Google unveils app for paying with phone

Technology
On Thursday, the technology giant introduced Google Wallet, a mobile application that will allow consumers to wave their cellphones at a retailer’s terminal to make a payment instead of using a credit card. The app, for the Android operating system, will also enable users to redeem special coupons and earn loyalty points. Starting this summer, the wallet will be available on the Nexus S 4G phone on Sprint and able to hold certain MasterCards issued by Citibank. It will also hold a virtual Google Prepaid MasterCard. The mobile wallet will work at any of the 124,000 merchants that accept MasterCard’s PayPass terminals, which take contactless payments, and more than 300,000 merchants outside the United States.

The wallet is powered by a technology called near-field communications, which is incorporated into a chip in mobile phones and sends a message to the merchants’ terminals. “Eventually, you will be able to put everything in your wallet,” Stephanie Tilenius, vice president for commerce at Google, said at a news conference. That grand vision will take a while to come to fruition. Various players have been working on mobile wallets for years, but they have not gained traction because the companies have not been able to agree on how they would be paid or who would control the wallets. Cellular carriers, banks, credit card issuers, payment networks and technology companies all have a stake in this battle.
Source: www.nytimes.com, May 26, 2011


Service rewards consumers for using less water

Working together
Water conservation and management is becoming increasingly imperative around the world, and we’ve already seen numerous initiatives trying to address the issue. Recently, however, we came across Banco Cyan — a novel approach in Brazil modeled after a bank account, which monitors consumers’ water usage and rewards them when they manage to cut back. The result of a partnership between beverage brand AmBev and Sabesp, a Brazilian state-owned water utility, Banco Cyan offers consumers in the state of São Paulo some extra motivation to save water. When a consumer opens an account with the service, it begins by researching their usage history with the water utility and then determines an average consumption level. Over the ensuing months, consumers can then earn points by not using more than their average consumption level. If they can use less than that average, however, they can earn even more points. Consumers are also awarded stars representing the number of points they’ve earned, thereby increasing their eco-creds on the site. The points accumulated by users of Banco Cyan can in turn be redeemed for discounts at numerous participating partners including Submarino, Americanas.com and Blockbuster. A spoonful of sugar can help any medicine go down, and sustainability efforts are no exception. A model to apply to limited resources in other parts of the world?
Source: www.springwise.com, May 24, 2011


Laser-guided wheelchair

Electric Wheelchair
Researchers at the Luleå University of Technology in Sweden have developed an electric wheelchair that lets visually impaired users “see” their surroundings.The vehicle uses a laser to scan its environment and create a 3D map of potential obstacles such as nearby people or open doors. It alerts the wheelchair driver to these hazards via vibrating touch feedback, which lets them feel when they need to move out of the way using the wheelchair’s joystick.Daniel Ahlmark, one of the researchers who is himself visually impaired, tested the system last week in a crowded corridor. He was able to successfully avoid obstacles along the way, saying the driving the wheelchair “is like using a white cane.”The chair isn’t quite ready to roll in to production though, as the researchers say there is room for improvement. The current laser system can only sense objects at a certain height, so they plan to develop a 3D camera system instead to fully map the surrounding environment.
Source: www.newscientist.com, May 19, 2011


IJburg Design020

One-stop-shop
IJburg, a new neighborhood in Amsterdam has a relatively new interior store concept, Design020. A shop-in-shop that would rather be known as a one-stop-shop. In a beautiful building that has been nominated for the Amsterdam Architecture prize 2011, several furniture stores have opened their doors. Although different companies are situated in one building, you get the feeling that they are one unit. None of the companies have their own door or wall. They do have their own staff walking around providing customers with helpful and personal advice. On the spot they can make a drawing of your home interior. The initiative came from Rolf and Olivier Smitshuijzen from Kasstoor and Housing 2000. Other parties participating include: Sinck & Ko casting floors, Kartell shop Amsterdam and Dack exclusive outdoor furniture. An interior design store has arisen where you can get everything from a bed to garden furniture, casting floor to a nice birthday gift. The idea is that you can immediately take everything home. The location is well chosen and is easily accessible. This is lucrative in a neighborhood where many new buildings are going up. For indoor and outdoor from floor to ceiling, local residents can find everything. Next week Design020 celebrates their first birthday and hopefully will celebrate many more years to come.


