Start-up of The Day: ReVibe Energy generates power out of thin air

Generation of electricity without coal, wind, hydroelectricity, or nuclear power plants, wind turbines or solar cells, etc? – Without any harmful emissions? The Swedish start-up ReVibe Energy is doing just that. A self-charging battery that can be attached to any vibrating surface generates electricity solely via these vibrations. This battery also stores the energy it generates. Apart from its 100% climate-neutrality, this kind of battery also comes in handy when no other power source is available for charging.

ReVibe co-founder and CEO Viktor Börjesson talked to Innovation Origins about his company.

Two of the founders of ReVibe Energy: Erik Godtman Kling (COO) (left), Viktor Börjesson (CEO) (right) © ReVibe Energy

How did you come up with the idea of founding the start-up?

The technology was originally invented by Per Cederwall while he was working at the Saab Group. As the technology was considered to be outside Saab Groups’ core focus areas, Viktor Börjesson and Erik Godtman Kling were asked to start a company that revolved around the technology.

What makes ReVibe or your product special compared to your competitors and what problems does it solve?

All sensors in industrial IoT systems are in constant need of power and the shortcomings of current power sources (cables and/or batteries) do not guarantee long-lasting energy security. At the same time, there are many environments where vibrations are almost constant, of which rail transport, mining, and construction are the ones we have worked with the most. With our products, we can deliver a long-lasting and sustainable power source for predictive maintenance and condition monitoring systems.

Our products utilize a patented design that ensures a longer lifetime, higher output per volume and a faster ROI compared to our competitors.

What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome?

Slow sales cycles! We work with large corporations who are fairly slow in their way of operating which means that the process of signing new customers takes quite a long time.

And vice versa: What were you particularly proud of?

Our team! It’s our team that makes all of our accomplishments possible, so they are the ones who deserve all the credit!

Was there a moment when you wanted to give up?

When you start a company you will always experience setbacks and periods where you feel that there’s no use in continuing but we’ve never been that close to actually shutting down the company. So no, not really 🙂

What can we expect from ReVibe over the coming years?

We’re currently scaling up our manufacturing capabilities to be able to meet the demand from the marketplace, so I’d say that you can expect a ReVibe Energy that will grow as a company and increase its reach across the globe.

What is your vision for ReVibe?

To be the obvious choice when it comes to powering Industrial IoT systems in all environments where vibrations exist.

Featured Image: The standard product, the modelD evaluation kit © ReVibe Energy

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Bendable glass that is harder than steel

It’s a godsend for anyone who has a habit of putting their smartphone in the back pocket of their pants. Because plenty of glass screens break that way. It is possible, however, to manufacture glass that is bendable and even stronger than steel. You just have to use slightly different ingredients during the production process. A bendable glass that can bend at room temperature has been developed by an international research team.

“Conventional glass is brittle and easily shatters under pressure. We discovered a way to manufacture glass that exhibits ductile behavior. In other words, our glass is tougher than conventional glass.” says Dr. Erkka Frankberg, Marie Curie Fellow at the Finnish University of Tampere. He was in charge of the research team. Instead of using the customary silicon oxide, the research team used aluminium oxide. As a consequence, this new kind of glass acquired metallic properties. “Silicon oxide was already know to be brittle. We were looking for oxides that could behave differently. There were some studies on glassy aluminum oxide suggesting more plasticity compared to glassy silicon oxide and we took the chance to study it,” says the scientist.

The team first had to overcome a certain obstacle in order to actually be able to make a glass-like substance with aluminum oxide. They used an advanced laser technique for that. “It is exceedingly difficult to convert aluminum oxide into a glassy substance. The traditional glass manufacturing processes cannot be applied to aluminum oxide because it easily transforms into the crystalline form. The solution is to cool the material down extremely fast from a high temperature to prevent crystallization.”

© Erkka Frankberg

Surprising degree of plasticity

As a result of this process, an amorphous structure of aluminum and oxygen atoms was created, which formed a new, metallic glass. It turned out to be bendable and elastic during various tests, even at point load. “The extent of plasticity was still a surprise to us,” Frankberg admits.

The researchers made thin sheets out of their glass for these mechanical stress tests. Because even though it has metallic properties owing to the use of aluminium oxide, it is still glass. “We stretched and compressed samples of our material. By carrying out combined compression and shear tests, we were able to demonstrate that the material is also capable of adjusting to a shear force,” Frankberg explains.

The silicon oxide glass is relatively easy to break because the atoms in the glass are unable to move under pressure. If you bend glass too much or try to stretch it, it breaks. In this new type of glass, atoms are able to move. That means that it takes longer for the breakpoint to be reached.

You can find more articles about glass here

Is this glass really unbreakable, or is there also a point when it shatters to pieces? “Well, yes and no,” Frankberg says. “In a brittle material, stress will steadily build up until it fractures. If the atoms, however, begin to move before the fracture stress is reached, the stress will no longer increase but levels off to a yield stress, creating a continuous phenomenon.” This means that at that yield stress level, the atoms would have sufficient mechanical energy for them to be able to move. They no longer need any additional energy and therefore the stress levels can’t be increased, but instead settle into a relatively constant state of stress.

© Jonne Renvall & Erkka Frankberg

New applications for glass

Up until now, applications for glass have been limited on account of its fragility. Yet this research could be instrumental in finding new applications. “You might be able to smash your phone on the floor without breaking the screen. Our current smartphone screens are basically regular window glass with enhanced elasticity and strength. But they are still ultimately made out of glass that exhibits no plastic behavior,” Frankberg emphasizes.

The new glass is also harder than steel. The fact that glass is also much lighter than steel means that Frankberg sees all kinds of potential for applications. Of course, as safety glass in vehicles. But probably in the aerospace industry as well, or for building machines. “In the future yes, if we are able to produce sufficiently flaw-free glass in adequate quantities. It is difficult to predict all possible applications as glass was not known before to behave in this manner.”

She refutes the objection that the new glass may be damaging to health because of its use of alumina. “To the best of my best knowledge, there are no results indicating carcinogenicity of aluminum oxide. Aluminum oxide is a compound of aluminum and oxygen with very different properties to metallic aluminum. Aluminium oxide is present everywhere in the earth’s crust and all around us from household ceramics to materials used in construction.”

Manufacture of glass without defects is a prerequisite when it comes to pliability. Irregularities such as cracks, bubbles or dirt can lead to breakages. This is the next challenge for the scientists. Frankenberg: “Both aluminum and oxygen are abundant on Earth, but we require an unconventional manufacturing process to achieve the desired properties. The produced glass also needs to be sufficiently pure and flawless which presents a further challenge.”

© Erkka Frankberg

Mass production will still take decades

It most likely will still take decades before any production takes place on an industrial scale, he says, because research needs time. “Typical to new materials technology, the scaling of manufacturing takes a long time. It will most likely take 2-3 decades, but of course, can be hastened if breakthroughs are made in the manufacturing technology. But if a material is really useful for humanity, it will eventually end up being used for thousands of years – like glass,” he adds.

The research project was funded via grants from Finland, France, Italy, and the European Union as part of the Horizon 2020 research program. Research is still at an early stage though. The results of this initial study were published in the renowned Science Magazine.

How harmful is microrubber to humans?

Microplastics is literally on everyone’s lips. Every person eats, drinks and breathes up to five grams of microplastics per week – and therefore basically eats a credit card. There’s not just a lot of microplastic in the air and in our drinking water. There is also another polymer that’s in everyday use: microrubber.

Drivers are familiar with this problem. Tires wear out and you have to buy a new set, for better or for worse. After all, depending on how you drive, a tire lasts about 40,000 kilometers until it has to be replaced. But where does all the rubber that originally made up the tire’s tread disappear to? It’s pretty obvious once you hit the brakes if you’re going fast. The black tracks on the asphalt are unmissable. Yet even without applying the brakes hard or taking off like a rally driver at the traffic lights, tires inevitably wear out and rubber is scattered all over the place.

Cars and trucks main source of microrubber

Researchers revolving around Bernd Nowack from the “Technology and Society” department of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) in St. Gallen have calculated that between 1988 and 2018 around 200,000 tonnes of micro-rubber had accumulated in the Swiss environment alone. Among other things, they examined the import and export data on tires in Switzerland. They then linked this to a model simulating how rubber behaves on the road and in wastewater. They also analyzed the wear and tear of surfaces such as artificial turf.

The results showed that car and truck tires are the main source of microrubber. Especially given that the removal of artificial green areas such as artificial turf played only a minor role, accounting for just 3 % as Nowacj states. The remaining 97 % was the result of tire abrasion. Roughly 3 % sticks to the right and left side of the road within the first five meters. Another 5 % in the nearby residual soil and almost 20 % in water bodies. Only a small part is distributed into the air which is constantly being stirred up.

