About amyMRM

Senior Strategic Planner, travel and beer enthusiast

Your Instagram Posts May Hold Clues to Your Mental Health

The photos you share online speak volumes. They can serve as a form of self-expression or a record of travel. They can reflect your style and your quirks. But they might convey even more than you realize: The photos you share may hold clues to your mental health, new research suggests.

From the colors and faces in their photos to the enhancements they make before posting them, Instagram users with a history of depression seem to present the world differently from their peers, according to the study, published this week in the journal EPJ Data Science.

“People in our sample who were depressed tended to post photos that, on a pixel-by-pixel basis, were bluer, darker and grayer on average than healthy people,” said Andrew Reece, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University and co-author of the study with Christopher Danforth, a professor at the University of Vermont.

The pair identified participants as “depressed” or “healthy” based on whether they reported having received a clinical diagnosis of depression in the past. They then used machine-learning tools to find patterns in the photos and to create a model predicting depression by the posts.

They found that depressed participants used fewer Instagram filters, those which allow users to digitally alter a photo’s brightness and coloring before it is posted. When these users did add a filter, they tended to choose “Inkwell,” which drains a photo of its color, making it black-and-white. The healthier users tended to prefer “Valencia,” which lightens a photo’s tint.

Depressed participants were more likely to post photos containing a face. But when healthier participants did post photos with faces, theirs tended to feature more of them, on average.

The researchers used software to analyze each photo’s hue, color saturation and brightness, as well as the number of faces it contained. They also collected information about the number of posts per user and the number of comments and likes on each post.

Though they warned that their findings may not apply to all Instagram users, Mr. Reece and Mr. Danforth argued that the results suggest that a similar machine-learning model could someday prove useful in conducting or augmenting mental health screenings.

“We reveal a great deal about our behavior with our activities,” Mr. Danforth said, “and we’re a lot more predictable than we’d like to think.”

Source: New York Times

Why It’s Hot

The link between photos and health is an interesting one to explore. The role of new/alternate technologies (or just creative ways of using existing ones) in identifying illness — whether mental or otherwise — is something we are sure to see more of.

It’s Late and You’ve Got the Munchies. Lyft and Taco Bell Have an Idea.

Taco Bell has, quite literally, found a new marketing vehicle, and its name is Lyft.

The fast-food chain is beginning a venture with the ride-sharing company this week that will allow Lyft passengers to request rides that incorporate a stop at a Taco Bell drive-through between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.

The companies will test the option, which will appear as “Taco Mode” in the Lyft app, during the next two weeks around a Newport Beach, Calif., location, with plans to expand the program nationally next year.

It’s an attempt to tap into the trend of young people increasingly car-pooling through apps like Lyft and its larger rival Uber, particularly on nights out with friends. While Taco Bell offers delivery to customers and advertises the locations of its restaurants through the navigation app Waze, partnering with a ride-sharing company represents a new type of “experience innovation,” said Marisa Thalberg, Taco Bell’s chief marketing officer.

“I kind of think of this like inverse delivery — like we’re delivering you to Taco Bell,” she said in an interview. “You’re being delivered to the food as opposed to having to get in your own car and drive.”

As it stands, Lyft and Uber do not have stated policies about how drivers should handle passenger requests to swing by fast-food drive-throughs, though the question regularly pops up in online discussion forums for drivers.

“Several times I said no to food and they ask why and I explained what the last idiot did of making a mess and each time the present idiot would promise to not make a mess, spill, waste, etc. then they do it anyway!” one Uber driver wrote in an online forum.

Ms. Thalberg said her company had seen “a bunch of funny tweets” and other social media posts from hungry passengers on the topic, which got them thinking about a potential partnership with Lyft.

Taco Bell is not paying Lyft for the deal, which has been in the works for almost a year, Ms. Waters said. The companies are looking at the venture as “cocreating an experience together,” which cannot be evaluated the way one might look at traditional marketing efforts like television commercials and billboards, she said.

“Marketing today is so much about customer experience, not branding and advertising,” she said. “We’re really evaluating it from a surprise and delight for our consumer bases with a program like this and both meeting in the middle and developing it on both sides.”

Source: NY Times

Why It’s Hot

  • Uber used to be the partnership king, but perhaps their recent debacles have had brands thinking twice about their ride partnerships
  • Audience understanding  — experiences, not products — is the way to go.
  • It’s interesting to see how ride share, ride hire industry expands through partnerships and innovations to “own more of the user.”

Elon Musk says he has ‘verbal’ okay to build multi-state underground Hyperloop

Elon Musk said on Twitter that he received “verbal government approval” to build an underground Hyperloop transit network connecting New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC, with stops connecting each city center, and a dozen more entry or exit elevators located within each city. The project would be run through The Boring Company, Musk’s tunneling venture, which has already begun test digging near SpaceX HQ in California.

In the original tweet, Musk noted that the trip time from New York to DC would be just under half-an-hour. Currently, by train, that trip is roughly three hours and 20 minutes, or over four hours by bus. Musk also said that an LA to San Francisco loop is likely on the horizon, as well as a loop to connect Texas to the network.

Musk also originally came up with the concept for Hyperloop, though he opened up the idea to development by outside interests because he said at the time that he would not have enough time to devote to making it a business in its own right, in addition to his other duties. It’s not clear whether the Hyperloop component of this project would be developed by The Boring Co. itself, or by an outside partner focused on the tech, like Hyperloop One, for instance.

It’s also unclear what exactly Musk means by “verbal government approval,” [Update 11:41 AM PT: Bloomberg reports it was approval from within the White House] and whether that means he has the ‘okay’ to proceed with a proposal, or to actually start digging. Plus, it’ll likely require many more formal written approvals before anything can proceed.

Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd has discussed how use of its tech could transform communities, and have a similar physical transportation globalizing effect to the impact made by broadband on digital communications. Connecting these communities via transit that cuts commute and cargo times to below what you would expect for getting place-to-place within any one of these communities would undoubtedly have a tremendous economic and social impact.

During an interview at the International Space Station R&D conference on Wednesday, Musk talked briefly about The Boring Company, noting that “oddly enough it’s kind of like a little low stress activity, because everyone expects us to fail.”

Musk later tweeted that there is “still a lot of work needed to receive formal approval,” which is likely an understatement to say the least with a project of this scope.

Source: TechCrunch

Why it’s Hot

Love the prospect of a major, futuristic innovation that could tangibly change my life!

Watch a bear play in an Alaskan waterfall right from Google Earth

Thanks to Voyager, Google Earth’s storytelling platform, you can now basically take an even deeper look at Alaska without having to leave your couch.

Voyager, which is essentially a collection of guided stories and tours based on maps, began streaming live content Thursday, starting with Katmai National Park in Alaska. There are five live cams in Voyager for people to use to explore.

Google partnered with Explore.org, a multimedia organization that hosts several nature livestreams, to bring this new feature to life.

To access the livestreams, users just open up the Google Earth application and head to the menu icon on the top lefthand corner of the screen. From there, simply click “Voyager,” which is demarcated by a ship’s wheel, and head to the “Nature” tab. The livestreams are branded with “explore.org” in the lower left-hand side. When we watched, we saw a bear splashing around in a waterfall and later on, another casually walking through a river.

Google didn’t say whether even more live cams would make their way to Google Earth (and when that’d be), but Explore.org founder Charles Annenberg Weingarten seems to hint at more to come in a post on Medium.

“So, please join Google and Explore.org and discover the “live world.” Whether it be the brown bears of Katmai National Park, the wild belugas and polar bears of the arctic, the bald eagles of Iowa, the elephants and hippos of Africa, the pandas of China, or a live birth of a puppy who will one day become a service dog for a soldier with PTSD — welcome to our family,” he wrote.

Source: Mashable

Why It’s Hot

Love the immersive nature of what Google Earth is and can become. The possibilities are exciting to think about.

Augmented Reality Sells Sneakers For Nike

Nike built an augmented reality application called SNKRS for users to gain access to limited-edition sneakers available for purchase. The first sneaker to debut through the app was the Nike SB Dunk High Pro Momofuku, a collaboration with David Chang, creator and owner of the Momofuku restaurant group.

For a user to gain access to the shoe, they have to open the app and point their camera at the menu at Fuki East Village Momofuku in New York. People can still gain access to the shoes elsewhere, as an online menu works as well. Users need to look for a special ‘SNKRS’ label for the app to work properly. Once scanned, the shoes are unlocked and users have an opportunity to purchase a pair, as long as they’re in stock.

Right now, the SNRKS application only works on iOS phones, but Nike plans to release a version for Android soon.

Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot

How do brands use augmented reality in a way that engages their core audience? What’s interesting about this is (1) the audience understanding — sneaker freaks DO care about insider, unique, unlocking-type tasks and (2) the localization factor + partnership factor. However, I have to wonder what the reach is on something like this — is it a lot of effort for a little engagement?

Food Computers Use AI To Make ‘Climate Recipes’ For The Best-Tasting Crops

It’s no surprise that climate change is inciting detrimental effects on our planet, but one of the most troubling is its effect on agriculture. The MIT Media Lab is hoping to remedy this by using special “food computers” to create the perfect climates for growing food, no matter the location or time of year. That means that not only could countries farm their local crops all year round, but they could also grow crops that are not native to their region of the world, meaning they could have fresh produce on-demand. Say goodbye to having to wait for shipments!

The Open Agriculture Initiative Personal Food Computer was first created in 2015, and can study and replicate the best growing conditions for specific plants with the use of sensors, actuators and machine vision. The Personal Food Computer can alter the light, nutrients and salinity of water. As the computer watches a plant, like basil, grow, it picks up data that can be used on the next set of crops. The research team is also trying to make the food itself tastier by maximizing the number of volatile molecules inside the crop, which is made possible by leaving the computer on constantly.

Babak Hodjat, CEO of Sentient says it’s all about engineering food in a totally different way: “Ultimately, this is non-GMO GMO. You’re not messing with the plant’s DNA. You’re just allowing it to exhibit the behavior it would in nature should that kind of environment exist.”

Source: PSFK

Why it’s Hot

Rolling with the punches, so to speak. In the case of environmental change, we can adapt. Looking at something like this at scale — could be an innovation that shifts how we approach agriculture and could also inspire additional environmental innovation.

Amazon is rolling out a Dash Wand with Alexa to make you buy everything

ake Amazon wants its Prime subscribers ordering from its online store all the time, so it just cooked up a new device to help them do exactly that — and it’s essentially giving it away for free.

The company just launched a new instant-ordering gadget, the Dash Wand, that lets you fill up your Amazon shopping cart by using voice commands or scanning barcodes on the packages you have sitting in your kitchen cupboards.

The Dash Wand is essentially an updated version of the OG Amazon Dash wand that debuted in 2015, but this newer version crucially adds Amazon’s artificially intelligent assistant, Alexa, to help out. The digital assistant can sync your shopping list across Amazon devices, convert units of measurement, and search for recipes.

This is a huge upgrade for Amazon’s instant-ordering devices. The original Dash was significantly bigger, cost more than twice as much as this new one, and only worked with AmazonFresh orders.

