Thursday, September 5, 2013

Farmville-like game raises money for Hurricane Sandy victims

It may well have been eight months since Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast of the US last year, but restoring the destruction it caused is still ongoing. Repair The Rockaways is a new platform that gamifies the donation process to charities rebuilding communities in the affected area. Some 147 residents died as a result of the storm, while an estimated USD 53 million worth of damage was done to property. The Rockaways, a peninsula in the NYC borough of Queens was one of the worst hit areas, suffering floods and fires. Developed by creative agency Mother and digital media firm Casserole, Repair the Rockaways is an online platform styled similarly to Zynga’s famous Farmville game. Rather than attempting to build a working farm, the site encourages users to pay real money for digital coins, which they can use to buy building materials and place them on the map. If one person has placed some bricks on a plot, another can then add to that plot with the aim of completing a whole house. Videos documenting the repair work are unlocked depending on how much money is donated.

Smartphone-based intercom enables homeowners to see who’s at the door remotely

LaunchKey has already helped web users to boost their online security with logins verified on their smartphone, but what about security in the real world? DoorBot is a system that aims to replace the doorbell with a camera that broadcasts direct to homeowners’ smartphones. Created by tech developers Edison Junior, the device is a slim battery-operated doorbell that can be installed in the same way as a regular buzzer. Through a wifi connection, it is connected to the resident’s smartphone. When a visitor pushes the button, a video call is initiated through the DoorBot app, which the homeowner can either choose to reject or accept. After seeing that it’s someone they know – or after speaking to the visitor over the replacement telecom – they can then open the door. The system does work over a GSM connection, meaning that users can even answer calls when they’re not at home. Edison Junior has also partnered with Lockitron – the smartphone-enabled door lock – and has designed the DoorBot app with built-in compatibility, meaning that those with both can even let visitors in remotely.

From Israel, software detects emotion in speech

While startups such as Soma Analytics have given smartphone users the power to monitor their mood through data, our latest spotting aims to make emotion detection completely automatic. Beyond Verbal is a platform that analyzes vocal intonations in order to determine how speakers feel about what they’re saying. According to the company, its software is the result of 18 years of research into what it calls ‘Emotions Analytics’, and is inspired by figures that suggest 90 percent of the meaning we communicate is not through the words we choose. Developed with its team of “physics, neuropsychology and decision-making experts”, Beyond Verbal’s system records voice and breaks speech down into 10 to 15-second clips, offering analysis in real-time. Developers can then use this technology as an API for larger applications. Beyond Verbal gives online dating, political truthseeking and marketing as examples, and it’s easy to see how such technology could also help those with social behavioural problems such as autism.

At Rio carnival, beer cans recycled in exchange for train rides

One way to encourage people to recycle their trash is to offer something in return – something that Mexico’s Mercado du Trueque scheme took advantage of. Now the Beer Turnstile marketing campaign in Brazil has seen carnival-goers hand in empty beer cans in return for a free train ride home. Developed by advertising agency AlmapBBDO to promote AmBev‘s Antarctica beer, the project invited revellers at the annual carnival in Rio de Janeiro to hold onto their cans – rather than discarding them in the street – until the event had finished. When they arrived at the train station a modified turnstile – fitted with a barcode reader – granted access to passengers who scanned their empty beer can and deposited it in the provided bin. The collected rubbish was then donated to a recycling NGO.

In Korea, tariff enables unused smartphone data donations

Hot on the heels of our coverage of DOODAD, the SIM card that offers an alternative data plan for frequent travelers, we’ve come across another innovative package for telecoms consumers. Korea-based network T is offering the LTE Data Gift plan, which enables customers with leftover data allowance at the end of the month to donate it to a contact. Smartphone users often have different needs – some like to use their devices primarily for calling, while others mostly take advantage of their mobile web capabilities. However, many tariffs offer both a set amount of phone time and data usage every month, some of which remains unused at the end of the 30-day period. Rather than let it go to waste, the SK Telecoms subsidiary has launched a plan that allows customers with excess data to donate up to two gigabytes to friends or relatives on the same network. According to the company, some half a million gifts were made in the first 40 days after its launch in January — mostly parents giving to their children. The scheme has helped consumers to put the unused allowance they pay for to good use, wile also building brand loyalty. Are there other ways to engage users while improving data provision to mobile customers?


One of the things that caught our eye when we first wrote about Mapfia last year was its mission to offer greater data to its users without affecting their privacy. The app – which enables smartphone owners to temporarily share their GPS location with friends and family – has now launched in Canada, UK, Brazil, India, China, Japan and Taiwan and was also recognized with a shortlisting for the Meffys Innovation App Award in September 2012.


We wrote about TinyTap when it was a fledgling startup and caught up with the company in our Where Are They Now? feature earlier this year. After rapidly expanding the number of features included in its personalized game-building platform for iOS devices, the startup has now launched its own TinyTap Social Market, an app store enabling users to sell their creations to others. The number of people downloading the app has grown to 200,000 and is set to expand even further in the near future.