2020 Killed the “Gadget Apocalypse”

Pre-2020, “gadgets” were essentially over. Smartphones, tablets, and smartwatches took the place of cameras, music players, navigation systems, fitness trackers, gaming devices, etc. But now, this “spontaneous mass hobbyism” is really bringing gadgets back.

It appears (for now) this “gadget apocalypse” has been averted. Months of lockdown and new normals have changed consumers back into gadget freaks: pulse oximeters, the iPhone 12, air filters, infrared thermometers, tablets, laptops, the PlayStation 5, ring lights, miniature freezers, home networking equipment, and noise-canceling headphones. We can all agree that the breakout device of the summer was the (three-year-old) Nintendo Switch.

The ways in which people buy gadgets have also become more practical. The way we search for items is also changing – from searching “The Best Laptops” to “How to Shop for a Used Laptop or Desktop PC.” Companies like Amazon who may have had “rip off” gadgets are now popular and preferred. Another example, Anker, which made its name selling portable batteries on Amazon, now sell projectors, so that you can open a small movie theater in your home since the movie theaters are shut down.

The pandemic gadget boom is a story of new needs — for example,  the number of backorders and top listings on Amazon of S.A.D. lamp and outdoor radiators.

What’s interesting is that these pandemic gadgets don’t claim to be the next big thing. Companies know these products are obsolete but this isn’t something they necessarily want to hide, because when we don’t need them, it won’t be a disappointment but more of a relief. Food for thought: where does conscious consumerism come in? Will these products be thrown out post-pandemic?


Facebook is Watching… for Research

~100 Facebook employees will be wearing AR research glasses at work, at home, and in public around San Francisco and Seattle to gather data about how the glasses perceive the world and what kind of privacy considerations they may need to make people feel comfortable around them.

The goal of these? To help Facebook develop a pair of augmented reality glasses that can layer 3D graphics and information over the wearer’s view of the real world. The eventual goal is to create a device that will enable virtual social interactions, like being able to have a lifelike conversation with a faraway friend who’s projected across from you at your kitchen table.

The Facebook employees participating in “Project Aria” will use their test glasses to gather data that will help the company’s researchers and engineers understand how AR can work in terms of tech and of the privacy protection users will demand, obviously being a huge concern for Facebook product users.

How this research will work: The glasses capture video and audio from the wearer’s point of view while collecting data from the sensors in the glasses that track where the wearer’s eyes are going.

“We’ve just got to get it out of the lab and get it into real-world conditions, in terms of [learning about] light, in terms of weather, and start seeing what that data looks like with the long-term goal of helping us inform [our product],” says Andrew Bosworth, vice president and head of Facebook Reality Labs, who is overseeing the project.

The research disclaimer: The wearer of the research glasses will wear a shirt that identifies them as Facebook employees working on an AR research project and it will show a website where people can get more information. The research glasses will display a noticeable white light that indicates when data is being collected, and the devices will have a physical mute button that will shut down the sensors and microphones.

“We’ll also start to think through the privacy conversation that’s going to be so important when we get to augmented reality,” Bosworth says.

Why it’s hot? Facebook is constantly at the center of data privacy controversies and this will likely bring up the same concerns. Time will tell how “secure” this data is.

Source: FastCo

Spotify Wants You To Feel Less Alone

Spotify wants to help their listeners feel less alone by launching new site to show you who’s listening to what you are. Apparently, every second, more than 30,000 people across the world are pressing play on the same song.

The platform is launching a new site called “Listening Together” that shows where these simultaneous listeners are in real-time.

“By sharing how we are listening and making it easy for others to see the songs others are streaming at the same time,” says Alexandra Tanguay, VP of global brand at Spotify, “we’ll not only surface the content recommendations we are all looking for [but] we’ll also establish a sense of connection and the togetherness that we all need right now.”

The concept started as an experiment in 2014 when a media artist Kyle McDonald wanted to explore how to connect two listeners playing the same song.