© unsplash/Hannes Egler

Microrubber vs microplastics

The adverse effects of microrubber on humans are evidently less severe than those of microplastics. Christoph Hüglin from Empa’s Air Pollution / Environmental Technology department estimates that the impact is only minor. According to Hüglin, a study carried out in 2009 shows that the proportion of tire abrasion in inhaled fine particles is also in the low single-digit percentage range at traffic sites.

You can find articles on microplastics here.

Nevertheless, microplastics and microrubber cannot be lumped together. “These are different particles that can hardly be compared with each other,” says Nowack. Even if microrubber does not seem to pose any danger to humans, it should not be ignored. As the amount of released microrubber exceeds that of released microplastics many times over. The scientists have calculated that only 7% of the polymer-based microparticles released into the environment are made up of plastic. Whereas the remaining 93% are made up of microrubber. “The amount of microrubber in the environment is huge and therefore highly relevant,” Nowack underlines.

Hazardous heavy metals?

While Bernd Nowack stresses that there is no health risk from microrubber, there are other well known sources that do see a danger in the tiny rubber particles. In recent years in the USA, thousands of children’s playgrounds and sports fields have been equipped with rubber surfaces made of recycled tires. Not only parents but legislators as well are concerned about the health effects on children. Car tires are not just made of rubber, but contain a lot of materials that are believed to cause cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Chemicals such as sulphur and zinc oxide are used along with various metals such as lead and cadmium, as well as harmful plasticizers and fire retardants.

A group of Indian scientists conducted a study as early as 2014 with the aim of assessing the potential risk presented by rubber particles in the air. They performed a lung function test on 60 male employees at a rubber factory and a control group. The groups were divided according to the duration they were exposed to the microrubber particles. As in, 1-3 years, 4-7 years and 8-11 years. Group 1 was a control group.

After evaluation of all lung functions of the participants, group 2, 3 and 4 showed a significant decrease in lung function compared to the control group. The worst values compared to the control group were found in the subjects in group 4. They had been exposed to the microrubber for the longest period of time. These results would indicate that lung function was affected by microrubber particles and the severity of the effect depended on the length of exposure, the researchers wrote.

Research shows that carbon in the world’s oceans needs to be recalculated

Godfather of evolutionary theory and naturalist Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882) already assumed that there had to be something even smaller than the protozoa that were visible under the microscope in the “clear blue water” of the ocean. And he was right. Today we know that “every liter of ocean water is teeming with hundreds of millions of microorganisms,” as marine biologist Rudolf Amann says. He is director of the Max Planck Institute of Marine Microbiology in Bremen.

Amann and his colleagues have conducted extensive research into the importance of these microorganisms for the metabolic processes in oceans. This has produced some surprising results. This metabolic cycle is different than previously considered.

Metabolism, biomass and the world’s oceans

“Although they are only micrometers in size, the amount and the high metabolic rate of [microorganisms] determine the energy flows and the conversion of biomass in oceans,” states Tobias Erb. He’s a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg. The scientists explain that they have discovered a metabolism method that “plays an important role in the microbial degradation of algae biomass in the ocean.” For future calculations of the carbon dioxide balance of the world’s oceans, it is particularly important to know how the exact processes take place at a molecular level. At the same time, we also need to be aware of the global distribution.

What happens to the carbon contained in glycolic acid?

Single-cell algae (also known as phytoplankton) convert carbon dioxide into biomass. Other microorganisms continue to process many thousands of tonnes of algae biomass on surface water. That’s when the algae excrete the carbon out again, or after the algae bloom has died. Glycolic acid, a direct by-product of photosynthesis, plays a decisive role in this process. Bacteria partially convert this substance back into carbon dioxide.

The researchers then explain that, in order to understand the global consequences of this and its consequences for climate change, it is essential to have an accurate knowledge of the bacterial breakdown of algae biomass. Consequently, it is necessary to know exactly where and to what extent these nutrient networks are occurring. And moreover, what happens to the carbon in glycolic acid. That totals about one billion tonnes per year. This was not exactly apparent until now.

Microbial research ranged from understanding molecular principles in the laboratory, to demonstrating their importance in the marine ecosystem. © Max Planck Institute of Marine Microbiology/Gunnar Gerdts

The mystery of the fourth enzyme

During subsequent research with databases, he saw a cluster of four genes that provided building codes for four enzymes. Although three combined enzymes are sufficient in order to further convert a compound derived from glycolic acid. That’s why Schada von Borzyskowski did a laboratory test with this fourth enzyme to find out what its role is. He discovered that in this context, the enzyme provides a previously unknown reaction, referred to as imine reduction. The metabolic process is completed with this fourth reaction by creating a cycle “which allows the carbon in glycolic acid to be converted without releasing carbon dioxide.”

More articles on marine pollution can be found here

Metabolic cycle of the seas

The next step was to prove the presence and activity of these genes in marine habitats as well as their ecological importance, Tobias Erb explains. In the spring of 2018, the researchers carried out several expeditions near Helgoland so as to measure the formation and uptake of glycolic acid during algal blooms. They were able to demonstrate that the sea’s metabolic cycle actively involved in the metabolism of glycolic acid.

The bacterial genome sequences collected by the TARA Oceans expedition confirmed these results. This research spanned more than 10,000 kilometers of the world’s oceans. Blueprints of the metabolic cycle were found time and again. On average 20 times more often than all other known degradation processes for glycolic acid. “Our colleagues’ discovery in Marburg turns our earlier knowledge of what happens to glycolic acid upside down,” says Rudolf Amann. “Our data show that we need to recalculate the cycle of billions of tonnes of carbon in the world’s oceans.

Tobias Erb stresses that this work makes us aware of the metabolism of microorganisms and their global dimensions and how much remains to be discovered.

Photo caption: In satellite images, the algae carpets with their light streaks look like works of art. In the 70,000 square kilometre wide Deutsche Bucht alone, algal bloom produces about ten million tonnes of biomass in spring.

MATD: a hologram that you can feel and hear

Holograms are part of everyday life in science fiction films and series such as Star Trek. On Captain Picard’s ‘Enterprise’ or on the ‘USS Voyager’, there are complete ‘holodecks’ where you can create any environment and any hologram you want. You are even able to physically communicate with them. On Voyager there is even a “Doctor” in sickbay – the Emergency Medical Holographic program (EHM).  Just like a person, this hologram is capable of learning from his experiences. He has many other human qualities as well.

As far as technology has advanced in the 24th century, we are not quite that far yet in the 21st century. But scientists from the University of Sussex have come a step closer to holograms like those in Star Trek. For the first time, they have developed holograms that can be seen with the naked eye, yet can be felt and heard too. The Multimodal Acoustic Trap Display (MATD) is not yet able to respond to emergency calls and treat patients. Though this system can show a colorful butterfly, emojis and other images without the need for a ‘headset’ for Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR).

© University of Sussex

Using sound waves to manipulate physical objects

“Our new technology takes inspiration from old TVs which use a single color beam scanning along the screen so quickly that your brain registers it as a single image. Our prototype does the same using a colored particle that can move so quickly anywhere in 3D space that the naked eye sees a volumetric image in mid-air.” says Dr. Ryuji Hirayama, a JSPS Fellow and Rutherford Fellow at the University of Sussex. He is also the lead author of the study published in Nature.

The holograms in Star Trek are comprised of photons and force fields. According to Hirayama, the researchers’ holograms in Great Britain are produced in a similar way. “To my understanding, the holograms in these fictional mediums are generated by bending and shaping light using force fields. Similarly, our technology uses sound waves to manipulate physical objects. In the case of generating holograms, these sound waves are able to move a bead fast enough to generate solid images, and are given color through an external light source.”

The MATD is modeled on the method that made free floating projections possible as early as 2018. Small particles were illuminated by laser beams which in turn produced a hologram. The MATD uses ultrasonic sound to hold a ball in a room, move it at breakneck speed. Then light it up with red, green and blue light to create a colorful image. With up to 100 position changes per second, the rapid movement through the room creates a 3D illusion.

© University of Sussex

Room for improvement

The MATD prototype is approximately the size and shape of a microwave oven. It is made up of 512 ultrasonic speakers arranged around a clear space. The resolution of the generated holograms is not very good at the moment. “The MATD was created using low-cost and commercially available components. We believe there is plenty of room to increase its capacity and potential,” Hirayama states.

