Innovation Roundup: Google, Rolls-Royce, Alibaba and Ibis Hotels


Google Gingerbread Smart Home

Welcome to brandchannel‘s first Brand Innovation Roundup, a recurring column that will highlight technology advances.

In today’s edition, we look at Google’s Gingerbread Smart Home, Rolls-Royce’s autonomous passenger ferry, Alibaba’s haptic shopping aid for blind individuals and Ibis Hotels’ “Instagram sitter.”

Google Gingerbread Smart Home

Google has built a life-sized gingerbread home to showcase features of its Google Home Mini smart speaker.

Shoppers in Toronto’s CF Eaton Centre can try the Google Home Mini to turn on Christmas tree lights, change holiday music, adjust the thermostat and see who’s at home through integrations with Nest smart home products.

“We always try to incorporate a bit of experiential marketing into our strategies when it comes to hardware,” said Fab Dolan, head of marketing for Google Canada. “Given that it is the holiday season, and the product really shines in this time of your life when you’re busy and doing so many things at once, it’s a time when you really see what the product does best.

The Toronto activation will be followed by a similar one in Vancouver and some lucky visitors get to go home with a Google Home Mini prize.

Rolls-Royce Demos Autonomous Passenger Ferry

Rolls-Royce has publicly debuted what it calls the “world’s first fully autonomous ferry” in a journey between Parainen and Nauvo in Finland.

In partnership with state-owned Finferries, Rolls-Royce announced the plan in May to “optimize ship safety and efficiency” through developing autonomous ferry technologies. The ferry has multiple sensors meshed with AI software to identify and avoid objects.

The project, called Safer Vessel with Autonomous Navigation (SVAN), underwent around 400 hours of trials in the Turku archipelago before the recent pilot trip.

“Today’s demonstration proves that the autonomous ship is not just a concept, but something that will transform shipping as we know it,” said Rolls-Royce’s president for commercial marine Mikael Makinen.

The demo also included an “auto-docking” system that alters ferry speed and course as it comes to port. The ferry can be controlled remotely and can be commandeered by a human if required.

Rolls-Royce also announced a partnership with Intel to bring self-guided cargo ships to the seas by 2025.

Alibaba Helps Vision-Impaired People Shop

Alibaba has been working on a smart screen for visually impaired individuals for two years, through its $25 billion initiative, Damo Academy.

In a joint effort with China’s Tsinghua University, Alibaba has developed Smart Touch, a cheap silicone sheet that fits on top of smartphone screens. It holds three mini buttons on each side, sensory-enabled to trigger commands like “go back” and “confirm” when pressed.

It also works when users hold their phones up to the ears, to hear text in public without having to blast it through speakers or headphones.

At present, Smart Touch works only on special editions of Alibaba’s two flagship apps, e-commerce marketplace Taobao and payment affiliate Alipay. Damo has no plan to monetize the initiative but plans to give out the haptic films for free through Alibaba’s network of brick-and-mortar stores.

Ibis Hotel’s Instagram ‘Sitter’

On vacation but too busy to be bothered keeping up on Instagram? A new service offered by Ibis Hotels in Switzerland will ease the strain with a “social media sitter.” The mission: “Relax. We post.”

Just hand over your Instagram account to a selected influencer from the local area to avoid the pressure of remaining socially active.

“Enjoy your city trip without digital stress,” explains Ibis. “Our Instagram professionals will provide the best posts on your profile while you enjoy the city without a smartphone in front of your face.”