Amazon’s really pushing the Wand, offering a similar deal to previous promotions for its instant ordering Dash buttons. If you buy a Dash Wand for $20,  you’ll qualify immediately for $20 credit for your next purchase after registering the device. It literally pays for itself — and you can opt-in for a free 90-day AmazonFresh trial, which typically costs $15 per month. It’s actually a pretty great deal for anyone with a Prime subscription.

The Wand is also magnetic, so it can live on your fridge close to all of your most frequently ordered foods, and its Alexa access makes it more useful than the Dash buttons, which are restricted to one item instant ordering.

You don’t get the full Alexa experience here, though. The Wand can’t play music, and its press-button functionality means it won’t automatically respond to the genial “Hey, Alexa” wake command.

It might sound ridiculous that the company is essentially giving the Wands away with all the discounts and incentives, but it’s a savvy business move. Making the shopping experience easier and offering a new Alexa toy to play with will only drive up orders, as if Amazon needs any help to keep its business afloat.

Source: Mashable

Why It’s Hot

Connected AI experiences make the virtual assistant craze more useful. Amazon is pushing forward on many different ways to connect Alexa with other platforms, and this is a great example of a type of utility that in a few years we will wonder how we lived without.

 

Alexa, tell Seamless I’m hungry

You can now reorder Seamless with Alexa.

From Amazon.com: Reorder meals for delivery or takeout in seconds from all your favorite Seamless restaurants.

This is a hands-free time saver for Seamless customers — and getting started is easy! Just enable the skill, link your Seamless account, and say “Alexa, open Seamless,” or “Alexa, tell Seamless I’m hungry.”

If you’re a first-time user, Alexa will ask for your preferred delivery address and payment type. Just select your preferences to complete setup. You’ll be able to enjoy the convenience of re-ordering your favorite dishes and meals with Alexa anytime.

The skill’s easiest to use — and the most beneficial for you — if you’ve ordered more than three meals with your Seamless.com account and have one or more current credit/debit cards linked to your account. As long as you have an order history, you can use the skill. Of course, it may be more fun for you if you have many past orders.

Source: Seamless.com

Why It’s Hot

We’re on the lookout for real utility this smart home and voice assistant technology. This is pretty lazy — but pretty cool.

Bank Account Will Tell You If You’re Buying Ethically

United Airlines and Pepsi are recent entries to a long list of companies consumers would rather shy away from. Boycotting has become the normal response to companies that earn public scorn. Despite its popularity, voting with one’s wallet is still a cumbersome process. Financial services startup Aspiration is trying to automate the process. Every swipe of their debit card will trigger a background check on the company you’re buying from.

The Aspiration debit card ranks the merchants using hundreds of data points. A Fast Company report details that each establishment earn points in two main categories: People and Planet. The People score is affected by how company treats its employees and the community it belongs to. The Planet score gives a number to the environmental impact a brand or product has. The system is called the Aspiration Impact Measurement (AIM).

In the mobile app, users will have an overview of their average scores which they can compare with other people. Through the use of qualitative data, ethical consumerism becomes more attainable.

Source: PSFK

Why it’s hot

Ethical buying is not new, but because of social media, now everyone is judging and watching our choices and brands’ choices. The principle of social proof is rampant. At the same time, people want things now – faster, easier and mobile. This innovation combines both to encourage behavior shifts.

MasterCard trials biometric bankcard with embedded fingerprint reader

MasterCard is trialling a Chip and PIN bankcard that includes an embedded fingerprint reader, introducing a biometric authentication layer for card payments — and taking a leaf out of the book of Apple Pay et al in the process. The thinking here being: why pay by entering a four-digit PIN when you can stick your thumb on it?

So far the biometric card has been trialled at two locations in South Africa, with additional trials planned over the next few months in Europe and Asia Pacific, according to a spokeswoman, and a full rollout expected later this year.

“We are targeting consumer rollout by end of 2017 through issuers that choose to offer biometric cards,” she told us.

MasterCard is touting convenience and security as the drivers for embedding a fingerprint sensor in plastic bankcards — after all, you can’t shoulder-surf a fingerprint as you can a PIN number. Although the use of contactless payment technology in bankcards (a tech that’s widespread in Europe) already offers a faster (and usually PIN-less) way to make card payments.

That said, there are some security risks with contactless payments, given there’s usually no authentication performed — so there could be an advantage to combining a contactless bankcard with a biometric one that also contains a fingerprint sensor in order to get speedy payments with at least a layer of security. (Although mobile fingerprint sensors have been shown to be spoofable. So the size of the sensor and the process for capturing a user’s print during enrollment are key considerations here.)

In this instance the MasterCard trial bankcard does not include contactless payment technology — but the spokeswoman told us that a future version will include contactless “adding to the simplicity, and convenience at checkout”.

For now, testers are required to insert the card into the POS terminal and then place their finger/thumb on the reader to authenticate the payment, as pictured above (vs entering a PIN into the keypad in the usual way).

The spokeswoman said the card is configured to expect the fingerprint for authenticating a purchase but does still have a PIN as a fall-back. “If the finger is too greasy or sweaty and the biometric doesn’t go through, the cardholder would experience a small delay and then asked to put in their PIN to complete the transaction,” she added. “The PIN also allows cardholders to use the card at ATMs globally.”

One relatively large drawback for the convenience of the biometric card is that the spokeswoman confirmed users are currently required to go to a bank branch in order to register and enroll their fingerprint. (Which is then converted into an encrypted digital template that is stored on the card.) Whereas bankcard users are normally mailed both their card and its PIN through the post so there’s no need to go to a branch to register before being able to use the card.

When asked about this the spokeswoman said MasterCard is “exploring ways to make remote registration possible”. Although again, while remote registration would be more convenient it could also open up the possibility for vulnerabilities with the implementation of the biometric technology — depending on how the fingerprint enrollment is performed.