Unlike the holograms that are currently being made, the hologram created by the MATD can also produce sound. It can even be felt in real life. “Even if not audible to us, ultrasound is still a mechanical wave and it carries energy through the air. Our prototype directs and focuses this energy, which can then stimulate your ears for audio, or stimulate your skin to feel content,” Dr Diego Martinez Plasencia, co-creator of the MATD and a researcher on 3D User Interfaces at the University of Sussex. “Our prototype sends and bundles this energy, which can then generate sound or touch our skin so that we are able to feel something. For example, an infrared sensor detects when a hand is approaching the hologram. The loudspeakers are then adjusted to concentrate sound pressure of more than 150 decibels onto that hand, allowing you to feel the hologram.

Revolutionary 3D display

“Our MATD system revolutionizes the concept of 3D display. It is not just that the content is visible to the naked eye and in all ways perceptually similar to a real object while still allowing the viewer to reach inside and interact with the display. “It is also the fact that it relies on a principle that can also stimulate other senses, putting it above any other display approaches and getting us closer than ever to Ivan Sutherland’s vision of the Ultimate Display.” Project leader Sri Subramanian, Professor of Informatics at the University of Sussex and a Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technologies) (Sutherland is the pioneer of VR techniques – ed.)

University of Sussex

Practical applications

In order for the hologram to also be able to produce sound, the scientists had to adjust the ultrasonic waves. They did this in such a way that the relevant resonance effects were created in the hologram. Yet these sounds are still very basic. They are a long way from being anywhere close to speech. Nevertheless, Hirayama believes that this can certainly be improved upon. “Operating at frequencies higher than 40KHz will allow the use of smaller particles, increasing the resolution and precision of the visual content, while frequencies above 80KHz will result in optimum audio quality. More powerful ultrasound speakers, more advanced control techniques or even the use of several particles, could allow for more complex, stronger tactile feedback and louder audio.”

But these new holograms don’t just have an advantage when it comes to science and entertainment. The authors believe that the technology can offer interesting opportunities. Such as mixing chemicals without contaminating them. Or performing ultrasounds in tissues in order to administer life-saving medicines. As well as numerous ‘lab-in-a-chip’ applications.

And what are the odds for holograms like the HoloDoc in Star Trek? “Right now, our display manipulates a single particle to create holograms. Using multiple particles instead will allow us to create more complex holograms. Also, by modelling the dynamics of the moving particle more accurately, the particle would be able to move faster and more precisely, allowing the display to project more realistic holograms. We are going to keep working on such challenges one by one because I personally want to see holograms like the EMH one day!”

Pinpointing air pollution – from outer space

Nitrogen oxides (NO and NO2) are emitted primarily during combustion processes which involve coal, oil, gas, wood, waste and engines. But they are also generated during industrial processes and in agriculture. Pinpointing pollution sources and then measuring substance emissions such as nitrogen oxides can pose major problems for cities and municipalities. But this is exactly what is needed in order to be able to predict air pollution from nitrogen oxides and develop strategies for their reduction. Moreover, according to national and international conventions such as the Kyoto Protocol, countries must specify how high their greenhouse gas and air pollution levels are. The data is documented in what are known as emission inventories.

© German Federal Environment Agency

Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument

Yet daily satellite measurements, which have so far been one of the methods used, do not provide accurate results. This is because the instrument tracks a specific area and registers all pollutants between the ground and the satellite. These values often vary widely and are therefore usually recorded over a period of several months. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz explain that emission values determined from space tend to “blur” as a result of fluctuating winds. This in turn reduces the spatial resolution of the measurements.

In collaboration with colleagues from China and the USA, research scientists have now found a way to vastly improve the spatial resolution of nitrogen oxide emission data. They do this with help from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) recently launched S5P/TROPOMI research satellite. TROPOMI stands for Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument. In addition to nitrogen oxides, the spectrometer also measures other pollutants and greenhouse gases. These include carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, ozone and methane. The spectrometer has been flying around the Earth on board ESA’s Sentinel-5 Precursor (S-5P) satellite since October 2017.

More articles on air pollution can be found here.

Local analysis to within two kilometers

Thanks to these values provided by TROPOMI, scientists are able to determine the exact amounts of pollutants emitted more accurately. The team combined measurements from the satellite with wind data. They were thereby able to ascertain the levels of underlying emissions from the horizontal transport of the pollution. TROPOMI is also able to reconstruct the blurred data.

The TROPOMI instrument on board the Sentinel-5P research satellite is measuring a large number of pollutants such as nitrogen oxides. Source: ESA

“Our method enables us to pinpoint specific emission sources, such as individual coal-fired power plants, with an accuracy of up to two kilometers separate from any surrounding pollution,” says Steffen Beirle. He is the first author of the study published in the current issue of the research journal Science Advances. Furthermore, “the levels of pollutants emitted can also be quantified more reliably. Plus, emission inventories can be examined for their topicality and spatial distribution.”

The scientists maintain that emission patterns facilitate clear identification of specific sources and distinguish power plants from other sources such as traffic. It was possible to create a detailed emission pattern with the help of this new method for the area around the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh. Among other things, it revealed the pollution emissions from various oil and gas power plants in the vicinity. After the researchers had also prepared these types of emission patterns for Germany and South Africa, it also became clear that coal-fired power plants are the largest single sources of nitrogen oxides in those areas.

Cover photo: Nitrogen oxide emissions in Northern Rhineland. Evaluation of median satellite data (April to October 2018) using the new method clearly separates the Niederaussem and Neurath coal-fired power plant emissions from those of the cities Cologne and Düsseldorf. Source: MPIC, S. Beirle

Hiccups are key to a baby’s development

We all get the hiccups from time to time. Nevertheless, it is mainly babies who get the hiccups after they have drunk something. Parents try everything they can to stop the hiccups. If you enter the search term “hiccup babies” into Google, you’ll get almost 700,000 suggestions on what you can do about it. According to the latest insights, the best thing to do is to simply let the hiccups take their course. It would appear that this phenomenon has an important influence on the development of a newborn’s brain.

Hiccups are especially common in premature babies

A study at University College London (UCL) found that hiccups caused a surge of brain activity which help the baby learn to regulate its breathing. The scientists’ theory is supported by the fact that hiccups start in babies after just 9 weeks in the womb. This makes it one of the earliest patterns of activity in the unborn child. On top of that, premature babies are especially sensitive to hiccups, with a daily duration of about 15 minutes.

“The reasons behind our hiccups are not entirely clear. But it could be down to a a developmental reason as to why fetuses and newborns hiccup so often,” says Kimberley Whitehead, the main author of the study and a researcher at the Research Department of Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology (NPP) at UCL.

© Unsplash

During their study, the scientists recorded the brain activity of 13 newborns who had hiccups. Brain activity was recorded using EEG (electroencephalogram) electrodes on their scalps. Motion sensors on the babies’ bodies recorded when they swallowed. The premature babies were all born between the 30th and 42nd week of pregnancy. This may be a reflection of what usually happens in the last trimester of pregnancy.

Babies learn to control their breathing

The researchers found that the contractions of the diaphragm muscle caused by the hiccup caused a pronounced reaction in the cerebral cortex – as in two powerful brainwaves followed by a third. Since the third brain current is similar to that of a sound, the researchers believe that the brain of a newborn may be able to combine the “hiccup sound” of the hiccup with contraction of a muscle in the diaphragm. Researchers believe that this “postnatal processing of multisensory inputs” is important for the development of brain connections.

“The activity induced by a hiccup can help the baby’s brain to learn how to control its respiratory muscles. As a result, breathing can ultimately be controlled at random by moving the diaphragm up and down, says Dr. Lorenzo Fabrizi, the principal author of the study. “At birth, the circuits that process physical sensations are not yet fully developed. So building these kinds of networks is a crucial stage for the development of newborn babies.

Spastic reflex

The question remains as to why we still get the hiccups later on in life. For example, in stressful situations or while eating, or when drinking carbonated drinks. Scientists can only make assumptions about this. “Our results have raised the question as to whether hiccups in adults (which are actually just a nuisance) can indeed be caused by a spastic reflex left over from childhood when it used to have an important function.”

You can read more articles about brain research here.

The research project was conducted at the Research Department of Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology (NPP) at UCL and at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Maternity Department of University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH).  It had been funded by the Medical Research Council with support from the National Institute for Health Research UCLH Biomedical Research Centre. The results have been published in the medical journal Science Direct.

Start-up of the Day: environmentally friendly cling foil made from beeswax

Problems with plastic waste reach the media almost every day. We are continually being confronted with it even in our own environment. Governments all over the world are trying to tackle this problem with regulatory bans, such as those on plastic bags and straws. Sandra Palazzolo and Kristina Immerz, two young women from the German region of Allgäu, have been working on a solution to the plastic problem since 2017. They are producing beeswax wrappers and cling foil at their start-up Wabenwerk (honeycomb). The products are not just for sale in the region Allgäu itself, but also in Austria and Switzerland and online via their own website. Now Wabenwerk has expanded its product line. The two founders are even playing with the idea of opening a shop in Kaufbeuren where they only sell unpackaged goods.

