Social Ad Spend Up 40 Per Cent in Q3

Pinterest ads UKAd spend on the major social networks rose by 40 per cent between Q2 and Q3 2016, according to the Q3 2016 Social Trends Report from Kinetic. The report looks at ad spend on all campaigns that ran through Kinetic Social’s social marketing platform, serving over 2.75bn impressions in Q3 2016. This report includes ad spend on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, on both desktop and mobile, and for all ad types.

Ad spend on Facebook by Kinetic Social clients increased by 50 per cent, with a slight rise in eCPM. Despite this, CPC fell slightly, due to higher clickthrough rates. Instagram ad spending has scaled to represent a full 20 per cent of overall Facebook investment among Kinetic’s advertisers. Overallm, the firm says it continues to see mobile placements dramatically outperform desktop placements for both CPC and CPA metrics, though they continue to represent only about 60 per cent of overall investment, as some advertisers continue to struggle with cross-device and cross-platform ROI measurement.

According to Kinetic, advertisers are continuing to leverage Twitter’s ad solutions for brand awareness and direct response marketing. Campaigns aiming to garner video views continued to perform well at scale. These video views primarly occured on mobile devices. The report also found that video ads are twice as memorable, as consumers found them to be more relevant.

Kinetic data shows completion rates are higher for videos shorter than 60 seconds, with the highest video completion rates on 15 – 30-second. videos. In Q3, Cost per View increased slightly over Q2.
In terms of ad units, Twitter Video ads were a major performance driver in Q3. Our findings note that shorter video formats generated more completed views. CPC on campaigns targeted at increasing traffic to the advertiser’s website decreased 33 per cent over Q2.

Pinterest released new targeting capabilities in Q3, including Pinterest Tags and enhanced audience targeting, rounding out the platform’s ability to leverage first-party data. Kinetic saw a nearly 3.5X jump in investment in Pinterest in Q3 compared to Q2, and a 5X increase over Q3 2015. This increased investment was evenly spread across Pin Engagement and Website Click campaign objectives and reflects the more complete and robust first-party data offering from Pinterest.

Kinetic saw a 40 per cent drop in CPM and CPC on website click campaigns compared to the previous quarter, while CPM increased on Pin Engagement campaigns. The company says it expects Pinterest to continue enhancing its targeting capabilities and to continue to release new ad products.
You can download the full report here.

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Sky Brings Video Highlights to Pub-goers Via Score Centre App

Sky goalsVideo clips of action and goals from every game in the Premier League – even those not shown live on Sky Sports – are being made available to everyone in Sky Sports WiFi pubs via the Sky Sports Football Score Centre mobile app.

The app gives fans access to in-game clips and goals for all televised Premier League games, plus key highlights and goals for all other Premier League matches. All the goals and key highlights from Saturday 3pm fixtures will be available from 5.15pm the same day.

Previously, only Sky Sports residential subscribers could enjoy the Premier League goal clips and key highlights that the Sky Sports Football Score Centre app offers before 10pm on a matchday. Sky has now made this content available to all visitors to Sky Sports WiFi venues.

“The fantastic features of the Football Score Centre app are now available to any customer in a Sky Sports WiFi venue,” said David Rey, managing director of Sky Business. “This is great news for landlords…Football fans need look no further than Sky Sports WiFi pubs for all the Premier League action.”

To enable customers to take advantage of the mobile app and its features, pubs need Sky Sports and Sky’s free WiFi powered by The Cloud – no other subscriptions are necessary. Pub-goers simply connect to the venue’s wi-fi and download the Sky Sports Football Score Centre app to their mobile devices for free via a link on the homepage to enjoy all the goals and key highlights from the Premier League.

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Retail Emails Nearly Twice as Popular as Social Media, says VoucherCodes Report

mobile shopperEmail is the UK’s preferred method of communication from retailers, according to research from and YouGov.

37 per cent of respondents identified email alerts about offers and deals as one of their preferred methods of communication, with newspapers and magazines (28 per cent) coming in second. Social media was preferred by 21 per cent, and SMS by only eight per cent.

