The Drum Awards Festival - Extended Deadline

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By Tom Ollerton and Alastair Cole, hosts

July 8, 2015 | 7 min read

If you’ve got a job title with the word 'innovation' in it then a small part of you probably is a little unsure what you’re supposed to be doing. You can guarantee your colleagues are equally if not more perplexed.

Tom Ollerton and Alastair Cole found themselves with this problem and met for a coffee to make a plan of what to do. They decided that part of the job of an agency innovator was to stay inspired, informed and to experiment. So they decided to record a weekly podcast called The Innovation Ramble which would investigate the world of innovation one subject at a time.

For the next eight weeks The Drum will be taking these ramblings and distilling them into insights into innovation that you can cut and paste, and tell your colleagues you found them first. Here’s the notes from this week’s show..

This week’s subject is Relationships: the long distance, family, friends and partners. It was a gay old week for relationships with same sex marriage being legalised in all 50 US states – hurrah! This led the Innovation Ramble to research the murky world of Ectogenesis which is the science of gestating a baby in an artificial womb which doesn’t need to be in a body.

The baby grows in bag that is pumped full of all of the same nutrients a body would. Goats that have been born prematurely have been successfully sustained in an artificial environment and even human embryos have been grown for 10 days externally. Ectogenesis could change take the responsibility of child carrying and birth from the mother and have positive implications for male same sex relationships in particular.

What’s unequivocal is that our relationships with each other and ourselves are evolving which might explain why 36-year-old Sophie Tanner “married herself” in Brighton recently. Sick of waiting for Mr Right she tied the knot with herself in a defiant act of sologamy.

None of this concerns Kevin Warwick, a professor at the University of Reading, who is proud to say that he was the world’s first cyborg. He’s connected neurally with his wife by implanting chips inside their arms which allow them to send messages in Morse code when they clench and unclench their hands.

This has big implications for blind-deaf people who get a different experience of the super-connected digital world. A new glove kitted out with fabric pressure-sensors and embedded with small vibrating motors has been created by Tom Bieling at the Design Lab in Berlin. The mobile glove could eliminate the necessity of hand-to-hand physical contact for deaf-blind communication.

Most of us aren’t cyborgs or MIT nerds with budget to build haptic gloves. So off to the app store the Ramble went and found the well intentioned Hero Boyfriend app. The app is billed as a girlfriend retention tool that outsources the creativity in your relationship. If you’ve been sat on the couch watching Wimbledon and drinking Pimms out of the bottle, then Hero Boyfriend will send you timely reminders to send your lady tulips and other sweetnesses from the app itself.

Innovation is also solving the tricky situation of long-distance relationships. Penny Webb has a lamp that enables long-distance connections in response to voice, touch or movement. Her product connects two people using lamps that turn on remotely when breathed on. Ironically, we’re so hooked on our digital communications devices that even when we’re in the same room we can find it hard to talk. Which is why Dolmio created the Pepper Hacker: an internet-connected pepper mill that wipes out WiFi, shuts down TVs and disables mobile devices, all with a single twist.

Innovation in relationships isn’t all about savvy parents numbing the internet with condiments. Paro is a robotic seal that is designed to entertain your grandad when no one’s bothered going to see him in a few months. You can pet and feed Paro much like a real life Tamagotchi and it has been seen to be have a remarkable effect on the oldies.

But is Paro a tragicomic portrayal of our inability to reach out to those who need us? Does it really take a cuddly seal to make our own relations feel like they are special to someone? If cuddly robotic seals are a step too far but you’re hankering for a hug, try Cuddlr – the smartphone app helping you meet strangers for casual, platonic cuddling. Invitations to cuddle expire after 60 minutes and can be accepted or declined in Tinderesque fashion.

The Innovation Ramble don’t just talk about innovation, we do it too. Tom got together with Matt Kempton and James Mitchell to try and solve a problem in their relationships. They found themselves sending a lot of messages like “Call u later”, “on my way”, “I love you”, “fancy a beer”, “I’m so tired” etc... so they decided to create a messaging app that uses three words at a time – 3UP.

Within a few weeks of using it we realised it didn’t solve the problem. It took longer to write a three-word message than it did to just write a five or six-word text so we shelved the project. If you want to download it, be our guest and you will be user number 14.

The Innovation Ramble relationship episode wraps up with the story of Wan Shuanglong. He was recently reunited with his twin brother after 20 years apart – all thanks to facial recognition technology. While playing outside their family home in Shenzhen City in 1995, Wan Shuangjian and their older sister Wan Yan were kidnapped and sold into slavery. 20 years later Wan Shuanglong’s picture was matched with his brother’s photo in a local police database. DNA testing proved they were twins and lead to a tearful family reunion.

Tom Ollerton is We Are Social's marketing and innovation director and Alastair Cole is chief innovation officer at Partners Andrews Aldridge / Engine Group. You can follow their innovation ramblings @innovramble