Innovation Origins spoke with co-founder Sandra Palazzolo about Wabenwerk and its plans for their launch on the market.

Both the founders of Wabenwerk: Kristina Immerz (left) and Sandra Palazzolo © Wabenwerk

How did you come up with the idea for the start-up?

Kristina and I are sisters-in-law. Even before Wabenwerk was set up, we had always made natural foils and we were busy being creative. One day Kristina read an article about beeswax in an organic magazine. We immediately became enthusiastic. ‘What a worthwhile and sustainable product!’ we thought, as well as easy for us to make ourselves.

The first beeswax foils were meant as a Christmas present. We worked so hard on the product and on the waxing technique and composition of the beeswax mixture, that they eventually became Mother’s Day gifts.

Sold out

Of course our friends also got beeswax foils, which proved to be very popular. A friend insisted on designing packaging for us. Another friend invited us to her craft market as exhibitors. We sold out at this market after just a few hours. We also received invitations to other markets and retailers were interested. That was the birth of ‘Wabenwerk Natural Foils.’

What makes Wabenwerk or your products so special compared to your competitors and what problems does it solve?

Beeswax manufacturers don’t see each other so much as direct competitors. At least that’s what experience has taught us over the years. We are all driven by issues ranging from pollution to microplastics to bee mortality. We are able to tackle all these problems through our work. This quickly creates a sense of community and an exchange of ideas. At first we could hardly believe it when we saw in black and white how much aluminium and cling foil you could actually avoid with every sheet you sold!

What has been biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?

Our biggest obstacle was the EU legislation concerning the Food and Consumer Product Safety Act. We received a phone call from the city council who alerted us to the compulsory guidelines. According to this, we have to remind consumers to pack food directly in our foil. Aside from the financial burden, it was not easy finding a laboratory where the requisite tests could be carried out on natural products such as beeswax. For the time being, we have decided not to advertise the foils for food packaging. This brought us a few sleepless nights. We questioned whether it was really worth doing all the work. In hindsight, it was just a minor setback. But this obstacle seemed insurmountable to us at the time.

And vice versa: what are you particularly proud of?

We’re very proud when we’re at a market and meet customers from last year who enthusiastically tell us how often they use our beeswax foil and how much plastic they’ve managed to avoid this way. We’re also seeing more and more children and teenagers at these markets who pack their snacks in beeswax foil and proudly tell us that. Which always feels very special to us.

© Wabenwerk

What motivates you to go to work every morning?

There are many reasons to do that. The enthusiasm of our customers and retailers. The varied work that goes into production. The fact that we can realize our ideas and of course the continued success of our company. However, the main motivation is our team and the atmosphere in our workshop. Our work is a lot of fun for all of us and we make a sound and sensible product. What more could you ask for?

 What can we expect from Wabenwerk in the coming years?

We are planning a pure organic line, a vegan line and a do-it-yourself set for the new year. Above all, we want to offer companies, hotels and organizations the opportunity to have personalized beeswax foils designed for them. With their own logo, as promotional gifts or business gifts or Christmas presents. We have already started on that this year. We look forward to being able to do even more along these lines in the future.

What is your vision for Wabenwerk? Where do you see yourself in five or ten years’ time?

Our vision is to keep working on Wabenwerk with the same commitment, to build a worthwhile and sustainable company and to be proud of it. We are constantly trying to evolve and to do something good for our customers and our environment.

Are ypu interested in start-ups? Read all of the articles in our series here.
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One step closer to finding the cause of Alzheimer’s disease

Scientists have come one step closer to answering the question of what causes Alzheimer’s disease. Apparently, this involves changes in protein structures in the brain. Researchers at the University of Ulm have succeeded for the first time ever in isolating and studying these protein fibres (beta amyloid fibrils) from the brain tissue of Alzheimer’s patients. Nevertheless, much more research is required.

Nerve cells in the brain and the connections between these cells gradually die off in people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Worldwide, nearly 47 million people are affected by this most prevalent form of dementia. The cause of this disease is still a mystery to researchers. Until now, scientists have suspected that protein fibers (so-called neurofibrillary tangles) cause the disease, as the brain is incapable of breaking these down properly. These deposits are invariably found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

The Alzheimer researchers see two proteins, namely tau and beta-amyloid, as being particularly pathogenic (as in organic pathogens). These proteins accumulate in fiber clumps in the brain that have formed from molecular chains known as fibrils. As yet, it has not been clarified as to why the body’s own proteins develop abnormally and subsequently lead to changes in the brain.

Major differences compared to artificial research material

The researchers found that the fibers differ significantly from the synthetically produced fibers used in the study. The individual peptides making up the fibrils differed from those that were artificially produced in a test tube.

Secondly, the structures twist in a completely different way than synthetic fibrils do. “This is a fundamentally different characteristic that we did not expect,” says Professor Marcus Fändrich, head of the Institute of Protein Biochemistry at the University of Ulm. During their study, the researchers examined tissue samples from three patients. They found the same structures in all three patients.

Cryo-electron microscopic image of Aβ amyloid fibrils from the brain tissue of Alzheimer’s patients. Individual fibrils with different shapes (morphology I and II) were highlighted here. © “Kollmer et al., Nature Communications.”

Scientists from Ulm, Tübingen, Halle an der Saale and San Diego did more than four years of intensive scientific research before they were able to arrive at this conclusion. The main challenge was removing the beta-amyloid fibrils from tissue samples and purifying them in several steps. What’s more, the fibrils under the cryo-electron microscope revealed many distinct subtypes, which made analysis even more difficult.

You can find more articles on Alzheimer’s here.

Read moreOne step closer to finding the cause of Alzheimer’s disease

Autonomous cars: Overtaking is only possible with a human driver at the wheel

So far, autonomous cars are only dreams of the future. Scientists around the world are working flat out to find out how a car can navigate everyday traffic without human intervention. Automated vehicles must not only be able to navigate correctly and recognize obstacles, but must also assert themselves over human drivers. For example, they need to be able to overtake slower vehicles (IO has previously reported on this).

However, not just fully autonomous cars have to overcome this hurdle, but also the highly automated cars that are currently already on the road. Overtaking maneuvers on two-lane country roads pose a problem in particular for built-in technology. That’s because the vehicles out in front interfere with the sensors. In order to solve this problem, scientists at the University of Ulm in Germany have now devised a system that is able to perfectly divide tasks that overtaking entails between humans and the system.

More articles on the subject of autonomous driving can be found here.

Blind Sensors

Passing a vehicle on two-lane roads is often not easy even for a human being behind the wheel. Especially if you have to assess whether it is safe to overtake a vehicle on the other side of the road. Or if the vehicle in front of you is a truck and is blocking your view. The sensors of an autonomous or highly automated car are already disrupted by a normal passenger car. So, if bends, uphill or downhill slopes are added, it becomes even more difficult for the computer system to get an overview of the situation.

“People know that overtaking in such situations is highly risky,” explains Marcel Walch, principal author of the winning Best Paper Award publication. Together with computer scientist and university president Professor Michael Weber, and psychologists from Ulm University, the doctoral student from the Institute of Media Informatics has designed a cooperative system that combines the respective strengths of the driver and vehicle.

© Marcel Walch

While people are better able to grasp a traffic situation in spatial terms and assess the associated dangers more ‘realistically’, the technology is impressive as far as road handing and maneuverability is concerned, explains Walch. It is therefore only logical to combine the strengths of humans and technology when it comes to overtaking actions. Otherwise, the vehicle would have to drive even further behind the slower vehicle that is in front. Or else the driver would have to overtake ” manually. ” In other words, the human driver has to make the decision to overtake, but the maneuver itself is carried out by the vehicle. For this transition a “handover” is necessary, which enables a switch from automatic to manual operation.

When the other lane is clear, people assume that the automation system will initiate an overtaking maneuver. Professor Martin Baumann, head of the Human Factors Department (who is participating in this research project along with two doctoral students) emphasized that trust in technology can be compromised and its acceptance adversely affected if people experience automated behavior as inappropriate. However, if the technology indicates that it is not overtaking because its line of vision is limited, the human driver knows that they should intervene. They can tell the technology that the oncoming lane is clear. This way, humans can better “understand” the technology and provide adequate support, say the researchers. Driver and automation work together perfectly then.

Preliminary tests successfully completed

This cooperative system for overtaking was tested in a state-of-the-art driving simulator at the Institute for Human Factors. A large display has been integrated into the simulator’s cockpit which enables the driver and vehicle to interact. The terrain and the travel route on a two-lane country road were projected onto three large screens. The speed was around 100 km/h in the simulation and the vehicle was required to overtake slower-moving cars which were driving on a varying route at around 70 km/h.

