Green Tech: Unlocking the Power of Play

Jessica O. Matthews and Julia Silverman are on a mission to show the world that the value of play can not only be measured in smiles but in very real economic and social terms.  Both Harvard students had volunteered traveled extensively in Africa and also shared a passion for soccer: the continent’s (and the world’s) most popular game.  In an engineering class they got the chance to marry these two passions, capitalizing on an opportunity to improve living conditions in African through the continent’s love of soccer.
What does such an ambitious project look like?  A sOccket, a small generator cleverly disguised as a soccer ball that charges as you play with it!  Three hours of LED illumination is stored in the sOccket per every half hour of playtime.  It can also charge small electronic devices like a cell phone.

This ingenious solution isn’t just making an economic impact by delivering renewable light energy to many rural areas.  There are important health benefits as well because most of the developing world still relies on on kerosene lamps that pose huge safety hazards: the fumes inhaled by children in kerosene-light homes is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.

The sOccett vs. huge public health threats is been a game that’s garnered the attention of an international audience.
Today there are more than 6,000 sOcckets “kicking around”, literally, from Africa to Mexico to Brazil.  Uncharted Play, the organization founded by Matthews and Silverman to distribute their product received overwhelming support from corporate sponsors principally because of how easily and effectively the tool integrates into daily life.  As Matthews explained, “Why don’t we give you something that you already like to do and get what you need.”

And sOccket has yet another a new fan, President Obama.  During his recent trip to Africa his team set to work distributing the item to many African nations and on a tour of a facility that manufacturers the ball he even showed off some of his soccer skills! A huge goal for the two Harvard girls who knew just how powerful play could be.

The Giants of Iowa: Reuse, Re-rigged

The world of reuse is sometimes relegated to all things tiny: tiny homes, tiny devices, tiny art.  But in Iowa reuse is going not just big, its going gigantic, 8 stories to be exact!  That’s because in the middle of Iowa’s rolling farmlands there is, surprisingly, a mountain climber’s paradise where a number of unused grain silos have been converted into ice climbing walls.

In the fall of 2001 Don Briggs, a professor and climbing enthusiast, was helping a friend till his farmland in the municipality of Ceder Falls when he made a bet that he could scale one of the silos looming in the distance.  In the end, he won the bet and discovered that the most workable way to reach the peak was to ice climb it.

Briggs has now developed an intricate icing process by rigging hoses at the top of the structure which slow-drip downwards creating a semi-malleable wall of ice that changes depending on wind and weather conditions.

Since the silo opened for business it has attracted both beginners and experts alike and exposed a community famous for their flat farmlands to a taste of mountain life, close to home.  To learn more check out Silo Ice Climbing.

Sustainable Living: Reuse Finds A Home In Furniture Design

With the concept of up-cycling having taken the world of interiors by storm, an interesting trend is emerging. Increasingly, sustainable living is a byproduct of a larger design intention: storytelling.  Furniture that is merely environmentally sound is taking a backseat to pieces which, endowed by their history-rich materials, provoke questions and challenge our beliefs about design.  Today ExchangeMyPhone features those leading the way in the burgeoning field.

The Historian
Los Angeles based furniture designer Stephen Kenn drew his inspiration for The Inheritance Collection from his grandfather, and the sense of duty and sacrifice of The Golden Generation.  His sofas, stools and loveseats made from one hundred percent reclaimed lumber, are suspended using recreated WW2 army belts and upholstered in fabric sourced from old US military uniforms.  The rusted buttons, embroidered names and the wear of the fabric create a tactical homage to those who have served in the armed forces.

The Inheritance Collection

Beside paying this respect Kenn’s second aim in creating the line is to build a truly local product.  He says that the relationships with the venders, carpenters, welders and seamstresses has evoked in him an even deeper connection to his community – a value literally sewn into his products. If you are interested in learning more about his process you can get a true insiders look here.

Stephen Kenn

The Agitators
Much like Kenn, Canadian lighting designers and founders of Castor Kei Ng and Brian Richer are not simply on a quest for sustainable living. Perhaps most central to their vision is creating household objects with a “sense of irreverence” (if you couldn’t tell from their head shots).  Their fire-extinguisher hanging laps, a staple of their line, are quintessential Castor: the duo are fascinated by the idea of turning the familiar and the mundane into a visual centerpiece.