On the Listening Together site, there is a map of the world that users can navigate by clicking and moving various points on the globe. As you move the map, locations with specific songs will pop up, then show exactly where and how far away from you that exact song is also being clicked.

“Nothing that we know is quite the same,” says Tanguay. “As a brand, we knew it would be tone-deaf to push forward without acknowledging this moment of crisis, recognizing how our listeners, creators, and the world are feeling, while bringing to the forefront what we can offer: content that can be either a welcomed distraction, a moment of self-care, or a valuable source of information.”

Why It’s Hot:

This program is interesting because Spotify is creating brand awareness while also acknowledging what’s going on, without being the typical “we’re here for you” messaging. It’s a really cool example of how they are using their data to bring people together.


Stay at Home – But Make It Art

With people having to stay home and non-essential business being closed down, popular IRL experiences, museums, etc. aren’t in business. One museum, in particular, the Getty Museum, is engaging with their audience through a challenge they created on Twitter.

The Getty Museum challenged people to recreate a work of art using only people and/or objects found around their homes – and a lot of people accepted.

Why It’s Hot:

This is a great way to engage the community and create a “brand experience” from home. The Getty Museum is definitely considered high end and this is a great way to engage and give everyone the opportunity to be a part of something.


This Brand Turned Carbon-Negative Vodka into Hand Sanitizer

Air Co., a startup vodka brand, is one of the distilleries shifting their production from alcohol and to hand sanitizer – but what stands out is that Air Co.’s product is carbon-negative. Their mission is to make goods that do good, so they’ve created a carbon-negative vodka using captured CO2 instead of yeast to make alcohol is now using that captured CO2 to make a carbon-negative hand sanitizer.

“As of last week, we temporarily shifted our entire vodka production efforts to make a carbon-negative hand sanitizer,” the company wrote in a statement today. “Sanitizer is 70% ethanol, our technology’s main output, and we will produce as many bottles as we can during this crisis.” The company is donating the bottles it produces to the people that need it most.

This carbon-negative hand sanitizer is made from captured CO2

Other distilleries across the country are doing the same – the Old Fourth Distillery in Atlanta started producing hand sanitizer when local stores ran out, and it offered free bottles to the community, as did the Shine Distillery and Grill in Portland.

But what makes Air Co. stand out, is that it’s environmentally friendly. The company uses CO2 from nearby factories and runs it through a process that combines it with water to make alcohol, distilling the final product in equipment running on solar power.

Why It’s Hot:

A great example of how a brand totally quickly shifting its priorities to address pandemic especially a brand that isn’t in the cleaning or sanitizing market initially and in a way that is true to their brand values.


UPS is Buying 10,000 Electric Delivery Trucks for 2022

UPS is buying 10,000 of these cute electric delivery trucks

UPS is starting to incorporate electric vehicles into their fleet starting in 2022. In the past, EV haven’t been an option due to the high price tag attached due to battery prices (the average cost for a battery pack in 2010 was $1,100 per kilowatt-hour, but in 2019, that had fallen to $156), but now, they cost about the same as gas and diesel trucks. UPS just announced that they’re ordering 10,000 EV from Arrival, a startup in the UK that builds EVs from scratch.

“It’s taken a long time to get to this place,” says Scott Phillippi, the senior director for fleet maintenance and engineering for UPS’s international operations. “If you weren’t in the industry or on the inside, you’d think that [electric vehicles] were plentiful and available and affordable. And that really hasn’t been the case.”

UPS first began working with Arrival in 2016 and have made a minority investment in the startup. (Earlier this month, Arrival raised $111.5 million from Hyundai and Kia.) The startup builds its own core components, with a modular design that uses a standard “skateboard” base that can be topped with different designs for different cabin features.

Arrival’s design and its manufacturing system—in minimalist “microfactories”—also keeps costs low. Because electric vehicles require less maintenance and because Arrival’s modular system makes parts cheaper, the total cost of ownership will be lower than for a traditional vehicle.

