Thursday, September 5, 2013

Home servers offer inexpensive cloud storage to consumers

We recently wrote about AOTERRA‘s decentralized server network that doubles as eco-friendly heating for homes. Now Space Monkey is another alternative to energy-consuming data centers that replaces standalone hard-drives with inexpensive home cloud storage devices. To have access to digital data at home, consumers currently need to buy an external hard-drive – which they have to connect to their computer every time they require a file stored on it – or use a cloud service – whose prices are aimed at businesses and can often be as high as USD 800 a month for 1 terabyte of storage. One reason for these high prices is the cost of running a data center, where servers are packed next to each other and require intensive cooling to avoid overheating. Space Monkey’s alternative is a device around the same size a large external hard-drive, which sits in the home. Rather than placing their important files onto the device, it works as part of a network of cloud servers located in other residents’ homes. Users’ data is stored across the network and – instead of high monthly costs – the Space Monkey is available to buy USD 120, while cloud storage is a more affordable USD 10 a month.

SIM card offers cheap international data for frequent fliers

While Hong Kong-based handy has offered a rented smartphone and unlimited internet access for tourists, this might not be the best option for frequent fliers regularly visiting different corners of the world. DOODAD is an international SIM card that enables travelers to take advantage of an inexpensive GSM connection regardless of the contract they’re on. Before they leave, users can order a DOODAD SIM card for free – paying only the postage – and top up their account with credit through the site. When abroad, users simply replace the SIM in their phone with the DOODAD alternative. The company runs a simplified pricing scheme, whereby users pay a flat rate for data for the duration of their time in that country. Rates start at USD 0.30 per MB for nations such as USA, South Korea and Australia, and go up to a maximum of USD 1.20 in places such as India and Jamaica. When customers run out or credit, they can simply top up again. DOODAD doesn’t offer voice or text rates, although tourists can use VoIP and messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Skype. Given the high rates of international roaming charges, DOODAD gives consumers a cheaper option for staying connected to the web – and their friends and family – while they visit a new country. Are there other ways to take the sting out of telecom tariff options?

Crowdfunding site aims to provide grassroots support for schools

Springwise has seen many crowdfunding sites pop up in the past few years thanks to the popularity of the trend – most recently we covered PiggyBackr‘s effort to teach young entrepreneurs about the backing they can get for their own projects. Also focusing on the education sector, PledgeCents now hopes to help schools get the funding they need to improve their performance. Before the advent of the web, school fundraising campaigns were limited to seasonal fun days or rallying contributions from parents. PledgeCents believes that the whole community should contribute to the institutions that provide education to that region’s future workers, especially as government funding gets ever tighter. As with other crowdfunding platforms, schools register and upload details about the cause they want to raise money for – whether it’s new learning materials, a garden for the children or a more general fundraising effort. As its name suggests, PledgeCents wants to encourage a large number of community members to gift a small amount, rather than relying on investors. One of the benefits of the site for schools is that regardless of whether they reach their goal, they will still receive the money.

iPad app enables long distance bedtime storytelling for families

Video chat has changed the way we communicate with far flung contacts, and we’ve already seen the technology applied to storytime through Smories, the platform that lets kids read bedtime stories to each other. Now Kindoma combines e-books with video calls to do the same for families who live apart. Available for free from the App Store, Kindoma has a collection of 26 popular stories for kids to choose from. When a video call is initiated through the app, both parties can then browse the library together. Once a title is chosen, the pages from the book are displayed on the screen, alongside the video of both child and adult. Either party can turn the page with a swipe, and an indicator pops up on the screen when one person is pointing to a particular word or image. Even if family members live in far flung corners of the world, Kindoma offers one way to keep them in contact while also providing an engaging and educational activity for the child. Are there other ways video conferencing technology can be adapted to improve the experience for users?

Platform harnesses the crowds to solve rare disease cases

We recently saw Israel’s Medivizor platform aim to provide web users with more accurate health data than they would get with a simple Google search. Now CrowdMed is relying on the knowledge of a broad set of people in order to find out the potential causes of rare diseases. When doctors aren’t familiar with the symptoms their patients have, this can be down to the fact that their condition isn’t a common one. Rather than relying on one knowledgeable source, CrowdMed hopes to employ the help of the crowds to answer patient’s questions that their GP can’t. Currently in beta, the site encourages users to sign up and browse the unsolved cases. By aggregating the “collective wisdom” of its userbase – which includes medical experts and researchers – the site aims to provide patients with a number of possibilities that they can present to their doctor on their next visit. According to the company, CrowdMed also uses “patented prediction market technology” to deliver the most relevant results to its users. By opening up complex medical problems to a larger community of people who may hold the key to the problem, CrowdMed has already helped accurately diagnose 20 real-life patient cases, as well as saving over USD 4 million in healthcare costs for those who otherwise may have been shuttled between doctors without a solution. Are there other ways to help those with rare diseases?

ID verification service connects soldiers and vets with online brand offers

When soldiers return home to continue life as a civilian, it may not be easy to reintegrate into society. We’ve already seen NY-based Incline offer help to find them tech work, and now TroopID is a platform that verifies users’ military credentials in order to offer them deals on consumer products, as well as learning opportunities. According to the startup, most brands currently concentrate on offline methods to reach out to both active and former soldiers. TroopID has access to the US military database of army members and has developed a secure single sign-on for companies to enable the quick verification of military personnel before providing them with discounts or offers on their products. TroopID has already partnered with brands such as, Zappos and Under Armour.

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