During the simulation, the human drivers had to handle certain test tasks which were designed to distract them to a greater or lesser extent. Since the vehicle was programmed to drive close behind the slower car in front so that “visibility” was restricted both for the driver and for the vehicle’s sensors, “dicey” situations often occurred. As intended and as often happens in real life. Then the overtaking process was either stopped automatically or could be stopped by the human driver.

© Marcel Walch

Press the button to overtake

Researchers have also explored what a viable interactive system could look like that would allow the driver to initiate overtaking. And – in case of oncoming traffic – stop it safely and on time. They examined two different intervention techniques: The “CLICK” and the “HOLD” procedure. With the “CLICK” method, the simulation participants had to press an “Allow overtaking” button on a display to overtake. This then became the “Cancel overtaking” button. This means that the overtaking process is aborted if the driver touches that button a second time. With the “HOLD” variant, the driver must keep the overtaking button pressed down until the change to the other lane has been completed. In the end, a lot of testers stated that they considered the “HOLD” technology to be safer. This was because the overtaking process could be stopped more quickly in the event of danger. Yet they also considered the “CLICK” variant to be more practical and user-friendly.

When the study was completed, it became clear that many test drivers preferred a cooperative approach to overtaking rather than just a manual one. At the same time, however, it was also clear that people are not always able to cope with complex situations. Especially when they are very distracted.  People often forgot to look in the rear-view mirror when an overtaking maneuver was initiated. The researchers therefore recommend that the vehicle should remind people to look in the rear-view mirror. And, if necessary, warn them of upcoming rear traffic by using sensor data in order to prevent potentially dangerous situations.

Cooperative driver-vehicle interaction

The project is part of the KoFFI joint project on cooperative driver-vehicle interaction. Which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The project was presented at the Automotive UI 2019 in Utrecht and awarded a prize there in autumn this year. This is the leading trade fair for automotive user interfaces.

A similar project has also been carried out at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), where the PAKoS project will be presented at a driving demonstration on the 15th of November. It is also concerned with a smooth interaction between humans and technology and a problem-free situation-based handover to the human driver. Examples of these types of situations are construction sites. Places where there are speed limits and no clear lanes for the system, or non-mapped private areas.

Augmented Reality assists surgeons in the operating theater

Artificial intelligence is taking on more and more tasks in our modern world. For example, we use it every day when we use online search engines. Translation programs are unimaginable without AI, as are speech recognition, face recognition, computer games and, in the future, autonomous driving. In medicine, AI is also becoming more widespread and has already found its way into the operating theater. Just a few days ago, Innovation Origins wrote about operating with live 3D image navigation inside the body.

The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) has now gone one step further and has even been awarded the NEO 2019 Innovation Prize (worth €20,000) by the Karlsruhe TechnologyRegion for their ‘HoloMed’ system. The new system assists surgeons in the operating room via Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR). It does this by creating a model from computer tomographic images of the patient. These reveal the hidden structures deep inside the body.

GPS for the brain

HoloMed’s main focus is on cranial punctures. This is a procedure whereby accumulated fluid is removed from the brain in order to reduce pressure. Frequently used for e.g. brain hemorrhages, craniocerebral trauma and strokes. In order to determine the optimal point of insertion and alignment for the puncture, the surgeon must measure and glean data from “various anatomical landmarks” from computer tomography (CT) and/or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

“The difficulty lies in the fact that determining the angle of insertion only allows for a very small margin of error and the doctor isn’t able to see the target straightaway,” notes Professor Björn Hein. He oversees the project together with Professor Franziska Mathis-Ullrich at KIT. Determining this exact point is complicated as these images are only two-dimensional and the human head is three-dimensional. That’s why only about 60 percent of all free-hand incisions are able to pinpoint the best position.

Surgeons use HoloMed augmented reality glasses to assist them in determining this optimal insertion point and angle for the puncture needle. An AI developed at the AI by science staff member Christian Kunz uses the data from the patient’s digital file and their latest CT and/or MRI scans for creating a model that accurately depicts the structures deep inside the body that cannot be seen externally. This information is superimposed onto the surgeon’s AR glasses and shows the surgeon precisely where and how to guide the needle, much like a navigation system.

Easy to use and cost-efficient

Professor Hein states that machine learning methods are used in the automated generation of this information. “First of all, a segmented 3D model of the head is generated, which is used to determine the target position. However, the doctor is always able to make their own adjustments if appropriate,” Hein adds. The aim of the system is to provide an “innovative, novel and cost-effective solution that has a direct influence on the quality of these procedures”.

After its puncture method is successfully rolled out, HoloMed will also be used for other operations in the future. Since the system is, firstly, easy to use, and secondly, cost-efficient, the inventors say it is ideal for lowering healthcare costs. Plus it would also benefit poorly financed hospitals in emerging countries.

Cover photo: Dr. Michal Hlavac from the University Clinic for Neurosurgery Ulm and Christian Kunz from the “Health Robotics and Automation” (HERA) KIT team evaluating the HoloMed system during the initial surgery simulation with a dummy. (Photo: KIT-HERA).

New class of antibiotics apparently also works against multi-resistant germs

Multi-resistant germs evoke the specter of terror for people who have to go to the hospital. According to information from the German Federal Ministry of Health, 400,000 to 600,000 people in Germany contract infections every year that they have caught during in-patient treatment. As a result, between 10,000 and 15,000 people die in Germany and more than 30,000 throughout Europe.

The problem is that many bacterial pathogens are now immune to several classes of antibiotics. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Gram-negative bacteria with resistance to carbapenem and cephalosporin antibiotics” pose a growing threat because they can cause serious infections such as pneumonia or meningitis, wound infections or blood poisoning. The reserve antibiotic colistin is often no longer effective against these often life-threatening infections.

New mechanism of action

In the fight against these pathogens, researchers led by Anatol Luther of the pharmaceutical company Polyphor AG in Allschwil and Matthias Urfer of the University of Zurich have now developed a new class of antibiotics that can apparently also neutralize dangerous Gram-negative pathogens such as Escherichia coli, Klebsiella or Pseudomonas. The antibiotics interact with proteins of the outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria,” said Urfer’s colleague John Robinson. “According to our results, they bind to fat-like membrane components, the so-called lipopolysaccharides, on the one hand, and to the BamA membrane protein on the other.

More articles on multi-resistant germs can be found here.

Read moreNew class of antibiotics apparently also works against multi-resistant germs

Research using 3D cell cultures instead of animal experiments

3D cell cultures on a silicon grid

Just a few days ago, another scandal involving cruelty to animals in a Hamburg test laboratory hit the headlines. Not just animal welfare activists and animal lovers were shocked by images of dogs bleeding in cages and monkeys mounted on metal frames. Unfortunately the laboratory in Hamburg is by no means an isolated case. Tortuous animal experiments are still the order of the day in the cosmetics industry and in medicine in particular.

In order to gain approval, medicines and other active compounds are often first tested on animals. This is to check for any potential side effects and tolerance levels. In the past, these animal experiments have sometimes been replaced with synthesized cell cultures. These are only two-dimensional and differ considerably from human cell clusters and organs. Scientists led by Dr. Peggy Stock at the University of Leipzig have developed a system for 3D cell cultures which could replace a large amount of animal experiments. This research is being carried out in cooperation with industry partner KET Kunststoff-und Elasttechnik GmbH.

You can find more of our articles on the subject of animal testing here.

Silicone strands from a 3D printer

In 3D silicone plotting, silicone strands produced by a 3D printer form a grid with an organ-like structure. According to Stock, this has demonstrated that “the properties of 3D cell culture system are much easier to transfer to a human organism.” In the project ‘Conception of a 3D silicone structure for the culture of mammalian cells,’ the scientists are working with a type of silicone that is “very elastic and roughly corresponds to what is found in organs in the human body.”

© Pixabay

After Stock and her colleagues had discovered a silicone that is well-suited to the replication of cell structures and 3D printing. They transplanted human stem cells from fat tissue into the silicone grid. These cells were then cultivated in an incubator. This was to find out whether the 3D cell cultures offered advantages over 2D cell cultures that were previously used. By arranging stem cells on the 3D grid, they could make these cells behave like cells in the human body.

Clear advantages over 2D cultures

Stock asserts that the cells ability to colonize a 3D grid and form three-dimensional cell structures has been proven. The cells’ innate properties, such as the ability to communicate with each other, are thereby effectively maintained. In addition, liver cells produced from stem cells in the 3D grid function significantly better than cells in the 2D culture.