UPS has tested a prototype of an earlier Arrival vehicle and will begin rolling out more in cities such as London, where it has installed new charging infrastructure to handle a growing fleet of EVs. Arrival doesn’t stop at EVs, they’re testing everything from electric cargo bikes to vehicles that run on biomethane (fuel made from trash).

The modern vehicles also have other advantages like sensors that can improve vehicle safety and eventually allow the company to begin to test automated driving on its own property. “This design allows us not to have to compromise on a clean, sustainable vehicle,” he says. “It gives us the right vehicle in the most efficient platform and as a positive byproduct is a zero-emission tailpipe.”

Why it’s hot:

This is interesting food for thought for the USPS project we’re working on right now to see what other companies are doing. Plus, it’s not the first shipping company to take be environmental conscious (see my HS from last year about Sendle)


Sendle Is A New Carbon-Neutral Shipping Service

Consumers are demanding faster shipping so carriers are scrambling to make next-day deliveries and don’t pack trucks as efficiently aka delivery trucks make their rounds with extra space in the back making each package have a higher carbon footprint than if the truck was packed efficiently.

This is where Sendle comes in. It’s a new (and fast) shipping service that leverages unused space on other carriers’ trucks. They take advantage of the inefficiencies caused by one-day shipping by cheaply booking the extra space in trucks that are going out anyway. Using this method they aren’t producing any additional emissions and lowering the carbon offsetof each package, making it the first 100% carbon-neutral national delivery service in the country. The company’s use of extra space means that it can offer the service affordably.”It doesn’t have to be a choice between carbon-neutral and saving money,” says Sendle CEO and cofounder James Chin Moody. “You can actually do both.”

The startup, a certified B Corp, grew out of another platform that the founders launched to help people donate old goods. Not finding a shipping service that was reliable and affordable enough, they ended up developing a new option for delivery themselves. It was so popular that they began offering it to others—focusing on sellers with small businesses on Etsy, eBay, and other platforms. Those customers, Moody says, are looking for “the right mix of speed and cost” and don’t necessarily need an option for next-day shipping; Sendle focuses on 2-day and 3-day shipping. In the U.S., the company will first pay for the extra space available on USPS trucks (Amazon recently cut back its use of the postal service, freeing up more room), so the packages will be delivered by your postal carrier. In the future, it could work with other carriers, like UPS and FedEx, as well.

In Australia, it works with a variety of carriers. “We basically said, ‘Look, if we can help you fill your trucks, we can improve your density, which again, improves the efficiency of the system,’” he says. The startup is also working with carriers to help them explore other ways to reduce the carbon footprint of shipping, such as shifting to new types of vehicles. It also helps customers further improve their environmental performance through offering options like a shipping pouch that can be composted in the recipient’s backyard.

Why It’s Hot

I wonder if there is a partnership or learning opportunity for USPS (potentially 250?) here since they tend to use USPS trucks more than others given the Amazon loss.


Facebook AI Launches Its Deepfake Detection Challenge

Facebook’s AI division has been ethically producing deepfakes (manipulated videos or face swaps). The videos are part of a training data set that Facebook assembled for a competition called the Deepfake Detection Challenge that was launched yesterday. In this competition—produced in cooperation with Amazon, Microsoft, the nonprofit Partnership on AI, and academics from eight universities—researchers around the world are vying to create automated tools that can spot fraudulent media. Facebook has dedicated more than US $10 million for awards and grants.

The U.S. presidential elections in 2020 are an added incentive to get ahead of the problem, says Canton Ferrer (Facebook AI Red Team). He believes that media manipulation will become much more common over the coming year, and that the deepfakes will get much more sophisticated and believable. “We’re thinking about what will be happening a year from now,” he says. “It’s a cat-and-mouse approach.” Canton ­Ferrer’s team aims to give the cat a head start, so it will be ready to pounce.

