepreneurism is at an all time high. Do you think interest in startups and new business ideas is just a passing fad or do you think the trend will continue?

A: I think with the rise of factors such as 3D printing and home code academies, we’ll see a continued rise in home grown innovative solutions for the foreseeable future. Especially combined with the fact that there is continued media hype over the large figures many startups are now being sold for to the major players…

Q: Your focus is more on the entrepreneurial side of things as you cover already existing products and companies. On the other hand I tend to write more about loose ideas, concepts, new technologies, etc. that aren’t necessarily consumer facing at the moment. Things like nanotechnology, synthetic biology, augmented reality, etc. Are you interested in those things as well? If so, is there anything in particular that stands out to you?

A: While concepts and scientific/technological breakthroughs are always an area of interest, we have a strong focus on ideas which either have already — or we feel definitely will — come to market. Of course it’s necessary for us to keep tabs on what’s going on a level down from here, but there are plenty of other sites which focus specifically on that level. We focus on the tangible, in order to avoid speculation and a drift into the realm of science fiction.

Q: One of the things that I’d like to do is create an ideas database so that someone can quickly and easily access information about concepts for inventions and new technologies the way they can use the Springwise database to retrieve information about the products and companies that you’ve covered. Do you think there would be interest in such a database?

A: Very possibly. The issues here would be sourcing the infromation effectively and, where necessary, incoporating the neccessary patent information etc.

Q: Springwise covers a variety of topics ranging from health & wellbeing to entertainment. Which of those sections interests you the most and why?

A: We try to be unbiased in our coverage in order to ensure we cover a genuinely broad range of industries. However, on a personal level, I take particular interest in those innovations which seek to use business as a source of good for the world — be it through sustainability initiatives or social causes.

Q: What’s your favorite idea that Springwise covered recently? In my opinion it has got to be the edible water blob!

A: I like to go walking, so for me it would have to be the Life Tech Jacket created for the Korean brand Colon Sport. It incorporated a built-in first aid kit, straps for carrying another body in the event of a rescue, as well as a wind generator which powered a built in heating system for when temperatures dropped. A little excessive for my needs but interesting nonetheless!

Thanks to Chris Kreinczes and his team at Springwise great ideas get spread worldwide everyday.

Have you heard about Project Ara?  What about Project Morpheus?  For most people the answer is probably no.  That’s because these are relatively new ideas.  More proof of concept than actual product at this point.  The former is Google’s attempt to make phones with components that you can swap out enabling users to customize their device and create something that best suits their needs.  The latter is Sony’s attempt at an Oculus Rift style virtual reality device.  It’ll be years before you can actually use either of these items if you ever can at all.

Why do I bring this up?  Well, it’s because I think these are great ideas.  The kind of thing that has the potential to change the world for the better and dramatically improve people’s lives.  And they are just two out of thousands of such ideas.  Whether we’re talking about tangible consumer products, apps, or theoretical concepts that will never materialize there’s no shortage of exciting new innovations, inventions, and ideas to talk about.  I try to do my best to cover the latest developments as they happen but I can’t keep up with all of the amazing scientific discoveries and breakthroughs that occur on a daily basis.  It’s stressful enough as it is trying to keep up with the latest tabloid news about Bruce Jenner’s sex change.

So, what I’d like to do is create a database of ideas.  A free wikipedia style forum where anybody can come along and update an entry with the latest news about it.  The kind of place where trend hunters, journalists, entrepreneurs, and futurists alike can go to find out what’s on the cutting edge or to dive deeper into a topic that tickles their fancy.

Sure some of this information is available in other sources (hello Google) but there’s no one stop source for all of these ideas.  And I think there should be.  This database would be similar in style to TechCrunch’s database on tech companies and people called CrunchBase.

The description of this database as found on their website reads as follows:

“CrunchBase is the free database of technology companies, people, and investors that anyone can edit.  Our mission is to make information about the startup world available to everyone and maintainable by anyone.  Here, you can learn and edit everything about companies like Square, Dropbox, Yahoo!, and Amazon, products like the iPhone and Google Chromebook, and people like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs.”

That database is incredibly useful as it contains a ton of key information and critical data about the movers and shakers in Silicon Valley that is hard to find elsewhere.  Doesn’t it stand to reason then a similar database dedicated to tech ideas not just the companies and people that proliferate them would also be a great idea? I think it does but according to my research nothing like this exists.  The closest thing can be found on the website Springwise, as that company, which promotes three business ideas everyday, has kept a database of the ideas that they’ve written about.