It’s also worth noting that 31 per cent – the second-largest segment – said they would not like to hear from retailers in any way.

The study also found that 8.6 per cent of disposable income is spent on mobile devices, equivalent to an average monthly per-person spend of £36.76. Unsurprisingly, that proportion is much higher for 18-24s (15.9 per cent) and much lower for over-55s (four per cent).

Eight per cent of the UK have used mobile payments in-store, with men more than twice as likely as women (12 per cent versus five per cent) to have adopted the technology. 27 per cent expect to use in-store mobile payments over the next five years, but 39 per cent say they will never use mobile payments.

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Awards Preview – Most Effective Cross-screen Campaign

Every day between now and the Effective Mobile Marketing Awards Ceremony on 17 November, we will be previewing the finalists in one of the 30 categories. Today, we look at the hotly-contested Most Effective Cross-screen Campaign category.

Rubicon Project


Rubicon Project – The Future of Automation
To capitalise on its panel at Advertising Week Europe, highlighting the potential of advertising automation across a variety of media, Rubicon Project booked a campaign across various media types using the very technology they were discussing. It leveraged agency partnerships across outdoor, transportation, TV, desktop and mobile to build awareness of Rubicon Project’s capabilities, and drive attendance to its event.

The campaign helped generate a packed house for the panel, with 75 per cent of audience members claiming that the campaign had brought them into the room, as well as an additional halo effect surrounding both Rubicon Project and the ‘Future of Automation’ idea at Advertising Week Europe, in the media and on social.

Lidl and Starcom – Lidl Easter
The grocery sector is a highly competitive market, especially at Easter, and is dominated by those with a strong data play. Lidl don’t have a loyalty card, or an eCommerce offering, and have very little access to consumer behaviour data, so measurement became the focus. Mobile was put into context, working alongside desktop and making way for the real innovation – a cross-device research study, bespoke for the needs of Lidl.

The campaign managed to increase consumer consideration of Lidl to five times the retail norm and doubled purchase intent to 12 per cent against the retail benchmark of six per cent. It also succeeded in converting that consideration into footfall – driving a 14 per cent increase in those exposed visiting the store.

New Look and Criteo – Connect the Consumer
Working with Criteo, New Look launched a cross-screen campaign that ensured personalised, dynamic targeting and seamless cross-device coverage to take advantage of the UK’s massive mobile audience and inventory. The retailer had two key objectives. The first was to increase revenue through improved efficiency: with users transitioning to mobile devices, New Look wanted to get more from its ad spend by accessing mobile inventory in the RTB space; secondly, it wanted to improve user experience through a single user view across devices.

Mobile tagging was implemented to ensure that New Look could reach users visiting any New Look property, not just the desktop site. New Look also opted in to Criteo’s exact-match cross-device technology to ensure a seamless user journey for cross-device users. As a result of this cross-screen strategy, 35 per cent of New Look’s retargeting sales are now delivered on mobile devices, and 52 per cent of sales come from users who browse and purchase on two or more different devices.


Travel Republic and Criteo – Criteo and Travel Republic Take Off
By leveraging Criteo’s cross-screen performance marketing technology, Travel Republic has been able to improve the efficiency of its retargeting while also maximising revenue based on propensity to convert. Criteo’s tech ensures that each personalised ad is created for an individual visitor in real time and can feature multiple offers in a single banner, thereby giving the consumer a virtual travel agent within an ad. Time, placement, creative and products displayed are all optimised to achieve the highest click-through rate (CTR) and conversion rate, and to show people an ad with the products they’re most likely to want to purchase, along with subtle up-sells in the shape of popular products that closely match their original purchase intent.

Travel Republic was able to retarget a qualified audience from mobile, maintaining a consistent ad presence where travel consumers are more likely to convert. 29 per cent of H1 2016 sales are happening on mobile devices, compared to 21 per cent in H1 2015. Mobile users are up by 28.7 per cent and mobile bookings by 24.1 per cent over the same period – and 13 per cent of bookings happening on a desktop are from people who have been browsing on mobile.

