The Top Five Most Innovative Tech Projects Of 2014 So Far
As the world sits in awe as another smartphone is launched, a gaggle of engineers and bright-eyed entrepreneurs have been quietly innovating behind the scenes. Want a natural alternative to street lighting? Or how about driving – via your iPhone – a free-roaming scalextric toy car that can blast out EMPs? Then, friends, you have come to the right place.
Here I’ll explore the top five startup projects and gadgets of 2014 so far.
1. SCiO molecular scanner
SCiO is like something straight out of science fiction. Aside from the fact that it looks like a cheap flashing toy that Dr Who might point at something with flailing tentacles, the concept itself if genius.
SCiO is the brainchild of Israeli startup Consumer Physics, which is a collaboration of brains from MIT, Stanford, CalTech, Harvard, Wiezmann Institute, The Technion, and Tel-Aviv University. SCiO is an affordable handheld molecular sensor that lets you scan and discover the molecular makeup of anything it’s pointed at, which then beams the data to your phone in real-time.
What that means is that you can scan anything and get a complete report on its molecular structure on your phone. How old is that apple you’re about to buy? Or which watermelon is the sweetest? How many units of alcohol in that glass of wine? That kind of thing.
The possibilities are as exciting as they are endless. Not least the wealth of information, data and analysis that could be built up from millions of people scanning everyday objects. The first batch won’t be shipped to Kickstarter backers until January next year. But it will go on sale in March 2015 for $249. You can watch the video of how it works on their Kickstarter campaign here.
2. Budget driverless car
Google’s driverless car dominates the headlines, but the reality is that it’s unlikely to be available any time soon and it’s certainly not going to be within your price range. But one startup is hoping, at least, to change the latter. Cruise Automation, based in San Francisco (where else?), is developing a car automation accessory that will retail for $10,000.
Kyle Vogt, the founder of the project, is hoping to start installing his “RP-1” invention onto cars early next year. It only currently works on an Audi A4 or S4, but Vogt is hoping to modify the device so it can be retrofitted on to any car. It works largely in the same way Google’s driverless car works in that it has multiple sensors that can scan the immediate area for routes and potential collisions.
Vogt describes his invention as a “highway pilot”. He essentially means that it will work as a driving aid, rather than a system to fully takeover driving responsibility. Users will be able to switch on the system by tapping a button on an inbuilt interface in the car, and then let system take over. The driver can regain control of the car by tapping on the brake pedal or by placing their hands on the steering wheel.
Incredibly, the project only began in November 2013. Vogt and his team have worked around the clock to make it into a reality and they plan to start installing it onto cars early next year. Watch the video here.
3. Glow in the dark trees
Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde and his colleague Alexander Krichevsky have developed a way of splicing illuminating properties of Jellyfish with trees to create leaves that glow in the dark. It’s brilliant, it’s innovative and it’s creation of a man who is comfortable in a turtleneck jumper and red velvet dinner jacket. There’s nothing you can’t be excited about here.
Roosegaarde first unveiled his idea at SXSW this year. Currently he only has a small houseplant prototype that works, but he’s hoping to create a much bigger version soon. To make this a reality, Roosegaarde has collaborated with the University of New York and Krichevsky, whose technology firm Bioglowunveiled genetically modified glow-in-the-dark plants earlier this year.
Krichevsky creates the plants by “splicing DNA from luminescent marine bacteria to the chloroplast genome of a common houseplant, so the stem and leaves emit a faint light similar to that produced by fireflies and jellyfish.”Dezeen reports.
If glow in the dark trees were to be planted across pavements around the world, replacing street lights, the potential environmental benefits could be huge. Not to mention the incredible drunken memories you’ll have of strolling down the Rainbow Road level in Mario Kart.
AnkiDrive made a few waves at WWDC last year, but since then the plucky young startup has barely rocked any boats, or even made a splash in the last six months….. and other laboured water-related puns. But the Scalextric-style game officially launched this month and is looking to regain some of that initial acclaim.
Created by three engineers, Anki is one of the first genuinely high-tech physical games to hit the market. The premise is fairly straight forward, you control a car with your iPhone or iPad and drive it along a race-track. There are no barriers on either side of the track because the cars can determine its own position using some AI. As the Anki Team described it to me: “Each car scans the track 500 times per second using state of the art algorithms to determine its exact position, speed and trajectory. Using powerful AI, it then knows where it is in relation to every other car on the track.”
To add a bit of spice, not only are the cars designed by Harald Belker, the guy who designed the cars in Minority Report, but they also have some Mario Kart-esque weaponry attached to them. You can blast out EMP’s that stop rivals dead, fire missiles and hammer the gatling gun. There’s also a weapon and upgrade system on the accompanying iPhone app that lets you upgrade with the points you’ve accumulated from races and chose different loadouts. Before you panic, there are no in-app purchases, all points are acquired from playing the game.
The Pocket Scan balances on the fine line between ludicrous budget invention on a cable infomercial and utter practical brilliance. I could easily imagine it being both advertised by Troy McClure and Dr. Nick or being demoed by a CEO at a marquee launch event at CES.
The simple, palm of the hand-sized, invention allows you to scan anything it comes into contact with. Whilst a hand-held scanner is useful, it doesn’t seem that revolutionary when many of us could just take a photo with our phones if we wanted a digital replica of something.
But it’s the Pocket Scan’s added functionality that stands it apart. If, say, you were to scan a document, the Pocket Scan’s accompanying software will recognise the text – in any language – and turn the scanned file into a document that can be edited. The same goes for pictures and anything else you scan. All scanned images appear in real time on the computer or tablet as you can them, too.