It may seem odd that the data set compiled for Facebook’s competition is filled with unknown people doing unremarkable things. But a deepfake detector that works on those mundane videos should work equally well for videos featuring politicians. To make the Facebook challenge as realistic as possible, Canton Ferrer says his team used the most common open-source techniques to alter the videos—but he won’t name the methods, to avoid tipping off contestants. “In real life, they will not be able to ask the bad actors, ‘Can you tell me what method you used to make this deepfake?’” he says.

Why its hot: It’s interesting that Facebook is working to create this tech right after the infamous AOC versus MZ roast. Does this make up for the fact that they people make fake ads/is it going to be implemented on Facebook?


‘Headed South’ by Google Demos Their New UI

Google has made the Pixel 4’s Soli (radar that lives just above the phone’s screen to see shapes and gestures) technology into a game.

On the Pixel 4, Soli allows you to do things like air swipe to skip forward and backward on Spotify, or wave to Pokemon in the phone’s live wallpapers. Google has partnered with creative studio UsTwo to launch a free game called Headed South to showcase the technology in a fully realized app to help introduce Soli to Pixel 4 users.

“Overall, the project goal in itself was a mix between an onboarding experience and play experience,” says Anders Oscarsson, the design lead at UsTwo who headed the project. “It wasn’t specifically about creating a game… It’s still early days [for the technology].”

Headed South turns you into a bird flying from a storm. As you go, you encounter other birds. Using your right finger on the screen, you draft in their wake until you catch up and they join your flock. Then, to perform special tricks—like a turbo boost to catch up with the bird in front of you—you can air swipe with your left hand, activating the superpower without touching the screen.

“How often you’re gesturing, that’s something we played around with a lot,” says Oscarsson. “The first thing we tried was, you were controlling the bird and you’d push the wind all the time. The more you gestured, the faster you’d go. It created a repetitive interaction that got old soon. With a touchscreen, you wouldn’t be tapping on the bird all the time to fly fast!”

Why It’s Hot:

At the moment, Soli is still just a very polished tech demo. It’s an interesting play on how to get users to interact with new UI experiences in a way that users may be more open to. The tech is a pretty cool idea, but what will it do that’s better than using touch, besides gaming? I’ll be curious to see how they make it an essential to the cell phone experience, not just another cool additive that we probably will use once.


A Drone-Planted Tree For You, You, and You

A startup called Now is making it easy for people to support the goal of globally planting a trillion more trees to help fight climate change through subscribing to support an army of drones that’s planting millions of trees around the world.

If a trillion trees are planted on all of the land on the planet that’s available for reforestation, scientists have calculated that it could capture two-thirds of the carbon that humans have emitted since the industrial revolution.

This is where Now comes in. They are trying to reach this goal by planting the majority of these trees… using drones.

“We said, ‘Well, 1 trillion trees is a really massive goal—is this possible?’” says Jessica Jones, one of the Now’s co founders. “It’s clear that with hand planting, that just won’t happen in the time that it needs to happen.”

Drones, however, could potentially plant 20 billion trees a year over 50 years to reach the goal. The drones fly over land to map the topography and soil conditions and identify the best area to plant, and then shoot biodegradable pods filled with a seed and nutrients into the ground. On the platform, customers subscribe to plant trees by donating $10-$100 monthly.

A major study released in July mapped where trees could feasibly be planted, avoiding cities, farms, and landscapes that weren’t previously forests. On those 1.7 billion hectares—an area bigger than the U.S. and China combined—restored forests could collectively store more than 200 billion metric tons of CO2.

“We’re committed to closing the gap between the people and reforestation projects, while creating community in the process,” Jones says.

Why It’s Hot:

So many people (it seems) are interested in climate change and helping when they can, but maybe don’t know where to start. This is making an obvious and easy way to help, without even leaving your house and by giving such a small commitment.



