Rent the Runway Can Now Stock Your W Hotel Room Closet

Rent the Runway is taking their clothing rentals to W Hotels with a new “Closet Concierge” service. Upon booking a room, guests will be able to choose four styles to rent for $69 and have those items waiting for them in their hotel rooms. Guests can then drop off items at their location’s welcome desk when checking out.

The RTR Closet Concierge service is launching at W Aspen, W South Beach, W Washington, D.C. and W Hollywood.

According to a press release, the goal of the Closet Concierge launch is a means of extending services so clients can “pack light, really light.” While guests will have access to Rent the Runway’s Unlimited Closet, selections also will be personalized to each hotel location based on silhouettes, trending colors and the area’s climate.

Why It’s Hot

Quick getaways or “micro-cations” are the most popular trips Americans are taking. So having four styles waiting in your hotel room might really mean you can leave your clothes at home when traveling. It also taps into a market of travel influencers who always want new outfits to feature on their social feeds. For those who have never used Rent the Runway before, it seems like a great way to try the service and get a sense of what clothing is available.

Source

American Eagle uses fashion staples to encourage charitable giving

In a clever move melding consumerism and charitable giving, American Eagle Outfitters (AE) has achieved WokeAF status by developing a clothing line with a multicultural council of GenZ activists, which both donates 100% of its sales to the clothing charity Delivering Good, and contains a conversation-starting QR code that allows others to donate as well by scanning said clothes.

This line was developed by the AExMeCouncil, a gaggle of GenZ movers and shakers, including Delaney Tarr, cofounder of March For Our Lives, who are being given some say in how AE operates. “We are treating these council members like board members,” says Chad Kessler, global brand president of American Eagle.

Other council members include Gabby Frost, who founded the Buddy Project to promote mental health and prevent suicide, and Joseph Touma, who created Bridge the Divide, which wants to create bridges across political lines.

Why it’s hot:

1. GenZ folks are cause-oriented shoppers, so this gimmick makes perfect sense from a brand and PR perspective (they were featured in Fast Company after all) and costs AE basically nothing.

2. Smart use of highly personal products to instigate conversations about social causes and create a real-time pathway to digital donations.

3. It’s probably a good thing when business interests and social good align, and it seems like that’s the case here. Better than when fast-fashion brands laughably try to align themselves with sustainability.

 

Source: Fast Company

So you think you can Freddie?

Image result for Freddiemeter

In honor of the first live performance of Bohemian Rhapsody 44 years ago this month, Google partnered with Queen to create “FreddieMeter”. This web experience available for Android, iOS, and desktop rates how closely you sound like Freddie Mercury.

Behind the scenes, FreddieMeter leverages on-device machine learning so no audio is being sent out to servers for the rating. Google trained the models using Mercury’s isolated vocals from original studio tapes and sample covers.

With FreddieMeter people can record a video and audio clip of their performance to share on social media. This minute-long clip features YouTube Music branding and can be downloaded after a performance, with Google deleting it afterwards.

Why its hot?
Other than the fact you’ll know how close you are to sounding like a super rockstar, it’s a great use of AI – analyzing your pitch (how well you hit the notes), melody (how well you hit the notes in relation to each other), and timbre (how much your vocal style matches Freddie’s).

And BTW no data is being stored on the Google servers.

 

Source: 9to5google.com

 

Inside Amazon’s plan for Alexa to run your entire life

The creator of the famous voice assistant dreams of a world where Alexa is everywhere, anticipating your every need.

Speaking with MIT Technology Review, Rohit Prasad, Alexa’s head scientist, revealed further details about where Alexa is headed next. The crux of the plan is for the voice assistant to move from passive to proactive interactions. Rather than wait for and respond to requests, Alexa will anticipate what the user might want. The idea is to turn Alexa into an omnipresent companion that actively shapes and orchestrates your life. This will require Alexa to get to know you better than ever before.

In June at the re:Mars conference, he demoed [view from 53:54] a feature called Alexa Conversations, showing how it might be used to help you plan a night out. Instead of manually initiating a new request for every part of the evening, you would need only to begin the conversation—for example, by asking to book movie tickets. Alexa would then follow up to ask whether you also wanted to make a restaurant reservation or call an Uber.

A more intelligent Alexa

Here’s how Alexa’s software updates will come together to execute the night-out planning scenario. In order to follow up on a movie ticket request with prompts for dinner and an Uber, a neural network learns—through billions of user interactions a week—to recognize which skills are commonly used with one another. This is how intelligent prediction comes into play. When enough users book a dinner after a movie, Alexa will package the skills together and recommend them in conjunction.

But reasoning is required to know what time to book the Uber. Taking into account your and the theater’s location, the start time of your movie, and the expected traffic, Alexa figures out when the car should pick you up to get you there on time.