One thing is clear, global payments giants are taking plenty of inspiration from mobile tech.

 

Source: TechCrunch

Why it’s Hot: 

Payment technology and security need to evolve hand in hand, or finger to finger so to speak. Using our bodies with technology is something we have talked about before, and I am intereted to see where this technology goes.

Kayak Made It Easier To Secretly Plan Vacations At Work

Tired of not so subtly switching tabs every time your boss walks by? Kayak feels your pain and wants to help you sneakily plan your vacation while at work with a desktop tool that makes their interface look like an excel spreadsheet.

This genius marketing idea is right on target with a big chunk of the Kayak demographic, and pokes fun at a universal experience: we all slack off from time to time, and planning a vacation in the office is all too familiar.

After researching their user habits, Kayak found out that 57 percent of Americans plan vacations during the workday with the biggest spike right smack in the middle, between 11 am and 12 pm.

Kayak at Work launched on Friday, March 31, but it’s still up and running—squishing early April Fool’s related suspicions.

“In support of workplace travel planning, we’ve come up with a new version of our desktop site to aid you in your search, whether you need to hide from your boss or just want to look productive,” says the company blog.


Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot

Love the consumer-insight-driven angle, even if it is a bit silly. This maaaaybe something I already do on my own but now a brand can help me get there.

 

Google Training Ad Placement Computers to Be Offended

After seeing ads from Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart appear next to racist, anti-Semitic or terrorist videos, its engineers realized their computer models had a blind spot: They did not understand context.

Now teaching computers to understand what humans can readily grasp may be the key to calming fears among big-spending advertisers that their ads have been appearing alongside videos from extremist groups and other offensive messages.

Google engineers, product managers and policy wonks are trying to train computers to grasp the nuances of what makes certain videos objectionable. Advertisers may tolerate use of a racial epithet in a hip-hop video, for example, but may be horrified to see it used in a video from a racist skinhead group.

That ads bought by well-known companies can occasionally appear next to offensive videos has long been considered a nuisance to YouTube’s business. But the issue has gained urgency in recent weeks, as The Times of London and other outlets have written about brands that inadvertently fund extremists through automated advertising — a byproduct of a system in which YouTube shares a portion of ad sales with the creators of the content those ads appear against.

This glitch in the company’s giant, automated process turned into a public-relations nightmare. Companies like AT&T and Johnson & Johnson said they would pull their ads from YouTube, as well as Google’s display advertising business, until they could get assurances that such placement would not happen again.

“We take this as seriously as we’ve ever taken a problem,” Philipp Schindler, Google’s chief business officer, said in an interview last week. “We’ve been in emergency mode.”

Over the last two weeks, Google has changed what types of videos can carry advertising, barring ads from appearing with hate speech or discriminatory content.

It is also putting in more stringent safety standards by default, so an advertiser must choose to place ads next to more provocative content. Google created an expedited way to alert it when ads appear next to offensive content.

Google’s efforts are being noticed. Johnson & Johnson, for example, said it had resumed YouTube advertising in a number of countries. Google said other companies were starting to return.

To train the computers, Google is applying machine-learning techniques — the underlying technology for many of its biggest breakthroughs, like the self-driving car. It has also brought in large human teams (it declined to say how big) to review the appropriateness of videos that computers flagged as questionable.

Essentially, they are training computers to recognize footage of a woman in a sports bra and leggings doing yoga poses in an exercise video safe for advertising and not sexually suggestive content. Similarly, they will mark video of a Hollywood action star waving a gun as acceptable to some advertisers, while flagging a similar image involving an Islamic State gunman as inappropriate.

Armed with human-verified examples of what is safe and what is not, Google’s computer systems break down the images of a YouTube video frame by frame, analyzing every image. They also digest what is being said, the video’s description from the creator and other signals to detect patterns and identify subtle cues for what makes a video inappropriate.

The idea is for machines to eventually make the tough calls. In the instances when brands feel that Google failed to flag an inappropriate video, that example is fed back into the system so it improves over time. Google said it had already flagged five times as many videos as inappropriate for advertising, although it declined to provide absolute numbers on how many videos that entailed.

Source: NYT

British Airways Is Using Facial Recognition To Make Boarding Faster

The U.K.’s largest airline, British Airways, is making the boarding process a little less tedious by using facial recognition technology at London’s Heathrow Airport.

A biometric device at the airport’s Terminal 5 scans passengers and boarding passes, then a second facial scan at the gate confirms their identity, without having to rustle around in search of any documents.

Three gates have incorporated the system, but the airline is soon planning to expand to 33 more according to Skift. So far it’s only being used in domestic flights.

This new development fits right in with most airports’ current trend of automation. Self-check-in kiosks are in many around the globe, including Heathrow, and new opportunities for technology to take a leading role in airport security are sure to keep on popping up.

Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot:

This just makes a ton of sense as a way to use technology to make people’s lives easier, and potentially safer.

China’s High-Tech Tool to Fight Toilet Paper Bandits

The toilet paper thieves of the Temple of Heaven Park were an elusive bunch.

They looked like most park visitors, practicing tai chi, dancing in the courtyards and stopping to take in the scent of ancient cypress and juniper trees. But hidden in their oversize shopping bags and backpacks was a secret: sheet upon sheet of crumpled toilet paper, plucked surreptitiously from public restrooms.

Now the authorities in Beijing are fighting back, going so far as to install high-tech toilet paper dispensers equipped with facial recognition software in several restrooms.

