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This is a Consumer Electronics innovation from The 70 Best Trend-Driven Innovations of 2019.


Zappos and Not Impossible Labs have created the Sonic Localizer, a portable sound system that assists visually-impaired athletes. It was developed in partnership with Justin Bishop, a competitive skateboarder who lost his vision at age 25. Each Sonic Localizer works by producing a beam of sound, which acts like a homing beacon. Positioned strategically around a skate park, a handful of these devices create a ‘soundscape’, allowing skaters to navigate the terrain by echolocation. Not Impossible Labs plans to produce the first 300 sets of Sonic Localizers by June 2020.

The Sonic Localizer is the product of an Absurdity Project with Zappos, and here are two main takeaways for you:

Crowd-solving still works. As part of the project, Zappos employees were invited to identify and solve an absurdity faced by people in the modern world. An employee who was a skater and friend of Justin Bishop’s pointed out the hurdles excluding the visually-impaired from skating, and this challenge led to the development of the Sonic Localizer. This story highlights the treasure trove of ideas, personal stories, and social connections that your employees possess. Smart brands looking to launch impactful innovations will do well to look inward. You’ll keep employees happier (58% US employees choose happiness over more money) and doing meaningful work is a critical contributor to happiness. And you might just end up with a world-changing innovation!

From invention to adoption. This project hints at the opportunity in taking extraordinary moonshots to a wider audience. Consider the classic example of commercial aviation. The Wright Brothers famously completed the first powered flight in 1903, but it wasn’t available to consumers until 1914 when entrepreneurs Percival Fansler and Thomas Benoist launched the first commercial airline in the US. Fast forward to 2019, where this year’s combined revenue from commercial airlines is projected to reach USD 865 billion. Back to the Sonic Localizer, it may be intentionally ‘absurd’, yet it fits our definition of meaningful innovation. It serves a fundamental human need in a new, better way. The challenge for you: are there moonshot inventions you can evolve for broader adoption and wider impact?


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