Prasad imagines many other scenarios that might require more complex reasoning. You could imagine a skill, for example, that would allow you to ask your Echo Buds where the tomatoes are while you’re standing in Whole Foods. The Buds will need to register that you’re in the Whole Foods, access a map of its floor plan, and then tell you the tomatoes are in aisle seven.

In another scenario, you might ask Alexa through your communal home Echo to send you a notification if your flight is delayed. When it’s time to do so, perhaps you are already driving. Alexa needs to realize (by identifying your voice in your initial request) that you, not a roommate or family member, need the notification—and, based on the last Echo-enabled device you interacted with, that you are now in your car. Therefore, the notification should go to your car rather than your home.

This level of prediction and reasoning will also need to account for video data as more and more Alexa-compatible products include cameras. Let’s say you’re not home, Prasad muses, and a Girl Scout knocks on your door selling cookies. The Alexa on your Amazon Ring, a camera-equipped doorbell, should register (through video and audio input) who is at your door and why, know that you are not home, send you a note on a nearby Alexa device asking how many cookies you want, and order them on your behalf.

To make this possible, Prasad’s team is now testing a new software architecture for processing user commands. It involves filtering audio and visual information through many more layers. First Alexa needs to register which skill the user is trying to access among the roughly 100,000 available. Next it will have to understand the command in the context of who the user is, what device that person is using, and where. Finally it will need to refine the response on the basis of the user’s previously expressed preferences.

Why It’s Hot:  “This is what I believe the next few years will be about: reasoning and making it more personal, with more context,” says Prasad. “It’s like bringing everything together to make these massive decisions.”

Road Tales

Looking out of the car window used to be what kids did on road trips–but now, screens mean that they barely glance outside sometimes. Volkswagen has decided to counteract this with an interactive solution which, while it still relies on an app, means that kids are more connected with their journey.

“Road Tales” is an app featuring interactive audiobooks that creates unique tales based on the location of the user and transform ordinary road objects into  characters in a story. To make this happen, the Amsterdam based agency scanned all major Dutch highways (over 5000 km of road) to identify objects like bridges, windmills, trees, petrol stations and turn them into story elements. It collaborated with children’s book writers to write the story chapters, which are triggered by objects along the road.

The whole family can use the books, explains creative director Kika Douglas: “Parents can play the story through the sound system of the car and then put the phone away.  The characters of the story also ask the passengers to play family games, like guessing a color of the next car or doing a countdown to launch a rocket before entering the tunnel, or warning them to put their head down before going under a bridge.”

Developed for Dutch children between 4-11 years old, the app can be downloaded for free. It’s being promoted to parents via a social campaign, influencer strategy and online video.

Source: https://adage.com/creativity/work/volkswagen-road-tales/969896
Why it’s hot
The Screen-less era is coming with voice-first solutions. Surprises like Road Tales can live in both digital and physical worlds. According to Gartner, web browsing will be screen-less by 2020. It’s about time we start thinking about voice-only experiences that can transform how we interact digitally.

Firefox founder launches privacy-first browser that rewards users for allowing brands access to them

The beta version has been out for a while, but “Today marks the official launch of Brave 1.0, a free open-source browser. The beta version has already drawn 8 million monthly users, but now, the full stable release is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS.

Brave promises to prioritize security by blocking third-party ads, trackers, and autoplay videos automatically. So you don’t need to go into your settings to ensure greater privacy, though you can adjust those settings if you want to.” (The Verge)

Internet heavy hitter Brendan Eich (creator of JavaScript/co-founder of Firefox/Mozilla) just launched the stable version of new privacy-focused Brave browser, employing the idea of a Basic Attention Token (BAT), which allows users to be paid in crypto-currency tokens for allowing brands access to their eyeballs. Eich calls it “a new system for properly valuing user attention.”

He explains it best:

Why it’s hot:

1. As tech giants increasingly impinge on privacy and gobble up every imaginable byte of data about everyone in exchange for “a better user experience,” Brave is claiming to have found a non-zero-sum game that everyone (users, advertisers, and publishers) can benefit from:

  • Users get lots more control over the ads they see and get rewarded with tokens for allowing ads.
  • Advertisers get more precise and engaged audiences, so in theory, better ROAS.
  • Content creators get more control over their publishing and their income. And users can tip content creators on a subscription-style basis not unlike Patreon.

That’s the idea, at least.

2. Its look and feel is very similar to Chrome, so migrating to Brave may be smooth enough to encourage more people to abandon the surveillance-state-as-a-service (SSaaS) that Google is verging on.

Source: The Verge

A Re-imagined Post Office in Finland

On November 1st, Finnish state-owned postal service provider Posti opened a new facility called Box in Helsinki featuring giant package lockers and a fitting room for online shoppers. The location will also serve as a physical store for online retailers and a testing space for Posti’s new digital services.