Kei Ng and Brian Richer

Castor lighting

They accomplish this without changing the fundamental esthetic of the object but by simply re-framing it; “Keeping things simple and elegant is actually quite hard to do,” Richer admits.  Their burnt-out, industrial florescent fixture shades are a thought-provoking twist on original purpose of the object and ask the sort of philosophical questions Castor is known for provoking in their work. The invisible chandler, one of their best-selling items, is a further iteration of the same theme.


Castor hanging lights

The Diva of Demolition
In getting to know the stories behind up-cycled interiors it become clear that for most designers, art and their furniture are one in the same – making the leap from studio art to furniture production is a linear journey.  This is certainly true for Brooklyn sculptor-turned-craftsman Ariele Alasko who turns salvaged wood into geometric art.  Her most popular pieces include original headboards, coffee tables, and wall panels.  For Alasko, re-purposing her materials isn’t an eco-imperative, it is simply what makes sense for the warm, true-to-Brooklyn ascetic that defines her work. To see more check out her site!

Ariele Alasko

“I’m a builder, a fixer, and a do-it-myselfer. My favorite things in life are big tools, old wood, good pasta, and finding great materials in a dumpster. I grew up in California, and blindly moved to New York seven years ago when I was accepted into art school for sculpture. I instantly fell in love with the grungy part of Brooklyn, and within a month, we had moved into Bed-Stuy. I have lived in the same apartment for five years now, which has given me plenty of time to slowly “fix” a few things around the house: de-carpet stairways, tile in kitchen… you name it!”

salvaged wood into geometric art


Startup world – The Quirkiest Kickstarters of the Year

Posted on January 14, 2013 | Amazing tech, Fundraising, makers, Start-up

In many ways Kickstarter is a digital world of the unexpected, where startup dreams are realized (well, at least funded) and the underdog is given a shot at making it big. Since the it’s launch in April 2009 the site has facilitated more than 30,000 creative, grassroots projects and over $350 million dollars has been pledged by more than 2.5 million people. But as the funding platform matures it is becoming more and more evident that the runaway success stories are anything but predictable. Here is a look back at some of the most head-scratching, logic defying and awesomely strange Kickstarter darlings of the past year.

The Ostrich Pillow: Home of the power nap.

Ostrich Pillow

Wait, what? The Ostrich Pillow’s unique design instantly creates a micro environment in which to easily take a relaxing, restful power nap in public. According to the pillow’s founders “Its soothing soft interior shelters and isolates your head and hands (mind and body) for a short break, without needing to leave your desk, chair, bench or wherever you may be.”

Amount raised: $200,000 from 1,846 backers in 30 days.

Where are they now? The pillow is currently being sold by Studio Banana Things for $99, though the extra shut-eye you stand to gain from comfortable public napping could be priceless.

Ostrich Pillow packaging

The 5 O’clock Shadow: When a coat collar isn’t enough.

Wait, what? This functional beard face mask began as a ski accessory but quickly became a winter necessity for all activities. All 5 O’clock Shadow beards are hand knitted in Salt Lake City with a cotton-polyester backing for comfort and two elastic straps for stability.

Beard face-mask startup

Amount raised: $3, 911 (Which we think is pretty good for knitted facial hair)

Where are they now? Apparently anywhere people have cold faces! And, it’s not just for men, as you can see on the in the product’s photo gallery many women are now embracing the comforts of bearded living.

The Griz Coat: It’s not a costume. It’s a lifestyle.

Wait, what? The Griz Coat called is the calf-length, faux-fur, toothy, clawed, brainchild of a pair of 30-year-old twin brothers. Karl Reichstetter, a graduate of the Dartmouth Tuck School of Business, who first conceived of the idea, decided to move forward with it because of what he saw as “a hole in the bear-coat market.”

Griz Coat

Amount raised: $14,000

Where are they now? Griz Coats are alive and roaring.  A single coat costs around $200 and there are a variety of styles to choose from. Apparently many people agree with the coat’s Kickstarter page that claims that “… the Griz Coat is highly appropriate for: Halloween, Bay to Breakers, Monday morning meetings, most weddings, Tuesday morning meetings, high school reunions, and first dates.”

