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.

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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.?

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.