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A Bluetooth pacifier and more from the best British startups

A Bluetooth binkie and a smartwatch keyboard with only five buttons are among the innovations shown off by UK tech startups vying for a chance to pitch their ideas at Mobile World Congress.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
6 min read

The 5-Tiles virtual keyboard. Andrew Hoyle / CBS Interactive

LONDON -- Best of British! A smart pacifier, a keyboard with only five buttons, and an app that prepares for meetings so you don't have to are among the innovative ideas UK companies have up their sleeves.

Smart pacifier among best of British startups (pictures)

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I went to Westminster on Thursday to meet some of the most innovative UK technology companies and startups, trying out their cool new mobile gadgets, apps, and ideas just a few steps from the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Vying for a place with the Smart UK Project at this month's Mobile World Congress -- where the Samsung Galaxy S5 will likely be unveiled -- are ideas including a way of making and taking calls even if your phone's in another room.

So tally-ho, pip-pip, and let's kick off with the 5-Tiles keyboard, pictured above.

This virtual keyboard only has five keys, taking up 70 percent less space on a screen than a Qwerty keyboard -- making it ideal for devices such as smartwatches where screen size is limited. Instead of those familiar 26 letters there are just five coloured boxes with a few letters in each. It's similar to an old-style phone keypad, but with even less buttons.

When you tap a tile, the row of tiles changes to its individual letters, and you swipe to the one you want. It sounds simple enough, but I found there's a heck of a learning curve.

A smart pacifier
iPacify is a smart pacifier that contains a temperature sensor in the teat to combine thermometer and binkie, recording your baby's temperature on a smartphone app. Arriving in June for £20, iPacify also contains a proximity sensor and will alert your phone if your little treasure makes a break for the hills.

iPacify smart binkie Andrew Hoyle / CBS Interactive

The digital dummy -- we call 'em dummies in jolly old England -- connects to an app via Bluetooth. The app also allows you to log when your little one takes medication, so changes in temperature can be mapped over time and related to when they took an aspirin or other drug.

It's only a prototype at this stage, but the company behind the smart pacifier, Blue Maestro, already has its Tempo temperature sensor on sale for £30. The pebble-like sensor records ambient temperature and tells your smartphone, alerting you if it gets too hot or cold in your tot's bedroom, an elderly relative's house, or your wine cellar. We all have wine cellars in Britain, naturally.

Health and family
If you're a bit more grown-up, you can monitor your health with SOMA's evidence-based mobile resilience programme, which allows your phone to track your stress levels and give soothing tips and feedback before you lose it completely.

Also at the event, uMotif creates health apps to share medical data you've recorded with doctors and clinicians.

Meanwhile, 23snaps is fun for your whole family -- and only your family. It essentially creates a pocket social network that members can only join if invited. Once inside, family members can share pictures, videos, and updates. It's all made accessible to seniors, digital refuseniks, and those who aren't Facebook-savvy with the ability to display updates to digital photo frames, send them out as e-mail digests, or order as good old-fashioned prints. And if you have a groaning hard drive full of photos you can't face wading through, 23snaps sorts them into a handy timeline for you.

Gotta nail that presentation
Got a big meeting? Pressure's on to nail the Henderson account? You could stay up late the night before prepping, or you could get Lowdown. Lowdown is an app that automatically pulls together relevant e-mails and contact details for people attending the meeting, and even tells you how to get there with detailed transport directions. You can go straight to company information and LinkedIn or Twitter profiles for attendees so you can greet them like a friend when you arrive. Then you can take notes and share them with the people you've just met. Lowdown launches on 20 February in the UK for iOS and costs £5 per month.

Phone's in the other room? No problem
I don't know about you, but I've always wondered why I can't text from my computer. The reason is because phone numbers are locked to SIM cards, and SIM cards stay in phones.

Movirtu has created a virtual SIM card that disconnects your number from your SIM card -- which means when your phone rings in the kitchen, you can answer the call on your tablet in the garden. Clever stuff. As long as your devices are connected over Wi-Fi you can call and text on any device from your phone number, and use your voice minutes and SMS allowance to do so.

Movirtu is in talks with phone carriers to create own-branded apps that will bring your number to your other devices.

Snap happy
A number of photography-focused innovations were shown off at the event, including the new-look Triggertrap Android app and plug-in wireless controller, to snap a picture with your camera by pressing a button on your phone. Time-lapse photos and millisecond-precise pictures are as easy as snapping your fingers -- literally, as the Triggertrap app reacts to sounds such as finger-clicking.

Meanwhile the Obvious Scene app captures a 3D model on your mobile device, without needing any external add-ons.

Apps for gettin' around
There ain't no gettin' round gettin' round, as a wise man once said. ViewRanger takes your smartphone off-road, logging your journeys with GPS, tagging them with photos and video along their way, and allowing you to share your route online. Not only can hardy hikers tell the world where your boots have been, but national parks and other tourist bodies can create and share trail guides for visitors to follow.So far it's mostly covered ground in Europe, but expansion in the US is, ahem, on the map.

RouteShoot is another app that combines videos filmed on your smartphone's camera with GPS data, effectively geotagging each frame to allow you to skip through a journey on the map. You can use it to record journeys from cycling to ski runs or just the everyday commute, or it can be used to track and gather video data from employees or search and rescue teams.

When out in the wilderness, the SATcase is a smartphone case that does more than add a bit of colour to your phone: it turns your cell phone into a sat phone, as well as a personal beacon useful for health and safety and search and rescue.

If you're sticking to the beaten track, What Now? helps you find the international equivalent of the local sites you use at home -- for example, helping you find a restaurant-booking site like Open Table when you're in foreign cities, such as Toptable in Great Britain or La Forchette in France. What Now? is also the official tourist app for London tourist body visitlondon.com.

When you've found something fun to do, Peachinc can sort you out with tickets. It sends mobile tickets that stick a QR-style code on your phone to get you into events. But the clever thing is that their codes are so compact they can be sent by SMS -- and therefore, displayed on the screen of even an old phone like the Nokia 3210 lurking in your drawer. Handy in emerging markets, where it's already being used, as a f'r'example, on the turnstiles of a Saudi soccer stadium.

Stay safe
Security is also a priority for some of the companies involved with the Smart UK Project event. Alphafox is working on a Crystal physical key that unlocks your online world, a little plastic doohickey with a unique QR code-style image on it that you hold up to your phone's camera to verify an online transaction.

Intercede wants to kill passwords with a Chip and Pin-style system to make your phone or any smart device as secure as an ATM.

Other British companies pitching for the chance to head to MWC include Geosho, which aims to simplify public transport services; SQR, which protects your cloud data; and Capito, which allows you to use your phone's voice recognition and talk to commercial sites like shopping or betting sites.

Judges for Smart UK will select four companies from today's event as finalists. These finalists will get a chance to pitch their ideas to industry experts during a UK Trade & Investment event at MWC, with on company winning the the title of UK's Most Innovative Mobile Company.

Keep it CNET for the latest news, previews, and hands-on first impressions of all the cutting-edge kit and coolest new phones and tablets from MWC at the end of February. Toodle-pip!