TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 10

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The cheap oil American consumers are enjoying might be the result of an existential battle between Saudi Arabia and ISIS.

By James R. Rogers in First Things

2. Turns out the busts of the first dot-com era were great ideas.

By Robert McMillan in Wired

3. The return of American manufacturing and a skilled population hungry for jobs is reviving the Rust Belt.

By Joel Kotkin & Richey Piiparinen in the Daily Beast

4. Climate change might transform coal, oil, and gas reserves into financially-troubled stranded assets.

By Andrew Freedman in Mashable

5. A nonprofit boarding school for girls in Afghanistan is working to upend education there.

By Susan Daugherty in National Geographic

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Artificial Skin, Packed With Sensors, Mimics Sensations of the Real Thing

Though more research is needed

A new form of artificial skin, threaded with a network of artificial sensors, could recreate the sense of touch for people wearing prosthetic limbs, researchers revealed on Tuesday.

Researchers in Korea and the U.S. have developed a new form of ultra-thin sensors that can pick up sensations of heat, pressure and moisture, MIT Technology Review reports. The sensors are malleable enough to be woven into a thin layer of polymer. The breakthrough, researchers say, came when they packed the skin with enough sensors, up to 400 per square millimeter, to recreate the sensations of human touch.

“If you have these sensors at high resolution across the finger, you can give the same tactile touch that the normal hand would convey to the brain,” said contributing researcher Roozbeh Ghaffari.

Still, they cautioned that the skin was still several breakthroughs away from becoming a commercial product. Most crucially, scientists need to puzzle out better ways of wiring the skin into the wearer’s nervous system, so that no feeling is lost as the skin transmits its finely tuned signals to the brain.

Read more at MIT Technology Review.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 9

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Foreign policy isn’t public relations. The value of releasing the torture report outweighs the risks.

By Daniel Larison in the American Conservative

2. Innovation in design — not technology — might be the key to disrupting industries.

By Todd Olson in Medium

3. The simple notion of community potlucks is working to rebuild the torn fabric of Ferguson.

By Shereen Marisol Meraji at National Public Radio

4. A new poverty alleviation strategy is built on feedback and direction from the actual beneficiaries — putting people at the center of policy.

By Molly M. Scott in RealClearPolicy

5. Women are uniquely positioned to understand the impact of climate change around the world. They must have a seat at the table to set global policy.

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in the Aspen Journal of Ideas

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 8

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. A new crowdfunded software tool for reporting sexual assault can reduce stigma and protect survivors.

By Shafaq Hasan in Nonprofit Quarterly

2. Millions of discarded laptop batteries could light homes in the developing world.

By David Talbot in the MIT Technology Review

3. A long overdue transparency plan for clinical trials will finally open results to the medical community and the public.

By Julia Belluz in Vox

4. Without role models or a road map through the upper ranks, women are leaving the tech industry at the mid-career point in droves.

By Sue Gardner in the Los Angeles Times

5. A new plan to drop strips of prairie into cropland helps preserve soil and battle climate change.

By Dylan Roth in Iowa State Daily

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 5

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Peak gas: According to some forecasts, the fracking boom could be a bust.

By Mason Inman in Nature

2. To end the conflict with Boko Haram, Nigeria needs to address the alienation of its Muslims.

By John Campbell at the Council on Foreign Relations

3. “Protecting our coal workers is critical to successfully solving the climate problem.”

By Jeremy Richardson in the Union of Concerned Scientists

4. Tanzania can fight child marriage and protect the next generation of women by keeping girls in schools.

By Agnes Odhiambo in Human Rights Watch

5. When the last baby boomers move into retirement around 2030, today’s youth will carry the weight of our economy. They need support now.

By Melody Barnes in the World Economic Forum Blog

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 4

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Reimagine your school library as a makerspace.

By Susan Bearden in EdSurge

2. New materials could radically change air conditioning.

By The Economist

3. Ambassadorships are too important to hand out to political donors.

By Justine Drennan in Foreign Policy

4. There’s a better way: Using data and evidence — not politics — to make policy.

By Margery Turner at the Urban Institute

5. The tax-code works for the rich. Low-income households need reforms that make deductions into credits and stimulate savings.

By Lewis Brown Jr. and Heather McCulloch in PolicyLink

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 3

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The Obamas should consider teaching in an urban public school after 2016.

By Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post

2. Tech journalism needs to grow up.

By Michael Brendan Dougherty in The Week

3. Despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, the surge strategy didn’t end the war in Iraq. We shouldn’t try it again against ISIS.

By Daniel L. Davis in The American Conservative

4. Adjusting outdated rules for overtime could give middle class wages a valuable boost.

By Nick Hanauer in PBS News Hour’s Making Sense

5. A new solar power device can collect energy even on cloudy days and from reflected lunar light.

By Tuan C. Nguyen in Smithsonian Magazine

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 2

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Let’s push for more college-educated cops.

By Keli Goff in the Daily Beast

2. As strongmen — often U.S. allies — attempt to lock up lifetime power, an African democracy movement takes shape.

By Mark Varga at the Foreign Policy Association

3. Being connected is more of a good thing than a bad thing.

By Mathew Ingram in GigaOm

4. Beyond diamonds: Conflict minerals are a growing blight. Enforcing a global standard can stop abuse.

By Michael Gibb in Project Syndicate

5. Changing the way we classify psilocybin — magic mushrooms — could open the door to research and new treatments for depression.