Before entering restrooms in the park, visitors must now stare into a computer mounted on the wall for three seconds before a machine dispenses a sheet of toilet paper, precisely two feet in length. If visitors require more, they are out of luck. The machine will not dispense a second roll to the same person for nine minutes.

At the Temple of Heaven Park, one of Beijing’s busiest tourist sites, many people said on Monday they were pleased by the new machines.

“The people who steal toilet paper are greedy,” said He Zhiqiang, 19, a customer service worker from the northwestern region of Ningxia. “Toilet paper is a public resource. We need to prevent waste.”

Qin Gang, 63, taking a stroll through the park with his wife, said China’s history of crippling poverty had left some people eager to exploit public goods.

“It’s a very bad habit,” Mr. Qin said. “Maybe we can use technology to change how people think.”

Not everyone was enthusiastic. Some people, frustrated by the new technology, banged their fists against the machines, which park employees said cost about $720 each.

Other visitors had more exacting critiques.

“The sheets are too short,” said Wang Jianquan, 63, a retired shopping mall manager.

Lei Zhenshan, marketing director for Shoulian Zhineng, the company in Tianjin that designed the device, said in an interview: “We brainstormed many options: fingerprints, infrared and facial recognition. We went with facial recognition, because it’s the most hygienic way.’’

Mr. Lei said an earlier version of the device was installed last year at the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing. An official at the Temple of Heaven, who would not give her name, said the facial recognition dispensers there were on trial, and if judged a success, would be placed in all the park’s toilet

Source: New York Times

Why It’s Hot

Somethings technology can go too far. I like the idea of getting creative and using technology to solve low-tech problems, but this seems to have gone too far for what it’s worth.

New Zealand brewery turns bottles into sand

“Two thirds of the world’s beaches are retreating as people across the world use non-renewable beach sand for construction, roading and other uses,” Simon Smith, brand PR and digital manager for DB Breweries, told Digital Trends. “We had some [conversations] over beers, and came up with an idea to crush glass bottles into a sand substitute that can be used in things such as construction, roading, even golf bunkers; meaning that we can keep our beautiful beach sand where it belongs: on our beaches.”
DB Breweries has built several machines able to take empty bottles and turn them into substitute sand. All a drinker needs to do is deposit his or her bottle in the machine, which then uses miniature steel hammers to crush it into 200 grams of sand in only five seconds — after extracting the plastic labels with a vacuum system.

The ultimate goal is to provide a way of prompting people to recycle by giving them an image of what exactly it means to do so, rather than leaving it as an abstraction. “Our ambition for the campaign is for people to have something tangible to think about, such as the love of our beautiful beaches, as a reminder to recycle”

Source: Digital Trends

Why it’s Hot

Back to beer coverage, hooray! Also, I posed recently about a grocery brand using its own waste to power its trucks, and I think this is another example of brand innovating to reduce their footprint.

Hulu Lets You Watch Shows In A Virtual Living Room With Friends

Hulu recently announced an update to its mobile VR app for the Gear VR and its desktop app for the Oculus Rift, both of which will enhance the experience of viewing Hulu-branded content in VR through layered social dimensions.

Slip on a headset and join your friends as avatars composed solely of a floating head and hands, where you can share an Oculus Room and watch movies together. You’ll further be able to play with objects like a TV remote around the virtual space thanks to the inclusion of the Oculus Touch, though lack of avatar customization and the limited use cases for hands help center the attention around Hulu’s media.

Though social in VR is a hot topic, establishing a sense of community within an experience is difficult for a number of reasons – for one thing, most Hulu viewers don’t own a headset. Among those that do, not all of them actually use the platform on their Gear VR or Oculus. Moreover, the physical act of donning a headset is quite isolating; Hulu will have to mold the experience around tech-savvy friend circles who are comfortable sharing experiences digitally despite being distant in the material world.

View here

Source: PSFK.

 

Why It’s Hot:

Social VR is a category to keep an eye on. Brands are trying to take the “coldness” and “oneness” out of VR and recreate experiences of time with friends and family.

 

Phone-Attached UV Camera Monitors Skin Health

Originally a niche brand for smartphone fingerprint recognition, Nurugo is branching out with a new product in the beauty market. They developed an app called SmartUV to help users be more aware of their skin type. To use the app a special UV camera sold by Nurugo has to be attached to the bottom of the smartphone.

By emitting UV light the camera is able to show skin problems that normally people don’t notice, or let users know of developing issues like sun spots or melanoma so they can treat them before it becomes life-threatening. It also allows users to see how effective their sunscreen is.

Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot

Another “our bodies” approach — connecting technology and intelligence about our state of being.

Supermarket Chain Uses Food Waste For Fuel In Delivery Trucks

British supermarket chain, Waitrose, already a leader in sustainability practices, is now using biomethane gas (provided by CNG Fuels) from food waste to power its delivery trucks. Similar to the efficiency efforts in food distribution of Norway supermarket delivery trucks, Waitrose trucks can travel up to 500 hundred miles on a batch of vegetables.

Consider this: in the United States, commercial trucks only get six miles to the gallon of gasoline, and we throw away 40 percent of our food waste per year. Quieter and more cost efficient, the Waitrose trucks pose a convincing model not only for other food purveyors (like fast food chains), but also industries that rely on trucks for distribution.

Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot

Sustainability is key for brands today — because more and more consumers are rallying around brands that care about causes, and care about the greater good. It becomes really interesting when a brand leans on technology to erase it’s own footprint. Imagine the impact if every brand and everyone was challenged to do the same?

Alexa can now unlock August Smart Locks

Over the summer, smart lock maker August announced its first integration with Amazon’s smart home assistant Alexa. It was pretty basic – letting users check whether unit was locked or not. Naturally, people wanted to know, for better or worse, when they’d actually be able to unlock their front door with the sound of their voice, for when you’re chopping onions like the lady in the above press photo.