Posti conducted a study showing that almost a fifth of Finns expect to be doing most, if not all, of their shopping online by 2025. So they want to make it easier for customers to have their order delivered to Box and pick it up when they’re on the go, and be able to finish their experience in-store.

For example, if a customer has ordered clothes online, they can try on the clothes at Box. If they fit, they can take their package home, but if not, they can return the package right away. Posti will also allow customers to open packages and leave the packing materials behind to be recycled. While customers are there, they can take care of other postal activities or shop pop-up displays from various online retailers that will be featured.

In addition, Box has been designed to be carbon neutral. The convenient location in the city-center is easily reachable by public transportation and along many of their customers’ everyday routes.

Why It’s Hot

Returns are often the biggest pain point in e-commerce. This model has turned an annoying task into a pleasant experience.

Adobe debuts latest effort in the misinformation arms race

Adobe has previewed an AI tool that analyzes the pixels of a image to determine the probability that it’s been manipulated and the areas in which it thinks the manipulation has taken place, shown as a heat map.

It’s fitting that the company that made sophisticated photo manipulation possible would also create a tool to help combat its nefarious use. While it’s not live in Adobe applications yet, it could be integrated into them, such that users can quickly know whether what their looking at is “real” or not.

Up next: The inevitable headline of someone creating a tool that can trick the Adobe AI tool into thinking photo is real.

Why it’s hot:

Fake news is a big problem, and this might help us get to the truth of some matters of consequence.

But … not everything can be solved with AI. This might help people convince others that something they saw is in fact fake, but it doesn’t overcome the deeper problem of people’s basic gullibility, lack of critical thinking, and strong desire to justify their already entrenched beliefs.

Source: The Verge

The jet lag app you never knew you needed

Introducing Timeshifter: an easy-to-use, straightforward app that helps people fight jet lag. Users simply enter in their full flight details (including multi-leg flights, stopovers), chronotype (morning person or a night owl), along with their individual sleep patterns. The latter is composed of your preferred bedtime/wake-up times as well as any other favorite aids, like melatonin or coffee intake.

Timeshifter then instantly delivers a personalized sleep schedule. It’s a full plan accompanied by push notification alerts like “avoid caffeine for the next 6 hours,” “expose yourself to light starting in 30 minutes,” or “take melatonin.” One can start it three days in advance of one’s flight or up until a minute before take-off, though the plan changes depending on advance lead time. The service costs $10 per jet lag plan or $24.99 for an annual subscription.

“Our plans have a practicality filter, where the advice fits with what you can really achieve in the real world,” says Dr. Steve Lockley, a neuroscientist and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. The renowned expert in circadian rhythms and former NASA consultant developed the Timeshifter app algorithm after a decade of devising custom jet lag plans for Formula 1 drivers and astronauts.

The app is unique in that it’s entirely based on sleep neuroscience and focused on shifting one’s internal clock forward. As Timeshifter cofounder and CEO Mickey Beyer-Clausen, explains, beating jet lag involves moving one’s circadian cycle to the new time zone as soon as (feasibly) possible. But it’s not one-size-fits-all. Based on the information provided by each user, Timeshifter could have hundreds of different versions of the same trip, depending on sleep patterns or even when they started using the app.

The app also strives to make actions attainable based on your schedule. “So if you’re asked to avoid light, it doesn’t mean being in complete darkness or closing your eyes. It means being exposed to less light than [usual],” explains Lockley. “There’s no point in advising you go to bed at 7:00 PM because the chances are you’re not really gonna do that.”

While several other jet lag apps exist, such as Jet Lag Rooster, they do not base circadian rhythm on personalized details. Others, like Uplift, recommend timed acupressure to prevent jet lag.

Why it’s Hot:

This is an awesome use of technology and human knowledge. It would have been an amazing piece of technology for a modern travel brand to create to build a more holistic user experience. I could also see travel brands like Away including a trial for this app with a purchase of their suitcases.

Source

The race to get your face in space

Samsung has sent one of its Galaxy S10 5G smartphones into space inside a balloon to allow its users to take selfies with the Earth in the background.

It launched a balloon equipped with a specially designed rig to take the S10 up to 65,000 feet into the stratosphere to receive selfies transmitted from the Earth and send them back to the ground using a 5G network.

The first person to undertake the “SpaceSelfie” mission was Cara Delevingne, an English actress and model, who shared her photo on social media. South Korean football star Son Heung-min will also join the campaign.

Why its hot?
Well, its your face in the space

What is 5G anyway…

 

what the heck is 5G?

Put simply, 5G is a next-generation wireless network that will give you much faster internet connections. But, because of the way it works, it’s about to change the way lots of other things connect to the internet, too, like cars and TVs, and even things like connected lights on city streets.

