Future-Changing Inventions Ready to Launch


By Patrick Tucker

Futurists: BetaLaunch, the World Future Society’s third annual innovation competition, will allow WorldFuture 2013 attendees to get a glimpse of the companies, start-ups, and inventions that are changing the future. Here are the creators we’re honoring at F:BL this year.

Futurists: BetaLaunch is one of the few design and expo showcases that focuses only on future-changing inventions. Without further ado meet the winners of Futurists: BetaLaunch 2013!

Surface Haptics: Northwestern University NxR Lab

The Northwestern University Neuroscience and Robotics (NxR) Laboratory wants to make your texts, apps, and the sites you visit on your smartphone or tablet PC feel more real through a unique, still experimental, interface feature called surface haptics.

According to the NxR Lab, surface haptics would let you “feel objects on the surface of your screen as they dynamically react to your motions.” The flat and shiny surface of your smartphone would be replaced by a tactile and stimulating landscape. The unlock slider would resist your push just enough to let you know it’s there, your fingertip would rise and fall over the “F” in the Facebook app icon. Says the lab: “We are not talking about buzzing; we are talking about making things feel real.”

So far, about a thousand people have experienced surface haptics, according to the Lab.

Details: http://tpadtablet.org/, http://nxr.northwestern.edu/



Water is the new oil, we’ve all been told many times. The UN has forecast that half of the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas by 2030. Rapid urbanization, climate change, and other trends will sweep growing numbers of people into areas where there either isn’t enough physical freshwater for them or where there isn’t sufficient infrastructure to meet rising water demands. It’s a situation that already afflicts 2.8 billion people in the developing world. In many parts of Africa, in particular, women and children are often forced to trek miles to water pumps, wells, and lakes (sometimes controlled by rival villages) and can only bring back a few gallons of water at a time.

George Page, the founder and CEO of Portapure, has developed a solution that gets around infrastructure scarcity to meet rising water demands on an individual level. His company, Portapure, manufactures a five-gallon gravity-flow water filter, good for a family of six, that makes water from any lake, river, or stream safe to drink.

Says Page, “We’ve received a utility patent for our technology along with over $125,000 in pre-sales purchase orders from NGOs, disaster relief groups, and nonprofits operating in developing countries.”

Details: http://portapure.com/


Online prediction markets, which allow people to bet on the probabilities of different events occurring, serve as a snapshot for what the public, individuals, or groups are thinking about the future. They’re redefining modern foresight practice, and Chicago-based Inkling has emerged as a key player in this rapidly growing market.

“In most organizations, [prediction markets are] the only forum employees have to anonymously express what they really think is happening with their project or company,” the company wrote in an e-mail.

Inkling has been in existence since 2006 and has already worked with auto manufacturers, oil companies, and major banks. At Futurists: BetaLaunch, they’ll demo their core software suite as well as “some new related stuff we’ve been cooking up.”

Details: http://inklingmarkets.com/



“Despite all the technology advancements in the past 20 years, video has remained a passive medium,” say the creators of Kilo-App. “Video playback has remained relatively unchanged.” The Kilo-App allows users to manipulate video on their smartphones through the touchscreen* the way an old-medium painter manipulates the colors on her canvas with a brush. Imagine the next generation of Vine, and you have Kilo-App.

Details: http://kilo-app.com/



We think of radio as what communication was like before the Internet: sound and music broadcast from a station over a limited area to a device that you had in your living room. In fact, as information technology spreads from desktop computers to phones to the physical environment in the form of sensors and radio-frequency identification tags, radio signaling plays a part in evermore devices and services. Yet, radio signaling technology hasn’t kept pace with innovation in information technology.

A Chicago start-up, WindyCitySDR, has received a patent for a software-defined radio device. A software radio can switch from being a cell phone to a wireless local area network to an electronic door operator (or what-not) to a closed-channel walkie-talkie.

The hope, according to WindyCitySDR, is to once again make Chicago the “World’s Largest Manufacturer of Mobile Phones.”

Details: www.windycitysdr.com/


“There is no way to make money blogging, and all content is just becoming blogs,” goes a familiar complaint about what information technology has done to media. But the real problem is that, if the world is awash in free content, how do publications, writers, musicians, amateur movie directors, and other content creators convince people to support them financially?

CentUp encourages readers, listeners, and Web surfers to donate to their favorite artists through a CentUp button that appears on new posts, uploads, etc. And a portion of the money goes to worthwhile charities doing great work in the developing world. When you reward your favorite blogger (or magazine) for a particularly insightful post, you can help buy school supplies for children in Africa, or support other good work. As the company explains in its promotional video, “We’re trying to make the world gooder, much gooder.” Details: www.centup.org/

CentUp from CentUp on Vimeo.


As much as 30% of the U.S. population over the age of 20 has high blood pressure, a consequence of our sedentary lifestyles and sodium-rich diets. Chronic high blood pressure can lead to compounding health problems later in life, but tracking your blood pressure via paper and pen or even via spreadsheet software is a lot of effort for relatively little reward.

The Blipcare Wi-Fi blood pressure monitor allows users to track their blood pressure (or that of an older parent or grandparent) using a home Wi-Fi network. Users can quickly see how their relationship with food, alcohol, exercise, sleep, and stress influences blood pressure without the hassle of writing down readings several times a day. The system can also send you an alert when you start to go off track.


“Due to ease of use and built-in reminders, users take more readings,” the company writes. “The data can be used to personalize medication timing to improve outcomes (chronotherapy). The changes in behavior patterns can be tracked to predict readmissions or other adverse events.”

Blipcare also produces a Wi-Fi Weight Scale that uses a home Wi-Fi network, which the company will demo at F:BL as well. It turns out that how you step on a scale reveals as much about you (such as your current level of fatigue) as does your weight when you’re on the platform. We simply didn’t have the tools to collect the data for those insights until now.

Details: www.blipcare.com/

About the Author

Patrick Tucker is deputy editor of THE FUTURIST, communications director for the World Future Society, founder and project manager of the annual Futurists: BetaLaunch expo.

*Originally accelerometer. Changed on 6.26.2013 after consultation with the company determined that "touchscreen" was more appropriate.

The original version of this article mentioned 3DPOV as one of the BetaLaunch participants. 3DPOV has sense dropped out of the BetaLaunch program.