Reiss, Viant and Threepipe – Reiss’s People-based Marketing Revolution
Fashion brand Reiss was keen to test new technologies as part of the promotional activity for its Spring/Summer 2016 collection, in order to find out what methods would drive the best results above and beyond what they could achieve using more traditional digital advertising methods. Viant was chosen to deliver the digital ad campaign for its expertise of people-based marketing, a technology which enables marketers to accurately target users based on their true online and offline identity, rather than targeting inaccurate and probabilistic cookies.

The campaign ran as a prospecting effort, aimed at finding Reiss new customers, so Viant targeted users whose behaviour indicated they were likely to be in the market for fashion and retail. Leveraging its registered user base of 24.5m individuals in the UK, Viant was able to accurately track the ROI of the campaign across devices and show incremental revenue being delivered across mobile and tablet devices.

VisitBritain, Carat London and Undertone – VisitBritain #OMGB: Home of Amazing Moments
While tourism to London is consistently strong, other parts of Britain – in particular rural areas – can fail to attract the same levels of tourism. In its 2015/16 campaign, Visit Britain wanted to encourage consumers to take another look at destinations beyond London, and combat negative perceptions about distance, food and activities. The resulting #OMGB campaign combined two existing strands: the countryside campaign focusing on the best of Britain’s countryside, and the culture campaign focusing on London attractions.

Media agency Carat and creative agency RKYR developed a strategy that would bring this to life through a two-phased digital approach, with Undertone brought in to plan and execute the cross-screen digital aspect of the campaign, which utilised its Screen Shift full-width pushdown ad format. The ad included a series of videos featuring #OMGB moments as well as a chance to win a holiday, and ran across Undertone’s network of premium publishers. Cross-device targeting proved decisive in delivering a 13 percentage point increase in brand recall, with rich media and video consistently driving the highest recall.

Our Award winners will be announced at the Awards Ceremony in London on 17 November. To book a seat or table, head for the Awards website or call John Owen on 07769 674824.

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Marketers Beware: The App Landscape is Changing

Cristina Constandache, VP at Cheetah Mobile, shares her insights into how consumers are changing the way they interact with apps, and what mobile marketers can do to keep up.

Cheetah CristinaMobile is taking centre stage at a rapid rate. According to Mediapost, 2016 is the first year when worldwide mobile ad spend will surpass desktop ($99 billion and $97 billion respectively), and the UK is the only place in the world besides China where mobile accounts for over half of national ad spend. Great news for marketers, who can rest assured that their mobile ad spend is money well spent, as long as they take into account the changing rules of mobile marketing.

For one, we used to scroll and scroll through the myriad of apps that populated our smartphones until we found the one app we needed. Each app would serve just a single purpose, and branded apps blossomed in their thousands on the iOS App Store and Google Play. But this is no longer the case – in fact, according to ComScore’s 2015 US Mobile App Report, quite the opposite. Consumers are now spending 80 per cent of their smartphone time in just three apps, while those that aren’t favourites are out of the game.

So on the bright side, consumers are engaging for longer with the apps they do use. But to stay among those prized few, marketers must use all the user retention tactics at their disposal. What we’re seeing from the mobile frontline is that developers with a strong focus on delivering valuable content, whether editorial or video, are much more likely to successfully retain and engage users.

The appetite for video
In an undeniably fundamental shift, 53 per cent of all online video viewings in Europe now happen on mobile, according to Ooyala’s Video Index 2016. It’s no longer up for debate whether video should be mobile-optimised – in fact, video must be mobile-first.

Smartphones are highly interactive devices compared to TV, for example, and ads must reflect this. That’s why integrating interactive elements such as mini games or micro quizzes are favoured by many mobile marketers. It’s a similar story for the vertical video format: perfectly suited to the mobile screen, vertical video has rapidly overtaken the landscape format of laptops, pioneered by apps like Snapchat,, and Periscope.

Cheetah Mobile is partnering with popular social video apps like to bring on the vertical video revolution. Video demand will continue to grow exponentially, but it’s not only video consumers are asking for.