TGT: Big Isn’t Always Better

TGT micro wallet

Wait, What? Perhaps not as silly as the other items on our list, the TGT micro wallet, made from fine Italian leather, aims to eliminate the discomfort experienced when carrying bulky wallets in pant pockets.

Amount Raised: $317,424

Where are they now? More than 7,000 people crowdfunded TGT and thousands more have purchased the product since. So, what’s the secret to mega success of this tiny wallet? We can’t be sure but we would venture a guess it has something to do with the noble goal to “respect the silhouette of the butt.”

TGT micro wallet design

It seems that men’s accessories, odd as they may be, dominated crowd-funding last year. What trends will top the list for 2013? We’d love to hear your wild predictions!

Tech innovation: The creative, creepy, crazy-cool world of 3D printing

Posted on October 08, 2012 | eco-economy, green business, innovation, makers, Start-up

By now, most of us have heard of what some people are calling the next big tech innovation, akin to the personal computer: rapid prototyping, aka 3D printing. When explaining the usefulness of this new advancement in plastics, one often hears about the “parts” scenario.  For instance, if you lose a screw for your glasses, a head for your screwdriver or your kid throws our their retainer out with their lunch, rather than going through the hassle of getting a replacement you can simply print one from a 3D printing template.

But practicality is only one of the advantages that 3D printing has to offer. As the medium proliferates, the ideas of what can be printed become more innovate, wacky and sometimes ridiculous. Here is ExchangeMyPhone’s round-up of the top 5 wildest 3D printing creations:

Bones & Organs
Though Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein might be the first thing that comes to mind when you picture someone printing a pancreas, the intersection of 3D printing and the medial world is anything but Haloween-ish; it is vastly improving the quality and longevity of lives. German scientists are already implementing the new technology into their pedagogy and have had great success printing artificial blood vessels and synthetic capillaries. The technique has also been implemented in the U.S. to create “bionic arms” for children with paralysis that are easily extended as the child grows.  Scientists liken it to a Lego approach: adjustable and easy to assemble so that the parents can even make the adjustments from home. Bone grafts have also been successfully printed and put to use. Looking forward, scientists are getting closer to perfecting the printable replacement organ.

Mummy Cloning
No, it is not the next movie franchise out to replace Twilight, its simply one of many ‘out-there’ application of 3D printing. Why is this necessary you ask? Well if you remember back to your Ancient Civ class, and King Tut’s mummy, you’ll recall how unique and well preserved it was: a tremendous resource for archeologists and just an awesome thing to gawk at. But, because King Tut is getting seriously old now, he can’t travel very much and stays mostly in Egypt. Now, thanks to 3D Printing however, there are two identical Tut mummies and the clone version is currently on display in New York. This was created using a Belgian 3D printer, and then freshened up by a makeup artist for increased authenticity. Our verdict: creepy AND cool.

¡Dios Mio, 3D Burritos!
Burrit0bot is 3D printing’s first Tex-Mex creation and it is getting hype as hot as its flavor. The brainchild, and consequent thesis project, of NYU Interactive Telecommunications grad, Marko Manriquez, Burrit0bot is still in revisions and doesn’t actually produce a burrito from scratch (you must supply the tortilla). It does, however, allow you to personalize your burrito preferences such as the critical guacamole salsa ratio from a mobile app.

And just in case you’re thinking that the Burrit0bot idea doesn’t have the same meat as the medical application of 3D printing, Manriquez begs to differ. “Burritob0t invites critical questions about the food we regularly consume, particularly in regards to fast food (labor practices, environmental consequences, nutritional value),” the Burritob0t website explains. “Mexican fast food is emblematic of the assembly line: it is mass-produced in an era of modern consumables, appropriating a false authenticity. Burritob0t, in turn, aims to encourage dialogue about how and where our food is grown, methods of production, environmental impact, cultural appropriation, and, perhaps most importantly: what our food means to us.”

