Innovation Origins https://innovationorigins.com Your Sneak Preview of the Future Fri, 20 Sep 2019 15:59:46 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.3 https://innovationorigins.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/favicon_opt-48x48.jpg Innovation Origins https://innovationorigins.com 32 32 158011294 Autonomous ticketing offers advantages to passengers and transportation operators https://innovationorigins.com/autonomous-ticketing-offers-advantages-to-passengers-and-transportation-operators/ https://innovationorigins.com/autonomous-ticketing-offers-advantages-to-passengers-and-transportation-operators/#respond Fri, 20 Sep 2019 15:59:46 +0000 https://innovationorigins.com/?p=186560 Smartphone software that detects which means of transport the user is using – and for how long. This vision became reality at the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT). Compared to other systems, the software is completely free of the need for any interaction. This means that people can use public transport without having to buy […]

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Smartphone software that detects which means of transport the user is using – and for how long. This vision became reality at the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT). Compared to other systems, the software is completely free of the need for any interaction. This means that people can use public transport without having to buy a ticket or interact with a smartphone.

Anyone using public transport has to buy a ticket at a sale counter, a ticket terminals or on the internet. When crossing state lines, tickets must also be purchased from several transport operators. Even the so-called Be-In/Be-Out solutions require passengers to interact, for instance on a smartphone. This solution uses a sensor installed in the transport vehicle to record the passenger’s route and destination data and compares that with the GPS position data on their smartphone. When boarding the vehicle, the passenger must confirm their boarding point which the app also then automatically displays.

For public transport operators, Be-In/Be-Out solutions require major investments in infrastructure. Their vehicle fleet and all of the station stops must be equipped with the necessary hardware such as beacons, sensors or other passenger detection systems.

Software and algorithms

The MODE software was developed at the Center for Mobility Systems, part of the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT) and is a user-friendly tool for both parties, as in passengers and transport operators. MODE forms the basis for future smart phone-based autonomous ticketing in public transport. The system works by collecting information about the route, transfer points and transport mode used. Passengers do not need a ticket. This is automatically activated and deactivated by the app on a smartphone. Price caps ensure that the cheapest ticket is selected.

Survey of various transport modes

MODE makes a distinction between eight different modes of transportation: bicycle, motorcycle, car, bus, tram, metro, railway and walking. The smartphone generates the corresponding data using GNSS and other positioning tools, along with sensor-based velocity data. The latter involves motion patterns, e.g. a bus ride entails starting, accelerating and braking. But it is also about vibrations in vehicles. The system can differentiate between vibrations in buses and cars, Hainz explains.

The above-mentioned data is combined with GIS data, time schedules and real-time information on public transport.

Smart-phone-based data is transferred to a server where the MODE algorithms generate reliable and detailed travel information.

New features for transport operators

There are a number of advantages for the operators of public transport services. The software components can easily be integrated into a variety of ticketing applications and platforms and adapted to specific requirements and interfaces, which would make ticket terminals and ticket validators obsolete. There is no need to invest in on-board hardware such as Bluetooth or RFID beacons. Moreover, the software incorporates functions that were previously expensive or impossible:

  • Counting passengers for optimizing service performance;
  • Regulation of tariffs based on passengers’ transportation behaviour;
  • Transparent allocation of each operator’s share of the market within a transport network;

Software and algorithms

In some cases, the technology is made up of software and an algorithm. A complete app does not exist as yet. According to AIT press spokesman Florian Hainz, there are still a few questions that need to be answered if the app is to be implemented. However, detection of transportation modes via smartphones has put the company at the forefront of technology.

One of the first successes that the technology booked was the Sussex-Huawei Locomotion (SHL) Challenge 2018 in Singapore. There, the system took first place in the category Transportation Recognition ( for recognition of a switch from one mode of transportation to another) and gained fourth place overall. On top of that, the MODE software required the shortest amount of training time and by far the least storage space.

The AIT Center for Mobility Systems team has already developed an app for recording the transportation-related behavior of passengers. This was previously used for research projects in Vienna and Tbilisi. Furthermore, the app was used in the Smart Journey pilot project as well. A technical system that allows interstate access to all public transportation modes was tested there for the first time.

Recently, the autonomous ticketing system from the AIT Center for Mobility Systems won the 2019 VCÖ Mobility Prize in the Digitization category.

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Start-up of the day: Swifter surgeries thanks to new discovery https://innovationorigins.com/start-up-of-the-day-swifter-surgeries-thanks-to-new-discovery/ https://innovationorigins.com/start-up-of-the-day-swifter-surgeries-thanks-to-new-discovery/#respond Fri, 20 Sep 2019 15:00:25 +0000 https://innovationorigins.com/?p=186588 Medical science in the Netherlands is known for its pioneering discoveries. Sometimes these solutions may seem simple, but they can speed up processes considerably. Such as the invention made by SLAM Ortho, for instance. We spoke to the founders Bart Kölling and Just Schornagel. What kind of innovation has SLAM Ortho come up with? We […]

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Medical science in the Netherlands is known for its pioneering discoveries. Sometimes these solutions may seem simple, but they can speed up processes considerably. Such as the invention made by SLAM Ortho, for instance. We spoke to the founders Bart Kölling and Just Schornagel.

What kind of innovation has SLAM Ortho come up with?

We have a new product that is able to speed up orthopedic surgery. This type of procedure often involves the use of metal plates and screws for fixating broken bones. To do this, you need to drill into the bone and then measure the depth of the hole with a metal hook. This step is time-consuming and prone to mistakes. We have developed a drill bit that automatically measures this hole depth and can subsequently send this information wirelessly directly to the surgeon to read. This drill bit works with all drilling equipment and no other steps need to be taken during the operation. It really is a plug-and-play solution that can speed these procedures up by 10%, which can save valuable time in the operating room (OR). Less time spent in the OR is also better for the patients, and they also have a lower chance of having the wrong length of screw inserted, which could potentially be harmful.

How did you come up with the idea of setting up this company?

The surgeon in our team has often seen this problem and wanted to do away with using the metal hook. He then sought out the other founders and together we looked for potential solutions. After some experimentation we saw that there had to be a solution that would work well for surgeons. Consequently, the company was launched and a patent was applied for.

Bart Kölling and Just Schornagel from Slam Ortho BV

Is there much competition in this area?

Several products from independent parties have come onto the market which are trying to solve this same problem. What we see is that these products often tend to add extra steps or inconveniences, which is why they have not been put into practice in many places yet. At the moment we do not see any other competing ideas from the major players within the field of trauma/orthopedic surgery.

What are the biggest obstacles that SLAM Ortho faces?

Entering the market for equipment used in the OR is not that simple. There is a lot of regulation in the field of medical equipment and it is not so easy to just start discussing your idea with a hospital. That is why we are looking for parties to work with and help resolve these problems.

What are you proud of?

We are proud of the performance level that the prototypes have achieved so far. They have already proven their worth on real human tissue. We are also proud of the patent that has been granted.

What are your plans for this year?

This year we are working with the EIT Health Validation Lab at YES!Delft. We are currently in the process of getting our commercial plans validated. After this, we will look for investment that can help us on the path to certification of our medical equipment which can actually be brought to market.

What is your goal in the next five years?

In the longer term, we want to further develop our product portfolio and use our ‘smart’ tools with the technology we have developed in more places. The technology we can offer and the data we are able to collect will be very useful in improving the quality and efficiency of surgeries.

All of our articles on start-ups can be found here.

 

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Photonics Applications Week: “Companies must work together in order to get technology up and running.” https://innovationorigins.com/at-the-right-time/ https://innovationorigins.com/at-the-right-time/#respond Fri, 20 Sep 2019 12:35:43 +0000 https://innovationorigins.com/?p=186455 Photonics is a promising technology in almost all sectors, today and in the future. Numerous scientists are exploring the possibilities of this light technology. But what use is it to companies in other industries? How will they apply photonics? That’s what Photonics Applications Week is all about. A week full of workshops, congresses, exhibitions, lectures […]

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Photonics is a promising technology in almost all sectors, today and in the future. Numerous scientists are exploring the possibilities of this light technology. But what use is it to companies in other industries? How will they apply photonics? That’s what Photonics Applications Week is all about. A week full of workshops, congresses, exhibitions, lectures and debates aimed at showing professionals from a variety of disciplines what photonics can contribute to their sector.

The Photonics Applications Week opens on 30 September.

“The world of photonics is currently very inward-looking. Scientists are constantly trying to research and improve the technology. Logically, the focus is on the technology itself,” says Pieter Hermans, owner of  Jakajima, matchmaker for innovators, and organizer of this event. “But taking steps towards application areas, such as agrifood and health care, is not easy. Often photonics researchers simply don’t know many professionals from other fields. Moreover, they hardly know precisely what these professionals need in order to use the lighting technology. On the other hand, professionals in health care, for instance, frequently don’t know what photonics are or what they actually entail. That’s why it’s important that the photonics industry focuses on the end user and asks what they do need.” Only then can light technology really make a difference, according to Hermans.

Applications in all sectors

As an example, photonics can provide faster internet and better data centers using a 5G network. In addition, the technology makes it possible to make future faster and more accurate diagnoses. For instance, in the field of ophthalmology, dermatology and cardiology. Sensors based on photonics are also able to reduce food waste. The sensors enable advanced measurement of the conditions of fruit and vegetables, so that adjustments can be made by e.g. changing the temperature in a room or adjusting the oxygen content at the right time. And these are just the potential applications that are already in the picture. More and more new applications of the technology are being added.

Cooperation is essential

In order to realize these applications and discover more possibilities, professionals from these diverse fields and the photonics industry need to work together. “This week is about acquiring knowledge and insights and establishing cooperation and partnerships,” says Hermans. “There are not just going to be photonics researchers coming along, or people who know a lot about it. Precisely the combination with professionals from other sectors, who think that photonics can do something for their field of expertise, makes this event so unique.”

Cooperation in technology is something that suits Brabant very well, according to Hermans. The Photon Delta consortium, which is based in Eindhoven, is also trying to make a connection between this technology and the market. In doing so, they want the ecosystem around integrated photonics, optical chips, to continue to grow. A number of small and larger companies in the Netherlands are developing applications for photonics. Take, for example, the two Eindhoven-based companies Smart Photonics and Effect Photonics.Brabant.

Een van de workshops tijdens het evenement © Jakajima

Market demand

According to Hermans, this is a good first step, but we’re not there yet. “Ultimately, integrated photonics (Photonics Integrated Chips) is the ultimate goal,” he says. “First, the technique itself needs to be further developed. Developers need to bear in mind what the market wants.” That is the most important thing. “Otherwise, there will soon be a well-functioning technology, yet no one will use it.”

In order to gain experience in new markets, it is important to not wait until the chips are made available for the applications. “It’s fine if a product comes onto the market that’s not yet fully optimized,” he says. “This just means that there is some money coming into the company’s coffers. In the meantime, they can work with the photonics industry in continuing to improve the equipment so that it becomes smaller, faster and better”. It also allows customers to get used to the product. “The market also has to learn to embrace a product. Think about mobile phones. At first, people didn’t want those devices at all. In the end, the need grew and people bought it anyway.”

External expertise

Compass is a company that is working on this. The digital infrastructure contractor keeps a close eye on innovations and tries to apply these as much as possible in their daily practice. “We want to stay focused on the future. This includes photonics. We look at the technology from the fiber-optic angle as a data communication tool”, innovation manager Ruben van Ardenne explains. “There is an ever-increasing need for large amounts of data. For example, companies want to be able to monitor the maintenance of their equipment and predict their lifespan. They want to have real-time insight into everything. Sensors are very important in this respect.” The company develops several types of sensors in order to be able to meet the needs of their customers.

During Photonics Applications Week, Compass wants to motivate people into thinking about the applications for photonics. “A great deal of know-how is still being held in laboratories and niche markets. We want to roll this out further so that a substantial part of the market benefits from the technology,” van Ardenne says. “And then will most likely be embraced more in the various fields so that new applications will start to emerge.”