Here’s what you need to know:

Faster connections, and more of them

Premium: smart connected city night
5G promises much faster network speeds, which means heavy-duty content like video should travel much more quickly to connected devices.

Verizon’s 5G network, which is live in Minneapolis and Chicago, is already providing speeds in excess of 1Gbps, or about 10 times the speeds you might get on a good day with 4G LTE, the current standard offered by wireless carriers in most places. That means you should be able to download an hourlong high-definition video in seconds instead of minutes.

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/22/what-is-5g.html

WHY ITS HOT:

Theres a lot of hype about 5G, will the boom come for consumers or businesses? In the video and other experts I have heard, its going to be more about IoT and just having everything connected to the internet and what we can learn from the data and having it communicate with each other.

Will it accelerate autonomous driving? Mobile Content? Real time personalization? Augmented Reality?

Will be interesting to watch how it all plays out.

“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

Your Google Home / Alexa could spy on you

By now, the privacy threats posed by Amazon Alexa and Google Home are common knowledge. Workers for both companies routinely listen to audio of users—recordings of which can be kept forever—and the sounds the devices capture can be used in criminal trials.

Now, there’s a new concern: malicious apps developed by third parties and hosted by Amazon or Google. The threat isn’t just theoretical. Whitehat hackers at Germany’s Security Research Labs developed eight apps—four Alexa “skills” and four Google Home “actions”—that all passed Amazon or Google security-vetting processes. The skills or actions posed as simple apps for checking horoscopes, with the exception of one, which masqueraded as a random-number generator. Behind the scenes, these “smart spies,” as the researchers call them, surreptitiously eavesdropped on users and phished for their passwords.

The malicious apps had different names and slightly different ways of working, but they all followed similar flows. A user would say a phrase such as: “Hey Alexa, ask My Lucky Horoscope to give me the horoscope for Taurus” or “OK Google, ask My Lucky Horoscope to give me the horoscope for Taurus.” The eavesdropping apps responded with the requested information while the phishing apps gave a fake error message. Then the apps gave the impression they were no longer running when they, in fact, silently waited for the next phase of the attack.

SRLabs eventually took down all four apps demoed. As with most skills and actions, users didn’t need to download anything. Simply saying the proper phrases into a device was enough for the apps to run.

There’s little or no evidence third-party apps are actively threatening Alexa and Google Home users now, but the SRLabs research suggests that possibility is by no means far-fetched.

 Why it’s Hot:
This is potentially very, very scary. With all of the backlash around Facebook, it seems inevitable that voice devices will soon face similar scrutiny. What safety measures will they take to ensure this never happens in real life?

Immortalized in Film…? Not so fast.

Tencent Shows The Future Of Ads; Will Add Ads In Existing Movies, TV Shows

One of China’s largest online video platforms is setting out to use technology to integrate branded content into movies and TV shows from any place or era.

(Yes, a Starbucks on Tatooine…or Nike branded footwear for the first moonwalk.)

Why It’s Hot:  

  1. Potentially exponential expansion of available ad inventory
  2. Increased targetability by interest, plus top-spin of borrowed interest
  3. Additional revenue streams for content makers
  4. New questions of the sanctity of creative vision, narrative intent and historical truth

Advertising is an integral part of any business and with increasing competition, it’s more important than ever to be visible. Mirriad, a computer-vision and AI-powered platform company, recently announced its partnership with Tencent which is about the change the advertising game. If you didn’t know, Tencent is one of the largest online video platforms in China. So how does it change the advertising game, you ask?

Mirriad’s technology enables advertisers to reach their target audience by integrating branded content (or ads) directly into movies and TV series. So, for instance, if an actor is holding just a regular cup of joe in a movie, this new API will enable Tencent to change that cup of coffee into a branded cup of coffee. Matthew Brennan, a speaker and a writer who specialises in analysing Tencent & WeChat shared a glimpse of how this tech works.

While we’re not sure if these ads will be clickable, it’ll still have a significant subconscious impact, if not direct. Marketers have long talked of mood marketing that builds a personal connection between the brand and the targeted user. So, with the ability to insert ads in crucial scenes and moments, advertisers will now be able to engage with their target users in a way that wasn’t possible before.

Mirriad currently has a 2-year contract with Tencent where they’ll trial exclusively on the latter’s video platform. But if trials are successful in that they don’t offer a jarring viewing experience, we can soon expect this tech to go mainstream.

Blockchain Meets Broadway

Buying tickets for a Broadway show can involve a lot of unwelcome drama, so it’s not surprising that some of the theater industry’s biggest players are looking for ways to make ticket buying more secure. One possible solution to ticket fraud is blockchain technology, which has a ledger system that allows new transactions to be recorded but not erased. And now the Shubert Organization, the biggest theater operator on Broadway, is giving it a try.

