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Innovation Lab: Siri for Cities, AR Mountains and Robot Football

Tim Maytom

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.

IBM Powers Voice Assistant for Canadian Citysurrey app comboThe city of Surrey, British Columbia in Canada has rolled out a new app for residents and visitors that aims to provide a variety of information on a variety of matters using a natural language voice assistant, powered by IBM's famous Watson supercomputer.

Watson is best known as the computer that was able to autonomously defeat the world's best players on the US game show Jeopardy in 2011, and has since been put to use by the health care, banking and retail industries to deal with natural language problems and sorting huge data sets.

The My Surrey app combines a number of apps already used by the city to aid residents, such as information tools for waste collection, animal control and parking enforcement, with new capabilities like listings for local facilities and jobs.

"IBM Watson's learning abilities are such that the technology builds its knowledge and improves as citizens use it, much in the same way humans learn," said Councillor Bruce Hayne, Chair of Innovation & Investment Committee for the City of Surrey. "This pilot is expected to enhance customer experience by increasing the accessibility of services, while providing the City with insight into opportunities for improvement and reduction to service delivery costs."

AR Sandbox Lets You Carve Valleys by Hand



Thanks to advances like the Oculus Rift and Microsoft HoloLens, virtual and augmented reality is grabbing attention like never before, and people are increasingly searching for ways to integrate the technology in ways that encourage user interaction.

Researchers from UC Davis and UCLA have combined AR tech with a projector, an Xbox Kinect sensor and an old-fashioned sandbox to create an interactive exhibit that enables users to get hands-on with topographical maps in a way never before possible.

As users sculpt the sand, the program reads the changes made and reacts to them in real time, projecting a topographical layout onto the sandbox that represents towering mountains, deep valleys and more. Users can even raise their hands above the sandbox to make it rain, watching as the water erodes the landscape and transforms valleys into pools and lakes.

The project aims to give students a better understanding of geography by enabling them to shape and influence the landscape as they please, getting a better grasp of the forces that can shape our world.

dot smartwatchBraille Smartwatch Aims to Bring Wearables to the Visually Impaired

The tiny screens on the Apple Watch and Android Wear smartwatches are hard enough to read for someone with perfect vision, and for someone with a visual impairment they can be virtually impossible to make out.

The Dot smartwatch aims to provide the visually impaired with a path into the world of wearables, with four sets of six Braille dots that can raise and lower at speeds anywhere between one and 100 times per second in order to produce characters.

The Dot can relay text messages to users, set alarms and read location directions as well as providing the time, a fairly standard set of features for a smartwatch but a revolutionary step forward for a group that would otherwise be locked out from the world of wearables.

The team behind Dot are also working on Braille e-book reading on the device, as well as Braille learning programs that will help new readers keep up their skills on the go. The device will be available for pre-order later this year, with a price point of around $300 (£192), compared to the $2,000 users can expect to pay out for E-Braille readers.

Japanese Team Wins 1-0 at RoboCup World Championships



The Brains Kids team from the Chiba Institute of Technology has won the final at the RoboCup World Championships with their child-sized football-playing humanoid robots, beating rival team ZJUDancer from Zhejian University in China.

The event, which took place in China, saw teams from over 40 countries compete in a variety of categories, including the University of Hertfordshire's Bold Hearts, who were defeated 2-0 in the second round of the humanoid football play-offs by a French team.

While the event also saw non-humanoid robots compete in a separate competition (won by China's Team Water), the humanoid league is seen as the most difficult due to the stability issues that bipedal robots face. The RoboCup has been running since 1997, and aims to hold a humans-versus-robots football match by 2050.

ogoHands-free Wheelchair Balances on Two Wheels

The Ogo wheelchair started life as a Segway scooter, but New Zealand inventor Kevin Halsall was inspired by the device's design and control system to strip it down, refine it and develop a wheelchair that could be operated hands-free.

A traditional Segway is controlled by the position of the rider, with leaning forwards or back controlling the motion of the wheels, and steering controlled by a pair of handlebars. Halsall was able to add more responsive motion controls that eliminate the need for handlebars, however, with steering dictated by side-to-side movements from the user.

There's only a single prototype in existence at the moment, and currently each unit would have to start life as a full-blown Segway, meaning there's a considerable price tag, but the boost in mobility and freedom it represents for wheelchair users could see it become extremely popular once it becomes commercially available.