That follow up functionality has arrived – though it brings a key caveat for safety’s sake. In order to actually utilize the feature, users will have to enter a four to 12 digit PIN code each time, in addition to telling the AI, “Alexa, ask August to unlock my door.”

Here’s CEO Jason Johnson on why the feature was added,

Before adding the unlock feature, we needed to be sure we could maintain our standard for security. Now users have the convenience of using Alexa to unlock their door using their voice and a secure voice PIN from anywhere in the home.

The company has added the extra step for obvious security reasons – you likely don’t want passersby unlocking your front door by simply asking nicely. It’s a necessary security addition, perhaps, but one that seems to mitigate the usefulness of the new feature.

Like the older Alexa skill, this one requires the lock be networked to either the August WiFi Bridge or the company’s doorbell camera.

Source: Tech Crunch

Why it’s hot

As a recent loser of my keys, I can appreciate the utility of something like this. What’s interesting is how the intersection of convenience and security will play out — will people be frustrated by extra steps or angry about anything that sacrifices their security? This also a good way to showcase how voice recognition technology will come into our lives in different ways and how the competition of partnerships between Alexa, Google Home, etc. will be fueled.

 

Mind control your Netflix

MindFlix is an experimental headband that lets wearers scroll through and select titles on the service with only their thoughts.

Wouldn’t it be great if Netflix could just read your mind and pick out the exact thing you were in the mood for? The technology’s not there yet, but if MindFlix is any indication, that future is not far off. During a 24-hour hack day, Netflix employees were tasked to come up with projects centered around the service. MindFlix is one such project, using a special brainwave-reading headband made by Muse, allows users to scroll through and select items the interface through simple head movements and thoughts. For example, once the wearer decides on what they want to watch, they simply think ‘play’ and the selection starts on screen. It does this by sensing back activity and linking it to pre-selected actions, making finding something to watch easier and faster than ever.

Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot

We’ve been talking about Voice Recognition as a trend, but what about mind recognition? The execution here may be a little silly, but what about implications for health, emergency situations? Will there be a time where we have to recall that we used to have to touch things?

 

 

 

Puppies + VR = happiness

The first-ever Puppy Bowl Virtual Reality brings viewers nose-to-nose with the gridiron canines through the Discovery VR iOS and Android apps, Samsung Milk VR and on Animal Planet’s YouTube page. Using virtual-reality goggles such as Google Cardboard, fans can step inside Geico Stadium for a 360° experience as puppies scrimmage, scamper and sniff out field goals.

For this year’s Puppy Bowl XII, Animal Planet worked with 44 different animal shelters and rescue organizations in 25 states across the USA to fill the rosters of #TeamRuff and #TeamFluff with adoptable players.

Source: USA Today

Why it’s hot:

Immersive video is being used by brands — and now VR is almost mainstream. Puppy Bowl is high visibility and if all goes smoothly it could open the door for more immersive experiences in everyday viewing.

Better Brews Come Delivered By Data Analytics

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Using sophisticated data science, IBM and Havas helia created a beer that tastes of joy and optimism. How you may ask? They used a tool called Watson Personality Insights, which analyzes language to produce a personality profile. The technology uses linguistic analysis to find meaning words. In linguistics, semantic analysis is the process of taking syntactic structures and relating them to each other.

First, the team observed the sentiment and the emotions found in the social media shared on and around New Year’s eve by running a data set of New Year’s related messages and shares on social media and matched them with a wide range of emotional states. The partners leveraged this powerful tool to extract cognitive and social characteristics from input text such as email, SMS, tweets, forum posts, and more. Through their analysis, the team found that the top most shared emotions were love, joy, harmony, cheerfulness, optimism, resolution and excitement.

With this profile the team worked together to capture the mood of the nation during the New Year party season to create the world’s first beer crafted and based on human emotions.

It then takes that profile and can categorise each beer according to different human adjectives, such as “assertive,” “friendly” or “intelligent.” Then the IBM Watson team began to analyse 2,800 different beer recipes while giving the computer descriptions about the ingredients, recipes, tasting notes and beer reviews. This method helped to identify the perfect recipe.

The top 10 beers that matched the most shared New Year emotions found in the data were then identified and, through further analysis, all of these beer recipes were combined to find the most common ingredients.

Honey, the Nelson Sauvin hop variety and the Hallertauer hop emerged as the top three most common ingredients among the beers.

  • Honey denotes love and cheerfulness
  • Nelson Sauvin is for optimism, imagination and resolution
  • Hallertauer is for excitement and emotion

Each of these ingredients was used to create flagship data-powered New Year beer: 0101. For the complicated project—the team picked High Peak Brew Co, an independent microbrewery based in the UK’s Peak District, to head up the brewing project. They tapped this particular brewery because the company’s brews are unfined and unfiltered, like the content of the social activity they tested. They worked with them to get an exact taste that would match the data as closely as possible.

Helia works with data to uncover patterns in human behavior, mixing that with cultural understanding to inspire more creative ideas. Why does this matter? The service helps users to understand, connect to, and communicate with other people on a more personalized level. With this powerful tool we can derive consumers’ cognitive and social preferences just with the language they use. The service applies linguistic analytics and personality theory to infer attributes from a person’s unstructured text.

Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot

It’s a data-driven world. But it’s an emotional, unpredictable word too. I appreciate the effort to bring the two together with this experiment. And of course, there’s the beer aspect.

Through tools like this we can gain insight into how and why people think, act, and feel the way they do. This means companies and coders can use data and technology to interpret something abstract such as positive feelings and emotions and turn them into an experience to build upon.