“Emotional Communication” With Tech…Through Our Device’s Skin


It looks like a chunk of flesh, lopped out of someone’s arm and placed on a table. And it’s pretty much just that. You can touch it, tickle it, pinch it, etc. and it will know. But this skin isn’t human skin. It’s skin for our tech.

Skin-On is modeled after the layers of real human skin, it’s made of silicone, molded with the human skin patterns. Under the “epidermis” aka the top layer is the “dermis” or a grid of electrode wires. These are the same electrodes as the inside of a smartphone touchscreen, and they sense touch using electromagnetism, just like in phones. But embedded with silicone, they have the ability to measure not just contact, but squeezes and twists.

“The trick is it’s insulated and slightly stretchable,” says lead researcher Marc Teyssier, a PhD student at Telecom ParisTech, of the electrode layer. Then under this electrode layer is a microprocessor and a layer of silicone that has a different consistency and thickness than the epidermis to really simulate that human feel.

“I think the weirdest thing is to hold the phone.” says Teyssier. “Because when you hold the phone, it’s like holding someone’s arm . . . [though] once you interact, it feels quite natural.” Spooky.

Why It’s Hot:

Even though the project would be easy to scale (according to the founders), it’s not something they actually want to do. The hope of the project is that it helps us question the philosophical relationship of people and machinery. Think of Skin-On Interfaces as functional art that asks whether we should be so quick to add technology onto our human bodies, rather than reshaping technology to be more human.

“For the last 50 years, the end goal in sci-fi has been the humans are mixed with the machine. That drove research in human-computer interaction. We’ve added devices onto humans,” Teyssier explains, no doubt referencing phones, smartwatches, and augmented reality headsets. “So my point of view is that I’m trying to do the opposite.”

Video +Source

Plastic-Eating Bacteria Is Solving Our Plastic Problem

Scientists from Hitachi and Cambridge Consultants, an engineering and product development company, are using synthetic biology to manufacture a plastic-eating enzyme with the goal of being used in recycling plants or in the environment—and potentially even in the ocean, where as much as 12.7 million metric tons of plastic ends up every year. Essentially, it’s seemingly a hands-off solution to the plastic problem.

“Attacking the problem biologically means that you have the ability to come up with a range of solutions,” says James Hallinan, business development manager of synthetic biology at Cambridge Consultants.

“It’s really about the engineering of biology, making it predictable and definable and reproducible,” he says. “And this idea that, in the future, more and more products are going to be made via a biological process, as compared to the old traditional way of making things from chemicals, and in particular petrochemicals.”

The company has also been looking into ways to make plastic biologically instead of from petrochemicals, but the current issue is obviously the plastic that exists (a 2017 study estimated that of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic that humans had produced since the material was invented, around 6.3 billion tons ended up as waste; only 9% was recycled). It’s interesting because we hear of packaging becoming more sustainable, recycling, etc. but little about what to do with the plastic that is already here which is why this company is particularly interesting.

Around the world, there are several other research projects exploring the potential of these plastic-eating enzymes. In the U.K., scientists studying the Japanese bacteria accidentally created a version of the bacteria’s enzyme that worked even better, breaking down plastic bottles in days rather than weeks. At the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the U.S., scientists are also working on the enzyme—called PETase, because it can eat PET plastic—to make it work faster. Researchers in Germany studied the structure of PETase to optimize it. And in France, a startup called Carbios has developed its own enzyme, which can fully break down PET plastic so it can be recycled into new, consumer-grade plastic of the same quality as virgin PET.

Something that makes this strategy unique is that the plastic doesn’t have to be clean and can be broken down completely. “We take these plastics back down to some of their precursor components, and then they are maybe in a better position then to be reused and reincorporated into new materials,” Hallinan says.

They are also concerned about the effect on the environment by the actual product of the enzyme and its outputs as it breaks down the plastic.“They have a recognition that they’ve got a responsibility to both their customers and also to the planet in general to ensure that what they’re developing and the products they make for the planet are good for the planet, in the long run,” says Hallinan.

