Thursday, September 5, 2013

Decentralized cloud service turns servers’ waste energy into household heat

When energy is transferred, heat is always a waste product – however, if the heat can be captured it can be converted back into useful energy. This is something that the creators of the BioLite stove and device charger has already recognized, and now Germany-based AOTERRA hopes to place cloud servers in people’s homes, using the waste heat they produce to keep the properties warm. The current model for cloud services is to keep multiple servers in one data center, using intensive air conditioning to stop them overheating. AOTERRA wants to provide cloud computing using servers that are decentralized – placed across a network of local households, rather than specialized facilities. The servers are contained in fire-proof safety cabinets that include a system to direct the heat they produce to power the property’s central heating boiler. According to the company, the method is reliable and environmentally-friendly, producing no CO2 emissions. Homeowners do not have access to the servers themselves – ensuring data security – and the machines are placed in networks of buildings with close proximity, meaning a negligible loss in retrieval speeds for cloud customers. AOTERRA’s solution cuts the cost and waste energy associated with traditional data centers by innovatively marrying two disparate services – home energy and cloud computing. The company has already raised over 700 percent of its EUR 100,000 target on the German crowdfunding site Seedmatch and hopes to use the money to roll out its first server-heaters. Are there other opportunities to harness the energy available from waste heat?

On crowdsourcing platform, architects compete for home-improvement projects

We’ve already seen an iPad app that lets consumers seek guidance from the masses on design plans for their homes. Now taking that crowdsourcing premise a step further, Italian CoContest is a site through which homeowners can set their own design competitions, getting architects to challenge others for the chance to work on their renovation projects. Homeowners with renovation to be done begin by launching a contest on CoContest, specifying not just the work to be done but also the specifications, deadline and any cash award. Architects around the world can then compete by submitting their proposals. “This is a worldwide solution,” CoContest says. “Why not obtain a Scandinavian design for your house in New York directly from a Swedish architect, or a Japanese touch in your London apartment from an architect based in Tokyo? With CoContest, you can.” In any case, at the end of the contest, homeowners can view all potential solutions and choose a winner, ranking the best projects by marking them with stars. From that point on, the contest becomes public and is viewable by all users.

From Australia, QR code app helps event attendees to skip the queues

Queuing is more often than not an annoyance for consumers and can also be bad for business. Estonian startup Qminder has already offered one option to help customers avoid queues, with its number allocation app that alerts them when it’s their turn to be seen. Our latest spotting is Australia-based ExpressQ, which enables event attendees to pre-order and pre-pay for food, drinks or merchandise for easy collection on the day. Event organizers can set up a food and drink menu or item list prior to the occasion, which consumers can then log onto through the ExpressQ app. There, they can reserve the items they want and pay for them. Customers then receive a QR code unique to them, which they can either print off or simply load on their smartphones to show to vendors when it’s time to pick up their goods. Since the items were pre-ordered, organizers should already have everything they ordered to hand. Businesses can set up a separate sales point for ExpressQ customers, meaning the even those in the regular queue benefit from reduced lines.

Watch-sized communicator helps parents and kids stay connected

We’ve already seen one mobile app that rewards kids for keeping parents updated as to their whereabouts and well-being, but Evado Filip takes a different approach. Earlier this year the London-based company launched VIVOplay, a wearable mobile communications and location device designed to help families stay connected. Watch-sized VIVOplay uses a combination of GPS, WiFi and GSM technologies to let parents and kids easily get in touch with each other whenever they need to. Featuring location and date/time/alarm features built-in, the water-resistant device lets parents send short messages to their child, such as ‘“dinner is ready’.” With the VIVOplay’s calling functionality, meanwhile, parents can designate five predefined numbers via the parental mobile app that accompanies the device, thereby limiting the numbers their child can call. Parents can also create “safe zones” and get notified when their child strays outside them; baby monitor functionality is available as well. Last but not least, an emergency button gives parents a way to instantaneously broadcast their child’s location to all five pre-programmed numbers, and to record all sounds around the device. Evado Filip explains: “”VIVOplay delivers all the benefits and independence of a cell phone and minimizes the concerns that keep parents from buying mobile phones for children aged 5-12. VIVOplay is flexible enough to be worn as a wristwatch or fit into custom accessories to meet changing tastes and keep it from getting misplaced.””

Multi-sensor and app could help individuals detect health problems early

Making it easier to monitor patients’ vital signs not only helps warn healthcare professionals of potential conditions, but also reduces the burden on healthcare systems, as the VISI Mobile System has demonstrated. Designed to help individuals keep track of their own health, the Scanadu Scout is a palm-sized device that is packed with sensors to aid the early detection of a number of conditions. The idea behind the innovation is inspired by the fictional ‘tricorder‘ – a device in the Star Trek series that can scan and collect data about living things. By placing the Scanadu Scout to their forehead for around ten seconds, users can get detailed information about their heart beat and ECG, core body temperature, blood oxygen and blood pressure, breathing and emotional state, delivered via Bluetooth to their smartphone. Scanadu is a Singularity University startup based at NASA Research Park in California and the hardware for the device is based on RTOS Micrium platform, currently being used in the Mars Rover Curiosity mission. However, the current prototype requires clinical trials for accuracy as well as approval from Food and Drugs Administration before it goes to market. The Scanadu Scout has already raised over four times its initial USD 100,000 target in the first week of its Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign and the team is hoping the device is chosen as the winner of the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE, which would earn them a further USD 10 million to make the tricorder a reality.

In South Africa, drones repurposed to deliver beer to festivalgoers

Beer-lovers can already brew their own ales in remote locations thanks to the Carbonator Bottle, but what about those who prefer to have their beverages delivered direct to them? Using tech to offer ultra-convenience, guests at South Africa’s OppiKoppi festival in August will be able to use their smartphones to order beer to be delivered directly to them via drones. Developed by Darkwing Aerials, the drones are octocopters that will be able to hold individual cans of beer, fitted with mini parachutes. Guests at the music festival – taking place in the Limpopo province of South Africa – will be allowed to order one free Windhoek beer through their smartphone. The drone uses the GPS position of the smartphone to locate customers to within one square meter, before dropping the cans to the ground.

Crowdfunding platform for young entrepreneurs focuses on educating

Bali’s Green School is an example of an educational institution putting an emphasis on nurturing the business skills of young people, but with numerous opportunities for entrepreneurs and startups now being offered through online avenues, Piggybackr is a new platform that aims to teach kids about how they can use crowdfunding to get their projects off the ground. Given that many of the major funding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo don’t allow campaigns run by minors, even young people who are aware of crowdfunding don’t have a chance to try it out for their own moneymaking ideas. Piggybackr is compliant with COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act in the US, by ensuring that users under 14 years old have the approval of a parent or guardian before launching a campaign. Children can also only send out invites to members of their family, school or society, enabling them to use Piggybackr as a place to learn about and experiment with crowdfunding before they’re old enough to launch more serious enterprises. Before users begin their campaign on the site they are offered hints and tips to help make their projects more effective, such as suggested backer incentives and email templates. When a task is completed, the site awards effort points and badges, so even if the projects don’t reach their target, children can still feel a sense of accomplishment. For children who have known mobile and web devices all of their lives, it makes sense to open up the most current and exciting business possibilities to those willing to explore and learn, so they’re well equipped for the future. Are there other online business models that kids could engage with?