No news isn’t good news
Just like video, editorial content from publishers is in high demand. News streams are found everywhere on mobile from the Facebook app to the iOS home screen. Why? Deloitte research shows UK citizens collectively look at their smartphones over a billion times a day – and if we’re constantly on our phones, the last thing we want is nothing new! The demand for news content is increasing dramatically because we interact more regularly with our devices and expect something new every time we pull down to refresh.

This is the logic behind our recent acquisition of News Republic, a leading mobile news app that tops the charts on iOS and Google Play in many markets around the globe. News content adds value to the user experience and generates high levels of engagement – especially when there is a locally-relevant, personalized news experience powered by a combination of machine intelligence and local editors in individual markets.

Easy ways to embrace mobile
The mobile marketing rulebook might have been revised, but marketers just need to keep pace with where consumers are and what they want – which, let’s face it, has always been their remit. Here are three considerations to revise your mobile strategies in line with changes in consumer behaviour:

Invest in editorial and video content. Consumers’ appetites for mobile content are surging, and marketers can use this to their advantage to drive the best ROI and ensure high levels of user retention. To avoid being left without enough mobile-optimised content to fill digital and emerging channels, brands must begin thinking now how they can allocate resources or showcase user-generated, influencer, and other third-party content to maintain supplies and high standards.

Think vertical. Cisco has predicted that by 2019, 75 per cent of all mobile traffic will be video content. This content must be optimised for mobile, which increasingly means vertical. These days we’re not so willing to turn our phones sideways, and brands must take this into account. As for the benefit for them – many app makers are finding that users are much more likely to finish a vertical video ad than a horizontal one.

Make a move into the app ecosystem. Your brand should be able to offer an app that’s more than a one-trick pony. By integrating social functions, e-commerce, and third party services, as well as funnelling in all that great editorial and video content you’re creating, your app will easily be branded a favourite by your customers and stay in their top three, safe from deletion.

While it may seem like the playing field is shrinking as consumers focus their attention on fewer apps, the growing demand for more content – editorial and especially video – should be seen as an opportunity, not a restriction.

This sponsored article was written by Cristina Constandache, VP at Cheetah Mobileand is editorially independent from Mobile Marketing Magazine


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PushSpring Moves Into Canada with Native Touch Partnership

Native Saad Uddin

Uddin: “App data is an extremely effective way for advertisers and marketers to reach specific audience segments and ensure they are meeting their goals”

PushSpring, the independent app-based mobile audience platform, has announced a partnership with Native Touch, a Toronto-based mobile ad platform, signalling PushSpring’s expansion into the Canadian market.

PushSpring provides advertisers and app publishers with mobile app audience data for almost 200m million unique device IDs in the US, and now, Canada. The company leverages billions of mobile app data signals and related device data to develop PushSpring Personas and App Genre Segments, which marketers can use in their ad targeting.

“With 69 per cent of digital spending projected to be invested in mobile by 2019, it is essential that brands and publishers place an increased focus on the limitless opportunity mobile has to offer,” said Native Touch CEO, Saad Uddin. “It is easy to see why mobile data providers like PushSpring are in such high demand. App data is an extremely effective way for advertisers and marketers to reach specific audience segments and ensure they are meeting their goals. By combining exclusive geo-location, point of interest, audience segment, and content data we are able to build stronger audience segments and provide our clients with ever evolving audience targeting groups.”

Earlier this month, PushSpring announced a partnership with comScore to introduce mobile audience segments, based on comScore Mobile Metrix and PushSpring’s App Graph data, for use in programmatic ad buys.

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Smart Farms Must Adopt M2M and IoT Tech, says Beecham

Smart farmThe development of smart farming and precision agriculture must accelerate rapidly and learn lessons from smart city projects if it is to meet the challenge set by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, which has warned that the way farmers produce their food must radically change in order to feed the growing world population in the future, according to Beecham Research.

In a report to be published next month, the analyst will look at this challenge and also highlight the importance of harnessing new technologies to address climate change and help optimise the use of energy and natural resources.

“The challenges for farming and the food supply chain are daunting,” said Saverio Romeo, principal analyst at Beecham Research. “The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation predicts that in order to keep pace with population growth, food production must increase by 70 per cent by 2050; but also estimates that agriculture worldwide is currently responsible for a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions and for using some 70 per cent of the world’s fresh water.”