By Eugenia Bone in the New York Times

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 1

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Though manufacturing jobs — particularly in the auto industry — are making a comeback, the wages are low and not even keeping up with inflation.

By Catherine Ruckelshaus and Sarah Leberstein at the National Employment Law Project

2. Simple, human-centered adaptive technology can change lives for people with disabilities.

By Krithika Krishnamurthy in Economic Times

3. As the military finally integrates men and women, gender-segregated recruit training in the Marines must end.

By Lieutenant Colonel Kevin G. Collins in Marine Corps Gazette

4. A neutral review board — not the police department itself — should review officer-involved shootings.

By Michael Bell in Politico

5. After two peaceful elections, Tunisia demonstrates that fixing politics is easier than remaking a nation, and the problems that sparked the Arab Spring persist.

By Sam Kimball and Nicholas Linn in Quartz

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Autos

There’s an App for the Next Time Your Car Breaks Down

Echo — Getty Images/Cultura RF

New companies are taking aim at an industry long-dominated by AAA

Last December, Corey Brundage got a call from his then-fiancée. She had left her headlights on, and her car was now sitting dead in a Los Angeles parking garage. Corey ordered an Uber and was with her in 20 minutes. Then he started searching Yelp and Google for a towing company. They all had off-putting one- and two-star rankings. Each call he ventured took him about 15 minutes, and when they quoted prices like $250 for a jump start, he didn’t know whether they were being gouged in their time of need. For a man who already started four companies, this was clearly friction that technology could help alleviate.

This November, Brundage launched Honk, a new company in a growing field of startups that want to be “Uber for roadside assistance.” Along with Washington, D.C.-based Urgently, Honk is taking on the behemoth in the field—AAA—by giving roadside-assistance an on-demand makeover.

“The younger mobile, millennial generation doesn’t have brand affinity with AAA,” says Brundage, pointing out that the average AAA member age is 57 years old. “I kept thinking, I can push a button and get a taxi in just two minutes. But when I really need help, on the side of the road, where is the button?”

For some people, that button is now in their MapQuest app. Earlier in November, Urgently—a company reared in an AOL incubator—announced a big-time partnership with MapQuest, which is owned by AOL. MapQuest users can now request roadside assistance from inside their app. One button takes them to Urgently. Users select the service they need (towing, lock out, jumpstart, fuel), enter basic information about their car and themselves and are told a price. A jumpstart dispatched to downtown San Francisco, for instance, would cost $50.

With another tap, the nearest service provider is dispatched. Help-seekers can watch the progress of their savior on a map, knowing where the provider is and when they’ll arrive, like Uber users can watch their drivers. “We saw an opportunity, a white space in the roadside assistance market,” says Urgently CEO Chris Spanos. “The consumer should have complete and utter visibility.”

With Honk, users enter information through the app and, within about two minutes, they’re given an ETA and told that a driver will be calling them soon. In January, Honk plans to roll out maps where users can track a truck’s progress. Both companies operate nationwide and are middlemen like Uber, connecting a network of users with a network of independent-contractor trucks, taking a slice off fees paid by users. When truck-owners sign up as partners, they agree to a fee schedule of fixed prices for each service, so there’s no bidding war and no surprises.

Both Urgently and Honk contrast their users’ experience with what can be a more drawn-out process with AAA, which has its own app but still operates on a call-center model. The startups also tout themselves as “non-membership” companies. For what might be $50 or $100 per year, AAA offers what is essentially an insurance policy: pay up front and if you break down, you’re covered for multiple tows and other services. There are roughly 54 million AAA members, which is about a quarter of all licensed drivers in the country, and those members call upon AAA for about 30 million “roadside events” each year. That means about half of them are paying for a service they’re probably not using. AAA, in turn, points out that pay-per-use services often cost more than a year’s membership. Brundage says with Honk, a tow would cost the base price of $49 and then perhaps $5 per mile, depending on where the breakdown happens.

The new companies sell their service as better for both consumers and drivers. “AAA has been squeezing every penny out of them,” Brundage says of the trucks who work with AAA. That company tells TIME they do not release specific figures on how much trucks make off calls provided by AAA. But the new players will. Spanos gives the example of a 15-mile tow costing $99 through the app. In that case, the truck would make about $75 and Urgently would get the rest. Brundage says that his partners who have worked with AAA are making more in the neighborhood of $25 per tow.

Upping the margin has the potential to help the tow companies’ ratings, because if they’re making more on services people ask for, they’re less likely to go looking for cars to tow so they can make a living, the kind of behavior that earns them avid one-star ratings. “There’s a world in which they could have more than one star,” Brundage says. Regardless of margins, they stand to get more business by adding another avenue for requests to come in.

Still, AAA memberships include many perks beyond roadside assistance, and company spokesperson Heather Hunter implies it has more experience than these upstarts, touting “long-standing relationships” with towers. “The use of new technology is just one small aspect of providing roadside service,” she says. AAA-affiliated drivers get training and access discounts on equipment, she says, and they undergo background checks, too.

AAA is not the only competitor for these new companies, who are also going up against insurance provided by auto manufacturers, but they are the Goliath to their David. “They’re clearly an 800-lb. gorilla,” says Spanos. “But we’re not afraid of them.”

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