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Innovation Lab: Reproducing Robots, Heartbeat Payments and Liquid Clocks

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.

'Mummy Robot' Can Build, Test and Improve its own Offspring

Robots building other robots is the sort of news that makes you wonder if we all need to be stocking up on canned goods and preparing an escape plan for when our smart toaster turns on us, especially when the 'mother robot' is capable of testing and improving its creations along the lines of evolution.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have created exactly that, observing the process of natural selection at work without the need for human intervention or even computer simulation beyond an initial command to build robots capable of movement.

The 'mother' unit constructed ten 'children' from between one and five plastic cubes, each with a small motor inside. It then monitored the effectiveness of the its various creations, selecting preferential traits and using those in the next generation of 'children'.

"Natural selection is basically reproduction, assessment, reproduction, assessment and so on," said Dr Fumiya Iida, lead researcher at Cambridge's Department of Engineering. "That's essentially what this robot is doing – we can actually watch the improvement and diversification of the species."

Nymi Band_CoffeePay With Your Heartbeat Thanks to MasterCard's New Wearable Partner
MasterCard and banking group TD Bank have launched a new initiative in Canada that enables people to pay for items with their heartbeat, thanks to the NFC-equipped Nymi Band wearable.

Customers testing the process will be given a prototype of the Nymi Band which will link to their MasterCard and use their heartbeat for authentication when paying for items at contactless terminals, verifying the wearer's identity using an electrocardiogram.

Nymi has already tested the device with various banks in Canada and the UK, but the partnership with MasterCard marks the next step forward for the company in establishing itself as a leader in biometric authentication and a legitimate competitor to features like fingerprint authentication.

"We already have some great partners who understand the value of secure, continuous authentication," said Shawn Chance, vice president of marketing & business development at Nymi. "For the back half of the year, you can expect us to make some exciting announcements."

Watch Time Flowing Away with Ferrofluid Clock

Ferromagnetic materials are fascinating things, but most consumer uses have been fancy desk toys so far. Not so with Ferrolic, a creation by designer Zelf Koelman that puts ferrofluid to use to tell the time in a unique, mesmerising way.

The device is an animated clock with a thin layer of ferrofluid trapped behind a glass panel. A series of hidden magnets manipulate the black goo and form the digits of the digital read-out in strangely flowing, inky numbers.

If you're keen to get your hands on one, the good news is that custom orders are available, but Koelman is only producing 24 in a very limited run, and each clock will set you back over £5,300.

iskiniSkin Transforms Your Arm into a Touchpad
We're told that wearable are the next wave of mobile devices, but many of the latest creations, from smartwatches to fitness trackers, suffer from tiny screens and limited interaction.

iSkin, developed by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics, looks to solve that problem by transforming your skin into a touchpad using pressure-sensitive sensors hidden beneath a thin layer of silicone rubber.

The project span off from research aimed at creating prosthetic limbs that could sense touch, and employ a special silicone layer with carbon particles running through it that can be styled like a tattoo. The iSkin can be used as music player controls, keyboards and more, and though it's only in prototype stage, it could see our technology become even more discreet.

Disney Robot Creates Artwork on Beaches


Disney Research is a network of international labs that aim to push tech innovation forward, and their latest creation could well make the leap from research project to animator, or even film star.

The adorable, turtle-shaped Beachbot was developed by the Zurich branch with students at engineering university ETH Zurich, and is an autonomous robot that can create giant pieces of sand art.

The Beachbot carries a rake that can be used to draw into sand, with each individual prong powered by its own servo motor enabling it to vary the width of the line and produce different effects. Designs are uploaded via a wi-fi connection and, with the help of a laser scanner mounted atop the Beachbot and reflective poles used to define a border, the Beachbot can produce seaside art in under half an hour.

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