Complete products

Van Ardenne hopes to find new partners to liaise with at the event. “There are several isolated companies and researchers who are working on a sensor or a display unit for such a sensor. We have to seek each other out more in order to really obtain a more complete product. This opens up new possibilities.”

Cooperation is a key word during the event and within the entire photonics industry. Organizer Hermans: “Our ambition is to organize an annual event where professionals from the various industries and the photonics industry come together, come up with applications for the technology and work together in order to achieve actual results. This means that they are going to have to discuss questions and solutions with each other in order to be able to take it to a higher level together.”

Are you interested in the world of photonics? Click here for the 2019 Photonics Applications Week program.

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From boring tongue exercises to an exciting app: how Mouth Game can help the speech therapist https://innovationorigins.com/from-boring-tongue-exercises-to-an-exciting-app-how-mouth-game-can-help-the-speech-therapist/ https://innovationorigins.com/from-boring-tongue-exercises-to-an-exciting-app-how-mouth-game-can-help-the-speech-therapist/#respond Fri, 20 Sep 2019 12:00:48 +0000 https://innovationorigins.com/?p=185776 Speech therapy student Melissa Verdel wants to help people. That’s why she chose to study at the Fontys Paramedical School, because “communicating is something you do every day and if you can’t do it well enough, your life is going to be incredibly difficult”. Verdel wants to ‘cure’ people with innovation. At the beginning of […]

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Speech therapy student Melissa Verdel wants to help people. That’s why she chose to study at the Fontys Paramedical School, because “communicating is something you do every day and if you can’t do it well enough, your life is going to be incredibly difficult”. Verdel wants to ‘cure’ people with innovation. At the beginning of her fourth year at Fontys, her Mouth Game won the Think Bigger Prize. It’s a game that makes speech therapy less boring.

“I didn’t expect it at all, I never win anything”, Verdel confesses. The Fontys Think Bigger jury also praised her entrepreneurship. As she puts it herself: “If I want something, I will always just go for it. I don’t mind going to strangers if I need information, or to use my network.” That’s exactly what she did while trying to build her game. “I got the tip to talk to someone from the engineering department. That’s where my first prototype came from.”  

During the second year of her studies, she and a number of others were involved in a project in which they had to come up with an innovation for speech therapy, says Verdel. “Then we came up with this idea and in a week’s time we worked it out.” That idea makes boring speech therapy treatments more fun for children. And that’s important, because about 75 percent of children develop incorrect teeth, partly due to abnormal oral habits such as keeping the tongue low in the mouth, explains Verdel. “You want to get that tongue against the palate, hence our Mouth Game.” 

Making a puppet jump with your tongue

A mouth bit with a sensor at the bottom registers when you hit your palate with your tongue. This sensor is in Bluetooth connection with an app. “On this app, children can see that a puppet, for example, jumps when they hit that sensor with their tongue. This way they play a game, which makes it more fun to practice. Now, for example, children have to ‘click’ their tongues a hundred times a day. Of course, when you’re six, seven or eight years old, that’s incredibly boring.”

If you keep your tongue low in your mouth, you get a narrow palate and your jaw stays narrow. Later on, you may require medical intervention to make the jaw wider, says Verdel. “If you hold your tongue high against your palate, the jaw will form ovally around your tongue. Then you automatically get a wider jaw.” 

Another advantage of the tongue high up in your mouth is that you automatically breathe through your nose. Divide: “When you breathe through your nose, you heat the air, which is better for your throat and lungs. And your nose hairs remove dirt. With your tongue low in your mouth, you’ll breathe through your mouth sooner.”

Lisping

Also for your speech, it is better to learn to keep your tongue high. “When you swallow with your tongue between your teeth, you get a gap between your teeth. Those teeth don’t grow any further because the tongue is between them. Then you get a different set of teeth, with which the sounds of the s, z, d, t, l, n can’t be made well enough. Children can then start lisping.”

The idea remained on the shelf for a year. Until Verdel, in her third year of study, thought: I really want to get on with it. She consulted her fellow students. “Due to circumstances, they could not participate in the further development. So I started working on it myself. A lot has happened since then.” She made contact with the Centre for Entrepreneurship, with lectorates and with teachers. And so, together with Fontys Engineering, she made the first prototype. When she saw on the Fontys website that you could apply for the Think Bigger prize, she thought: Why not? There were 22 entries: 13 students and 9 employees. She won the students’ prize.

“The prototype works, but it’s not yet safe enough to put it in someone’s mouth. There is also no app yet.” These are her next steps. “I noticed that things can go very quickly. As with that prize. I won it on Monday and a few days later I already had connections that offered their help. My idea is out in the open now and that’s very nice.”

Verdel finds it exciting and she is looking forward to further developments. Especially the contact with the professional field. “The contacts with speech therapists who give this treatment are crucial. What do they run into? What can I help them with? They have to start using it. To offer an addition to your profession, that’s really cool.”

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Berlin’s busy Straße des 17. Juni is now a test circuit for autonomous transport https://innovationorigins.com/berlins-busy-strase-des-17-juni-is-now-a-test-circuit-for-autonomous-transport/ https://innovationorigins.com/berlins-busy-strase-des-17-juni-is-now-a-test-circuit-for-autonomous-transport/#respond Fri, 20 Sep 2019 10:37:08 +0000 https://innovationorigins.com/?p=186450 As of September 19, 2019, the busy Berliner Straße des 17. Juni has become a 3.6-kilometer test circuit for automated and network-enabled transport. The digital infrastructure required for this was developed by TU Berlin. For the first time ever, autonomous driving can now be researched and further developed with all of its extensive aspects under […]

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As of September 19, 2019, the busy Berliner Straße des 17. Juni has become a 3.6-kilometer test circuit for automated and network-enabled transport. The digital infrastructure required for this was developed by TU Berlin. For the first time ever, autonomous driving can now be researched and further developed with all of its extensive aspects under real, urban traffic conditions taken into consideration. This particular area, which is regarded as an urban lifeline, poses many challenges for road users.

29 months for development and implementation

©TU Berlin/PR/Dominic Simon

From Ernst-Reuter-Platz to Brandenburger Tor, traffic light systems, roundabouts, cycle paths and footpaths, parking lots and entrances and exits must be taken into account. In other words, ideal conditions for a test circuit that examines future technologies of automated and networked transport for improving public traffic flows, environmental conditions and the safety of road users. The DAI-Labor research laboratory and the associated Agent Technologies in Business Applications and Telecommunications department at the Technische Universität Berlin (TU Berlin), are both headed by Professor Dr.Dr. h.c. Sahin Albayrak. He and his research team needed a total of 29 months in order to develop and set up the test circuit. The focus is on vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, the combination of sensors and the use of AI mechanisms. In future, the test circuit will also offer other regional and supraregional companies, as well as research institutions, the opportunity to explore automated and autonomous transport in a real urban environment.

At the core of the project is the DIGINET-PS reference framework. It was designed at TU Berlin and creates the conditions for the test circuit, vehicles and control center to be able to communicate with each other. More than 100 sensors are installed along the test route which measure weather conditions, traffic volume, parking conditions, environmental pollution as well as road conditions. This data is anonymously analyzed and evaluated on the road and in the control center by specially developed software. This enables forecasts to be made across a wide variety of topics. The data is shared with vehicles connected to the network using a communication infrastructure based on ITS-5G and 4G. This makes it possible to improve perception and decision-making process for various critical maneuvers and application scenarios. This innovative intelligent infrastructure allows vehicles to warn or even predict accident-prone situations with cyclists on the road, for example.

Cameras, radar and laser scanners in vehicles

The automated and networked vehicles are equipped with cameras, radar and laser scanners. As a result, information can be collected within 360 degrees around the vehicle, analyzed and exchanged with other automated and networked vehicles. This means that a vehicle is alerted by the control center when a traffic light turns green. They can coordinate with each other and therefore quickly respond accordingly. It is also possible for the intelligent transport systems to recognize other road users as well as pedestrians and react appropriately to each situation.

©TU Berlin/PR/Dominic Simon

Professor Albayrak is confident:

“By centralizing the collection, aggregation and analysis of data, we will be able to develop novel, secure solutions for road traffic problems, generate new ecosystems and business models, and create added value”.

Funding by BMVI & Berlin Senate

Funded by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI), the project contributes to the implementation of the Smart City Strategy of the federal state of Berlin in the area of mobility and supports the federal state’s Digital Agenda. But not only that:

  “The insights gained here in Berlin are an important basis for future transport policy decisions,” said Federal Minister Andreas Scheuer, who was also present at the opening of the test circuit.

The Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure has funded the research project with more than 4.6 million euros since the start of the project in April 2017 as part of the Federal Government’s ‘Strategy for Automated and Networked Transport’.

The project has also received support from the Berlin Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection.

Apart from TU Berlin, Fraunhofer FOKUS, the Daimler Center for Automotive IT Innovations (DCAITI),T-Systems International and the Berlin Agency for Electromobility eMO were involved in the development of sensors, vehicle technology and data systems, along with numerous other implementation partners such as Cisco, TÜV Nord and BVG.

This articles may also be of interest to you:

200 Kilometers Test Track for Autonomous Driving in Saarland Saarland

Autonomous driving: solutions for road traffic of the future

 

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Start-up of the day: Parkbob digitizes mobility processes https://innovationorigins.com/parkbob-digitizes-mobility-operations/ https://innovationorigins.com/parkbob-digitizes-mobility-operations/#respond Thu, 19 Sep 2019 15:19:09 +0000 https://innovationorigins.com/?p=186336 Parkbob was launched four years ago with an app for motorists looking for parking space in Vienna. Within a short period of time, the start-up company expanded its services even further. Today, it is an expert in digital transport services and cooperates with Shared Mobility providers worldwide. Four years after its establishment, a parking assistant […]

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Parkbob was launched four years ago with an app for motorists looking for parking space in Vienna. Within a short period of time, the start-up company expanded its services even further. Today, it is an expert in digital transport services and cooperates with Shared Mobility providers worldwide.

Four years after its establishment, a parking assistant service has already been integrated into Amazon’s voice control system. Now it is Alexa who is providing drivers with information about available parking spaces and parking fees. Soon Parkbob will also be available for other navigational devices and in-car systems. This service is always free of charge for customers. The real profit area is in the B2B sector, specifically in the mobility and automotive sectors.

Several factors led to the rapid growth of Parkbob: the decisive factors, however, were venture capital finance, expansion into the USA and diversification. Today, Parkbob covers a total of sixty cities all over the world. The collaborative partner is Reach Now at BMW/Daimler.

Interview with founder Christian Adelsberger:

How would you summarize Parkbob’s business activities?

We started with Parking on the Street four years ago, but are now doing much more than that. The way in which urban space is used plays a major role here. It’s about the finishing touches. We support companies in the mobility and automotive sectors in the digitization of all mobility processes – on three levels. We digitize …

  •  … urban space; cities do have geodata, but not everything they need.
  • … the rules of usage which apply to urban space. Approximately sixty percent of parking space is regulated.
  • … consumer behaviour, in order to make the service available where there is actual demand. By doing this we are helping shared mobility providers to distribute their vehicles in such a way that they are able to meet the demand. Usually these vehicles are distributed on a random basis. We are showing how they should be distributed in order to meet demands.

Soon, we will be giving ourselves a new name that will be both more generic and more general – one that is synonymous with city life and mobility.

How did you come up with Parkbob?

It was from personal experience, as in frustration about how parking is done in the city. I once searched for forty minutes for a parking spot after a long drive with my family. At the time I thought, “This should be better!” After some thought, I realized that it was actually just due to a lack of information. That was what sparked this all off in the first place.

I am a graduate in business management, I studied in Innsbruck and then spent a long time in London, Seattle and Berlin. That’s where I quickly ended up in the start-up sector and the dynamism there suits my character. I have worked in various industries that were affected by digitization thanks to the financial services sector. Back then it was already clear that not only services, but also structures were going to change. In the area of mobility, it was obvious to me that the sector would be so badly shaken by the digital revolution that the upheaval would certainly last for at least another twenty years.