Crowdsourcing put to good use in Africa

Global development
Back in 2008, a group of bloggers based in Kenya came up with an idea in response to the wave of ethnic violence sweeping the country in the wake of elections: Ushahidi – meaning testimony in Swahili – aimed to use crowdsourcing to track a fast-moving crisis. Since then, the open source platform has been deployed 12,000 times across the globe, from earthquakes in Haiti, New Zealand and Australia to the tsunami in Japan this year. Now it is preparing to launch next week its next big venture, Huduma, which will use crowdsourcing in Kenya to monitor the effectiveness of services such as health and education. The idea behind Huduma (the Swahili word for service) is that people can send – by text, email or Twitter – reports on the performance of services in their district, explains Erik Hersman, one of the founders of Ushahidi. This will then be mapped on the Huduma site and the responsible authority will be identified. So he has a warning for those who see Ushahidi’s crowdsourcing technology as a silver bullet: “A tool is only as good as the people who use it.”Having said that, Hersman believes technology is transforming Africa at a pace that no one ever predicted. The exponential growth of the internet connectivity across the continent offers huge opportunities for wealth creation, he suggests. But so far the bulk of Ushahidi’s work in Africa has been around governance issues. In 2010, Ushahidi was used for the first time in a systematic way in votes – a referendum in Kenya and an election in Tanzani
Source: www.guardian.co.uk, May 19, 2011


World’s first airport park opens in Amsterdam

Innovation
We’ve recently seen numerous innovations designed to ease the tedium of pre-flight waiting. Take the ebook library at Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport, for example. This morning Schiphol airport in Amsterdam launched their own effort, with the world’s first airport park.The park consists of a large interior space as well as an outdoor terrace for when the weather is fine. The indoor area of the park is designed to replicate the feeling of an outdoor space, with butterflies projected on to the walls and floors, and with sounds such as bicycle bells, animals and playing children filling the air.

Surrounding a once-threatened 130 year-old tree, the park features a number of loungers and wire frame and ivy chairs for travelers to relax in, as well as the Park Café, serving fresh juices, organic coffee and hamburgers. Around the periphery of the park there are power points for travelers to charge electronic devices such as laptops, and there is the option to charge mobile phones by pedaling one of the energy generating bicycles. To boost its eco-credentials, the airport uses LED lighting wherever possible, with natural light also entering the park through fiber optic cables and tube lighting.As airports continue to be a hotspot for innovation, there are plenty of lessons to be to be applied anywhere that consumers are forced to wait – take note and be inspired
Source: www.sprinwise.com, May 10, 2011


Human-powered helicopter takes flight

Technology
Engineering students at the University of Maryland have successfully tested Gamera, a massive pedal-powered chopper. Gamera has four 13-metre wide rotors, one at each end of its 18-metre wide cross-shaped carbon-fibre frame, but weighs less than 100kg – including the human pilot, Judy Wexler, who sits in the middle and provides power through both hand and foot peddling. Wexler successfully lifted off after two days of testing, managing to get several inches off the floor for about four seconds. “We’re ecstatic,” says Brandon Bush, Gamera team leader. Though the team of more than 50 students were pleased to finally get airborne, they failed to achieve their ultimate goal of claiming the American Helicopter Society’s Sikorsky Prize. The prize, worth $250,000, requires a human-powered helicopter to hover for a full minute while remaining within a 10-metre square. It must also fly higher than three metres at one point. Human-powered aeroplanes have been successful in the past, such as when the Gossamer Albatross flew across the English Channel in 1979, but flying a helicopter is more challenging as they must be much lighter and more efficient. Both Gamera and Yuri 1 achieve flight by exploiting the ground effect, an increase in lift that occurs when an aircraft flies close to the ground. Gamera actually uses an “extreme” ground effect, with the rotors less than five per cent of their length off the ground.
Source: www.newscientist.com, May 13, 2011