Why its hot:

Companies like PepsiCo and Nestlé are now partnering with the company, which plans to begin building its first demonstration plant this fall. The collaboration will include technical milestones and support for the efficient supply of consumer-grade, 100% recycled PET plastics for their global markets.

Also, what if the enzyme got somewhere it wasn’t supposed to be and started to eat all plastic i.e. tables, boats, shoes, etc.?


Ripple: Future of Vaping?

In the next installment of vaping in 2019 and yet another USB for consumption: the ripple. A plant-powered vape made from essential oil blends with 0 nicotine. Aka the latest and greatest vape infiltrating the hype community.

“Ripple was created to be convenient, simple to recycle and designed to make vaping healthier.”

On their website there isn’t too much information about what else is in the products besides their main ingredients (peppermint, ginseng, lavender, etc. and other trigger words for anyone who is familiar with Goop or the internet). I did a quick Google search about vaping essential oils and it seems to be pretty safe (if not heated above 118 degrees Fahrenheit). They do though mention that the formulas are heated to a specific temperature that turns them into vapor which can be inhaled and absorbed.

Our mission is to change the way you vape. We want our products to make vaping functional and guilt-free but with one big difference – none of our formulas contain any nicotine. 

Our vaporizers come in four formulas: Power, Dream, Boost, Relax and are filled with natural, functional ingredients and essential oils.

“Ripple comes in four formulas: Power, Boost, Relax and Dream. Each blend is a combination of natural plant extracts designed to make vaping healthy and functional and are infused with essential oils for the purest flavor. None of our formulas contain any nicotine and all our custom botanical blends are formulated in state-of-the-art labs in the U.K. They’re non-GMO, free of pesticides and completely natural.”


Why It’s Hot:

At the moment, there are obviously two fads (health + vape) and this is the first combination of both. It’s a really interesting combination as they are polar opposites, aiming, I assume, at changing the landscape of vaping and shifting that conversation to be a more positive in the wellness world. Also, the hashtag they use on Instagram is #NicotineIsDumb which is really funny, plus the vapes are all recyclable.

ChewIt: AR Becoming Truly Mobile

ChewIt is a lozenge-size, wireless, mouth-operated remote controlled by head and facial gestures; a truly hands-free AR experience.

(Basic hardware is integrated with flexible custom-made PCB, placed inside the 3D-printed casing, developed from a polylactic acid filament)

Pablo Gallego Cascón, a graduate student in the University of Auckland’s Augmented Human Lab, wanted to prototype a piece of assistive technology that “doesn’t draw the attention of others and doesn’t make [the user] feel weird.”

As of now, a paralyzed person might control a wheelchair by blowing or sipping air through a straw, but this tech would allow them to operate their wheelchair using gestures or movement of the device in their mouth, unseen or known by anyone but themselves.

The tech wouldn’t only be for impaired people but is also being developed to be used as a VR controller (because what would new tech be without adding a VR component). Other uses could include changing music while driving or riding a bike, etc. Basically a remote for when you need to be hands-free and eyes-free.

Why It’s Hot:

More than medical tech and more than another revolutionary VR experiment. The tech seems to be pretty universal in terms of who can use it and it’s wide range of capabilities. Two questions: 1. how would it tell the different between someone turning their head and giving it a command and 2. what if you swallow it?


Skyscrapers Are Solving All Of Our Problems

Vertical landfills and DNA storage towers: 6 wild concepts for tomorrow’s skyscrapers

Design journal eVolo has a yearly competition on skyscrapers for the most insane, innovative concepts that are aimed at solving today’s most pressing issues (climate change, refugees, data storage, trash etc.) However unrealistic, they are ambitious visions for how skyscrapers could be redesigned to do more and be better for the communities/world around them.