What motivates you? What problem do you solve and why is that so important?

My aim is to build something major that is really successful, and that has the look of a corporate enterprise. It is about creating something that has a positive influence on people. The problem we solve with Parkbob is the inefficiency that exists in urban mobility. About twenty percent of the traffic problems in inner-city traffic are caused by parking problems.

What was the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome? Was there a moment when you wanted to give up?

In my experience, obstacles tend to become bigger the more successful you become – in part because your own expectations become increasingly higher. The first obstacle already surfaced in the start-up phase, when I learned that the technician who was with me during the conceptual stage did not want to be involved. As a start-up, you have to be aware from the outset that you will be exposed to risk for years to come.

Later on, it wasn’t such an obvious move to expand into the USA. On an international level, it is not that easy to be perceived as an Austrian company. But we handled that very well. We’ll be making most of our sales in North America in 2019.

How did the expansion into the USA happen?

We mainly work with international companies in our customer sector. Which basically means we also have to provide international coverage if we want to be interesting. I was also motivated by my personal track record. I gained my first professional work experiences abroad, in London, Seattle and Berlin.

What have been the most memorable moments so far? What achievements are you really proud of?

We started from scratch. In the beginning, we had an office space of thirteen square meters and just half of a staff member. When the initial funding came, the first employees came – mostly directly from the university. It was great to see how quickly our employees developed into experts in their field, often within a short period of time.

What can we expect from you in the coming year?

We will be concentrating our R&D work on the USA and bringing a lot of it back to Europe. In particular, we want to bring the success of car and scooter sharing back into Europe. We will be entering into and expanding partnerships in order to achieve this.

Where would you like your company to be in five years – what is your ultimate goal?

In five years time, the company aims to become an established global player that will make a significant contribution towards giving more people access to affordable mobility.

What makes your innovation better or different than existing ones?

Due to the limited resources we had as a small start-up, we began using scalable methods and technologies early on, such as artificial intelligence, data science and machine learning.

Thank you for this interview.

Interested in start-ups?  Read more articles on them here.

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King Willem-Alexander to open Brainport Industries Campus on 3 October https://innovationorigins.com/king-willem-alexander-to-open-brainport-industries-campus-on-3-october/ https://innovationorigins.com/king-willem-alexander-to-open-brainport-industries-campus-on-3-october/#respond Thu, 19 Sep 2019 13:23:17 +0000 https://innovationorigins.com/?p=186325 King Willem-Alexander will come to Eindhoven on Thursday morning 3 October for the official opening of Brainport Industries Campus (BIC). The first Factory of the Future on the Brainport Industries Campus has a size of 100,000 m2. BIC is the home base for far-reaching partnerships between suppliers, specialist companies and innovative educational and knowledge institutions […]

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King Willem-Alexander will come to Eindhoven on Thursday morning 3 October for the official opening of Brainport Industries Campus (BIC).

The first Factory of the Future on the Brainport Industries Campus has a size of 100,000 m2. BIC is the home base for far-reaching partnerships between suppliers, specialist companies and innovative educational and knowledge institutions in the Brainport region. The campus will ultimately comprise a total of 5 factories. There are various field labs on specific subjects such as cyber defence and there is a software competence cluster.

The first factory, which is now being opened by King Willem-Alexander, includes seven innovation programmes in the fields of flexible manufacturing, high-tech software, 3D metal printing and logistics (AML). In addition, BIC houses a full-fledged MBO course for the industry at Summa College.

King Willem-Alexander is given a tour of the campus and will talk to employees of KMWE and Fieldlab Flex Manufacturing about the importance of cooperation and the role that BIC plays in this. With MBO students from Summa College, the King then talks about the curriculum that focuses on the high-tech manufacturing industry. After the opening ceremony, the King will meet directors and representatives of companies involved in BIC.

Ferdinand Gremmen, the director of the area developer SDK Vastgoed (VolkerWessels), owner of BIC CV, is pleased that King Willem-Alexander will officially open the campus. “Since 2014, SDK Vastgoed has been standing at the cradle of Brainport Industries Campus together with the Municipality of Eindhoven, the Province of Noord-Brabant, the Brabantse Ontwikkelings Maatschappij (BOM) and Coöperatie Brainport Industries (BI). It has been a long-cherished dream of the high-tech manufacturing industry to continue to strengthen and expand its global position. Currently, more than 2,000 employees and students work at BIC on a daily basis. The atmosphere of the expertise that is shared here can be felt as soon as you enter the first Factory of the Future.”

Brainport Industries Campus (BIC)

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New medical method for measuring virus-like particles https://innovationorigins.com/new-medical-method-for-measuring-virus-like-particles/ https://innovationorigins.com/new-medical-method-for-measuring-virus-like-particles/#respond Thu, 19 Sep 2019 13:22:37 +0000 https://innovationorigins.com/?p=186234 Virus-like particles are very important in medicine and are used for vaccinations, amongst other things. Yet it is technically very difficult to accurately characterize and identify them. Victor Weiss, from the Institute of Chemical Technologies and Analytics at the Vienna University of Technology, accepted the challenge. The assistant professor adapted the gas-phase electrophoresis system at […]

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Virus-like particles are very important in medicine and are used for vaccinations, amongst other things. Yet it is technically very difficult to accurately characterize and identify them. Victor Weiss, from the Institute of Chemical Technologies and Analytics at the Vienna University of Technology, accepted the challenge. The assistant professor adapted the gas-phase electrophoresis system at the Vienna University of Technology and discovered a remarkably precise correlation between diameter and mass.

Virus-like particles look like viruses yet do not contain any genetic information and cannot multiply or spread.

Common methods for characterizing virus-like particles are inefficient. For example, images from an electron microscope are useful, but only a small number of particles are possible. However, from a statistical point of view, we want to have enough information on thousands of particles.

Separating particles on the basis of mass and charge

Weiss wants to classify the virus-like particles by defining the mass. Since different bioparticles have different masses, they are easy to distinguish from each other. This approach would imply the use of mass spectrometry, whereby particles are separated according to mass and charge. However, this is hardly suitable for biological particles such as virus-like particles because they are heavier than simpler, smaller molecules. Weiss explains further that “the sample must be extremely pure, otherwise the signals of various particle types overlap each other to such an extent that it is no longer possible to draw any conclusions.”

Diameter as an additional parameter

This is why the research group involved with mass spectrometric bio and polymer analysis at the TU Vienna turned to another method: gas phase electrophoresis. This makes it possible to sort particles not only by mass and charge, but especially by diameter.

Virus-like particles are usually more or less round. Many of them have an icosahedron shape. The term icosahedron comes from Ancient Greek and means ‘twenty-fold’. It refers to highly symmetrical entities whose corners, edges and surfaces are similar to each other.

Because of their shape, the molecular weight of the particles can be accurately determined by measuring the diameter. In order to make this measurement possible, the team adapted the gas-phase electrophoresis system at the Vienna University of Technology and succeeded in discovering an exact relationship between diameter and mass. Weiss explains: “If we use our method to calculate the mass based on the diameter, we are only 1.5% below the theoretical values that were predicted for these particles. This is a remarkable degree of accuracy which makes identification of a virus-like particle very straightforward. Now the team hopes to put the method into practice on a permanent basis.

“Our method complements conventional mass spectrometry. The combination of both methods will enable us to obtain fast and reliable results in the future.” Victor Weiss.

Victor Weiss was awarded the Theodor Körner Förderpreis in 2017. This award aims to encourage scientists to continue and/or complete projects.

Original publication

Weiss, et al., Virus-like particle size and molecular weight/mass determination applying gas-phase electrophoresis (native nES GEMMA), Anal Bioanal Chem (2019) 411: 5951.

 

Also of interest:

Quantum Sensor for Measuring Light Particles

Quantum Physics for Precise Dating of Glacial Ice

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Youply matches students with internships based on reviews https://innovationorigins.com/youply-matches-students-with-internships-on-the-basis-of-reviews/ https://innovationorigins.com/youply-matches-students-with-internships-on-the-basis-of-reviews/#respond Thu, 19 Sep 2019 12:07:25 +0000 https://innovationorigins.com/?p=186210 An inventory of internships that best fit a student’s personal preferences. With their Youply platform, Bas Klis and Thomas Pistorius are aiming to make a perfect match between companies and trainees. Students may leave reviews about their internships. This allows them to share experiences with each other. The algorithm behind the platform uses these reviews […]

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An inventory of internships that best fit a student’s personal preferences. With their Youply platform, Bas Klis and Thomas Pistorius are aiming to make a perfect match between companies and trainees. Students may leave reviews about their internships. This allows them to share experiences with each other. The algorithm behind the platform uses these reviews to select the most suitable internships for a particular student.

“Before buying a new telephone or booking a holiday, it is quite normal nowadays to read some reviews. There are a variety of platforms with job offers and reviews as well, although this didn’t exist for internships yet,” says Bas Klis, co-founder of Youply. The mechanical engineering student from Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) also wanted to share his experiences following his own internship. That is why, together with Pistorius, he developed the independent platform Youply. He just wasn’t interested in a long list of job vacancies and related reviews. “We thought that this could be done much more efficiently.”

Best internships listed first

That’s why Jordy Verhoeven hooked up with us. “We are developing a platform together with an algorithm that shows the best internships for a particular student based on the student’s preferences, vacancies, company data and written reviews,” Klis states. A student will be able to specify preferences such as maximum travel time and a minimum internship fee. On the other hand, a company can stipulate which skills a trainee should have. Finally, the reviews reflect the experiences of other students. “This way we try to present a picture which is as complete and accurate as possible.”

This is paramount as far as he is concerned. “Students often find it difficult when it comes to finding a suitable internship. You never know what an internship actually entails just by reading about the vacancy. Students get a better picture of the internship and the company thanks to the reviews of those who went before them.” A better match between students and companies is interesting for both parties. “If interns fit in better with a company, there is a greater chance that they will stick around after their internship,” Klis says. “Moreover, the student will be having a better time during their internship which means that she or he often shows more commitment, is more valuable to the company and learns even more from the experience.”

Substantive and reliable reviews

The content of the reviews is very important when selecting the internships for a particular student. For this reason, the algorithm tries to determine the reliability of the review on the basis of a number of factors. Even though this has proven to be difficult. “A review is not necessarily positive or negative. It is about the experience that a student has had. This can vary from person to person,” he explains. “Just like with holidays. One trip might be fantastic for one person, whereas someone else might not have liked it at all.”

Basically, the algorithm is able to determine whether a review is positive or negative. “Therefore it can also see whether a review scores far above or below the average. If, for example, five extremely positive reviews appear in five minutes about the same company, these may have been biased,” says Klis.

“These kinds of reviews seem less reliable and carry less weight when it comes to determining the list of the most suitable internships.” It also checks whether there are any unwanted words in a review, such as swear words. “We only want serious and substantiated reviews.”

Working with companies

In the end, some companies will come off better in the test than others. “Of course, companies prefer to come across as positive rather than negative,” Klis laughs. “But we are an independent platform. We want to help students find the right internships.” That’s why, according to him, poorer reviews can also be a mirror for a company. “It would, of course, be ideal if companies would take better care of interns in response to a bad review.”

Youply will continue to work with companies that score well. “They will then be able to further expand their company profile on the website. For example, by adding more information about themselves or by ensuring that students are able to submit their CVs directly.” Companies have to pay for this, probably with some form of subscription. “Companies that pay don’t get to go up in the rankings. We will remain an independent platform,” Klis stresses. Yet he thinks that companies are willing to pay in order to share additional information. “Being able to connect with students is very important to them,” he says.

Although there will be room on the platform for every company to create a basic business page. “Of course, companies that do not score as well always have the chance to improve.” It also gives smaller companies with lower brand awareness a chance to present themselves to students. “It doesn’t matter what kind of company it is, if it gets a good score when it comes to internships, it will be at the top of the list.”