Despite an increase in the number of new smart farming projects, Romeo said that emerging Machine to Machine (M2M )and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies have been slow to be adopted in agriculture compared to other industries. “The reasons for this are primarily cost – only large farms can afford the investment and the industry is, by nature, conservative,” said Romeo. While governments around the world are stimulating adoption of new technologies through subsidies and projects, more needs to be done to support smaller farms. There also needs to be a shared vision by all stakeholders along with their governments and policymakers to bring together the needs of agriculture with business opportunities.”

Precision agriculture or smart farming makes use of GPS services, M2M/IoT technologies, sensors and big data to optimise crop yields. Decision support systems, backed up by data – including weather conditions and forecasts, machine status, crop information and animal health – can provide real-time information at a level of granularity not previously possible.

The Beecham Research Report will identify some of the main activities where smart farming will have the most impact, including fleet management, arable farming, livestock monitoring, indoor farming, fish farming, forestry, storage and water monitoring.

But post-harvest, Beecham Research also sees sensor-based technologies and decision support systems playing another vital role in the post-farm gate supply chain. Applications include the detection of food fraud, identifying and dealing with bacterial and other contamination, mitigating spoilage and food waste, and meeting the growing need for traceability from farm to the consumer.

“Farming and the supply chain, in all its forms, must embrace the smart vision if we are to feed the growing population and address climate change and environmental issues,” said Dr. Therese Cory, senior analyst at Beecham Research. “This means involving multiple stakeholders, ranging from big business, finance and government through engineering, machinery and chemical companies, to food retailers, industry associations and suppliers of specialist expertise.

“While smart farming is still in its infancy and currently lags behind smart cities and other smart industries, the benefit is that we can learn lessons from other large scale smart project rollouts, such as smart metering projects. We have no choice but to invest in the use of precision agriculture and smart farming because of the urgency of the problems the world faces. This means that despite a slow start, future growth in this area will be huge in comparison to other industries where M2M and IoT arealready established.”

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Explore – With Caution

As Instagram adds Stories to its Explore tab, Chris Hall, founder and CEO of branding automation firm Bynder discusses why brands should only use new marketing opportunities when they have clear brand guidelines and collaboration processes in place.

Chris Headshot smallWhen Instagram Stories was introduced in the summer many said it was copying Snapchat Stories. Instagram Stories posts are rolling and disappear 24 hours after they are posted, which is exactly what happens on Snapchat.

Now the feature is being added to Instagram’s Explore tab too, which is used by 100m Instagrammers each day who are looking for inspiration from people they don’t follow. No social platform currently makes discovering new content this easy, so it is a huge advantage against other players.

It’s reported that there are two reasons for Instagram adopting the discover feature. Firstly, to encourage more sharing of photos and videos across the platform and secondly, to compete with Snapchat, which has a strong hold on the young consumer market.
Instagram is now offering a more effective way for users to discover new content. However, whilst the Explore function is being presented as a game-changing feature for users, the picture is more complicated for brands.

Opportunity presents risk
At first glance, it appears brands will be able to reach new and wider audiences more easily. Their content will have the opportunity to go much further, creating yet another powerful channel for marketers.

However, they should also treat new marketing opportunities like this with caution. With the opportunity to tap a much wider proportion of the 2.3bn social media users around the world, comes heightened risk if you haven’t got your house in order.

In the digital landscape that companies thrive in today, communication and branding efforts tend to move faster than ever before. More channels mean more touchpoints for both marketers and consumers. While we are more connected than ever, this means that there’s more chance of inconsistency or error in communicating your brand and its value.

Brands will often overlook patience and strategy and haphazardly jump to be a part of the latest trend. This then creates opportunities for a brand to be hijacked by confused consumers or more strategic competitors.

Build brand rules collaboratively
Marketers cannot treat Instagram Stories as an ‘add on’ to their current campaign; they need to carefully consider the audience there and adapt their communications strategy in line with that. This can only be achieved with solid brand guidelines in place. Doing so ensures a brand’s identity remains cohesive, no matter how many channels it is communicated across.