The scientists state that the new silicone grid has provided the means for “accurately assessing the potential for new developments in medicine and pharmaceuticals.” In spite of this, animal experiments will still be necessary in the future. Albeit not to the same extent as they have been in the past. According to the project’s funding guidelines, plans are that the 3D grid will be used regularly within research by 2025.

E-Racer accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.2 seconds

Until just a few years ago, the roar of engines and the stench of petrol and burnt tires were the main attractions that lured thousands of fans to the world’s racetracks. Yet the omnipresent concern for environmental conservation is now becoming also increasingly more evident in motor sports.

Since 2014, Formula E has been attracting more and more fans every year. Despite the fact that just the quiet hum of the electric engines can be heard instead of the deafening noise of combustion engines. And these cars are still only half as fast as their bigger brothers over at Formula 1. This year MotoE was launched as a MotoGP framework racing series for two-wheelers. An electric GT series is in the planning stage as well. One thing that has already been decided is the ETCR event, an electric touring car championship that will kick off in 2020.

You can find out more about electromobility in motorsport here.

Not much slower than conventional touring cars

Cupra, who is responsible for SEAT high-performance vehicles, designed the e-Racer for this E-TCR. The 680 hp, all-electric racing car delivers a peak output of up to 500 kW which can be maintained for over ten seconds. The continuous output is 300 kW. The four engines enable the E-Racer to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.2 seconds. From 0 to 200 km/h in 8.2 seconds. And to reach a top speed of 270 km/h. The E-Racer is equipped with a high-capacity engine that can be maintained over ten seconds. At 300 km/h, the traditional DTM cars with combustion engines are just 30 km/h faster – even though the massive battery makes the vehicle 400 kg heavier than its petrol-powered touring car counterpart.

© SEAT

Apart from the top speed of the E-Racer, the charging time is also impressive. The 6,702 batteries recharge in just 40 minutes, according to SEAT. Also, power is recovered during deceleration and braking with the aid of kinetic energy. For aerodynamic reasons, the rear-view mirrors have also been completely replaced by small cameras. The display (which is integrated into the dashboard) shows the driver what is happening around him. He is able to monitor and transmit all relevant data from the electrical system and vehicle performance in real time on the main touch screen.

Successful test on Formula 1 circuit

The E-Racer passed its first rigorous test a few days ago when Swedish racer Mattias Ekström put it through its paces at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona. Ekström, who has already won the Race of Champions three times, has tried out every combustion engine model there is during his racing career. Nevertheless, at first he had to get used to the E-Racer.

“I think the greatest challenge is to drive without a manual gearbox and without using the engine valves as a reference. For example, for assessing how fast you can drive around corners,” said the 2004 and 2007 DTM champion. It felt really good, especially when you come out of the slow corners on the track at full throttle. He admits that he still needs a little more time to get used to the sound of the engine. “It’s a lot quieter than any other engine I’ve driven before and I am a very emotional driver.”

© SEAT

Hyundai is also currently running tests

While SEAT was testing the E-Racer in Spain, Hyundai took its Veloster N ETCR to the first On-Track Test in Hungary and drove on the Hungarian circuit near Budapest for two days. This test also went smoothly, the company stated. It allowed the engineers to work on further optimizing the racing car’s performance and efficiency.

The ETCR will be the first touring car series. It will feature production models from different manufacturers all powered by a standard 100% electric drivetrain. The batteries and Vehicle Control Modules (VCMs) will be supplied by Williams Advanced Engineering, who equipped the Formula E cars with batteries during the first four seasons. The company even received the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the Innovation category in 2018 for its work.

Dates for the ETCR’s first season have not yet been set. However, the races will be held on three continents . In Europe, Asia and North America, on regular road routes and permanent racetracks.

 

Start-up of The Day: Hawa Dawa maps out air quality

In Arabic, hawa dawa means something like pure air. Which is precisely the issue that the Munich-based start-up Hawa Dawa is working on. The company has designed an AI-based system for mapping clean air in cities. By integrating all sources of air quality data (satellite data, weather data and geodata) with its own sensor network. This is how they create temporal and spacial maps which show air quality in high resolution.

Small measuring units are installed on lantern posts or buildings that collect raw data. With the help of the latest IoT technology, this data then sent to the cloud and is “adjusted accordingly by a central artificial intelligence to take account of weather conditions, sensor drift and other disruptive factors,” as the company states on its website. The software also combines this data with other data sources such as traffic, weather, and satellite data to generate area-wide models almost in real-time.

The inventors were presented with the Munich Startup Award 2019 at the Munich Oktoberfest as part of the Bits & Pretzels start-up festival back on October the 1st.

Innovation Origins spoke with CEO and co-founder Karim Tarraf about his company and his vision for Hawa Dawa.

The Hawa-Dawa-Team © Hawa Dawa

How did you come up with the idea of launching the start-up?

Whether in the field of development cooperation or within sustainable economic development, you always want to use your own work to change something in the world and make a positive difference. Unfortunately there is a lack of substance and influence in many areas of people’s everyday lives. This became very clear to me when Egypt was on the brink of collapse during the space of 18 days, despite the billions in economic aid it had received. Only by taking one’s own destiny into one’s own hands and entering unexplored territory in technology fields and business models, does anyone get an opportunity to change the world in a sustainable way. Of course, it is by no means a recipe or a guarantee for success. We founded Hawa Dawa with the conviction that with the right team, the right technology and the right approach, we would be around at the right time.

What makes Hawa Dawa so special compared to your competitors and what problems does it resolve?

In just two years, we were able to increase the number of cities and municipalities who we directly work with to 19. We have developed one of the most comprehensive technologies for the collection and analysis of environmental data on our own. In other words, we’ve made our own complete architecture that is specially designed for this application. In the coming months, we want to demonstrate the potential and scope of our company in three representative projects. As well as cater to the growing international interest at the same time.

What has been the biggest hurdle you have had to overcome?

Going your own way and building your own market means doing pioneering work. A path like this is in itself full of hurdles that need to be tackled successively and in a structured manner. Although this also means that you get going without solving every issue satisfactorily. In my opinion, this kind of approach is difficult in Germany and in Europe in general. All the boxes have to be ticked before you start. Thoroughness is often mistaken for a lack of courage. That’s why we respect those people who don’t care about the tech-scene glamour and who just ‘do their thing’.

Mainly local investors are still stuck in old business models. The will to help shape the world and how it will be (and should be) is too often left to pioneers from Silicon Valley or China. Pioneering spirit and thoroughness are among Germany’s virtues. “We are pioneers in a new market.”

What motivates you to go to work every morning?

Working at Hawa Dawa means not only contributing to a better environment, but also enabling open and spirited cooperation in a multicultural and interdisciplinary work environment. For instance, in our work we have noticed that we are able to recruit and inspire administrative staff and CEOs.

© Hawa Dawa

Was there ever a moment when you wanted to give up?

Of course. That is part of the journey. That you consciously decide against giving up and instead carry on. This validation is important.

And vice versa: What are you particularly proud of?

Our team, which managed to deliver an extremely complex product and a vision for sustainable cities.

What can we expect from Hawa Dawa in the coming years?

Reducing climate change and environmental pollutants, promoting sustainable mobility and healthy living environments are and will remain our main focus. Of the 500 largest companies in the world, 215 have submitted detailed climate reports. Their self-reflections are a stunning insight into the changing nature of global business. Companies estimate that USD 970 billion in assets are at risk from climate change. In most cases over the next five years. So the potential for smart technologies like Hawa Dawa to help resolve these problems are immense.

What is your vision for Hawa Dawa?

Reliable information on air pollution has so far been a matter for experts. Hawa Dawa’s vision is to use intelligent technologies in both the public and private sectors to integrate relevant air pollution data into decision-making processes. When air data is included in decisions on traffic and logistics management, real estate, urban planning and health management, we have the opportunity to fundamentally change cities.

Are you interested in start-ups? We report on more innovative companies here.

Start-up of The Day: Mobility solutions for the future – everything under one roof

“Mobility Solutions for the Future” is the field of expertise for FMS GmbH (Future Mobility Solutions). The company, based in Gaimersheim, Bavaria, is active in areas such as consulting, planning and development of systems for digitization and autonomous driving. This includes communication between cars and traffic lights. In addition, they provide technical services in the automotive sector including the conversion of existing vehicles. Future Mobility Solutions was awarded the Bavarian Founders Prize 2019 for its innovative concepts in the concept category.

Innovation Origins spoke to director and co-founder Prof. Dr. Harry Wagner about his company.

The founders: Prof. Dr. Harry Wagner and Dipl. Ing. Josef Obermeier © FMS

How did you come up with the idea for this start-up?

