Over to you: Sony unveils Open Planet Ideas finalists

Sony is seeking feedback on the eight finalists for the Open Planet Ideas project, which aims to repurpose its own technologies to tackle environmental issues

Sony’s Open Planet Ideas project, which seeks to find new uses for the company’s technologies to tackle worldwide environmental issues, has reached its penultimate phase, with over 400 entries now whittled down to a shortlist of eight. Ranging from the use of satellite sensors to detect forest fires to an online system for matching volunteers with local green projects, the shortlisted items will now be judged by the public who will help select the final concept in January ‘We had over 400 concepts to choose from, and the shortlisting process was not an easy one,’ commented Chris Clifton, chief technology officer and divisional director for Sony Semiconductor and Electronic Solutions. ‘I personally was overwhelmed with the variety of problems being addressed and the innovative ways in which community members proposed these issues be resolved.’

The shortlisted ideas are:

Watersource uses SMS to share information about water quality and availability

WaterSource, a dynamic map giving information about the availability and quality of drinking water in the developing world. The system makes use of the increasing use of mobile phones, allowing users to send in information via free SMS to give local updates on the water quality, cost per litre, and waiting times; this would then be updated in real time and could be accessed by phone or displayed, the designer suggests, on solar-powered units at local community centres.

Carpool links together people within a local community who are prepared to give each other lifts

Also making use of mobile communications, Carpool via P2P and GPS would create a local network of people who are willing to give lifts. Users would alert the system as to where they are travelling to and from, and how many seats they have available; other members in the neighbourhood could access this information using familiar devices. The designer believes it could bring neighbourhoods closer together, and also create local competitions between neighbourhoods to drive down carbon emissions.

Train Edu-Tainment aims to make train travel more fun

Train Edu-Tainment is a public-domain, open-source concept, an educational and entertaining multimedia sharing platform for people travelling by train. Using GPS location data combined with personal preference, the system would stream audio or video content to a mobile device providing content on such subjects as sport, history, art and architecture or music, specific to the location of the user and the season in which they are travelling. This, the designer says, could help make train travel more attractive and reduce reliance on aircraft.

Wireless heat sensors could give information about forest fires

Another shortlisted entrant proposes incorporating fire sensors into seed-sized devices that can be embedded in the trunks of trees that would communicate wirelessly with satellite systems to provide warnings of forest fires. The sensors’ signals would give a picture of how fast, and in which directions, the fire is spreading, helping emergency services coordinate their response to the situation.

Greenbook is an interactive information service for environmental volunteers

Greenbook, an online platform for environmental volunteers, combines a news website with a forum system for members to learn about projects in their area, report on progress, discuss the project, and find projects near them so that they can become involved themselves.

Expert systems could identify wildlife while geotagging observations for conservation

Providing information while out and about is the goal of another finalist, envisaged as an application for camera-equipped smartphones and other mobile devices. Users would be able to take a picture of a plant or animal they encounter while out walking and send this to an online expert system, which would identify the species in the picture and provide the user with information on it. Simultaneously, it would generate a GPS marker to locate the species, which could be useful in conservation. The system could also work with a sound file of a bird call or similar animal noise, the designers suggest.

Remote wireless weather stations could provide microclimate information

The weather is an ongoing obsession, and one finalist suggests using Sony’s expertise to set up a network of remote, wireless weather stations, powered by photovoltaics and connected via GPS to provide real-time weather monitoring, The data from the stations, including temperature profiles, wind speeds, sunshine and rainfall, would be accessible via an open website, and could be particularly useful for farmers and for users of remote roads through mountain passes; it could also, the designers suggest, be combined with soil sensors to measure moisture and nutrient levels, which vary with weather.

Greenpath tells users how to minimise their carbon emissions while getting more exercise

Another entrant using GPS and P2P technologies is Greenpath, a mapping system which shows users the most environmentally friendly or healthiest ways they can accomplish the journeys they make over the course of the day. The system would include the locations of organic markets and shops, cycle paths, slow-food restaurants, recycling centres and parks, and would show the user how many calories they might use in walking from one to another or how much CO2 they might save in taking the local Metro rather than driving.

The entries were judged according to whether they used existing technologies; how they could contribute to making the best use of the planet’s resources; whether Sony could develop the idea further; how novel the proposal was; and whether it addressed ‘challenge themes’ that Sony had identified. The competition website is now open for users to give their own opinions ahead of the decision on the winner, due on 11 January, after which Sony’s engineers will set to work on realising the winning entry; more information can be found on Facebook, and by following @openplanetideas on Twitter.

‘We are now encouraging our creative minds to discuss and build upon these ideas,’ Clifton said. ‘We want the winning concept to have the most potential to help us make the most of our planet’s resources.’