The organization, through its Telecharge and Shubert Ticketing division, has teamed up with a Boston-based startup called True Tickets, which offers a mobile ticketing solution that runs on IBM’s blockchain platform. The startup was one of two companies selected to take part in this summer’s inaugural Broadway Tech Accelerator—the results of which included pilot programs aimed at refining the ideas.

True Tickets’ pilot with Shubert will begin next year and will integrate the startup’s digital ticketing service into “targeted components” of Shubert’s ticket-selling businesses, including Telecharge.com and Broadway Inbound (its group discounts service), among others. The details are a little vague, but the companies say they hope the pilot will help reduce the risk of fraud and that buyers who have tickets sent to their phones through the service can be “guaranteed” that they’re real.

Why it’s Hot:

For years we’ve been hearing about how blockchain would change the future – is the future finally here? This technology could have a huge impact on all ticketed events, providing transparency and helping to eliminate illegal reselling.

Source

All drinks are on the house

A new bar opened its doors in St. Louis, and it’s charging customers by the hour. According to Open Concept’s website, when you open a tab, you’re paying for access to the space — not the booze. The rates: $10/hr for a regular open bar, and $20 for top-shelf liquor.

The entire experience is powered by a backend technology that the bar developed and owns. Customers are encouraged to buy their time in advance on the bar’s website, though walk-ins are also accepted. (Guests are able to tip the bartenders either in advance at the door or with cash after each order.) Those who booked online will receive a confirmation code to show at the door; all customers also receive text messages at the bar alerting them as to how much time they have left on their booking.

Open Concept also uses its technology to track all of a customer’s consumption and keep the bar in compliance with legal limits.

Founder and proprietor, Michael Butler, who also moonlights as the city’s current recorder of deeds, got the idea from fundraising parties while running for office after open-bar fundraising events were successful during his campaign.

Why it’s hot:
At a time when younger generations are notoriously cutting back on their alcohol consumption, that flat guaranteed rate might be more valuable than hoping customers keep buying more the longer they stay.

Creators of modern rechargeable batteries share Nobel prize

If you had to slip a couple AAs into your smartphone every morning to check your email, browse Instagram and text your friends, chances are the mobile revolution would not have been quite so revolutionary. Fortunately the rechargeable lithium-ion battery was invented — a decades-long task for which three men have just been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The prize this year honors M. Stanley Whittingham, John Goodenough and Akira Yoshino, all of whom contributed to the development of what is today the most common form of portable power. Without them (and of course those they worked with, and those who came before) we would be tied to even more wasteful and/or stationary sources of energy.

Lead-acid batteries had been in use for nearly a century by the time people really got to thinking about taking things to the next level with lithium, a lightweight metal with desirable electrical properties. But lithium is also highly reactive with air and water, making finding suitable substances to pair it with difficult.

Experiments in the ’50s and ’60s laid the groundwork for more targeted investigations, in particular Whittingham’s. He and partner Fred Gamble showed in 1976 that lithium ions, after donating electrons to produce a charge, fit perfectly into a lattice of titanium disulfide — where they sit patiently (in their “van der Waals gaps”) until an electron is provided during recharging. Unfortunately this design also used a lithium anode that could be highly reactive (think fire) if bent or crushed.

John Goodenough and his team soon developed a better cathode material (where the lithium ions rested) with a much higher potential — more power could be drawn, opening new possibilities for applications. This, combined with the fact that the metallic lithium anodes could be highly reactive (think fire) if bent or crushed, led to increased research on making batteries safe as well as useful.

The three scholars whose work most powerfully advanced this technology from theory to commercial reality were awarded equal shares of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry, each taking home a third of the nearly million dollars and, more importantly, the distinction of being recognized in historic fashion.

Source: TechCrunch

Why It’s Hot

Makes you realize the innovation we take for granted, as something as seemingly simple as this required decades of work.

You can still be a Toys ‘R’ Us Kid

Toys ‘R’ Us back… sort-of…

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Tru Kids, the owner of the Toys ‘R’ Us brand is “bringing back the Toys ‘R’ Us brand in a modern way through a strong experiential and content-rich omnichannel concept,” Richard Barry, CEO of Tru Kids, said in a statement.

Learning from its prior mistakes of not embracing technology and a digital transformation, this relaunch is purely digital and content-focused in nature, partnering with Target and Candytopia to help with ecommerce and real-life, memorable experiences.

Dubbed “The Toys R Us Adventure,” the company partnered with Candytopia to create the experiential pop-ups in Chicago and Atlanta and feature more than a dozen interactive play rooms, larger-than-life toys, and installations featuring Geoffrey, the brand’s giraffe mascot.