Mobility is an issue that affects all levels of society. The changes in mobility over the next 10-15 years will be similar to the changes telecommunications went through during the past 15 years. New trends will lead to new business models. Along with new players on the market and changes in the value creation structure. We want FMS to address this transition and provide total solutions. Not just for industry, but also for cities, municipalities and public transport companies.

What makes Future Mobility Solutions so special compared to the competition and what problems does it resolve?

We differentiate between mobility solutions that are used in a product and mobility services that guarantee users access to future mobility. Digitization and software development play crucial roles in both cases. Our added value is that we look at the entire mobility ecosystem. For example, we develop solutions for autonomous driving and the associated concepts for infrastructure managers. We are able to cover the entire development cycle for mobility-specific problems. In addition to functionality and software development, integration and testing are also possible. As well as research and the creation of innovative solutions.

As such, we can design mobility solutions for both consumers and businesses, digitize business processes and models or build applications. The ‘Virtual City’ is one of our products. Traffic and mobility can be visualized on a large scale and simulated in the future using this tool. This enables us to support various related projects in a targeted manner.

What has been the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome?

Last winter, when had no heating in our offices and were fully booked up with orders and the delivery of our warm, soft shell jackets was also delayed. This didn’t break the team spirit fortunately, but working on developing software code with cold hands was a bit uncomfortable.

© FMS

What motivates you to go to work every morning?

What motivates me at the moment is that the heating in our newly renovated rooms actually works. Seriously: What motivates me is working with my teams on the diverse and innovative solutions that we are proud and passionate about developing for ourselves and our customers.

Was there ever a moment when you wanted to give up?

Every day at 5:30 a.m. when the alarm goes off. But at 5:45 the anticipation of a new day kicks in. We haven’t thought about giving up yet.

And vice versa: What are you particularly proud of?

This year, I was especially proud to receive the “Bavarian Founders Award” in the category “Concept” and to be nominated for the last round of the eMove360° Award 2019 in the category “Mobility Concepts & Software”. I am above all proud of my team here, because these awards are for our employees and their ideas.

What can we expect from you in the coming years?

Various solutions for improving mobility. We call one of them Mobility Roaming, but we don’t want to talk about that yet. Aside from that, we will continue to work on developing Virtual City as an industry-wide solution. Above all, we want to have a positive impact on tomorrow’s sustainable mobility.

What is your vision for future mobility solutions?

We want to be a leading partner for all mobility issues in the future and develop excellent, unique and innovative products, services, processes and business models in cooperation with our customers.

 

Lack of team spirit? That’s why so few German scientists become entrepreneurs

In the Global Competitiveness Index 4.0 issued by the World Economic Forum in 2018, Germany ranked third behind the USA and Singapore as a top location for world-class research. In terms of innovative capacity, Germany was in fact the undisputed leader of the 140 countries evaluated. Nevertheless, spin-offs from scientific institutions are relatively rare. The rate is just 5%, whereas it is 19% in Estonia (32nd place overall).

A research project sponsored by the Joachim Herz Foundation and carried out at the Entrepreneurship Research Institute of the Technical University of Munich (TUM ERI) has now looked into the reasons why German academics are apparently reluctant to set up companies. In an initial preliminary result, the researchers found out that the problems often lie in three essential factors for success. Namely: team spirit, pragmatism and soft skills.

Over the course of their study, the research team is spending several months overseeing more than 100 entrepreneurial teams. This involves experts from universities and companies working together, some of them at the Entrepreneurship Research Institute at the TU Munich. Participants provided information in weekly online questionnaires and interviews on the challenges they faced when setting up a spin-off.

© Pixabay

Teamwork important for success

Expertise is not enough when it comes to starting a business. Not even when you’ve completed your degree summa cum laude. And innovative technology isn’t enough either. At least as important, is a good working knowledge of the market in order to be able to gauge which idea has the potential for commercial success. Which is precisely what scientists tend to lack after graduation. That’s why, according to experts, it’s important for academics to start a company with people who have industry and start-up experience.

In addition to this lack of familiarity with the market, the results of the study show that there is another major obstacle that often stands in the way of young entrepreneurs. Nicola Breugst, Professor for Entrepreneurial Behavior at the TUM School of Management, explained during the presentation of the preliminary results that many start-up teams find it difficult to find a common and straightforward path. This lack of consensus concerns the decision as to what the product is supposed to be able to do. As well as the question of how this vision can best be implemented. “The start-up teams begin by discussing various ideas over and over. Without being able to commit themselves to one course of action. So, eventually they fail,” she said. “Therefore, university and other start-up funding institutions should not be limited to just providing technology and knowledge of the market. They also have to offer soft skills training, e.g. team-oriented coaching.”

Less perfectionism, more pragmatism

Another major hurdle for entrepreneurs in Germany found in the results of the study, is the “German virtue” that is appreciated worldwide. Perfectionism. Under the motto ‘fail fast and early.’ start-up teams are required to present potential customers with prototypes early on that are not completely finished. That’s with the aim of finding out whether there is a market for their products. However, this testing and obtaining feedback at such an early stage contradicts the scientific mindset. That is, incomplete findings do not provide a basis for decisions and communication with others. For this reason, academics must learn to think less scientifically and in a more ‘pragmatically enterprising way.’

Prof. Breugst presents the preliminary results © Bert Willer / UnternehmerTUM, October 2019

“The preliminary results of the study show that even interdisciplinary academic start-up teams with similar initial situations and challenges are pursuing very different directions in terms of development. Teams that listened less to the expert tips from our incubator and who lost themselves in their decision-making processes have generally not been successful,” explained Prof. Dr. Dr. Holger Patzelt, Professor of Entrepreneurship, also at the TUM ERI. Scientists should dare approach possible target audiences and important stakeholders even with prototypes that are still works in progress. However, he stressed that they all had some things in common: curiosity, willingness to take risks and openness to new ideas. “After all, even if in the worst case they do not produce any results, scientists should engage in research projects as this is an important prerequisite for spin-offs”.

Three-year study

In this three-year research project, the researchers want to find out how scientists become entrepreneurs, which factors support or inhibit this process, and which ‘fundamentally relevant but often neglected psychological processes’ take place within academic spin-offs. A further goal is to understand how interdisciplinary start-up teams work together successfully, find compromises and develop common core values for their companies. They also want to see why some university chairs produce more start-ups than others.

Dr. Nina Lemmens from the Joachim Herz Foundation said that the education system and funding opportunities in Germany are ideal for entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, there are still very few people who dare to start a company or who give up too soon. “What is the reason for this? Is it the mindset? Lack of willingness to take risks? Or the fear of failure? How can we scientists be encouraged to experiment more?” she asked. The final results of the study will be presented at the start of 2021 in Berlin.

More articles on entrepreneurship can be found here.

Start-up of The Day: automated inventory management for logistics companies

Monitoring inventories in warehouses is a labor-intensive and time-consuming task that also leaves plenty of room for error. With its latest autonomous drone inventAIRy® X, the Kassel-based start-up Doks. Innovation has found a solution that makes logistics management more efficient and reliable. Inventories in pallet high-bay warehouses will become automated and customers, e.g. in automotive and raw materials logistics, can create a digital picture of their stock.

This makes easy to identify available capacity in the warehouse and to localize lost goods. According to the inventors, inventAIRy® X saves up to 90% of the time and up to 80% of costs. Employees no longer have to worry about inventory and can spend their time on more important tasks. In addition to inventory, the drone also includes other parameters such as storage temperature, packaging conditions and possible damages. The data can be retrieved on the accompanying handheld device.

Innovation Origins spoke to the CEO of Doks. Innovation, Benjamin Federmann, about his company and its goals.

The founders © doks. Innovation

How did you come up with the idea of setting up the start-up?

Due to a connection with a research project, it was possible to conduct intensive customer interviews over three years which became the basis for the strategic planning behind the GmbH. The determined need for automation and digitization in logistics forms the basis of the original business plan and continues to form the orientation of product management to this day.

What makes Doks. Innovation special compared to your competitors? Are there other start-ups dealing with the same topic?

The competitors we know about, usually offer isolated solutions or technologies that are directly linked to a specific system (e.g. WMS). We offer an open standard, fully integrated solutions, and associated workflows and far-reaching data analytics options for e.g. core data enrichment and qualitative questions around intralogistics processes.

What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?

Until today, the biggest challenge has to do with the acceptance of drones paired with expectations that are influenced by science fiction films.

© doks. Innovation

What motivates you to go to work every morning?

Our team, the responsibility towards our clients, the ability to develop the best solutions, and the opportunity to learn something new every day.

Was there a moment when you wanted to give up?

We never wanted to give up. There was always another defeat and setback, which – alongside the solutions for our customers – only made us stronger as a team.