More information for schools

In addition to companies, Youply is also working with schools. “If the internship coordinator of a school is positive about the platform, they will encourage the students to write a review. The next batch of students will benefit from this,” he explains. “They will not only see the reviews of their own school, but also those of other students.”

The schools are given an overview where they can see which companies score well or not as well. ” At the moment, schools are collecting data about internship companies themselves, but that information is rather limited. Of course, they only have a modest number of students who undertake an internship each year,” says Klis. “We are able to provide data on many companies. This allows a school to make a selection of the internship companies that they work with. This results in internships of a higher quality.”

Contributing to the future plans of students

The first contacts with companies and schools have been made. Klis and Pistorius want to further expand on this in the upcoming period. “We want to make more contacts and test out our idea in more detail”, says Klis. “The platform is up and running, though we will be able to optimize the algorithms even further.” This is also the reason why the students started this project. “We wanted to put into practice what we have learned at school.” TU/e Innovation Space is helping with this. “We are able to ask questions via the community and help others with their problems at the same time. That’s a lot of fun. Aside from that, we have coaching sessions where we are helped with, for example, applying for patents and expanding the team.”

The ultimate goal of the students is to become as big as the Indeed global recruitment platform. “Although we will first try to market the platform in the Netherlands.” It is still most important for the students that they help other students with finding a good internship. “We want an internship to be a positive experience for students. This allows them to make better plans for their own future or even for the company where they did their internship.”

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Plant used in traditional Chinese medicine is effective against malignant skin cancer https://innovationorigins.com/plant-used-in-traditional-chinese-medicine-is-effective-against-malignant-skin-cancer/ https://innovationorigins.com/plant-used-in-traditional-chinese-medicine-is-effective-against-malignant-skin-cancer/#respond Wed, 18 Sep 2019 21:53:29 +0000 https://innovationorigins.com/?p=186119 Malignant skin cancer is one of the most dangerous types of cancer. 5000 people are diagnosed with it every year in Austria. The number of cases has risen sharply in recent decades. Thirty years ago, there were only five hundred people suffering from malignant melanomas. In contrast, mortality rates have risen by only a slight […]

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Malignant skin cancer is one of the most dangerous types of cancer. 5000 people are diagnosed with it every year in Austria. The number of cases has risen sharply in recent decades. Thirty years ago, there were only five hundred people suffering from malignant melanomas.

In contrast, mortality rates have risen by only a slight margin. If detected early, the chances for recovery are good. But as soon as metastases start to form, the chances for a cure drop rapidly. This is also due to the fact that there are hardly any long-term effective treatment options (source: Austrian Society for Dermatology (ÖGDV).

Bioactive plant-derived substances

The Institute for Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Graz has been conducting research for many years into natural substances that can be used for the treatment of cancer. The team has now achieved a breakthrough which might also make it possible to cure advanced stages of malignant skin cancer. An active substance from the roots of the Onosma paniculata plant, a subspecies of the borage plant (also known as forget-me-not), has been successfully tested on cancer cells and on mice. The researchers also succeeded in modifying the active ingredient and further improving its effect.

The project was carried out in collaboration with the Technical University of Munich and the Helmholtz Institute Munich (the German Research Center for Environmental Health). The group was led by Rudolf Bauer from the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (Pharmacognosy) at the University of Graz. He has been researching medicinal plants that are used in traditional medicine for fifteen years with the aim of identifying bioactive ingredients and discovering new key substances.

The main purpose of the research was to identify the plants that are used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as cures for cancer-related diseases. Cancer-related, because the definition of cancer in TCM differs from that in Western medicine, Nadine Kretschmer explains. She has worked with the project and is a biologist at the Heidelberg University of Medicine. Another goal was to test their suitability as an active substance for a particular medicine. Approximately eighty percent of all Chemotherapeutic drugs are derived from nature, especially from plants. This figure is as high as seventy percent just for cancer therapies. “The active substances on the market are usually synthetically modified even more so that they have an optimal effect. The active substances are then usually produced synthetically or biotechnologically for commercial purposes,” Kretschmer says.

Plants from traditional medicine

The contribution made by the University of Graz to the project was based on a database of several hundred medicinal plants used in traditional medicine which have been accumulated over several years. This project focused on plants from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Part of the contribution made by the German partners was the implementation of RNA (ribonucleic acid) sequencing and preliminary evaluations. RNA sequencing serves as a means of determining the nucleotide sequence in the RNA and provides information on how the genetic information of a gene is expressed.

The project included seventy-six of the most promising specimens from the database. These were dried, processed into 253 extracts and tested on various cancer cells. In the end, it was the Onosma Paniculata Bureau & Franch, a type of borage shrub, that offered prospects for further studies. The potent substance β-β-Dimethylacrylshikonin (DMAS) is found in the root of the plant.

No side effects

During the experiments, the substance was tested on cells of malignant melanomas. The substance destroyed the cells thereby confirming their efficacy. In order to test the substance for side effects, the initial in vivo tests were carried out on mice that were afflicted with skin cancer. β-β dimethylacrylshikonin was injected directly into the tumor which caused it to change and die off. Two types of cell death were observed:

  • Apoptosis, a regulated death induced by the body
  • Necrosis, an uncontrolled death;

There were no side effects.

Two follow-up projects are planned

Subsequent trials were conducted expressly with the aim of modifying the substance in order to improve its efficacy. A specific shikonin derivative proved to be especially effective. This demonstrated that the substance is well suited for the development of pharmaceuticals. In the meantime, two more follow-up projects have been planned. More extensive studies are required and the method of application is still an open question, Kretschmer states.

Kretschmer emphasizes that TCM was purely an inspiration for the active substance. It is still not clear how this works within TCM. Normally no singular plants are used in TCM, instead plant mixtures are used. These are prepared like tea. In an attempt to unravel the effect of TCM, the team cooked up the dried plant according to the TCM method and used it in cell cultivation experiments. However, no anti-tumor effect was observed. Kretschmer sees more potential in an oil-based preparation method that is applied to the affected areas of the skin. This is because shikonins are found in higher concentrations in the oil.

Verifying the identities of plant species

Over the course of the project, the identity of the borage plant species sold as TCM remedies was also tested. “There are roots that look very similar to the plant we are studying and we have found that the species is often sold under fake names in China.” This is problematic because some of the plants that are marketed contain substances that are potentially harmful.

Kretschmer and the research team found a technical solution to the problem: a method which uses thin-layer chromatography for the identification of plants. This innovation is based on a CAMAG system and is simple enough for use in pharmacies.

Thin-layer chromatography (TLC) is a physicochemical separation process that is used to examine the composition of specimens.

The core project was funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF and was completed in early 2019.

Publications:

Kretschmer, N.; Deutsch, A.; Durchschein, C.; Rinner, B.; Stallinger, A.; Higareda-Almaraz, J.C.; Scheideler, M.; Lohberger, B.; Bauer, R.: Comparative Gene Expression Analysis in WM164 Melanoma Cells Revealed That β-β-Dimethylacrylshikonin Leads to ROS Generation, Loss of Mitochondrial Membrane Potential, and Autophagy Induction, in: Molecules 2018, 23

Durchschein, C.; Hufner, A.; Rinner, B.; Stallinger, A.; Deutsch, A.; Lohberger, B.; Bauer, R.; Kretschmer, N.: Synthesis of Novel Shikonin Derivatives and Pharmacological Effects of Cyclopropylacetylshikonin on Melanoma Cells, in: Molecules 2018, 23

Jahanafrooz, Z; Stallinger, A; Anders, I; Kleinegger, F; Lohberger, B; Durchschein, C; Bauer, R; Deutsch, A; Rinner, B; Kretschmer, N.: Influence of silibinin and β-β-dimethylacrylshikonin on chordoma cells, in: Phytomedicine 2018, 49

 

Also of interest:

Dual Therapy to Reduce the Relapse Rate in Cancers

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Start-up of the day: turning non-recyclable plastics into synthetic gas https://innovationorigins.com/start-up-of-the-day-tuning-non-recyclable-plastics-into-syngas/ https://innovationorigins.com/start-up-of-the-day-tuning-non-recyclable-plastics-into-syngas/#respond Wed, 18 Sep 2019 15:00:02 +0000 https://innovationorigins.com/?p=185978 The majority of plastic that is produced becomes waste. Considering how plastic can take up to 500 years in order to decompose, recycling must take precedence and reduce the negative impact that this material can have on our planet. However, not all types of plastics are recyclable. For example, black plastic food trays are still […]

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The majority of plastic that is produced becomes waste. Considering how plastic can take up to 500 years in order to decompose, recycling must take precedence and reduce the negative impact that this material can have on our planet. However, not all types of plastics are recyclable. For example, black plastic food trays are still impossible to recycle and tend to end up as waste.

The PowerHouse Energy Group is taking these non-recyclable plastics and turning them into raw materials (feedstock) which can be converted into gas. In order to do this, the British start-up has created the DMG® System, which carries out this process in an environmentally responsible and economically viable manner. The DMG® technology can actually be used to dispose of a wide range of waste products by using them as feedstock. This is subsequently converted into their EcoSynthesis Gas during a combustion-free process.

Their technology leaves a minor footprint which utilizes less than half an acre, making it ideal for a variety of situations. On top of that, the gas produced by PowerHouse Energy is in turn able to be used to produce chemical precursors, enables extraction of a stream of ultra-pure hydrogen gas, or is capable of generating electricity for use within a business enterprise.

®PowerHouse Energy Group

Innovation Origins talked with director David Ryan about the 8- year-old start-up and the challenges of bringing this technology to the market.

How would you best describe your start-up?

We are a waste-to-energy technology company, we are focusing on regeneration of non-recyclable plastics and old components for the production of a clean gas that can be used as a replacement for natural gas in energy generation. Or alternatively, for where there is a market for hydrogen use as a resource. We do this by separating hydrogen from the gas so as to produce hydrogen which is compatible for fuel cells.

Director David Ryan. ®PowerHouse Energy Group

 What exactly are non-recyclable plastics?

Okay, non-recyclable plastics are typically plastics that are contaminated or those for which there is no current recycling scheme. At present, these include black food plastic trays or the hard plastic that we use for garden furniture and such like. Generally, there is no recycling available for these and these kinds of plastics will most likely end up in a landfill.

So, that sort of defines what feedstock is. What we do with it is: we introduce the feedstock into a controlled environment and then melt down the plastics until they are vaporized. We monitor the environment so that we eventually break down all of the long chain hydrocarbons, which gives us a mixture of gas principally made up of methane, carbon monoxide and hydrogen.

How much plastic waste do you process daily?

Technically, the unit we are currently working with has a capacity for 25 tons, but in our planning application for the first site, we have actually asked for the site to have a capacity of 40 tons. We think that the process will scale up to 40 tons, to a certain extent the process will work better this way.

However, at the moment the plant is working with 25 tons per day. It is a module plant and its a bit like it was dropped out of the back of a lorry. What I mean is that the main process unit itself is a bit bigger than a container, but only just a bit bigger than a container.

One ton of plastic, how much gas would that produce?

That would be a volume of about 30 square meters of gas, 30 to 35 depending on the sort of plastic. The gas has about the same sort of energy value as natural gas. That varies from 30 to 40 megajoules per kilogram.

Where does the plastic come from?

In the UK and in many parts of the industrial world, it would normally come from plastic recycling companies. Commercial and domestic waste goes to a major recycler. It first gets sorted in a municipal facility. Then it goes on to a plastic recycler who does a more careful selection of the plastic that they want. Lastly, what comes to our process is the plastic they are unable to use. It usually has been through three levels of sorting before it reaches our PowerHouse equipment.

So, is it mostly British plastic?

No, no. We are currently developing our first site here in the UK because this is where we are based. But it could be anywhere, and we carry out analysis of feedstock at each location so as to make sure that we are able to fine-tune the chamber conditions for the plastic in those countries. Because plastic, and how plastics are used, does vary from country to country.

What is the main difference between natural gas and the gas that you produce?