Why it’s hot: Toys ‘R’ Us’ was the poster child for death by tech, with its rejection of ecommerce and digital transformation. Now the company is trying to show everyone it can learn from its mistakes. The question is, will the nostalgia of Toys ‘R’ Us be enough to drive expensive experiential store visits. It’ll be interesting to see if this attempt at jumping into the digital deep end will have a happy ending. If it does work, will we start seeing the return of other brands who failed to innovate? Blockbuster Video? Tower Records?

Sources: FastCo, Business Insider, ToysRUs.com, Forbes

 

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.?

Source

Get tackled

https://twitter.com/Jason15Robinson/status/1172529834792296449

https://twitter.com/MastercardUK/status/1172524888512520192

Mastercard: sponsor of Rugby World Cup

As the official sponsor of the Rugby World Cup, Mastercard set up a environment where fans experienced a “contactless tackle”. Rugby fans are brought closer to the game by experiencing the sensation of a professional tackle. This is possible with a special suit made by Teslasuit.  You see a rugby player storming towards you and you have to choose between dodging or taking the hit. If you’re too late, you feel the impact via pressure made within the suit. The goal of the experience is to bring the fans closer to the action, and to encourage and inspire people  to get involved with rugby ahead of the world cup in Japan.
The experience leverages VR and haptic suit by Teslasuit.

Why it’s hot
If you have ever wondered what it feels like to be tackled by a professional rugby player, this is as real as its going to get!. Plus it’s a nice way to own the conversation around contactless payment.

 

Pulp Diction

Interactions with Amazon’s virtual personal assistant Alexa could soon become considerably more entertaining – and profane – after actor Samuel L Jackson signed up to lend his voice to the device. Jackson will be the first celebrity voice for Alexa.

For 99 cents, you can hear the Hollywood star read you the news, give you a weather report and even tell jokes. The price will increase to $4.99 post launch. To get the voice, users simply will need to say, “Alexa, introduce me to Samuel L. Jackson” and decide whether they would like the explicit or clean version.

The Jackson feature will allow users of Alexa-enabled devices to interact with an AI version of the actor developed using the company’s neural text-to-speech technology. Jackson is not the first celebrity to feature on Alexa, but previous celebrity voice features have relied upon pre-recorded audio.

Why its hot?
The voice of the assistant is the new ringtone or the voice store could be the new app store
If you’ve ever dreamed of experiencing Samuel L. Jackson lobbing profanities at you, Amazon has worked hard to fulfill your fantasy. This is a great way to generate interest in Alexa among people who don’t want a bland sounding voice assistant. But more importantly Amazon has created a new revenue stream – we could very well be shopping for voices in everything for every occasion.

Source: Guardian, CNN, Geekwire, Twitter

Mattel’s Gender-Neutral Doll

On Wednesday, Mattel released a line of customizable, gender-inclusive Barbie-style dolls called “Creatable World.”

The dolls don’t carry traditional feminine or masculine traits. Carefully manicured features betray no obvious gender: the lips are not too full, the eyelashes not too long and fluttery, the jaw not too wide. There are no Barbie-like breasts or broad, Ken-like shoulders. Each doll in the Creatable World series looks like a slender 7-year-old with short hair, but each comes with a wig of long, lustrous locks and a wardrobe befitting any fashion-conscious kid: hoodies, sneakers, graphic T-shirts in soothing greens and yellows, along with tutus and camo pants.

The line alsooffers dolls with a range of skin tones. This customization means children can play with a toy that better represents how they look.

For years, millennial parents have pushed back against “pink aisles” and “blue aisles” in toy stores in favor of gender-neutral sections, often in the name of exposing girls to the building blocks and chemistry kits that foster interest in science and math but are usually categorized as boys’ toys. Major toy sellers have listened, thanks to the millennial generation’s unrivaled size, trend-setting ability and buying power. Last year, Mattel did away with “boys” and “girls” toy divisions in favor of nongendered sections: dolls or cars, for instance.

Why it’s Hot:

After decades of criticism for reinforcing female stereotypes with Barbie, Mattel has finally created something that aligns with society’s ever-evolving views on gender. While the line has already earned its fair share of criticism, there is also huge reward potential among more progressive parents (a growing group as more millennials and Gen Z-ers have children).

As marketers, we need to be aware of shifting perceptions when creating content for younger audiences. They’re growing up in a much more sensitive and inclusive environment, which means relying on old tropes and assumed gender roles really won’t fly with them.

Sources: Time, Mashable

Starface flips the script on acne care

What was once a source of embarrassment can perhaps now be a form of style points. D2C startup Starface is offering a new way to think about mild acne: Instead of hiding in shame, embrace your “uniqueness” by “owning” your acne, while helping it heal.