Chocolate for Dessert
Brits might be known more for their tea habit than their sweet tooth but the biggest advancements in chocolate technology are coming out of England. The first chocolate printer was developed by Dr. Liang Hao at the University of Exeter who is now also the founder of Choc Edge, the company that distributes the printers, after the prototype sparked so much commercial interest. “We’ve improved and simplified the machine, so now it is really easy to use,” said Dr Hao, “You just need to melt some chocolate, fill a syringe that is stored in the printer, and get creative printing your chocolate.” So essentially, the technique remains unchanged the ink is merely replaced by yummy chocolate. We have a feeling Willy Wonka would approve!

There’s No Place like…Wiki
If you already depend on Wikipedia for most of your information, maybe its time you just give in, or better yet, move into the Wiki house. Design firm 00:/ has just unveiled their WikiHouse, 3D- printable house at the Milan Furniture Fair. The house gets its name from its open-source platform so anyone with a 3D printer can download and share the home’s templates.

What else makes this the coolest house on the block?
- Its a no-bolt construction
- Emphasizes locally-sourced materials
- Easy DIY construction
- NO POWER TOOLS NEEDED. Instead, the house is pieced together like a puzzle or an IKEA bed
The WikiHouse operates under the creative commons license which facilitates the sharing of new solutions among users and promotes a global dialogue between developers and the public.

Sustainable Living – Doing the wash? Throw the planet in too.

Posted on October 01, 2012 | eco-economy, green business, makers

Fashionistas and nanoscientists don’t sound like they’d run in the same sustainable living circles. But things are changing in London where researchers from University of Sheffield and the London College of Fashion have put their heads together to develop a liquid laundry additive called CatClo (short for Catalytic Clothing). The idea behind their product is to turn your everyday clothing into a pollutant magnet, one that you simply wash off your threads during your next rinse cycle.

Without getting into molecular compounds, the layman’s explanation of this soap science is that the additive binds tiny particles of titanium dioxide to fabric. This element, when exposed to sunshine, then attracts nitrogen oxides (otherwise known as one of the largest sources of air pollution) and sucks them out of the air we breath. But wait, there’s more! These little titanium dioxide guys are so tough that you only need to give your clothes one treatment per item.

How effective is this method? According to University of Sheffield’s Tony Ryan, CatClo can remove five grams of nitrogen dioxide for the air a day. No small potatoes when you consider that is actually the same amount emitted daily by an average family car! And what’s the price of fighting air contamination through fashion? Well the product is not yet on shelves (CatClo is set to be released within the next two years), but the inventors say we can expect to spend a whopping $0.16 per load.

If you are a little wary of turning your body into a pollution magnet (for the heath of your clothes or yourself), researchers reassure us that you need not be. When oxidized, the nitrogen becomes “completely orderless and colorless” with no health risks. But the effects of adding some nitrogen to your look are not just neutral, they could even be positive! Ryan says there are significant benefits for people suffering from asthma and other respiratory conditions — they’ll be walking around with their own pollution vacuum.

Its safe to say that cleaning up the air never looked this good.

Super Smart Smartphone: Will the iPhone 5 Rock the GDP?

With election time getting close and the eyes of America glued to the economy, the most noticeable economic boost might be delivered from an unexpected source: the iPhone 5. So while the hopes of Apple fans are dizzyingly high for today’s scheduled unveiling of the smartphone family’s fifth addition, economists are paying attention for a different reason. The folks at JPMorgan recently released a report called “Can One Little Phone Impact the GDP?” Their conclusions were optimistic.

Uncle Sam iPhone 5

How can this be you ask? Well, much of this prediction is derived from the fact that the majority of the products that make up an iPhone are domestically manufactured. Though the amount of press Apple has received this past year regarding their presence in China might have given a different impression, just under 70% of the value of each iPhone will contribute directly to the US market. This means that every iPhone5 sold at $600 is worth $400 for the the U.S. economy. Not too shabby when you consider that Apple could sell as many as 8 million units, for a whopping total of more than $3 billion dollars, or $12.8 billion at an annual rate. Experts predict that such a scenario would raise fourth-quarter profits by one-third of a percent, conservatively. JP Morgan is betting it could go as high as half a point.

apple jobs created

But not so fast. The study also warns against unbridled iDolization of the superpower strength set to be unleashed later today. According the Huffington Post’s Dino Grandoni, JP Morgan’s analysis failed to “take into account forgone sales of alternative phones — that is, sales of other cell phones that would surely happen if the iPhone 5 weren’t on the market. Those foregone sales should be subtracted from the GDP boost.”