Methanescraper: A vertical landfill systems

Creature Ark: Biosphere Skyscraper: A home for endangered species that simulated their natural habitat

Borderland Skyscraper: A space for refugees to live and work, hoping to change their roles from guest to host, without feeling under the responsibility of any state authority or having to live under the daily-life rules imposed by any formal organisation.

2100 Singapore: Gene Storage Skyscraper: a skyscraper that stores data, formed from intertwined fiber optic cables that form a twisting, leaf-like building, the structure changes color based on how much data is being uploaded.

AI Is Curing Your Road Rage

As the auto landscape continues to shift into self-driving cars and AI assistants, the next step (apparently for auto and every other product and service-based company) is to move into the world of wellness.

Kia and Mercedes are setting out to change the consumer experience using AI to detect passengers’ emotions and make environmental to relax the driver en route. Kia debuted an experimental concept car that detects the emotional state of the passengers that will then deploy mood-lifting features such as lights and scents based on what mood the passenger is in. This tech was developed with Affectiva, a tech startup developing emotion and object detecting AI for monitoring vehicle passengers based on facial expressions.

The Mercedes prototypes also include the scent feature, but also include a music feature to combat people falling asleep at the wheel. The driver can also connect a fitness tracker to the car, receiving automatic adjustments to in-car environments according to their stress levels and other physiological metrics.

Why It’s Hot:

In theory, it’s a great concept as cars are a very personal, a 1 on 1 (most of the time) experience and quite possibly the one time of the day when the driver is “stuck” in one place until they’ve reached their destination. It is also pretty low risk (unless someone is allergic to a scent) with a potentially high reward. This also raised a few questions. Is it customization in anyway? Can users put their own scents in? Will the AI even work? Can users edit the feature if the car gets the mood wrong? Although there are a few questions that need to be answered, it seems quite feasible compared to other concepts and initiatives auto manufactures are pushing towards.

Source Source

Facebook Is About To Read Your Mind

Facebook and UCSF are working on technology that turns brainwaves into speech as part of a new AR project. Facebook is funding a UCSF study aimed at giving people with serious brain injuries the chance to type words with only their minds.It seems to be going well, as UCSF recently published a paper saying that they were able to decode a small set of words from brain activity in real time from epilepsy patients who have electrodes implanted in their brains as a part of their treatment.

While Facebook is funding that research, they are also hoping to use the underlying tech as a basis for a new brain-computer input mode for augmented-reality glasses. Facebook’s Reality Labs Group is working on its own head-worn BCI device that detects the wearer’s linguistic thoughts and converts them into machine-readable text.

At the moment, Facebook’s approach is a system that detects small changes in oxygen levels in the brain using near-infrared light. Apparently, when specific neurons fire, they intake a bit of oxygen, leading to a pattern of oxygen level shifts.

If Facebook’s researchers can get their headset to accurately detect which neutrons are firing, they may be able to use algorithms based on the USCF research to map neurons to specific letters and words the user is thinking of.

Why It’s Hot:

So why Facebook? What will these glasses do for us (beside the obvious)? How will it play into the existing software and outside of the Facebook world? What will privacy and data protection look like?


Mountain Dew Takes Geography 101

In June, Mountain Dew launched their “Dewnited States” campaign art put Michigan’s Upper Peninsula as part of Wisconsin and got called out by the Upper Peninsula’s Twitter (run by Bugsy Sailor who  owns Upper pininsula Supply Co.).

MD decided to actually take him up on the dare and not only do a custom UP bottle, but also an activation at his store and at the UP State Fair where attendees could dunk MD employees into a dunk tank and get free MD and swag.

Why its hot:

A great example of a brand taking a mistake in a campaign and creating a unique customer experience and activation and shifted the conversation from a L to a W.

Eco-Friendly Homes (For Real)

Eco-friendly, element-resistant, and cost-effective homes are coming soon (maybe). A startup called Geoship has conceptualized homes that are element resistant, energy efficient, non-toxic, and basically zero-waste producing homes made out of bioceramic materials.