With star-shaped medicated stickers that users place over pimples, Starface helps acne heal while making a bold fashion and beauty statement. With the power of social media to shape perceptions of “cool” and “beautiful”, this reframe of acne could turn an embarrassment into empowerment.

Starface’s branding is very … Gen Z, post-postmodern, self-conscious retro-loving remix culture with all of human history as your source material. (Their “About Me” section parodies the opening text from Star Wars). And rightly so. This isn’t your older sister’s acne care. This is a new world.

Why it’s hot:

Another example of the ongoing and unprecedented revolution in social values, fueled by social media. The meaning of luxury, wealth, success, attractiveness, etc. is being scrutinized, tweaked, torn down, and reconstructed. Brands that have relied on the old standbys would be wise to re-calibrate their message and offerings to attract consumers in this new reality.

Source: Fast Company

What does food sound like?


Indian food ordering and delivery platform Swiggy challenged people to use Instagram voice notes to create waveforms in the shape of different food items.

They promised a year’s worth of food vouchers to Instagram users who could best replicate various foods from kebab skewers to pancakes in their voice notes. All in all, Swiggy set five daily challenges and handed out 50 food vouchers to competition entrants each day.

To help users with the Voice of Hunger challenge, the brand handed out hints about which sounds created which shapes with all Swiggy food deliveries.

In addition to direct messaging their competition entry on Instagram, Swiggy also encouraged people to upload videos of themselves recreating a food shape and tag Swiggy.

Why its hot? (aside from the clever use of voice notes)
Millions of people are on the Internet wasting their time creating random content. Swiggy’s simply channeled this behavior to create viral content.

 

Source: Contagious

 

 

Amazon crowdsourcing answers to questions posed to Alexa

Crowdsourcing strikes again. Incentivized by the lure of social-capital, users can submit answers to questions posed to Alexa to receive points and status within the network of answer-ers. The public, using the up-and-down vote system will presumably let the best answer float to the top.

Though, “In some cases, human editors as well as algorithms will be involved in quality-control measures,” says Fast Company.

From Fast Company: “Starting today, Amazon is publicly launching a program called Alexa Answers, which lets anyone field questions asked by users for which Alexa doesn’t already have a response—ones such as:

  • What states surround Illinois?
  • What’s the proper amount of sleep?
  • How many instruments does Stevie Wonder play?
  • How much is in a handle of alcohol?

From then on, when people ask a question, Alexa will speak an answer generated through Alexa Answers, noting that the information is ‘according to an Amazon customer.'”

Why it’s hot:

Will value-based questions be answerable? If so, owning the answer to ‘what’s the best burger in Brooklyn?’ would be very lucrative.

Can brands leverage this tech to their advantage? Either by somehow “hacking” this system in playful way, or by replicating such an answer system with their own user base, to plug into an Alexa skill?

On a broader level:

How much do we trust the crowd? Recent history has left many questioning the validity of “the wisdom of the people”.

Civil society runs on a foundation of shared understandings about the world. If we trust answers about our reality to come from the crowd, how will bad actors use such a system to undermine our shared understanding or subtly sway public knowledge to support their agenda? Alexa, does life start at conception?

Polaroid goes super hi-tech. Just kidding.

Over the years the Polaroid company has gone bankrupt, been resurrected and is now being brought kicking and screaming into the digital age. Enter the Polaroid Lab: “a $129 tower that uses the light from your phone’s screen, bounced off a series of mirrors, to make a proper Polaroid from the photos you’ve already taken.”

It doesn’t just spit out single pics, either. There’s a collage setting which can be fun for boomers and Z’s alike.

Why It’s Hot

Polaroid has a chance to be in rare brand: an analogue holdout that can say they survived in the digital age. But only if they make smart moves and they haven’t shown that they can do that in the past 20 years.

The Coke Challenge… Kind of

It’s a testament to the staying power of the Pepsi Challenge —first introduced in 1975—that random pedestrians aren’t freaked out by bubbly strangers asking them to eat unlabeled food. Instead, the offer evokes a giddiness at being selected for such an important task.

So the people chosen for a recent “Coke Challenge” were understandably intrigued, even excited at the prospect of learning a bit more about their own tastes. Instead, they got a brush with death.

The “coke” in this case was, of course, cocaine—one baggie filled with pure powder, and the other containing cocaine laced with enough fentanyl to kill anyone who snorted it. Cocaine is increasingly being cut with the synthetic opioid to increase its effects, but that is driving overdose deaths. In 2017, the CDC attributed more than 7,500 deaths to cocaine laced with fentanyl or other synthetic opioids.

Fentanyl tampering can’t be detected by sight, smell, or taste, so recreational drug users take a risk every time. They’re also in more danger than regular drug users, because they typically have no tolerance to opioids.