We are closer to the old form of municipal gas, before natural gas was ever used. This means we have carbon monoxide content, as well as methane. As such, in some ways it seems like I am going back to the future by generating a municipal gas. Some parts of the world are looking into shifting towards a hydrogen economy.  And this is one of the ways for switching over to a hydrogen-based economy, as we are already using a greater proportion of hydrogen in the gas stream.

Is there another use for hydrogen?

Yes. So, typically we can produce a volume of between 1 and 2 tons of hydrogen for fuel cell-powered trucks and shipping vessels. Therefore, one ton of hydrogen provides enough fuel for 30 trucks covering 300 miles. Normally, we would replace diesel, which has a daily production of about 70 tons of CO2. And a fuel cell-powered truck only produces water, there is no pollution.

What are some of the biggest obstacles when it comes to building up a company like this?

The company should not have gone to the market when it did, which was without the technology. So, there was and is always the market expectation that we’re ready to go. While it takes such a long time to develop the technology. That was one. The biggest challenge is then securing sufficient funding in order to complete the research and development phase. And at the moment, my biggest challenge will be building the first factory. We have a demonstration-sized plant, but we have to build a full-sized commercial plant. Building that – that’s my next challenge.

Are all processes currently being carried out in a demonstration-sized plant?

Yes, and the laboratory and the desk engineering and such like. We are confident in the scale-up. Think about it, if you consider that we are introducing a huge amount of plastic into a chamber which it is about 800 degrees C, it is not such a technical challenge to envisage how the plastic will melt and turn into gas. This is why the scale-up issue is, in fact, related to the characteristics of the gas. As in, we need to make sure that the gas we are seeking in the commercial plant, is going to be exactly the same that we find in the demonstration plant. Although we do have a more synergistic approach.  We check the work that we are currently carrying out and are using it as a benchmark.

And what has been the most gratifying moment for you?

Getting the gas, producing the gasses. We did the desk engineering, the theoretical models and then went on and did the actual demonstration so as to prove that we were getting a syngas comprised of more than 60 percent hydrogen. This is good for precision-engineered hydrogen production. That was fantastic.

The actual commercial contract we signed for our first factory – that felt pretty good as well.

In the upcoming year?

This year we are applying for a permit for the first block of land. We are also h0ping to secure funding for 11 plants. Which means that I am talking to pension investment advisors and investment companies, etc., with the aim of funding a UK pipeline for 11 projects. And then next year I will be looking into developing 2 or 3 other sites.

What makes PowerHouse Energy different from other start-ups?

We have a unique product, there are similar companies working on waste oils, although at present, no one else seems to be busy with the waste gas route, specifically not with hydrogen. In this case, we see ourselves as pioneers within the hydrogen economy.

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Liberté, Egalité, Innovation https://innovationorigins.com/liberte-egalite-innovation-2/ https://innovationorigins.com/liberte-egalite-innovation-2/#respond Wed, 18 Sep 2019 07:00:23 +0000 https://innovationorigins.com/?p=185920 “We don’t have oil, but we do have ideas” is an expression that French people often use. And there is something to that. Photography, cars, bicycles, cinema, calculators, airplanes, microchips, photographic phones: much of what makes our modern lifestyles possible, had their origins in the clever minds of French engineers. That pioneering spirit also gave […]

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“We don’t have oil, but we do have ideas” is an expression that French people often use. And there is something to that. Photography, cars, bicycles, cinema, calculators, airplanes, microchips, photographic phones: much of what makes our modern lifestyles possible, had their origins in the clever minds of French engineers. That pioneering spirit also gave France the world’s first public internet connection. It was known as Minitel and was launched in 1978. It’s now a bit of a laughing stock in other countries, but that’s not really fair.

The Minitel network laid the foundation for an ecosystem of online services, shops and developers long before the rest of the world went online. Owing to this huge technological edge, France was relatively late when it came to the web. A gap that was quickly caught up with at the turn of this century, thanks in part to the very same Minitel. The little brown box with a compact keyboard and a green screen produced one of France’s, and perhaps Europe’s, greatest innovators: Xavier Niel.

The French Steve Jobs

At the age of 15 he got into programming on a ZX81 computer. Two years later he launched an erotically tinted online chat box on Minitel and is soon making more money than his parents do. He puts the profits back into sex shops and porn sites on Minitel and a few years later into one of France’s first internet providers too. He then starts his own provider, which he calls Free. In 2002 he was the first person in the world to launch a triple play subscription, known as the Freebox. This was a device with telephone, television and internet all in one for less than 30 euros a month. At that time, his competitors charged more than 50 euros for just an internet subscription. The Freebox quickly became a success, and a model that was adopted all over the world. Although in recent months things have been a bit disappointing for Free (the share price lost a third of its value last year), yet for many people Niel is still an innovation god comparable to Steve Jobs. President Emmanuel Macron also sees Xavier Niel as one of the heroes of France.

Niel is now one of the ten richest people in France. On a personal level, the billionaire also invests in a huge range of projects, both in France and in the rest of the world. In 2017 he opened Station F, the world’s largest start-up incubator, and is a shareholder of the daily newspaper Le Monde and a large number of other media outlets. He also founded 42, a school where everyone can learn coding for free. A subsidiary of that school opened in Amsterdam at the beginning of this year under the name Codam.

Start-up nation

Niel’s activities are music to Macron’s ears. He wants France to become the start-up nation of Europe and for many digital entrepreneurs such as Niel to join him. The French president himself is also taking part in this: this week it was announced that he has had an app developed that can now be found on the phones of all of his ministers. The app, which is modeled on software from the start-up Toucan Toco, keeps a close eye on things and is designed to check if they are at all efficient and if they implement reforms quickly enough. Whoever doesn’t manage to get a high score, will be kicked out. Innovation and politics go hand in hand. Whether this is progress is a different matter altogether.

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France is innovating as fast as a train at Station F https://innovationorigins.com/at-station-f-france-is-innovating-as-fast-as-a-train/ https://innovationorigins.com/at-station-f-france-is-innovating-as-fast-as-a-train/#respond Wed, 18 Sep 2019 05:30:48 +0000 https://innovationorigins.com/?p=185134 The world’s largest start-up campus is located at a former train station in the heart of Paris. With a thousand budding entrepreneurs on 34,000 m2 of floor space, France is putting itself on the map as one of the most innovative countries in the world. A prestigious project where everything revolves around entrepreneurship. IO catches […]

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The world’s largest start-up campus is located at a former train station in the heart of Paris. With a thousand budding entrepreneurs on 34,000 m2 of floor space, France is putting itself on the map as one of the most innovative countries in the world. A prestigious project where everything revolves around entrepreneurship. IO catches up with entrepreneur Yama from the Netherlands.

The first thing you notice when entering the ‘Share Zone’ at Station F, is the gigantic Play Doh sculpture by Jeff Koons. It took Koons twenty years to perfect this pile of brightly colored lumps of clay into an icon of contemporary visual art. Start-ups underneath the former railway platform roof can only dream of that kind of long-term venture.

Play Doh by Jeff Koons

Fighters Program

Like those such as Yama Saraj from Eindhoven, who at 33 years of age claims to be a veteran when it comes to start-ups. Last year he swapped the Dutch city of light for a French city in order to take his exercise and coaching app ‘Sensai’ to the next level on the campus. He has been given one year to do this with a scholarship from the Fighters Program, which is aimed at entrepreneurs with an ‘underprivileged background’.

Yama came to the Netherlands as a refugee from Afghanistan at the age of eleven. A visit to his war-torn country in 2011 turned out to be an eye-opener for the former business administration student. ”I want to bring technology to my homeland. Call it social activism, but IT provides me with the means to do something.” The plan is to eventually launch his app in Afghanistan and be able to do something for people with PTSD this way. However, money must first be raised for any further development. And that can be done in Paris.

Station F offers two distinct formulas for start-ups. The Founders program focuses on establishing start-ups ‘with major ambitions’. You have the opportunity to rent a workplace in the concrete station hall which is 310 metres long – the same length as the Eiffel Tower on its side – for 195 euros per month. For that price, you get 24/7 access to a magnificent building with lounge sofas and pool tables in every corner, meeting rooms, a ‘create zone’, an indoor sports field and an industrial-looking Italian restaurant full of Persian carpets. However, what this is essentially about is that you learn from real entrepreneurs and not from professors,” Yama says.

Yama Saraj with partners from his start-up, Jan de Bruijn (28) and Philippe Gnansounou (21)

Killer entrepreneurs

In order to ensure that knowledge is shared efficiently, start-ups are divided into ‘guilds’, a social structure based on the gaming industry’s perspective which rewards collaboration. A guild consists of an average of ten start-ups from various backgrounds. This results in interesting cross-pollinations between, for example, food, fashion, blockchain, e-commerce and cybersecurity,” Yama explains.

He and thirteen others are participating in the Fighters program, which offers exactly the same services as the Founders Program, but for which he doesn’t have to pay anything. It focuses on ‘killer entrepreneurs’ who have not been given equal opportunities, such as immigrants or refugees. Founder of Station F is French billionaire Xavier Niel, who came from a poverty-stricken environment himself,” says Yama. “I am also a street fighter. This mentality can come in handy, because as an entrepreneur you get a lot thrown at you.”

In his opinion, this is the kind of mindset that is hard to find in ‘the village’ of Eindhoven. If you have ambitions, you’ll get asked ‘what’s wrong with you?’ They tend to look at what’s already there, not at what you could create. Established companies like ASML and Philips literally just get in the way. The ecosystem is built around all of those major players. Sometimes it seems as if nothing else exists outside of these companies. In Paris, I can see that the world is way bigger than that.”

The fact that Station F, with partners such as Google, Amazon and Facebook, is also thinking big, was already clear when President Emmanuel Macron opened the complex two years ago. The programs explicitly target young entrepreneurs from all over the world, the working language is English and even the French bureaucracy is circumvented so that the lives of the start-ups are made easier. Needless to say, a touch of joie de vivre is indispensable. Most people start here between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., and in between all the work there is a lot of chilling out and good food,” laughs Yama.

Not a refugee anymore

He commutes daily with his e-scooter between the campus and Flatmates, a housing complex 10 minutes away which is a part of Station F. He rents a room there for 400 euros a month, a pittance in Paris. For the first time in his life, Yama no longer feels like a refugee – he feels as if he is an expat and a knowledge worker. Here in France I am a typical Dutchman. I am direct, punctual and sometimes even a bit blunt. When I am at home I deliberately don’t present myself in this way. Because everyone always ends up asking me where I actually come from.”

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Assessing conditions of support structures on alpine roadways https://innovationorigins.com/assessing-conditions-of-support-structures-on-alpine-roadways/ https://innovationorigins.com/assessing-conditions-of-support-structures-on-alpine-roadways/#respond Tue, 17 Sep 2019 17:27:17 +0000 https://innovationorigins.com/?p=185868 The construction of transportation infrastructure in alpine regions is a real challenge. Support structures are indispensable for roads and railways. There are numerous concrete walls with and without underground anchors which stabilize the ground on hillsides or around corners. Critical road infrastructure such as bridges and support structures must be subjected to continual inspection. In […]

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The construction of transportation infrastructure in alpine regions is a real challenge. Support structures are indispensable for roads and railways. There are numerous concrete walls with and without underground anchors which stabilize the ground on hillsides or around corners.

Critical road infrastructure such as bridges and support structures must be subjected to continual inspection. In Austria, this is regulated by the guidelines and regulations for the public road system. However, inspection is fairly difficult and requires the interdisciplinary cooperation of engineers from the fields of civil engineering, geodesy and metrology. Support structures on steep slopes are often difficult to access. In addition, technical measuring instruments and reference and threshold values are at times inadequate. Up until now, damage and defects could only be determined by visible indicators.