 

 

No More Self-Checkout Lines, Scan As You Shop Instead

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In the future, you might be do your grocery shopping without fumbling over self-check registers or waiting at a long line. Diebold, a financial innovations firm, will present the concept for a mobile, scan-as-you-shop, self-checkout process at the National Retail Federation’s“BIG” show in New York City this week.

Here’s how it works: scan each item you want to add to your cart using a smartphone app. Tap out and pay at a self-checkout unit before you exit the store. Pay using cash at the terminal, or use other saved payment information from your mobile wallet or through a retailer app. Pick up your receipt, and maybe some cash back (the checkout terminal can also function as an ATM).

Voilà: no more long lines, or strained interactions with cashiers.

The smartphone-paired concept sounds like the logical next step to self-checkout counters. Customers will have an easier, quicker checkout process, and retailers can benefit from adding mobile marketing campaigns or customer rewards through dedicated apps.

For the concept to take off, it does require trust on both ends: retailers will have to trust that customers will abide by the rules and not forget to scan a pricey item, and customers will have to have some faith when they give payment data to retailer apps.

Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot

This is an example of an innovation that just make sense — we’ll look back in 20 years and talk about how we used to wait in lines for a human to scan each thing in our cart! What?!

Powering Up Handbags for Battery-Drained Devices

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Everpurse is turning handbags into the perfect device carrier. By fitting them with built-in chargers, they extend not only a busy woman’s carrying capacity but also the battery lives of smartphones she carries.

An alternative approach to building wearable tech, Everpurse works with Kate Spade, a high-end bag label many women love.

The Everpurse bag has a special pocket where a smartphone slides into. The device charges up wirelessly, with no cords to fumble with. Just place it over the included charging mat to charge.

Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot:

Because I NEED this! Simple as that. But really, this is (1) an interesting extension of wearable technology to big fashion brands — a trend that was emphasized at last year’s SXSW and (2) a practical solution to an all-too-common pain point.

 

 

LEGO Robotics Kit Lets Kids Code Their Way to Mars

LEGO-robotics-psfk.com_.pngLEGO Education, a division of Denmark’s LEGO, unveiled a new system called WeDo 2.0 that helps teach children about engineering, technology and coding. The system contains hardware and software that give elementary school children more than 40 hours of projects to create.

The LEGO robotics that comes with WeDo 2.0 is a wireless and tablet-ready system that is designed for a younger crowd than LEGO Mindstorm products which are geared more toward middle and high school students. The lessons of the WeDo 2.0 correlate to educational standards in physical sciences, life sciences, earth and space sciences, and engineering. The lessons are geared towards students in second through fourth grade to solve real-world science problems.

The set comes with a number of LEGO bricks and includes a Bluetooth Low Energy-based hub that connects to a motor as well as motion and tilt sensors. The software in the package uses a drag-and-drop interface for writing basic applications that can connect to the hub and its sensors.

WeDo 2.0 allows children to explore, create and share their scientific discoveries along the way as they build and modify projects. In addition, teachers have the opportunity to receive support through training, curriculum and built-in assessments with eight guided projects and eight open ended projects the system offers.

Projects vary from the “Drop and Rescue” project, where students have to design a device to reduce the impacts of weather related-hazards for humans to projects that allow students to discover the surface of Mars with a model rover or explore the Amazon rainforest through frog metamorphosis.

Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot: Even play is evolving for the digital world. But instead of pure entertainment, this initiative is preparing kids for the real world.

Google’s 2015 Year in Search

Google revealed the top searches of 2015, which provide a window into our culture.

top searches

The questions we ask reveal who we are, according to Google’s 2015 year-end video. If that’s true, then it appears we’re a benevolent bunch of globally minded folks who want to know about the terrorist attacks in Paris and Cecil the lion’s death but still can’t figure out the color of “the dress” or fully master the Nae Nae.

The two-minute video, which joins a growing list of 2015 recaps coming from tech and media companies, curates highs and lows—the Black Lives Matter movement, the same-sex marriage law, David Letterman’s farewell, the pope’s U.S. visit—to a voiceover from Caitlyn Jenner’s acceptance speech at the ESPY Awards.

The short film comes from Los Angeles ad agency 72andSunny and Google’s head of brand creative Michael Tabtabai in their first collaboration.

Source: Google and Adweek

Why it’s Hot

Search is a window into our culture — into the things we care about, into the things we don’t know. It’s an honest time capsule that’s interesting to consume here and now.

IKEA Makes Itself Part of a Longer-Lasting Solution for Syrian Refugees

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IKEA, long known for its defining slogan “Swedish for common sense,” might be better defined as “Swedish for change.” The brand is often the first place Westerners turn to in times of change: moving out for the first time, the start of a new relationship, the ending of a relationship, moving to a new city, downsizing, etc. These life events usually come with a trip to IKEA. It makes complete sense then that a brand so intertwined with change would be part of the solution for Syrian refugees and others in finding shelter for hundreds of thousands of displaced persons around the world.

The Swedish-designed refugee shelter project is the brainchild of Johan Karlsson, and industrial designer based in Hallefors, Sweden. After doing some volunteer work with Sweden’s Refugee Services abroad in 2010, Karlsson noticed how poorly designed many refugee shelters were. In addition to being cramped, lightless, damp living environments, the shelters easily blew over, flooded and fell apart. Karlsson recognized the need for an economical, lightweight and simple design solution. He took an idea for a new concept of shelters to IKEA where he was granted funding from the IKEA Foundation, the humanitarian arm of the corporation. With the money, Karlsson founded Better Shelter and partnered with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to provide quality temporary shelter for refugees.

Today, Better Shelters are in camps in Iraq, Lebanon, Chad, Ethiopia, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary.

