How to achieve quick API-enabled innovation?

March 28, 2022
Gunta Krumina

Ok, here is one hint: start with collecting 100 relevant ideas. 

Exactly what we did in a co-creation open innovation workshop on March 17th at the Apidays Helsinki & North 2022 conference.

Everyone can ideate together using APIs to build a better world

When we heard that the Finnish Climate Fund needed startups to come up with business ideas for a more sustainable world, we decided to help. Our team at Osaango is keen on improving the daily operations of businesses and our daily life with the help of APIs.  The workshop we held at Apidays Helsinki & North 2022 was aimed at co-creating the ideas. The ideas can well be used by your own company. 

We wanted to engage and enable the audience. Instead of a talk, we decided to do something interactive. 

We knew that it is possible to find potential API-related ideas in a very short time. This is what we do daily with our customers. We use simple innovation methods with our clients and university students. Still, the flow of positive responses and huge interest in this process came as a positive surprise.

All in all, our audience created 33 ideas in 15 minutes. With proper follow-up methods, this could mean at least 1 viable idea. Innovation is partly a numbers game, but also a matter of not getting stuck in our typical ways of thinking.

The problems

The workshop addressed the critical issues and crises in today’s world with help of collective innovation and APIs. The world is facing climate issues, resource depletion, ongoing economical and humanitarian crises among others. We can’t solve all issues at once, and we can’t arrive at finalized solutions in a half an hour workshop, but we can open doors and start working on some of them.  We can discover how APIs can be utilized to help solve existential problems.

We focused on two areas in the workshop:  

1) reduction and recycling of waste;

2) efficient adaptation of services to changing weather conditions. 

Examples of the discovered ideas for waste reduction

The global material handling equipment market is estimated to reach USD 300 Billion by 2028. Continuous handling equipment is roughly 23 % of that. The equipment includes e.g. conveyor systems used for recycling and waste management as well as production of goods.  In 2018 National Geographic wrote that 91 % of plastic alone wasn't recycled. Let's put this information together with the ideas from our audience. Many are related to the continuous handling of equipment in the recycling process. Fitting the machines with capabilities enabling recycling could be a huge opportunity. This is especially true when Covid-19 creates the need for less manual work in recycling.

  1. Use robots with machine learning and sensors to identify and separate materials.
  2. Tackle the problem before the waste is collected. Help identify materials and recycling methods with APIs and sensors at companies and industrial plants.
  3. Scan waste to see components in the compression.
  4. Add RFID, NFC and bar codes to products and material parts for enabling sorting and support those codes in product and material APIs.
  5. Better collection systems and separation at the point of collection.
  6. Determine the largest constituents in the waste.
  7. Scan to identify core grouping sorting process .
  8. Use APIs with machine learning to come up with new materials that don't need to be recycled.
  9. Regulatory support for labeling material types (helps to sort and recycle). Require data standards to include these types.
  10. Parallel manipulators and guessing material composition by its mass.
  11. Monitor waste transportation with open data and open maps.
  12. CCTV surveillance coverage to smart detection of illegal waste disposal.
  13. Make waste collection productive.
  14. Use "smart ink" or other smart and trackable colors and components in the materials for tracing them.
  15. Use chemical flags and smart tags in materials for easier detection during transport.
  16. Compare actual waste to approximated/historic waste amounts.
  17. Financial incentives for using recycled materials in product marketplaces for easier sourcing
  18. Strong partnerships and visible transparency options for large contributors to support legal ways of disposal.

Examples of climate-related solutions

Weather is an important factor for individuals, but also many businesses. Extreme weather can cause a lot of expensive damage. How to protect sensitive devices? How to adapt to the weather?

  1. Activate heating elements when temperatures are getting really low
  2. Use alternative materials in the same device at different temperatures.
  3. Isolating material cases.
  4. Add information about how well devices are protected against humidity, temperature etc. to the product info (via API). 
  5. Get alerts about weather via APIs and automatically order someone to protect the devices.
  6. Alerts from weather APIs connected with supply chain management
  7. Insurance claims are automated based on weather conditions
  8. Automated activity to cool application usage or increase battery of upgrades to increase "heat"
  9. Match products with local weather conditions when buying: "Will this work in these conditions"
  10. API integration to automate temperature regulation of the devices.
  11. Use alternative metals in the same device at different temperatures. 
  12. Early warning systems based on multiple data points.
  13. Slowing of speeding up processes in the devices for influencing PCB temperature. 
  14. Sensing microclimate with wearable or custom purpose devices. 
  15. Use microclimate data to control production, farming etc. equipment. For example, less irrigation is needed when the microclimate is forecasted to be humid.

The United Nations says early warning systems to protect the entire world from extreme weather and climate disasters should be rolled out within five years. Extreme weather has happened every day for the last 50 years. The estimated investment to the early warning systems is USD 1,5 billion.

How to move forward with these (or your) ideas?

In material handling, you have always the option of using physical, chemical or digital methods. Using a combination might bring the best results. Some of these ideas might not look like API-related ideas at first glance.

What we have learned with our client projects? 

Looking at every idea from the point of view improving it with APIs creates opportunities. Some could be even offered as a solution to others via APIs. A systems thinking approach will expose many possibilities that might otherwise be overlooked.

Paraphrasing Shakespeare in Hamlet: "There are more APIs in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your company at the moment".

The ideas created in the first phase, and in this workshop, are just raw material at the beginning. Many of them may already be used, or found not working.  We use similar methods as part of a full innovation process. Getting to the next stage still doesn’t need to take more than 10 hours from idea to concept or even a prototype. Despite these limitations, the audience got inspired and ideas kept going. One of the challenges of innovation processes is to keep our biases in check. Often the most innovative ideas are not expressed or chosen for implementation, even though they might bring the biggest benefits. The key thing is to learn how to think outside the box and use science, individuals, hive-mind and APIs in objective, yet innovative ways.

Our takeaway from the workshop shows that more people with methods and skills for digital innovation are needed. Do you feel this is something that you, your company or university students would benefit from? Check out the Futudemy innovation program. It is free for university students. The very economic prices for participating companies are not only helping them to innovate, but helping to grow the future generation of innovators. We are also taking on new partners to support the work.

Watch the video of our mini-workshop at Apidays Helsinki & North 2022.

Sources:

Buffart, Mickaël & Liger, Victor & Piat, Gérald & Gillier, Thomas. (2017). The Life of Ideas during a Community-Based Innovation Contest. Management international. 22. 10.7202/1053685ar. 

The global automated material handling (AMH) equipment market size was $35.80 Bn in 2019 & is projected to reach $56.51 Bn by 2027, at a CAGR of 5.7 %... Read More at:  https://www.fortunebusinessinsights.com/industry-reports/automated-material-handling-equipment-market-100832

The global material handling equipment market is projected to grow from $206.50 billion in 2021 to $300.21 billion in 2028 at a CAGR of 5.5% in forecast period. Read More at: https://www.fortunebusinessinsights.com/industry-reports/material-handling-equipment-market-101501

National Geographic: A whopping 91% of plastic isn't recycled

BBC: Climate change: Extreme weather warning systems for all 'in five years'

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