Quantifiable measurement methods for warnings against collapse

The fact that the state of monitoring technology is not up to standard was most recently demonstrated by an increase in the number of cases of damage to older retaining walls. In 2012, a ten-meter-high retaining wall collapsed at the Schönberg toll station on the Brenner motorway and cost a person their life. This lead to numerous walls being comprehensively re-evaluated and upgraded. In order to find new approaches, the SIBS research project (Safety Assessment of Existing Support Structures) was launched in 2015 under the auspices of the Institute of Soil Mechanics, Foundation Engineering and Computational Geotechnics (VÖBU) The aim was to find reliable, quantifiable methods for a warning system against any potential collapses. The project has subsequently been completed and the results will be presented at the AIT Center for Mobility Systems in Vienna on September the 19th, 2019.

In the following interview Alois Vorwagner from the AIT Center for Mobility Systems discusses the results:

What characterizes the design of retaining walls on transportation routes?

In order to build roadways and train tracks in alpine and mountainous areas, hillsides are secured with retaining walls. For example, if the gradient of a slope is 45 degrees and the width of the road is five meters, then a five-meter-high retaining wall needs to be put in place. An alternative would be an embankment. But it is often the case that you do not have enough space for these, especially in mountainous regions.

There are different types and categories of support structures. The main focus of our project was on support structures made of reinforced concrete which are also secured with earth anchors. The anchor consists of a metal rod that is placed in the ground. Its function is to provide extra stability to the wall and transfer its reactive force into the ground. There are two types of anchors:

  • The anchor rod has a solid steel cross section.
  • The strand anchor is made up of several wires that form a bonded anchor.

The structural principle is the same for both: a retaining wall is built and a horizontal or slightly slanted hole is then drilled into it. The rod or strand anchors are inserted into these holes, then fastened with cement and tightened. The cement serves to fix the anchor into place in the ground and also to protect against corrosion. Permanent anchors are also protected against corrosion, for example, inside plastic pipes.

 

Winkelstützmauer (c) AIT Center for Mobility Systems

Non-anchored and anchored retaining wall (c) AIT Center for Mobility Systems

 

What kind of defects could occur in support structures?

For instance, corrosive damage to anchors was examined in this project. A probable source for the damage is the anchor head, which is the point where the anchor enters the concrete. This is usually attributed to the corrosive effect of road salt. Further inspection is consequently difficult here.

At the same time, corrosion of concrete walls which had been reinforced with steel was also studied. During the construction of anchored retaining walls, a construction joint is created in the concrete structure at the junction between the base and the perpendicular wall segment. This is subject to extreme pressure levels and can present a weak point. The critical area is on the rear side, where the wall presses down into the ground and is not visible from the outside.

One of the devices that arose from the research project was a laser scanner which could be mounted on a vehicle that measures the condition of the wall as it passes by. This reading can take place in moving traffic. This allows a large number of structures to be inspected quite quickly and without disrupting traffic. What technology was used?

Variations in gradient are measured. If there is corrosion or fluctuations in pressure, the degree of the gradient will change. The wall gradient is a parameter that is able to be measured accurately. The laser scanner operates at one million pixels per second. During the project, two scanners were mounted on a vehicle and tests were carried out at speeds of up to one hundred kilometers per hour. This type of measurement creates a scatter diagram from which the gradient degree can be determined – along with the help of a newly developed algorithm. This technology was developed by colleagues at the Graz University of Technology in Austria.

Besides all that, an ultrasonic technique was designed for the detection of corrosion in earth anchors – and for the reliable diagnosis of the corrosive condition of prestressed strand anchors. How is ultrasound used?

The ultrasonic sensor penetrates through the anchor. Based on the response, it can be determined if and where corrosion is present. This requires numerous reference measurements and evaluation procedures. These were developed by our project partner Burtscher Consulting.

Detection of corrosion damage is particularly difficult in the case of anchored retaining walls. Which problems could be solved with this novel monitoring approach for anchored retaining walls that are corroding?

It is a monitoring approach for the subsequent examination of support structures where damage is indicated by variations in wall gradients and warping. In a large-scale test, we simulated corrosion processes – various scenarios whereby damage to walls were created and the parameters essential for the detection of corrosion were assessed. However, important decisive parameters can only be found in the combination of various sensor data and by using approaches based on theoretical probability.

In this project we aim to find out how the monitoring of support structures can be implemented in a targeted manner. We tried to test reference and threshold values. Nevertheless, it is not as yet possible to establish a definitive threshold value for anchored retaining walls. If we install highly sensitive sensors on a wall which is already forty years old, we are only able to measure how the wall undergoes relative distortion – i.e. its slant and compression from the time the sensor is installed.

In the end, we are able to differentiate between two different causes of wall gradients in angled retaining walls with this approach to monitoring:

  • Earth pressure variations (due to external influences such as rain);
  • Corrosion processes in the structural joint;

These two causes influence each other. Which means that identifying them is not easy.

Thank you for this interview.

 

The SIBS research project was funded by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) in the context of an industry-specific project.

 

Also of interest:

Moist walls and dilapidated components – Fraunhofer presents solutions at BAU in Munich

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Start-up of the Day: Working with nature instead of against it https://innovationorigins.com/start-up-of-the-day-working-with-nature-instead-of-against-it/ https://innovationorigins.com/start-up-of-the-day-working-with-nature-instead-of-against-it/#respond Tue, 17 Sep 2019 15:00:29 +0000 https://innovationorigins.com/?p=184745 Two young architects have crossed the boundaries of our centuries-old architectural knowledge. Strohboid, as they call it (Strawboid in English), aims to make houses CO2-neutral and harmless to the environment and to humankind. The combination of traditional raw materials together with an innovative lightweight construction means that the concept is accessible to a wide range […]

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Two young architects have crossed the boundaries of our centuries-old architectural knowledge. Strohboid, as they call it (Strawboid in English), aims to make houses CO2-neutral and harmless to the environment and to humankind. The combination of traditional raw materials together with an innovative lightweight construction means that the concept is accessible to a wide range of people.

Maximilian Schade and Fritz Walter developed the Strohboid as part of their master’s thesis at Graz University of Technology. The prefabricated model uses 90% less energy than a conventional steel and concrete house. The design takes gravity and the position of the sun into account. The materials are utilized on the basis of their natural properties.

The architects work with natural raw materials such as straw, wood and clay, which all have various advantages:

  • With this combination they are resistant to fire, wind and moisture, they optimize the indoor climate and they will last for centuries.
  • They are available worldwide on a regional scale.
  • They retain more CO2 in their organic mass than what is released during the construction and occupancy of conventional buildings.

From tiny house to Olympic Stadium

Strohboid is a free style system and can be applied to buildings of any size and diameter – from a tiny house to an Olympic Stadium. The structural frame consists of a wooden framework made of birch. This has similar properties to steel and is shaped when it is damp and warm using a traditional wood bending technique. The insulation layer consists of straw which has exceptional insulating properties and an excellent capacity for storing energy. It makes heating redundant and saves more CO2 than any other comparable material. The straw layer is plastered with clay. The silicon in the clay has the ability to clean and regulate the indoor air.

The very first product from Schade and Walter is a collapsible party tent that can be transported with a twelve-meter-long trailer. Conventional tents are constructed from an aluminium frame and a PVC tarpaulin. The party tent is made up of a wooden frame and a lyocell tarpaulin. Lyocell is a textile that is based on wood fibers. An Austrian patent has been filed for the tent. The start-up is now generating its first revenue with the rental of this tent. New products will be launched soon.

Interview with Max Schade:

Strohboid founders Maximilian Schade (left) and Fritz Walter.

What motivates you? What kind of problem do you solve?

At the moment, the construction sector is still extremely energy-intensive. Environmentally friendly construction is still a niche, but it is critical for a CO2-neutral future. Straw, wood and clay can be used to build buildings that store as much CO2 as conventional building methods emit. This is how we can effect an ecological shift in the construction sector. With a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions, a permanent conversion would save more energy than electric mobility would.

Why is that important?

Our product is CO2-neutral and has no chemical compounds. This avoids a depletion of building materials and the associated sick building syndrome. The tent has more of an atmosphere, a better indoor climate and functions autonomously. We combine climate-neutral construction with an appealing design. The tent does not require any decoration in order for it to be effective.

What has been the main obstacle you have had to overcome? Was there a moment when you wanted to give up?

We have never wanted to give up. However, the phase where it was not yet clear whether the idea of the wooden grid structure would work was certainly the most difficult phase. It took three weeks to set up the first structure. So the key question was, how can it be assembled and transported quickly and easily? It was unclear for quite some time if it was even possible to assemble and disassemble it in the first place.

What have been the greatest moments so far? What accomplishments are you really proud of?

The most wonderful moment was to see how quickly a complex structure is able to be set up and dismantled. That was in 2018. The best moments in 2019 were the positive feedback from customers and seeing how well the tent was received by the visitors.

What can we expect from you in the coming year?

At present, we only supply tents. But we have already had concrete discussions with sales partners from Germany and Switzerland. Up until now, we have often had to travel long distances in order to find interested parties. However, that’s not exactly environmentally friendly in the long run. We also want to start work on our next project, the Strohboid Chalet. Construction has already been scheduled for next autumn. The model house will be built on the premises of our business angel, Barbara Ebner, where we will offer it as a vacation home and a minimalist living experience. It is a new structure that will be realized and prefabricated within one to two months.

Strohboid Chalet

Strohboid Chalet (c) Strohboid

Where do you want to be in five years time? – what is your ultimate goal?

In five years time we want to be selling our party tents to tent rental companies all over the world and be concentrating on the manufacture of these tents. Aside from our current party tents, which have a width of eight meters, we are also developing tents with a width of twenty meters for large scale events. Hopefully, our second product, the Strohboid Chalet, will undergo series production. We also want to realize larger construction projects with the same environmentally friendly construction system.

What makes your innovation better or different from the competition?

The party tent is ecological and made of natural materials. It fits in with future-oriented themes like CO2-neutral and ecological construction, has a perfect design and simply cannot be compared with conventional tents.

 

Interested in start-ups? Find more articles on this subject here.

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Experimental organic house is the highlight of ‘living buildings’ research hub https://innovationorigins.com/experimental-organic-house-is-the-highlight-of-living-buildings-research-hub/ https://innovationorigins.com/experimental-organic-house-is-the-highlight-of-living-buildings-research-hub/#respond Tue, 17 Sep 2019 06:00:15 +0000 https://innovationorigins.com/?p=185532 An organic house where your phone is recharged thanks to ‘production’ in the toilet, a smart ventilation system or bioluminescent lamps that emit light by themselves. This house will be built in England next year. It is the highlight of what is said to be the world’s first research hub that aims to create ‘living […]

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An organic house where your phone is recharged thanks to ‘production’ in the toilet, a smart ventilation system or bioluminescent lamps that emit light by themselves. This house will be built in England next year. It is the highlight of what is said to be the world’s first research hub that aims to create ‘living buildings’ by Newcastle and Northumbria universities. Delft researcher Henk Jonkers is a member of the steering committee.

Co-founder Dr. Martyn Dade-Robertson states that the house is an example of a genuine living building, one that grows, breathes and reproduces. Instead of just relying on materials and energy and producing waste that will have to be removed and treated on an industrial scale.

Dade from Newcastle University’s School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape refers to the development of a new type of micriobial fuel cell in this context. This absorbs household waste and generates small amounts of electricity. These cells are integrated into bricks that absorb waste water and bacteria then convert chemical energy into electrical energy once the waste has been decomposed. “In this hypothetical scenario, the toilet could charge your phone.”

Another proposal is a smart ventilation system that monitors air quality and keeps the home safe for human health on a micro-organic level. Or bioluminescent lighting that shines on its own accord. In general, genetically modified microbes are expected to play a major role by processing waste in the home and harnessing that as a source for generating energy.

Two labs too

As well as the organic house, the hub is also made up of two laboratories, spread over the two participating universities. The researchers’ new technologies are tested in these laboratories. The first stage started by recruiting the staff with 22 researchers. Dade explains that the experimental house will actually be built next spring.

The British universities in Newcastle and Northumbria hope that the eight million pounds (about nine million euros) subsidy for the first trial period of three years will be the first step towards a revolution in the construction industry. Houses will have to be designed and built with far more sustainable perspectives.