I guess this means that I may soon have to do the unthinkable.  Instead of just writing about my ideas I might actually have to create this myself.  After all, the world needs to know about what other projects are out there waiting for their chance to change the world.  The sooner the better.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a place you could go to learn more about Project Ara and other great ideas?

 

#455 – Tongal

This morning I was riding the subway in New York City along with a bunch of other mindless drones, like I do everyday, when I saw an advertisement that snapped me back into reality.  It was for a company called Tongal and it mentioned something about coming up with ideas.  Intrigued, I decided to check it out.  What I found can only be described as Heaven on Earth.  For here we had a website offering to pay people, regular, ordinary people, just like me and you, cold, hard, cash to come up with ideas!  What the what!!!!

The basic concept is simple.  A brand, say a beer company, or a fast food restaurant chain, or a toy manufacturer will pose a question to the general public.  This may be a suggestion for how they can reach more people or how they can promote a new product.  The general public then has a set period of time, generally a few weeks, to submit suggestions.  The sponsor will then select the best ideas and look to turn them into a usable video that they can use for the advertising campaign.  Winners then get paid.

As TechCrunch explains, “Anyone with a good idea can submit it to their web site, like Twitter, in 140 characters or less. The sponsor selects ideas and from there people with video skills do the creative work. People whose ideas get selected can make $250 to $1,000. If the video gets selected, the person who submitted the idea gets a 5 percent bonus/residual payment. People who make the videos can earn $1,000 to $25,000.”

Check out this video to find out more about how Tongal works:

In addition to what was described on the video there is also a section on the website called Tongal’s left field where the objective is to come up with “out-there-in-left-field ideas”.  My specialty!! In this section users have 500 characters to come up with an idea for how to solve a problem that a company is struggling with.  After the best ideas are selected everyone will have a second chance to use their creativity this time to suggest ways to actually apply the idea.  The top five suggestions for either the initial concept or for how to implement it will receive monetary prizes.

But, wait.  It gets better!  As a way to encourage people to keep coming back for more the site has been gamified!  This means that in addition to earning prize money participants also earn points.  A leader board tracks points and earnings for all participants and then at the end of each “season” the top 20 production and ideation leaders split an additional prize pool with the top five finishers splitting 50% of the pot!  It doesn’t get any better than that!

All in all, I really love the crowd sourced concept at the heart of Tongal.  This is a great way for people from all walks of life to put their creativity to good use and to get paid for it in the process.  But be forewarned.  None of you stand a chance against me!!!

Is getting paid for coming up with ideas the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

If you’re anything like me you probably hate driving at night down a desolate road or strip of highway with no street lights in the vicinity to guide you home safely.  Aside from being a nuisance these driving conditions are actually quite dangerous as you have reduced visibility and are more prone to falling asleep behind the wheel.  I witnessed this first hand about ten years ago when I was recruiting for Adelphi University in upstate New York.  One night, while driving on a winding road that wrapped around the side of a mountain I saw a driver drift off the road and start grinding alongside the safety rail.  Who needs street lights to light up the road when the sparks flying from metal on metal collisions will suffice.

Thankfully those driving conditions may soon be a thing of the past thanks to the Dutch Studio Roosegaarde which has outfitted a 500 meter stretch of highway in the Netherlands with new light absorbing glow in the dark road markings!  Take that humble street light!

But that’s not all.  This futuristic road also comes equipped with the ability to tell you about the weather.  According to Wired UK, “Part of that vision included weather markings — snowdrops, for instance, would appear when the temperature reached a certain level.”

This is so cool!  Who needs augmented reality glasses when you can have roads that do the heavy lifting for you!!

As Slate puts it, “It’s one thing for the rest of the world to have way cooler trains than us. America has chosen car culture, for better or worse. But now comes word that the Netherlands is building way awesomer highways, while ours are stuck in the 20th Century. The Netherlands! If this isn’t a wake-up call for the United States to invest more in infrastructure, I don’t know what is.”

The best part about this concept is that it figures to be just the beginning of a total re-imagining of what our entire driving experience could be like.  After all, as our cars get smarter and start communicating with one another they’re also going to need to communicate with everything else as well whether that’s street lights, toll booths, parking spots, or the roads themselves.  In that regard this is a great start.

Is a glow in the dark road the Greatest Idea Ever?

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