And vice versa: What made you particularly proud?

Every cent of turnover makes us proud. In B2B sales, all sales are hard-earned and each time a manifestation of success for everyone – from the idea, through development, on to production, and finally to implementation at the customer level.

© doks. Innovation

What can we look forward to in the coming years, in other words, what can we expect from Doks. Innovation?

We are planning significant further development of the most important solutions – inventAIRy X, summAIRy, and delivAIRy. At the same time, we will aim our marketing significantly more on an international level and continue to grow along with our customers.

What is your vision for Doks. Innovation?

We want to become the largest provider of automated data collection with a focus on warehousing, inventory, inventory recording, and documentation as well as masters in data in Europe.

Interested in more start-ups? Read all of the articles in our series here.

Beware of dog food: transmission of multiresistant bacteria to humans is possible

Every year more than 30,000 people in Europe die from multi-resistant bacteria. According to figures from the European Disease Prevention and Control Agency (ECDC), approximately 700,000 people per year are infected with these kinds of pathogens, more than two thirds of them while in hospital.

Multiresistant bacteria are pathogens that have not only become immune to an antibiotic, but have also developed a resistance to broad-spectrum antibiotics that act on a variety of bacteria and are often used. As a result, patients no longer respond to antibiotics and, in the worst case scenario, die from infection. Bacteria can produce so-called Extended Spectrum Beta-Lactamases (ESBL) – an enzyme that renders certain antibiotics ineffective. This happens particularly in places where many antibiotics are in circulation, such as hospitals and intensive livestock farming.

“The situation with multiresistant bacteria has in recent years become increasingly more out of control,” explains Roger Stephan, Professor at the Institute of Food Safety, part of the Vetsuisse Faculty at the University of Zurich. “Countermeasures are urgently needed to prevent the spread of ESBL-forming bacteria.” This, however, requires a deeper understanding of the distribution and spread of multiresistant bacteria which can subsequently also occur in the intestinal flora of humans and animals.

© Pixabay

Multiresistant bacteria in dog food

In a study on clinically relevant bacterial strains in dogs and cats, researchers from the Vetsuisse Faculty of the UZH have found a wide variety of ESBL-forming bacteria. “We were shocked that these bacteria can be detected so abundantly in dogs and cats,” said Stephan. “We suspected that one possible transmission route was through the consumption of raw meat.”

In contrast to earlier days, when pets were primarily fed cooked meat and/or dry food, more and more pet owners are now feeding raw meat, offal, bones and ingredients such as vegetables and fruit to their dogs in particular. This food mixture is called “BARF”. Incidentally, BARF stands for “Biologically Appropriate Raw Food” and is by no means slang for vomit …

Researchers at the University of Zurich used 51 raw food samples from various suppliers in Switzerland and examined these for their total bacterial content, normal and antibiotic-resistant enterobacteria and salmonella. They found multiresistant bacteria in one out of two dog foods made from raw meat.

© Pixabay

Risk factor for humans and animals

ESBL-forming bacteria were found in 61 % of the samples. The threshold value for enterobacteria was exceeded in 73 % of the cases. Salmonella and Escherichia coli (e-coli) were detected along with the mcr-1 colistin resistance gene were detected in two samples respectively. The latter is a transferable resistance mechanism against the backup antibiotic colistin, which was recently discovered in China for the first time

“The fact that we found ESBL-forming bacteria in over 60 % of the samples is extremely alarming,” explains Magdalena Nüesch-Inderbinen, principal author of the study. “Among them were some Escherichia coli types that can cause infections in humans and animals. From the researchers’ point of view, ‘BARF-ing’ is therefore also a major risk factor for the transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from pets to humans. Firstly, the pet owners come into contact with the multi-resistant bacteria during the preparation of the food. Secondly, the animals can transfer bacteria through close contact with their owners.

“We strongly advise all dog and cat owners who want to feed their animals “BARF,” to handle the food carefully and to stick to strict hygiene standards when feeding their animals,” Nüesch-Inderbinen states. “Animal owners should be aware of the risk that their animals might be carrying and spreading multiresistant bacteria”.

More articles on antibiotic resistance can be found here.

Start-up of The Day: Fast-charging of electric cars anywhere, powered by kinetic energy

It is not always easy to find a charging station for your electric car. And once you have found one, charging the battery generally takes more than 30 minutes. Even several hours if you charge at home. The Israeli start-up Chakratec shows us that there is another way. The inventors from Lod have invented an energy storage technology that enables charging in just a few minutes. The concept is a kinetic battery based on an innovative flywheel concept.

Company co-founder Nir Zohar spoke to Innovation Origins about his start-up:

 

The founders (left to right) Ilan Ben David, Nir Zohar, David Pincu, © Chakratec

How did you come up with the idea of founding the start-up?

Each of us has had our own high-tech career. We met up again about 7 years ago and decided to launch a start-up which would benefit humankind and not be just another “internet application” start-up. As such, we understood that energy storage is under focus in the energy industry. However, this market is dominated by Chinese battery manufacturers. That’s why we did some research and decided to distinguish ourselves by providing a kinetic battery energy storage device that uses the best from the flywheel and battery worlds. Our storage has unlimited charging cycles, instantaneous reactions and a high C rating. Plus it is environmentally friendly since it is not toxic and does not pollute like chemical batteries do.

What makes your product Chakratec so special compared to your competitors and what problems does it solve?

Shorter EV charging times are achieved by using higher power chargers (150 kW, 350 kW and more). To date, fast and ultra-fast EV chargers can only be installed where enough grid power is available (i.e. near high voltage lines – transmission grids). This leaves most roads without viable or cost-effective EV fast-charging solutions. This creates significant barriers for EV access in those areas. Upgrading infrastructure involves enormous costs and lengthy periods of time. Which is often due to tedious bureaucratic approval and rejection processes.
In order to overcome these challenges, there is a need to add local energy storage for grid support of fast charging. These storage systems must withstand multiple high-power charging and discharging cycles. The use of chemical (lithium) batteries is feasible, but multiple charging cycles shorten their lifespan. This leads to frequent battery replacements, making this a costly and rather bleak, environmentally unfriendly solution.

Chakratec has developed a unique kinetic energy storage technology, which enables unlimited high-powered charge and discharge cycles. Utilizing our proprietary Kinetic Power Booster technology, Chakratec facilitates the deployment of fast-charging stations anywhere, including locations which have a weak grid. Our multi-patented technology stores the electricity as kinetic energy in a fast-rotating flywheel. This technology presents two major advantages:

• Unlimited high-power charge and discharge cycles (more than 200,000) without degradation over the full 20 year  lifespan of the system.
• The non-chemical flywheel is a sustainable and reusable system, as opposed to toxic and polluting chemical batteries.

What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?

Developing a high-speed flywheel which operates on the boundaries of physical limits is not a walk in the park. It took us about 5 years until we succeeded in setting up a system. And then take it out of the lab and into the field to our first customer, the energy utility in Vienna – Wien Energie.

What motivates you to go to work every morning?

Working at the cutting edge of mechanical and electrical technology and knowing that if we succeed, we will bring ‘green’ energy storage to the world. That’s what fuels our daily activities.

© Chakratec

Was there a moment when you wanted to give up?

No, never.

And vice versa: What made you particularly proud?

We are very proud to have been nominated once again for the eMove360 2019 award after we won the 2017 award for best storage technology. Over the years, we have won several other significant awards, such as the NREL outstanding venture award 2018 and the innovation challenge in Austria. The latter eventually lead to our first project in Austria with Wien Energie and the Vienna International Airport. Nowadays, our systems are being implemented by leading energy and automotive companies in Austria, Italy, and the Czech Republic. We were chosen to work with leading European players like the car manufacturer, SKODA AUTO, of the VW group and ENEL X.

What can we expect from Chakratec in the coming years?

We are working hard to “educate” the market and to introduce our groundbreaking kinetic technology. To date, we are the only company in the world who is actively co-locating flywheels and EV charging units. We see a major change in perception from year to year, mostly thanks to our main competitors – chemical batteries.  Which, over time, are not sustainable in economical or environmental terms when it comes to EV charging with high-powered, multi-cycle applications. Even though these are currently cheaper than our solution. We hope to keep attracting attention from the market. And also to partner with more leading players, as we have started to do in the last two years.

What is your vision for Chakratec?

We are constantly applying our vision in order to access a high level of the renewable energy market by providing economic and environmental electricity storage solutions. We want to become the storage technology of choice, the “go-to” technology for high-end applications. As well as contribute to the environment by reducing CO2 emissions and reduce the pollution of the toxic chemical batteries.

Are you interested in start-ups? We report on other innovative companies here.