Creating successful brand guidelines starts with communication and collaboration. In the past, a company’s branding was represented solely by its logo and tagline. But, today, the goal of successful branding goes beyond visual aesthetics to align with all of the company’s assets, channels and the entire brand experience.

The approach can no longer operate in silos, but instead must be cohesive. Having a strategy in place enables a business to be more agile when pushing out products or services to a global market across new channels. In contrast, inconsistent or fragmented branding practices can harm consumer trust, which can have a negative impact on the bottom line.

Digital collaboration
Beyond having a faster go-to-market approach, the benefits of digital collaboration also mean that your team is armed with the appropriate content for consistency and authenticity. While brands have been highly targeted with their content on Instagram to date, engaging those who are following them directly, they will now be found more easily by people who are not necessarily fans of their brand. To appeal to new audiences, brands need to ensure that they communicate in a way which speaks to the everyman, whilst remaining true to their own brand values.

According to the CMO Council, more than a third of CMOs say that digital marketing initiatives will account for 75% or more of their global spend within the next five years. As we see brands investing money in new channels, if they don’t have a consistent marketing strategy, then these brands are setting themselves up for failure. Working in the cloud or with the latest collaboration tools allows a business to get off the ground faster and ensures cohesive branding across all platforms.

The marketing team must be able to adapt quickly to a constantly-changing landscape and that includes features like Explore within Instagram Stories. A brand can no longer sit on the side-lines. By having the right technology and systems in place, the CMO can be the hero who responds successfully to new marketing innovations and ensures that communications are not disrupted by the challenges a new platform presents.

Chris Hall is founder and CEO of Bynder

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Tesco Brings AR Trolls In-store with Zappar

TrollsAR firm Zappar has partnered with DreamWorks Animation to bring to life characters from the animated feature film Trolls for Tesco UK.

The campaign launched on 21 October to tie in with the release of the movie in UK cinemas. It enables shoppers to explore Tesco stores nationwide with their smartphone or tablet to find Trolls characters and unlock augmented reality experiences. Using the Zappar app, shoppers can track down the Trolls both on point-of-sale as well as participating products, including the official film soundtrack, Hovis, Tesco F&F clothing and character cake maker, Greencore.

10 different interactive experiences have been created by Zappar, ranging from helping Trolls character Poppy cheer up Branch; a ‘Paint a bug!’ activity; and the ability for customers to style themselves with the Trolls signature colourful hair, using Zappar’s ‘face-finder’ technology.

Tying-in with the Trolls story-line of Poppy’s love of scrapbooking, shoppers are tasked with completing their own photo-frame by finding Trolls characters across the store. The frame starts with both Poppy and Branch filled in, leaving 10 additional characters to find and collect, to complete the frame.

Caspar Thykier, Co-Founder & CEO at Zappar commented: “Trolls have captured children’s imaginations for decades, and the latest film does exactly that, so we naturally jumped at the chance to bring the movie to life even further. Working with DreamWorks Animation to create interactive AR experiences for Tesco stores has been great fun and we’re sure Trolls fans will really enjoy them.”
Jonathan Baker, DreamWorks Animation, Consumer Products added: “Trolls is a film about finding your happy place, no matter who you are or how old you are. Much like these augmented reality experiences, which make you smile and bring stories to life in the palm of your hand.”

“By working in collaboration with our partners at DreamWorks Animation and Zappar, we have been able to create a unique experience for our customers,” said Rachel Wakley, head of licensing for Tesco UK. “We’re really excited to see their engagement with the Trolls, both in-store and digitally, and really believe that this additional content offers great entertainment and enjoyment for all of the family.”

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Innovation Lab: Body Bots, Electric Flavours and Nightmare Machines

At Mobile Marketing we’re proud to help tech companies showcase their cutting-edge solutions, whether it’s on our website, in our magazine or at our Mobile Marketing Summits. Giving a platform to companies that are breaking new ground in their market brings audiences one step closer to the ideas and developments that will shape tomorrow.