In itself, all the ideas that are to being applied are not new, but the practical application in this organic house is innovative. Although of course there is hope that there will be some remarkable discoveries made.

Aside from that, the hub distinguishes itself with its integrated approach. Dade: “It is an exciting opportunity for developing a field of research. By bringing together architects, engineers and environmental scientists and collaborating with industry and by investing in state-of-the-art facilities, we are trying to achieve a transformation in the way we think about construction”.

‘Healing’

Dade has high expectations regarding biotechnology in the new building. “The next step in building technology may be to make buildings part of nature. One of the ways in which I and colleagues think that buildings are capable of becoming living, breathing entities is the way in which they are able to ‘heal’. ”

Here, he’s referring to the potential for a bacteriological treatment of degraded concrete. A method that was first developed under the guidance of Henk Jonkers (TU Delft). Scientists are looking at the way in which bacterial spores can play a role in dealing with water that seeps into cracks in concrete which can corrode the metal structure of a building.

If this bacteria is present, water damage will activate the building’s healing process. This creates a chemical process that allows calcite crystals to grow which closes up any cracks. Dade says that this technique has the potential to add decades to the life of a building.

There are more interesting developments in the field of Living Buildings right now in the Netherlands. For example, it was recently announced that Utrecht University is receiving a subsidy for research into fungal architecture. Research is being carried out as part of the international Fungar Project in order to examine how fungus-based bricks may be used to build without using cement. These bricks are more sustainable and in the future would be able to repair themselves or adapt to their surroundings.

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Start-up of the Day: top designs out of European bio-materials https://innovationorigins.com/start-up-of-the-day-top-designs-out-of-european-bio-materials/ https://innovationorigins.com/start-up-of-the-day-top-designs-out-of-european-bio-materials/#respond Mon, 16 Sep 2019 15:00:48 +0000 https://innovationorigins.com/?p=185639 Nid-O is a Spanish start-up that was born out of its funder’s desire to take a hands-on role on the planet’s preservation. Olivia Gauss saw the potential she was looking for in circular materials and furniture design. Nid-O connects thought its website European innovative material makers in circular economy loops with the best and boldest designers […]

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Nid-O is a Spanish start-up that was born out of its funder’s desire to take a hands-on role on the planet’s preservation. Olivia Gauss saw the potential she was looking for in circular materials and furniture design. Nid-O connects thought its website European innovative material makers in circular economy loops with the best and boldest designers in order to provide unique limited editions furniture pieces signed by top designers.

It also allows buyers to be part of the materials’ development as Nid-O will re-inject a final bonus of 5% of the revenues in their investigations.

All the materials they work with are coming either from industrial or organic waste. They have been created for a real lasting lifecycle but are biodegradable and/or recyclable. They have no toxic chemicals added and no environmental impact; even if they degrade slowly they would finish as nutrients for a natural ecosystem, or they can be recycled. Additionally, their micro-collections are fairly crafted in Barcelona workshops or small factories according to material needs.

The start-up is in its early stages and it is preparing to launch the first limited edition next months, which combines the design of Luis Eslava with the new material Honext, which is an alternative to wood. Gauss is not shy in expressing her enthusiasm and excitement. She feels “like a mother deeply believing in her kid’s potential and eager to see how she’ll blossom”.

Innovation Origins talked with her about the initial stages of the start-up, the challenges and her vision.

Olivia Gauss, funder. ®Nid-O

 

How did you come up with the idea?

After a working in marketing/communication, I decided to take action and contribute to preserve the Planet. I actually wanted to do so for years but could not find how so, at the end of the day, I was mainly sorting my home trash, avoiding supermarkets and a few more daily moves. Once I decided everything started to come together like a puzzle, piece by piece, until the whole Nid-O concept was figured out. I started to investigate about circular economy, meet people, talk, learn; I found out that on the one side many SME’s, or green startups, had been investigating for years in R&D to develop new clean materials. On the other side, many great designers of all generations were putting sustainability at the heart of their thinking. When I was a child, my dad made some home furniture for us with recycled materials, he was a self-made decorator, we grew up surrounded by Design books and I loved it. The loop was closed.

You mentioned circular economies and how you aim find ” the most innovative materials makers in circular economy loops”, what exactly do you mean with this?

We’ve been sourcing various new circular materials that are still under development by European green startups but reaching their final R&D stage. They’re all coming from waste (whether industrial or organic) and biodegradable and/or fully recyclable. We are talking about unseen materials, all referring in terms of technical properties to a well- known one such as wood (MDF), plaster, plastic or leather. The idea is to impulse them in Premium Design as soon as they’re technically ready, preventing them from being only and exclusively associated to functional purposes just because of their waste origin. Waste is a resource and can definitely be beautiful once transformed by science, technology but also talent and commitment.

What kind of materials do you guys use?

Together with Luis Eslava, a talented Spanish designer with international experience, we are currently prototyping our 1st limited edition of small furniture. We are working with Honext, a revolutionary fibreboard coming from the paper industry waste and completely biodegradable/recyclable. This is a healthy new material (no VOCs emission and no toxic binder inside) standing over traditional ones like Plasterboard or Particleboard depending on properties. It’s moisture resistant, fire retardant and even insulating. It went through many years of R&D to ensure this transformation of cellulosic residues into market products. The whole team of this green startup from Barcelona is committed with circular economy and sustainability in general; their factory has no environmental impact and the production process has been optimised through industrial local deals.
Then for the next editions we might go for a ‘lettuce wood’ like Feltwood (also Spanish) or even a ‘ bio-plastic’, plastic-free obviously, like Parblex from Chipsboard (UK) or Nuatan from CraftingPlastics (Slovakia/Germany) if timings fit.

What makes Nid-O different from other similar startups?

There is no similar startup yet, which are focussed on materials. Other key initiatives come directly from designers. The boldest (mainly youngest) ones are exploring new materials for their own prototypes, it’s inspiring and it’s great but it remains individual. Other famous designers eventually design a few pieces with organic materials for classic design renown editors. It can surely open minds but it’s punctual. We are at the very beginning, this market is still embryonic and we want to open a clear business path to this high-potential brand new category of virtuous alternative materials.

®Nid-O

What has been the biggest obstacle that you has had to overcome during the whole Nid-O’s process?

Precisely the timing on these new materials’ development. I discovered concretely what R&D means, you know when it has started but you never know when the research will really materialised. So, in Nid-O’s case, we basically have to adapt ourselves. We had to postpone the launch for a few months to reach the best material achievement. But, it’s worth it.

Was there a moment in where you thought of giving up?

Not really. Tough moments for sure, cloudy days, doubts on resources or solutions, but never on the purpose. I’m deeply convinced Nid-O is necessary and will work out. Yes we can!

What can we expect from the coming years?

We’ll be launching the 1st Limited Edition in October with a crowdfunding campaign. Then from 2020 onwards, there will be at least 2 limited editions per year sold on nid- o.com each one featuring a new unexpected European duo: one new material + one designer. We’re also aiming at collaborations with Design schools.

Where do you want the company to be in 5 years?

Still in B2C market – testing and boosting new comers in circular materials & changing little by little people’s vision of waste, materials and objects – but also in B2B, working on sustainable living spaces more generally speaking with architects etc.

What is your ultimate goal?

Build on a new category of Conscious and Circular Premium Design, a tangible alternative on the market. And to prove that we can do it beautifully and respectfully, thanks to innovation and commitment. We want to contribute to convince people that waste is actually an invaluable resource.

Who is the Nid-O’s customer?

I like to say that Nid-O is directly addressing the part of ‘sleeping activist,’ that many of us, European citizens, do bear inside.
We’re limiting both our materials sourcing area and selling zone to countries within the European Community, enough to get opportunities and impact but still avoiding a larger carbon footprint. Nid-O’s customer is a conscious one willing to act softly but surely. While indulging himself with an original and beautiful piece of designer he’s banking today on the new clean materials of tomorrow. And this is not anecdotal at all.

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Award winning ShoQR: focus on the patient or the therapist? https://innovationorigins.com/award-winning-shoqr-focus-on-the-patient-or-the-therapist/ https://innovationorigins.com/award-winning-shoqr-focus-on-the-patient-or-the-therapist/#respond Mon, 16 Sep 2019 12:02:53 +0000 https://innovationorigins.com/?p=185098 In the train from his hometown Den Hoorn to his work in Eindhoven at the Fontys Paramedische Hogescholen, Tim Gerbrands scrambled together an excel file, hoping his students could take it further. In his lab, he has all the equipment he needs to examine joint loads in people with knee osteoarthritis. Equipment that is unaffordable […]

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In the train from his hometown Den Hoorn to his work in Eindhoven at the Fontys Paramedische Hogescholen, Tim Gerbrands scrambled together an excel file, hoping his students could take it further. In his lab, he has all the equipment he needs to examine joint loads in people with knee osteoarthritis. Equipment that is unaffordable for a physiotherapist or podiatrist. Gerbrands, a Fontys lecturer and a movement scientist who is researching knee osteoarthritis for his PhD, was convinced that this situation should be improved. His idea grew into ShoQR, an idea with which he won the ‘Fontys Think Bigger Prize‘ on 2 September.

“I ended every article during my PhD research with the sentence: ‘But you can’t do this in practice, someone should look for a solution for that’.” Gerbrands turned out to be exactly that ‘someone’. In his lab, a relatively empty space of about eight by fourteen metres, Gerbrands has all the equipment to follow every movement and to measure the forces that people use to do so. People walk back and forth across a rectangular surface. Right in the middle is “a kind of scale” that not only measures the forces vertically but also horizontally. “So we can not only see how big the force is, but also in which direction that force is relative to the joints. Two high-speed cameras register every movement from every angle and there is a tripod with three infrared cameras, which register the movements three-dimensionally. “We stick infrared lights on our test persons and those cameras follow those lights. The data that come from it are visualised in a ‘point cloud’ on your computer; we use it to represent a patient in our analysis.”

Knee joints

Gerbrands uses the equipment in his lab to investigate the forces on the knee joints of these patients. Because, he says, people who can’t put the same amount of strain on their joints have to find another way to prevent them from collapsing. “That’s what we call compensation strategies. Everyone applies them, for example if you have a small stone in your shoe, you immediately start walking differently to relieve that foot.”

Knee osteoarthritis is damage to the cartilage in the knee. With his PhD research, Gerbrands wants to reduce the knee load of people with osteoarthritis in order to inhibit its progression. “This is a major problem because in people with knee osteoarthritis, the degree to which they experience pain does not have a strong relationship with the level of that load. Some people do not even show signs of osteoarthritis on an X-ray, but they do have pain. Others have real damage but experience much less pain.” One explanation for this may be that there are no nerve endings in your cartilage. “You don’t feel your cartilage.”

By moving, you maintain your cartilage, Gerbrands continues: “Because there are no blood vessels in it, you have to get nutrients to the cells in a different way. You do this by pumping over and over again. By pressing it down and releasing it again, currents are created. If you don’t use it, you lose it’, is very applicable to cartilage. An opposite idea of what people often understand by osteoarthritis, which is wear and tear due to overuse.”

Bad reaction

A common reaction of someone who has knee pain is to start moving less. “That is a bad reaction because you have to keep moving. But it is a difficult dilemma because people do not feel what the state of their cartilage is.” So you have to measure it. The Fontys lab is very accurate, but this system is expensive and complicated to use, such a measurement takes a long time, Gerbrands knows. “There is no physiotherapist who can do that to a patient in half an hour.”

Gerbrands thought that the problem could perhaps be solved with wearables. “Now it becomes a bit dangerous, because I have the short story that is not entirely accurate, but it is easy to understand.” As a scientist, he, of course, has an extensive story about how ShoQR works, but in short, it means that the system measures acceleration and determines how well the joints ‘cushion’. “Newton once found out that force is mass times acceleration. There is a direct relationship between forces and accelerations. The harder you pound, the greater the force is and that is expressed in that acceleration. These accelerations can be measured very well with sensors. These sensors are simply for sale in the shop; every smartphone has them as well.” The problem with the data, measured by these sensors, is that there is no algorithm behind them to understand the data. So Gerbrands wrote those algorithms.

