Last month the Hello Tomorrow Summit, a deep science and tech innovation conference, took place in Paris. As a first-timer, I was awe-struck by the ingenuity of many of the projects, ranging from hibernation for long-haul space travel to rejuvenating aging cells to creating new materials. It was hard to whittle it down, but here are my three favourite companies the summit.
Lab grown meat has been a hot topic for the last few years, but Finless Foods are the first to make waves (pun intended) with their lab grown tuna meat. On the Challenge stage, Mike Selden pitched their bluefin tuna, which is mercury and cruelty free. Selden explained that heavy metals such as mercury, and plastics can be found in farmed meats.
As a vegetarian, this one hit home for me. I steer clear of farmed meats and fish, primarily for reasons of my own health, but also because the cruelty of fish farming, and traditional fishing is depleting fish stock and disrupting ecosystems. But this means I’m trading in the nutritional value of seafood as well as the flavours, which I miss.
So, I’m super excited to try Finless Foods’ sustainable alternative; free of toxins, environmental impact and cruelty. They claim their fish meat has the same texture and taste (because it is real fish meat on a cellular level), and it’s finless of course 😉 They will also offer their tuna with various fat content, taking advantage of the extra control they have of their product to meet consumer preferences.
They announced at Hello Tomorrow that they will be creating their first Sashimi prototype, and they plan to have bluefin tuna on our plates by 2019. I’m definitely keen to try!
A torch that allows the blind to see? Sounds crazy or straight-up sci-fi, but Torch !t, a budding startup from India, have created just that. I caught up with Kshitij Shah, co-founder of Torch !t, after he pitched on Thursday morning. Torch !t created a sonar sensor device that enables the visually impaired to infer what is in their immediate surrounding. They do this by interpreting the various speeds and intensities of the handheld device’s vibrations. There are eight different vibration patterns that change depending on the characteristics of the object it is pointed towards, such as whether the object is living or not, the density (e.g., a curtain or a wall), and whether it’s moving closer or away. The torch can also be attached to a cane.
It takes about a week to learn to identify the different patterns and what they mean. The alternative, echolocation (locating objects by listening to the echo created from tongue clicks), takes much longer (about 6 months to a year), plus there’s a shortage of teachers.
The Torch !t device currently has 1,000 users in Ahmedabad, India. 10,000 more torches are in production. Another amazing aspect of this startup is that it employs visually impaired people to assemble and test the device, which makes this startup all the more heartening – would love to see this one go far.
Think of the major issues facing mass scale agricultural farming; the vast amounts of fresh water required, chopping down rainforests to create more space, and pesticides running off into rivers and lakes, destroying natural ecosystems. Now think of a way to tackle all of these issues at once. Yeah pretty difficult, right? Well, AeroFarms have created pioneering technologies to grow vegetables indoors which can solve these problems.
Marc Oshima took to the main stage to explain how AeroFarms is tackling the issue of food sustainability by using aeroponics, a way to grow plants by misting the roots with water. This provides plants with a small but steady supply which they much prefer to getting soaked, and it uses 95% less water than field farming and 40% less water than hydroponics.
The veggies don’t require any soil, they sit in trays on a special cloth recycled from BPA-free plastics. They receive LED light; the spectrum, intensity, and frequency of which can be varied to optimise for colour, texture, taste and nutrition for specific plants. AeroFarm’s patented growing system allows for faster harvest cycles. And just when I thought they couldn’t tick any more boxes, the growing cycle disrupts that of pests meaning no pesticide is required.
Marc explained how the growing trays can be stacked up so high the veg can only be harvested with a cherry picker, so more can be grown per km2. They’ve started growing in unused warehouses on the edge of towns and cities, which dramatically reduces the farm-to-table distance. This means less lorries on the road and ships at sea. They’re even growing in underground tunnels in London which majorly puts my climate change-prepper mind at ease 😉; when the surface of the earth is on fire, flooded, engulfed in a hurricane-sand storm and we have to live underground... well, now we know we can grow food there!
These were just a few of the amazing projects shared at the Hello Tomorrow Summit. I find it quite reassuring that there are many more like them that are not just tacking one, but several, key issues facing humanity and the environment today. Can’t wait to see what mind-blowing science next year will bring!