So, what’s your vote on “the Apple stimulus package”?

iPhone 5

Celebrating the do-it-yourself-mindset

Have you been suffering from Facebook IPO fatigue? If so, look no further than the recent Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA. At a time when there is so much press devoted to digital creations, it is refreshing and exciting to meet a community of people who are inventing real, physical things.

In essence, the Maker Faire celebrates the fun that lies behind invention, creativity and resourcefulness. The festival began in 2006 and has grown in popularity ever since. Part science fair, part county fair, it is a gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors. All of these fascinating people come together to show off what they have made and share what they have learned.

Many of the festival inventions use materials that would have otherwise been thrown away, but we are particularly drawn to one up-cycling project called Tramps Apps.

Started by two college grads, Adam and Ron, Trash Amps turns old soda cans into portable speakers for your iPod, iPhone etc. Essentially, they use old cans as the skins for ‘ridiculously loud’ portable speakers. As Adam puts it, “The reason I started the company was to get people thinking, ‘What are things that we’re throwing away that could possibly have a new use’.” We couldn’t agree more!

At ExchangeMyPhone, we are all about saving tech from the trash and extending its lifecycle by giving it a new use. We love meeting others who are doing something similar and are huge fans of Tramp Amps innovation.

Do you have any other favorite Maker inventions?

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DIY Goes Mobile

Posted on May 07, 2012 | cell phone, eco-economy, green innovation, makers, mobile

When was the last time you did a science experiment? No, dying your roommate’s hair doesn’t count.

For most of us, our days in the home-made laboratory ended after building a simple circuit board and graduating middle school. Well, today ExchangeMyPhone is proposing that you get back in touch with you inner mad scientist and build something much more useful than a paper-mache volcano.

When you think about it, we known shockingly little about the technology with which we interact and rely upon in our daily lives. Perhaps we think that it is way over our heads but it turns out that some technologies really are child’s play. We bring you the DIY cell phone!

MIT MediaLab is in the prototypal stages of creating an all-in-one kit for mobile phone construction, something that you can build in one afternoon, and with less aggravation than it takes to assemble an IKEA bookshelf. The functionality is apparently very good and you can even program caller id. Plus, this isn’t your 1990′s clunker, it is complete with a wood case and LCD screen. Very fancy.  For right now, the DIY cellpone kit goes for $150.00.

Finally, as Endgaget warns, ”Building your own wireless communications device isn’t for the faint of heart, or the law-abiding — the FCC tends to prefer placing its own stamp of approval on devices that utilize US airwaves, making a homegrown mobile phone an unlikely proposition. That didn’t stop a team at the MIT Media Lab from creating such a DIY kit, however.” But what great scientist didn’t break a few rules in the name of innovation?

But where’s that Apple from?

Posted on January 27, 2012 | iPad, iPhone, Mac, makers, smartphone

Steve Jobs’ biography, which has been at the top of the best-sellers list since its debut, has quickly been absorbed into the national narrative of American ingenuity and possibility: the sort of story that could only happen here.  All hubris aside, it is a source of genuine pride that, in the United States, the son of a mechanic and bookkeeper could turn his grass-roots- garage-dreams not just into a reality, but into the most successful corporation of its time.

But how feasible is that today?  The world in which Steve Jobs grew-up has changed, and jobs like mechanics and bookkeepers have been replaced by technologies or outsources overseas.  We have all heard the myths about the East taking American unskilled worker positions, and what might have been true 40 years ago is no longer the case, or at least the entire case.  Because, when low skill jobs are outsourced a vacuum of sorts begins – taking with it (40-some-odd years later) the positions above the assembly line, the conventionally “middle class” jobs.

And the proof is in the apple.  Today Apple is worth more than any of the big American players, more than oil and manufacturing.  However, Apple employs only 43,000 Americans.  And who are these people? The high-ups, the bosses, and big salary earners.  The manufacturing jobs and those that facilitate them have gone to places like Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Germany and China.  Your iPhone may have been thought-up in America but little of the physical object is American.

As this video by the New York Times explains, Apple is not a culprit rather, an interesting example of job trends in America today.  An example from which we can hopefully take some lessons.