But the concept goes beyond the physical home. Affordability is a major concern for the company, so they’re proposing community land trusts where groups of people will be able to design their own communities on one plot of land rather than the traditional one home land ownership model.

Part of the concept is creating a cooperative ownership model where customers will end up owning 30% to 70% of the company. But as great as this sounds, the company is still fundraising for the first production plant, estimating at least 2 years before anything is actually made.

At the bottom of their website, they have explanations of what they mean by “efficient” “non-toxic,” etc.

Example: “By “Efficient” we mean bioceramic geodesic homes will save you money. Turnkey price estimates (including land, delivery, installation, and finishing touches) for Geoship homes range from $55,000 for a tiny home, to $250,000 for a large home. In many cases this will be at least a 50% reduction in mortgage and utility bills compared to a conventional home. We are confident that our technology enables the leap onto a new affordability curve, but pricing will not be set until production begins. Geoship villages will optionally include solar panels, battery packs, and passive solar heating/cooling to reduce energy bills.”

Why it’s hot:

The idea in and of itself is hot because 1. it sounds almost too good to be true 2. it kind of gives off Fyre Fest energy and 3. nothing has actually been built, but I thought a particularly interesting part of this is was it’s newest partner, Zappos. Historically, retail companies haven’t been leading eco-tech conversations, but Zappos is actually the first brand to hop on board with their initiative of creating a “village” of these domes to house some of the homeless population in Las Vegas. It will be interesting to not only see if this works, but also if they will start flooding the housing market.

You can read more on the Geoship website and this Fast Co. article.

Smarter Smart Phones

UK design agency morrama came up with three concepts to give users more control over the way their smartphones work through physical design. This concept was a built as a solution to the idea that smartphones give people too much access to the internet, apps, etc. and the impact on health.

“We’ve taken a different approach and set out to change a persons interaction with their smartphone through subtle changes to it’s physical design, attempting to improve their behavior and start using their phone as a tool for better things.”

  1. Screens on both sides of the phone to prevent distraction of phone lighting up
  2. Screen flipping for less app usage
  3. On the back, there is a tilt so the user has to physically interact with the devise to see notifications

Why its hot

A new take on combating smartphone overuse. There are apps and features on smartphones that help with regulating the users behaviors (essentially telling the user that they are or have a “problem”) but this is an interesting approach as the physical phone is being changed and the user’s behavioral patterns shift as a result.


Netflix’s Kind Of But Not Really Ads

Even though Netflix doesn’t do ads on the platform, they seem to be testing out a new form of “ads” by integrating brands into their shows, but not as a copromotional deal, purely as part of the “storyline”. Stranger Things Season 3 integrated brands like Burger King and Coca-Cola supposedly without any prior copromotional deal and obviously ended up advertising on their own. Netflix came out with a statement (after being called out for “branded content”) that they didn’t receive any payment or placement from third parties and “[the products are] all part of the Duffer Brothers’ storytelling, which references 1980s consumer and popular culture,” so essentially they are saying they did it all on their own, no conversations about promo with Coke or BK.

A research firm (Concave Brand Tracking) estimated that there was $15 million worth of product placement in the new season. It is definitively a risk as the brands don’t have to advertise the show as a normal copromotional deal would require, but these product tie-ins could be the segue for Netflix to get into a new wave of branded content. (Read more here)

Why It’s Hot:

It’s interesting that Netflix is so adamant about not wanting to advertise and making sure that image stays in tact aka not being a “selling out” for branded content (even though there are so many rumors or predictions about ads coming to Netflix).

They are definitely leveraging their own “cultural clout” other companies’ desire to reach the “Gen Z” or “Millennial” audience (Coke with their podcast on leadership + sustainability initiatives and BK with plant-based burgers + push in the digital space) to take full advantage of the advertising and partnership opportunities without there being an official transaction. It will be interesting to see if more shows adopt this form of partnership with brands as essentially get free ad campaigns and they are a subscription based business.