Like the real Pepsi Challenge, though, the head-to-head comparison was a marketing tactic, created by DanceSafe, a U.S.-based non-profit that sells fentanyl test strips they say can detect the presence of the drug. The organization’s focus is on safety and education in the electronic dance community and is known for bringing adulterant screeners to raves that can check for unexpected tampering. DanceSafe is neither for or against drug use, so there’s no judgment in the campaign, just a bit of humor, evident in the tagline, “Know before you blow.”

Rather than taking a staunch anti-drug approach, the campaign focuses on reducing potential harm to people who choose to use recreational drugs. The video of the challenge was released in time for International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31.

Why it’s Hot:

Sometimes you don’t have to reinvent the wheel – you just need to re-frame it (re-spoke it? re-mount it? cars, Idk). Part of what makes this execution so relevant is it takes something everybody knows (the Pepsi Challenge) and turns it on its head. Grounding something foreign (fentanyl) in a cultural known (taste testing) lends credibility and lightheartedness to a topic that can seem daunting.

Culturally, this product also fits into a new attitude surrounding drugs. With the opioid epidemic continuing to grow and fatalities rising, gone are the days of “just say no” and “this is your brain on drugs” (cue cracking eggs) – the priority with products like DanceSafe and Naloxone is trying to reduce overdoses when people use drugs. Question: Will this new mindset surrounding drugs have any halo effect on the medical field as a whole?

Source: AdAge

Via now drives your kids home.

Via, a leading provider and developer of on-demand public mobility, was selected by the New York City Department of Education to provide a school bus management system for the nation’s largest school district.

As the largest school district in the nation, the NYC Department of Education (DOE) transports approximately 150,000 students on 9,000 bus routes each and every day to get students safely to and from school across the City.

“Via for Schools” will be the first integrated, automated school bus routing, tracking, and communication platform in the world.

Via for Schools will utilize a flexible algorithm, which allows for both stop-to-school and home-to-school pickups, accommodating students regardless of their learning style, mobility constraints, or where they live.

 

 

Parents and students will have the ability to track, in real-time, their bus’ whereabouts and receive frequent and reliable communications in the event of service changes, improving safety and bringing important peace of mind to all users of the system. By utilizing Via’s best-in-class algorithms to optimize school bus routing, the Department of Education will be able to achieve operational efficiencies and reduce transportation costs.

 

Why it’s hot:

NYC has been a testing ground for partnering with brands to improve life in one of the most densely-populated cities in the world. This partnership is a slight variation on the same model, but rather than leasing out Via cars to the city, they’re giving away the technology behind Via.

Source: Fast Company

 

Phone a Friend: a mobile app for predicting teen suicide attempts

Rising suicide rates in the US are disproportionately affecting 10-24 year-olds, with suicide as the second leading cause of death after unintentional injuries. It’s a complex and multifaceted topic, and one that leaves those whose lives are impacted wondering what they could have done differently, to recognize the signs and intervene.

Researchers are fast at work figuring out whether a machine learning algorithm might be able to use data from an individual’s mobile device to assess risk and predict an imminent suicide attempt – before there may even be any outward signs. This work is part of the Mobile Assessment for the Prediction of Suicide (MAPS) study, involving 50 teenagers in New York and Pennsylvania. If successful, the effort could lead to a viable solution to an increasingly troubling societal problem.

Why It’s Hot

We’re just scratching the surface of the treasure trove of insights that might be buried in the mountains of data we’re all generating every day. Our ability to understand people more deeply, without relying on “new” sources of data, will have implications for the experiences brands and marketers deliver.

Selfies Get Serious: Introducing the 30-second selfie full-fitness checkup

Keeping an eye on subtle changes in common health risks is not an easy task for the average person. Yet, by the time real symptoms are obvious, it’s often too late to take the kind of action that would prevent a problem from snow-balling.

Researchers at the University of Toronto have developed an app that appears capable of turning a 30-second selfie into a diagnostic tool for quantifying a range of health risks.

“Anura promises an impressively thorough physical examination for just half a minute of your time. Simply based on a person’s facial features, captured through the latest deep learning technology, it can assess heart rate, breathing, stress, skin age, vascular age, body mass index (yes, from your face!), Cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke risk, cardiac workload, vascular capacity, blood pressure, and more.”

It’s easy to be skeptical about the accuracy of results possible from simply looking at a face for 30 seconds, but the researchers have demonstrated accuracy of measuring blood pressure up to 96% – and when the objective is to give people a way of realizing when it might be time to take action, that level of accuracy may actually be more than enough.

Why It’s Hot

For marketers looking to better identify the times, places and people for whom their products and services are likely to be most relevant, the convergence of biometrics with advanced algorithms and AI – all in a device most people carry around with them every day – could be a game-changer.

(This also brings up perennial issues of privacy & personal information, and trade-offs we need to make for the benefits emerging tech provides.)