 

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According to the UNHCR, the average stay in an UNHCR refugee camp is 17 years. Most tents that are available for refugees to live in last only a few months. The shelters that Karlsson designed last a minimum of three years. Karlsson’s shelters are self-standing, modular, white structures with peaked roofs high enough for an average adult male to stand up in and large enough to accommodate a family of five. Built with lightweight plastic and metal the shelters can be shipped easily around the world. Similar to IKEA’s principles of design Karlsson and his team paid close attention to the transport volume, weight, price, safety, health and comfort of the shelters.

The shelters can be assembled in just a few hours and require no special equipment to do so. The houses can be disassembled just as quickly and reused as needed. In addition, the structures feature windows, mosquito nets, ventilation, a solar-powered energy system affixed to the roof for lighting and a mobile phone charging outlet, and lockable doors to keep women and children safe from sexual violence, a common problem in many refugee camps.

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Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot

This is a great example of a brand taking it’s strong suit and taking on relevant humanitarian efforts.

Swipe Right for the Next President of the United States

Spending so much time on Tinder that you haven’t had the chance to read up on the presidential hopefuls for the next elections? Addicted to swiping? Want a fun, easy, quick way to expand your political knowledge? Voter might be the app for you.

The iOS app uses Tinder’s familiar swiping mechanism to help you learn more about presidential candidates and parties that match your views. The app currently has various levels of questions. In Level 1, you’ll be swiping about your views on basic, core social, environmental and economic issues, like legalizing marijuana, same-sex marriage, abortions, the death penalty, and increasing or decreasing the minimum wage and military spending. Unsure about an issue? Click the picture for a quick cheatsheet on the facts behind the issues, and a few bullet points from supporters and opponents.

You can also select how important each question is to you (a la matching questions on dating website OkCupid).

Level 2 goes more in depth: you’ll swipe about a fence at the border, increasing spending on education, term limits for congress, taxing the wealthy, financial aid for other nations and more. Once you’ve swiped your opinions, you get matched with potential political parties and candidates.

You’ll be able to view your political matches sorted by percentage, with a neat breakdown of the issues you agree or disagree on, and the ability to contact the party or donate. For candidate matches, you’ll also get a few quotes and a short bio, as well as a breakdown of top campaign contributors by name and industry for the more established candidates.

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Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot

It’s important for young people to understand their political environment, and we haven’t seen a lot of evidence that politics is adapting to Millennials. An app like this takes a key demographic and insights about their behavior and makes politics accessible and even entertaining.

 

 

This app is like Shazam for your beer

So many beers, so little time.

beer

With so many options between the hoppy, the fruity, the wheats, the stouts, the ales, the seasonal pumpkin brews and splices you’ve never dreamed of, your next mystery bottle could either be sinfully good or horribly awry. Don’t you wish someone had told you before you opened it?

It’s about time there’s an app for that.

Letsee Beer, created by Korean startup Letsee for iOS and Android, uses your smartphone camera to scan the labels and shapes of beer bottles and cans (no draught, though). It brings up the beer’s basic info, plus hashtagged descriptions ranging from #fruity to #damntasty and reviews that other users have left to help you determine whether the brew is worth a try.

The creators hope to do more than build a user-generated database to help beer fans know what they’re drinking before they open the bottle. They’re also utilizing augmented reality technology to bridge the virtual and physical worlds and to nurture a social media network that shows the app’s impact with real users.

“By using the more intuitive AR interface, the users will be able to focus on the user-created content itself instead of getting distracted by cumbersome app interfaces,” Ahn Sangchul, founder and CEO of Letsee, tells Tech in Asia. “People may enjoy sharing their drinking experiences with others using our service, and we hope to encourage them to love beer even more.”

 

Source: Mashable

Why It’s Hot

There are many apps for many things, but the incoming element of VR is appealing. It can be used to help connect the physical to the online world — and there are definitely implications that go way beyond beer.

NY Times launches NYT VR in partnership with Google

On Thursday, The New York Times took a step into virtual reality.

NYT VR is a mobile app that can be used — along with your headphones and optionally a cardboard viewing device — to simulate richly immersive scenes from across the globe.

You can use the app on its own. But the experience is even better with a special virtual reality viewer. Thanks to a partnership with Google, NYT will be sending free Google Cardboard VR viewers to all domestic New York Times home delivery subscribers who receive the Sunday edition.

Times Insider subscribers who have chosen to receive marketing emails will also receive promotional codes via email that can be redeemed for free Cardboard viewers.

To start, The Times Magazine presents three portraits of children driven from their homes by war and persecution — an 11-year-old boy from eastern Ukraine named Oleg, a 12-year-old Syrian girl named Hana and a 9-year-old South Sudanese boy named Chuol.

The stories

War has driven 30 million children from their homes. These are the stories of three of them.

The Displaced: Introduction

Nearly 60 million people are currently displaced from their homes.

Lebanon: Hana’s Story

At 12, she has lived one-quarter of her life in a debilitating state of suspension.

South Sudan: Chuol’s Story

At 9, without his parents, he was forced to flee to the swamps.

Ukraine: Oleg’s Story

At 11, he is living in the ruins of his former life.

Source: NYTimes.com

Why It’s Hot

NY Times is staying relevant through technology, and I think this is an important step in making VR more mainstream.

“I think it’s kind of a seminal moment regardless of whether it’s journalism or not,” says Brian Blau, research director for innovative personal technologies at Gartner. “It’s Google and the Times, two well-known brands. They’re giving away more than a million of these. That, I think, is the biggest deal… Having this many Cardboards out there is great. I’ve never heard of another organization attempting to give away that many for a single purpose.”