In that spirit, our Innovation Lab feature takes a step beyond the world of apps, ads and handsets with slightly bigger screens, in order to share some of the tech world’s innovative ideas. They might be interesting, disruptive or just outright strange, but these are the stories that have caught our eye over the past week.

Mini Robots Will Drive Around Your Body

When you think of wearable technology, you probably picture a smartwatch or a headset, maybe a ring with RFID capability. Researchers from MIT and Stanford want you to dream a little bigger though, and have introduced Rovables  – tiny robots that can drive around on top of your clothes while you wear them.

The robots use magnetic wheels to secure themselves to your clothing, and the researchers behind the project picture advanced versions able to intelligently react to wearers’ needs, transforming into displays, microphones, alarms or personal assistants.

In their current form, the Rovables have an onboard battery, microcontroller and wireless communications hardware, as well as a low-power localisation system that uses wheel encoders and inertial measurement units, enabling them to perform limited autonomous navigation around users’ bodies.

The Rovables were demonstrated at the UIST Conference in Tokyo, and while their uses are quite limited at the moment, their creators believe they could serve a wide variety of purposes in the future, both practical and ornamental.

taste buddy‘Taste Buddy’ Can Transform Flavours with Electricity
Shooting a low-level electrical current through your tongue probably isn’t high up your list of activities to try out, but what if I told you it could make you taste chocolate, steak, or any other flavour imaginable?

The ‘Taste Buddy’, a new invention by Professor Adrian Cheok, director of the Imagineering Institute at City University of London, can theoretically do just that, although at the moment it’s limited to just enhancing specific tastes, making foods sweeter or saltier.

A prototype version of the device is available to be tried out at The Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair, but Professor Cheok predicts that one day the technology could be engineered to fit within everyday utensils, and completely transform the taste of food as required.

“The ‘Taste Buddy’ is a great example of skilled science and engineering working hand in hand with a relevant and fun impact,” said Professor Cheok. “The Taste Buddy could eventually help save lives, by allowing people to switch to healthier food choices.”

NASA’s VR Training Heading to Homes

The recent wave of advancements in consumer VR hasn’t gone unnoticed by NASA, which has active partnerships with every major virtual reality company, and is planning to release a version of its Mars training software, The Mars 2030 Experience, on a variety of platforms in the next year.

The software uses the Unreal Engine 4 to create a 7.7 square mile interactive environment that can be navigated either on foot or in a rover vehicle, and features real Martian topography, as well as replicating accurate gravitational and light conditions on the red planet.

The software will be released on Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, Samsung VR Gear, iOS and Android through a partnership with television network Fusion, and aims to encourage interest in the space agency’s work towards a real manned mission to Mars.

nightmare machine facesUsing AI to Generate Terrifying Images
If creating computers that learn, imitate human behaviour and process vast amounts of data wasn’t enough, now we’re teaching them how to terrify people. Or at least that’s what MIT is doing with its aptly-named Nightmare Machine.

The AI program is designed to take normal images of faces, landmarks or landscapes and transform them into horrific distorted versions. Members of the public can then vote on whether the AI-generated images are scary or not, with the votes feeding into a machine learning algorithm to help it “learn scariness”.

The program is similar to an AI that Google experiment ran last year called Deep Dream, that converted everyday images into psychedelic versions. While the projects may resemble fancier versions of Instagram filters, in fact they involve cutting-edge AI concepts and could be vital steps forward in both computer vision and AI understanding of human emotion.

‘Magic’ Chess Board Lets You Play Against Ghosts

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’re no doubt familiar with the idea of ‘Wizard Chess’, where the pieces move by themselves. Thanks to some clever engineering, that idea is now a reality, with a physical chess board that can connect to players around the world and move the pieces to reflect their choices.

Square Off claims to be the “smartest and the most-evolved chess board ever”, and gives players who have got used to online play a physical board with all the functionality that comes with the digital age.

The board, which is seeking funding on Kickstarter, also integrates an AI, so even if you have no opponents ready to battle you, you can face off against a ghostly rival with a variety of levels of skill who can move the pieces around the board and react to your strategies.

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