Innovation Lab: Jetpack Firefighters, Tastier Tomatoes and Soft Exosuits

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.

Dubai's Firefighters Take to the Skies with Water Jetpacks

Firefighters in Dubai are taking life-saving technology to new heights, literally, having invested in a water jetpack system that enables users to hover above blazes, dowsing flames with a high-pressure stream of water.

The innovative firefighting system is called the Dolphin, and has been adopted by the Dubai Civil Defence in an effort to reduce response times for firefighters, enabling them to reach fires without battling heavy traffic on roads.

Dubai's rapid expansion in recent years has led to a series of dangerous fires there and in other city-states in the United Arab Emirates, with weak building regulations and poor design blamed for a spate of blazes in high-rise buildings.

Last week, Lieutenant Colonel Ali Al Mutawa, head of operations at Dubai Civil Defence, said the organisation was looking into floating firestations that would enable fires to be tackled from the Dubai Canal, making use of the unlimited supply of water from there and granting easy access to fires in shoreline buildings.

Scientists Resurrect Tomatoes' Lost Flavour
You may not realise this, but the taste of tomatoes has shifted considerably over the last 100 years, thanks to breeders prioritising traits like pest and disease resistance in crops. Now, researchers at the University of Florida are on a mission to bring back the lost flavour.

The process of bringing back the taste of tomatoes involved sequencing the DNA of almost 400 varieties of modern, heirloom and wild tomatoes and mapping the chemicals associated with creating flavour. Out of this group, 160 samples were selected and then ranked by taste using 100 volunteers.

Combining the taste panel's results with the chemical and genetic analyses the scientists had created enabled them to identify the missing genes associated with flavour. The bad genes in modern tomatoes were replaced with the identified flavour-packed ones, producing varieties that were hardy and delicious.

"A breeder can now simultaneously select for hundred of these genetic markers to rapidly select new plants with as many of the desirable traits as possible," said Adrian Hegemanat, plant and microbial biology professor at the University of Minnesota, in an interview with The Verge. "This will make it easier to cross two different tomato varieties and test the progeny for that cross at very early stages of growth to get rid of plants that lack key gene-linked traits."

Strange Noises Can Hijack Your Smartphone Through Voice Assistant

We've all heard the anecdotes about Alexa ordering people expensive dollhouses because a TV presenter used a command, or people struggling to keep their children from hijacking their smart home assistants for mischief, but what if the same methods could be used to actually compromise your security?

That's the thinking behind work carried out by researchers at UC Berkeley and Georgetown University, who found that they could easily obfuscate voice commands so human listeners would struggle to understand them, but voice-recognition algorithms in smartphones and digital assistants would pick them up and react.

The research highlights the security risks inherent in these features and the lack of any sort of authentication tools for them, and might just make some people think twice before enabling their phone to react to their every command.

metallic hydrogenScientists Create Revolutionary 'Metallic Hydrogen'
In news that could have massive implications for areas as diverse as infrastructure, medical machinery and space travel, two US scientists have published that they have managed to create a solid metallic form of hydrogen.

Using pressures exceeding those at the centre of the Earth, two Harvard researchers have created what they hope is a stable form of metallic hydrogen, which could function as both a superconductor for zero-resistance electrical wiring and room-temperature electro-magnets, and as a super-powerful rocket fuel.

Only a tiny amount, less that a hair's width in diameter, has been produced, but if it proves to be metastable, and remain in its metallic state under normal pressures and temperatures (the same way diamonds are formed under intense pressure and heat, but remain in that form forever) it could lead to a revolution in the storage and transmission of electricity.

'Soft Exosuit' Can Ease Heavy Loads and Mobility Issues

If you were asked to picture a robotic exoskeleton, you'd probably picture something from the likes of Iron Man, all polished metals and whirring servos. However, the latest work by the Harvard Biodesign Lab is putting an end to all that with a robotic walking aid that's mostly fabric straps and wire.

The researchers analysed a huge amount of data on how humans walk, how energy and stress is distributed, and where support makes the most difference. Then, using innovative textiles, they constructed an unobtrusive harness that conformed closely to the human body.

The light weight of the exosuit means that it minimises strain on the body and interference with the natural biomechanics of walking, while also providing key support for wearers who are carrying heavy loads, travelling long distances, or suffer from mobility difficulties.

Connectivity no longer just means mobile. It spans everything from Bluetooth beacons to smart home assistants, and offers brands a whole new set of ways to target and engage with consumers. To find out the challenges and opportunities this brave new world of technology offers, book you place at our Connected Consumer Summit, 16 February 2017 in London.