The Hello Tomorrow Summit in Paris is an exploration of the people, products and services promising to change our lives for the better. You don’t have to be into deep tech to be inspired by the ideas from some of the brightest entrepreneurs and start-ups in food, travel, health, materials and more. Here are five things from this year’s event you need to know…
Print your shoes
Say “3D printing” and beauty isn’t the first word that springs to mind. Layered plastic prototypes – yes. Dreamy, fluid shapes – no. Enter Carbon, the tech company that wants to change the way the world makes everything, from luxury cars to sportswear. Its mind-blowing new wave of printing machines use light and oxygen to sculpt objects from a pool of resin. Watch them in action and you’ll see intricate structures emerge from liquid, as if by magic. Thanks to Carbon’s technology, geometries and textures previously beyond the reach of traditional manufacturing techniques are suddenly made possible.
This is personalisation at a speed and scale never seen before, and a revolution in product design that the savviest brands are already getting behind. Adidas is partnering with Carbon to produce a strong, light, flexible midsole for the next iteration of its FutureCraft sports shoe. With the FutureCraft 4D available early next year in a limited run, Adidas says it marks the beginning of a move towards on-the-spot customisation.
Make silk (from yeast)
Soft, hypoallergenic, and stronger than steel by weight, spider silk far exceeds anything humans have invented. The problem with trying to farm this miracle material, according to bio-textiles pioneer Dan Widmaier, is that spiders don’t produce enough (they also tend to eat each other overnight). Bolt Threads, the bio-tech company Widmaier co-founded, has developed an ingenious way to make a textile that mimics the properties of spider silk, without relying on its cannibalistic creators.
By fermenting engineered yeast to produce a liquid silk protein (in a method similar to beer making) then processing it and spinning it into fibres, Widmaier and team have produced a material that’s strong, elastic, soft and durable. Since the main input is sugar from plants, the company says the environmental impacts are also significantly lower than that of petroleum-derived fibres like polyester, from which about two thirds of today’s textiles are made.
Bolt Threads are now partnering with conscious big-hitters like Stella McCartney and Patagonia, so it’s only a matter of time before its high-performance bio-fabrics weave their way into our wardrobes.
Grow your own furniture
The new luxury 1Hotel Brooklyn Bridge in New York takes its cues from nature, with lush, native greenery, and interiors constructed from reclaimed materials. Designer Danielle Trofe is one of several local artists whose work features inside. Her sleek, contemporary lampshades are about as natural as it gets – because she grew them, from mushrooms.
The biomaterial Trofe used is made by a company called Ecovative, which specialises in “mycelium technology”. Mycelium (the root structure of mushrooms) can be used to grow sustainable materials that have the same properties as synthetics. It takes things we consider waste (such as agricultural byproducts) and binds them into a material that can then be shaped into any form.
Ecovative started in 2007 by offering a compostable alternative to polystyrene packaging. The company has gone on to produce beautifully crafted furniture, acoustic tiles, bio-bricks and Grow-It-Yourself kits that anyone can order online. Now expanding into textiles with a bio-fabric that looks, feels and behaves like leather, co-founder Eben Bayer hopes more artists and designers will experiment with the materials, to “create stuff we would never even think of.”
De-stress with wearable tech
No digital display, no beeps, no reminders, no constant stream of data you don’t know what to do with. Doppel isn’t what we’ve come to expect from most wearables. The watch-like device doesn’t tell you the time, or anything else for that matter. Instead, it makes you feel.
Doppel works by sending a silent, heart-beat like vibration to your wrist. Slowing the rhythm can calm you down in stressful situations, while speeding it up can help you focus. There’s a lot of neuroscience and psychology behind it, but in short – our brains respond to the rhythm in a similar way to how we respond to music.
For those in the know, a limited number of the devices have been already available to preorder. The rest of us will have to wait (anxiously) for Doppel to launch in the UK early next year.
Learn from your robot
The notion that getting a cup of coffee could trigger the annihilation of the human race may seem a little, extreme. Unless, that is, you’re a piece of highly-developed artificial intelligence, programmed with one specific purpose: to “fetch the coffee.” When you realise that being switched off will prevent you from completing your task, you’ll stop at nothing to keep going – disabling your off button and wiping out every potential threat in your path. So far, so terrifyingly sci-fi.
But do we really need to fear the rise of the super-intelligent machines? Only if we give them an objective that’s not in line with what we really want, says leading AI researcher Professor Stuart Russell. Russell’s three principles for safer AI are designed to move our thinking away from the idea of robots that aggressively defend themselves in pursuit of a single goal.
In other words, we may avoid an AI-mongered doomsday if we give our robots a more altruistic purpose. If a robot’s only aim is to realise humans’ objectives, but it’s uncertain what those are, it must observe how we behave to understand us. In this way, an AI would not only need to satisfy a single person’s desire, it would have to respect everyone’s preferences. By weighing these up and defining actions that would benefit the many, not the few, it might be actually help us avoid the worst excesses of our behaviour, and learn to be better people. Maybe.