Sitting in the train, he put them roughly in his excel file. He had his students put all the data in the first tab, the algorithms in the second tab translated those data into results that the students should be able to interpret. “That’s how it started as a rudimentary thing. I just asked my students, ‘See what you can do with it.’” At the end of the week it turned out to work and it was user-friendly enough for the students to be able to handle it. “This first version was called ShoQD (pronounced: shocked), ‘quick and dirty’. A second version worked a little less dirty, and a third refined version became ShoQR.”

Formula for success

With a big smile, Gerbrands talks about his idea that actually became a working and therefore award-winning prototype. “Yes, I’m happy and surprised at the same time. A year ago I only had an idea, at that time ShoQR didn’t even exist.” He also attributes the success to the formula in which he can carry out his PhD research. As a lecturer, he works at the Fontys University of Applied Sciences while doing his PhD at the University of Leuven. “A PhD student in higher vocational education is not very common.” What makes his position unique is that everything he does for his research has to be integrated in education and vice versa, he explains. “It really is a formula for success. That is, if you know how to set it up.” Gerbrands responds to practical problems and his students work on solutions that matter in real life. “This is also how it appeals to the students, who are working on a current problem, and to the industry.”

Tim Gerbrands © ShoQR

The workplace is also interesting, because “from practice, you literally walk into the lab”. In an adjoining ’empty space’, the Explorelab, everything can be reconstructed: the physio’s treatment room or an operating room. “It is a kind of hub, a simulated practice, where we can test very quickly. We don’t have to go to a physio practice. In fact, the therapist comes here to watch what we are doing.” Within the lab, all disciplines of physiotherapy, speech therapy, podiatry, orthopaedic technology and medical imaging (including ultrasound and X-rays) come together.

Sport or Health Care

Gerbrands is cautious about the possible social impact of ShoQR. “That’s exactly what we’re thinking about right now. We know that it works and are now at a moment of choice. Are we going to focus entirely on sport, or on health care? Who will be our target group? Is that the patient or the physiotherapist? Is it the coach or the athlete himself? Does the patient have to take the sensors home with him so his phone starts to vibrate when he does not follow the training prescribed by the therapist? We are now faced with the question of where it will have the most impact.”

The jury of the Fontys Think Bigger Awards said that Gerbrands “has a jewel in his hands”. He himself sees it as a ‘potential jewel’. “I only see it as a piece of jewellery if it turns out to work in practice. To do this, we now need someone else with different skills who can supplement what we did and who, next to me, can really put ShoQR into practice.”

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Start-up of the week: clean your house with acorns https://innovationorigins.com/start-up-of-the-week-clean-your-house-with-acorns/ https://innovationorigins.com/start-up-of-the-week-clean-your-house-with-acorns/#respond Sun, 15 Sep 2019 20:00:22 +0000 https://innovationorigins.com/?p=185694 ”Your sneak preview of the future” is the slogan of Innovation Origins, and that’s just what we will highlight with our Start-up of the Week column. Over the past few days, five start-ups of the day have been featured and on Saturday we will choose the week’s winner. Innovation Origins presents a Start-up of the […]

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”Your sneak preview of the future” is the slogan of Innovation Origins, and that’s just what we will highlight with our Start-up of the Week column. Over the past few days, five start-ups of the day have been featured and on Saturday we will choose the week’s winner.

Innovation Origins presents a Start-up of the Day each weekday

We shall consider various issues such as sustainability, developmental phase, practical application, simplicity, originality and to what extent they are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals  of UNESCO. They will all pass by here and at the end of the week, the Start-Up of the Week will be announced.

 

PlaygroundVR – Playing outdoors while stuck in a hospital bed

A long-term stay in a hospital is no fun at all for a child. Outdoor play is often sorely missed. A Dutch team developed PlaygroundVR and this is exactly what you would expect from it. By using VR-glasses, children are able to take a trip to a colorful online playground where there is plenty to do. Fantasy and creativity play a prominent role and physical games are also a possibility thanks to the virtual reality feature. Gaming numbs your brain?!? – What a 20th century mindset!

The game is connected to the internet so that anyone, anywhere in the world, is able to join in the fun. It can also be a solution for healthcare providers because it offers a bit of a distraction when it is time for those unpleasant medical procedures. Lastly, it offers a good alternative to children who need some distraction but are no fans of Clini Clowns.

Axiles Bionics – prosthetic feet with joints

The technology for feet prosthetics has been standing still for fifty years according to the founders of the Brussels start-up Axiles Bionics. The wooden peg prosthetic as used by a stereotypical pirate is more accurate than you may think – even in the second decade of the 21st century. Of course it does have the shape of a foot, but the way in which it works has not changed over time.

Nevertheless, a human foot is a lot more complex than a piece of solid wood. As a result, wearers of these prosthetics will never be able to move as effortlessly as they used to and will experience back pain due to unnatural body posture. Yet developments are not standing still, robotics might very well prove to be the answer. A complex mechanism of springs and motors is able to accurately simulate the functioning of muscles and joints. The team is working towards an affordable prototype that should last for a good number of years.

Skoon Energy – A marketplace for large-scale batteries

The benefits of the Sharing Economy have become increasingly evident during the second decade of this century. For instance, a drill is used merely a few hours each year while it is kept in storage for the rest of the time. It’s a shame and extremely inefficient. Surely it would be much more practical if you shared your sunbed with a large group of people who could each use it when they wanted to?

Those at Skoon Energy think that the same thing is happening when it comes to large batteries. Festivals, construction sites or ships all need a lot of power, although not all year round. To be able to meet this peak demand for electricity, this Dutch team makes it possible to have a mobile battery delivered in a container as conveniently as a home-delivered meal. And when it is no longer needed? Then it can just go on to the next destination.

Felyx Sharing – Thousands of share-scooters

In an average big city when you look all around you, it’s impossible to imagine the streets without all those brightly colored shared cars and shared bikes. This trend has actually evolved quite fast, but what struck the founders of Felyx Sharing was that there was at the time hardly anything like this available for electric scooters.

Two years on, Felyx Sharing now has a fleet of 1250 flexible rental scooters in Amsterdam, Brussels, Rotterdam and The Hague. Simplicity is essential here. Users install an app and are able to drive off with just a few clicks of a button. The parking spaces are unattended and located at several locations. The team is ambitious and has big plans ahead for scaling up!

Not convinced? Try driving into the center of Amsterdam with a car.

Herbi Clean – Cleaning with acorns

Cleaning products normally contain a lot of harmful chemicals and the orange warning labels on the packaging are obviously there for a reason. Yet Mother Nature also has a cleaning lady, as the Polish Herbi Clean has demonstrated. They came up with a cleaning agent made of acorns without any ominous orange warning labels.

How do they do that? This is due to tannin, a substance that plants produce in order to protect their seeds from greedy herbivores. Acorns contain 7% of this substance which has an anti-bacterial effect. And it is precisely these microorganisms that tannin fights that are the main cause of a lot of grime. There are already six products on the Polish supermarket shelves, including a toilet cleaner and a detergent.

It is actually quite odd that no other research has been done into cleaning products made from plant material. Why should we spray our homes with dangerous substances or artificial chemicals if there is a substance in nature that does exactly the same without the disadvantages? As there seems to be a lot more to be gained from this, Innovation Origins Herbi Clean has been awarded the title of Start-up of the Week.

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Tomorrow is good: a happier tomorrow https://innovationorigins.com/tomorrow-is-good-a-happier-tomorrow/ https://innovationorigins.com/tomorrow-is-good-a-happier-tomorrow/#respond Sun, 15 Sep 2019 15:00:30 +0000 https://innovationorigins.com/?p=185655 Jacinda Ardern has been getting my attention for some time now. Although I do follow global politics fairly closely, I would not be able to name any previous New Zealand Prime Ministers aside from the this current young female Prime Minister. She stands out. She is not only attracting my attention. In my opinion, never […]

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Jacinda Ardern has been getting my attention for some time now. Although I do follow global politics fairly closely, I would not be able to name any previous New Zealand Prime Ministers aside from the this current young female Prime Minister. She stands out. She is not only attracting my attention. In my opinion, never before has a prime minister of such a small country (New Zealand has less than 5 million inhabitants) been in the Dutch news so often with such positive news coverage.

Part of that coverage was concerned with her conduct in response to the attacks in Christchurch. Jacinda Ardern was praised in the media for her wonderful combination of warmth and decisiveness that she demonstrated. In her speech after the attack, she used an entirely different language than that of her international colleagues speeches after terrorist attacks. Post September 11th, George Bush talked about a ‘war on terror.’ Dutch premier Rutte spoke of ‘a war against IS’ after the attacks in Paris.  Whereas Jacinda Ardern used the words ‘As-salaam Alaikum’ – ‘peace be upon you’. She predicates peace and not war, yet she has also proven her decisiveness by amending the law on weapons and by banning semi-automatic weapons at a very fast pace. Something Americans did not do, and which Ardern openly expressed her astonishment about.

The New Zealand Prime Minister was recently in the news again when she announced her intention to invest heavily in the welfare of the New Zealand population. With a focus on happiness instead of economic growth. When you look at the rolling out of these plans, it seems to be mainly about fair play and anti-aggression measures. However, the tone has been set with the focus on happiness and well-being and the New Zealand budget reached the international press.

Newsworthy

Apparently a focus on happiness instead of economic growth is relatively newsworthy. Although this has been a trend for some time now. The King of Bhutan, for instance, had already focused on happiness back in the 1970s. He even introduced a novel measure for mapping out the state of a country: the Gross National Happiness index. Yet this standard did not come without criticism and the success of his politics is subject to considerable debate.

We also see examples within Western politics. One of the best-known of these is the role that Cass Sunstein played in American politics at the request of Barack Obama. As an advisor to Obama and an assessor of new legislation, Sunstein gained a strong position within the backdrop of Obama’s politics. Sunstein, together with Nobel Prize winner of the economy Richard Thaler, are considered to be ‘the godfathers of nudging‘. Nudging is all about giving a slight and friendly shove in the right direction so as to encourage others to behave in a way that is more conducive to their own personal well-being. The two men wrote the book “Nudge: improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness.” The book received praise as well as criticism. There is a good deal of psychology behind the practice of nudging, and you may ask yourself whether the government might be assuming a role that is unduly paternalistic. Sunstein and Thaler fiercely rejected the criticism in a plea for a movement that they call ‘libertarian paternalism.’ A movement where citizens still maintain complete freedom of choice, but where they are gently steered in a direction that promotes their own well-being.

It’s just a tiny step from politics to science via Sunstein. We have also been seeing the emergence of disciplines within science which focus on happiness for many years now. This is how we see the trend in economics that is also referred to as the ‘economics of happiness’. Some of the big names here are Layard and Easterlin, of whom Easterlin is mainly known for his Easterlin paradox formulated in the 1970s: over time, incomes will rise in a country but the level of happiness will not. In the field of psychology spearheaded by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ( who is responsible for ‘flow’), we see a school of thought that has also been termed ‘positive psychology’ wherein the focus is not on mental health problems, but on the possibilities for improving everyone’s state of mind, even when there are no apparent problems. We are also increasingly seeing an emphasis on happiness in the workplace with the advent of ‘Chief Happiness Officers’.

The key question underlying these trends is ‘how do we measure progress? When will things improve in the future? More conventional answers to these questions are: when there is more money and/or more opportunities. Progress then goes hand in hand with technological developments and with the economic strength of a society. More recently, the answer to this question appears to be gradually changing. Do things get better when they are fairer? Do things improve when everything is more sustainable? Or will things be better when everyone is happier? What does a better tomorrow mean? I agree with the New Zealand Prime Minister’s answer to the question ‘when will things be better?’ – whereby it is not technological progress or economic prosperity that is key, but the human dimension.

About this column:

In a weekly column, alternately written by Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions for the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous columns.

 

 

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