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TECH YOU WOULDN'T EXPECT

12.06.21

Innovation breeds innovation. There’s no two ways about it. When the first iPhone was announced, we were blown away by the existence of a weather app. 


Today, there are more than 1,960,000 apps to choose from. Not bad, when you consider there were just 500 when the App Store launched back in July 2008.

That said, it’s no surprise that app development has gone from strength to strength. Why wouldn’t entrepreneurs take advantage of an accessible, cutting-edge platform with global reach?! In a 2018 article celebrating ten years of the App Store, Apple shared some of their biggest success stories.


Marco Arment, developer of Overcast and longtime iOS developer, stated:


“Since day one, the App Store has been by far the easiest way for developers to reach the most people with our apps. It eliminated the friction and overhead of setting up our own distribution and payment systems, making development far more accessible to everyone and letting us focus on our true passion: making the best apps we can. Over its 10 years so far, the App Store has developed into the richest, most diverse, and most accessible software ecosystem the world has ever seen.”


Founders of Imangi Studios, Keith Shepherd and Natalia Luckyanova, shared:


“The App Store and iPhone changed our lives. Our first game, Imangi, launched the day the App Store opened. Fast forward 10 years, and we’ve created over 10 games, including Temple Run, which has been downloaded over a BILLION times. Our studio has grown from the two of us to a team of 35. None of this would have been possible without the App Store.”


Even more fascinating, however, is when new technologies give rise to innovations that you couldn’t foresee.


In November 2020, The Verge published an article detailing a new Panasonic project pertaining to wireless earphones. You’d be forgiven for thinking it would focus on improving the user experience – better clarity, noise cancellation, gesture controls… that kind of thing. What you’re unlikely to envisage is an industrial vacuum cleaner for use at railway stations. 


The Verge explains:


“Panasonic is working with one of Japan’s biggest railway companies to solve a new problem that has sprung up in recent years: a rise in people dropping wireless earbuds onto train tracks.


“JR East, the part of Japan’s formerly private railway group that covers the Tokyo and Tohoku regions of the country, says that there were 950 incidents of dropped earbuds across 78 Tokyo train stations in the July-September quarter, Jiji Press reports. The figure apparently accounts for a quarter of all dropped items.


“According to JR East, station staff normally use a grabber-style 'magic hand' tool to pick up larger items that fall onto tracks, like hats or smartphones. But the gravel between the rails makes smaller objects — like, say, a left AirPod Pro — more difficult to retrieve, meaning staff sometimes have to wait until after the last train.”


Early results suggest the device – undergoing testing at Ikebukuro station - is much faster than a traditional grabber. I’d expect station staff are grateful too. Finger cramps are no joke, as anyone forced to litter pick during detention at school will tell you.


Bluetooth is another advancement that has paved the way for some weird, wonderful and downright ridiculous gadgets. From “connected” egg trays, to smart belts that use AI to “contextualize the activities of your everyday life”, this Business Insider article shines a light on so-called “smart devices.”


GEKO’s Smart Whistle is another example. According to their sales blurb, you’ll be “sporting safety with style”. Utilising GPS tracking and Bluetooth technology, the whistle is designed to alert loved ones when the user is in need. When the whistle is blown, selected contacts (inputted into an app) will automatically receive calls, texts and emails. GEKO explains:


“The texts and emails will contain an SOS message, along with a map containing your current location, which will be continuously updated every two to three minutes until the alert is deactivated. After deactivating the alert, your contacts receive another message informing them of your well-being.”


Now, I can’t vouch for the “style” element – the lifestyle shots on the website leave a lot to be desired – but there must be some merit in the peace of mind such a gadget would offer the elderly or vulnerable. The reviews on Amazon are mixed, however, with several outlining issues with connectivity and the need to have your smartphone with you at all times.

Another item you’ll need with you at all times – whilst travelling, anyway – is your suitcase. I was a frequent flyer prior to the pandemic, and basked in my smugness as I effortlessly manoeuvred my four-wheeled case from pillar to plane. No lugging around a two-wheeler for me! But a brand named Ovis has a different notion of effortless, opting for the “look, no hands” approach for their offering to the luggage market. According to their website, they’ve designed the world’s first suitcase that follows you…


“Ovis comes packed with some serious tech that enables it to automatically roll alongside you as you walk, freeing up your hands for more important things (like your phone, kids, coffee, lunch, briefcase, and much more!)”


Not only does it roll along beside you (at speeds up to 4.5 mph, no less!), it can take photo and video content along the way thanks to an integrated camera in the handle. They say “embrace your inner travel blogger”, I say potential security breach at passport control…


Speaking of solutions to problems you didn’t know you had, have you considered a FoldiMate? Estimated to cost upwards of $1,000 when it finally hits the open market, FoldiMate is a chunky piece of machinery designed to ease the load of laundry.


At first, I thought FoldiMate was an all-singing, all-dancing washer dryer. A single unit that could wash, dry, iron and fold your clothes. Now that would be something special! But I was wrong. It’s merely a folding machine (the clue was in the name, I guess!). But spending $1,000 on a huge bit of kit to spare me folding my t-shirts is a stretch, even by my gadget-loving standards.


Moxie, by contrast, appears to be genuinely innovative: a robot companion for children designed to promote social, emotional and cognitive learning. According to Embodied – the company behind Moxie – children are presented with different tasks every week:


“Each week a different theme such as kindness, friendship, empathy, or respect tasks children with missions to help Moxie explore human experiences, ideas, and life skills. Missions foster discussion and curiosity and encourage the child to discover the world and people around them.”


Through reading stories, holding conversations and undertaking mindfulness and creative exercises, children can build their self-confidence whilst developing skills that may otherwise elude them.


The website continues:


“Developed by a veteran team of technologists, neuroscientists, child development specialists, and creative storytellers, Moxie is a robot designed with the latest technology that allows it to engage with children in a revolutionary way.


“Powered by our platform, SocialX™, Moxie is able to perceive, process and respond to natural conversation, eye contact, facial expressions and other behavior as well as recognize and recall people, places, and things to create a unique and personalized learning experience for your child.”


At a cost of $1,699 – and a lengthy waiting list to contend with – Moxie isn’t accessible to everyone, but if you have the time, money and inclination it would surely reap much greater rewards than a neatly folded pile of laundry ever could…