There’s no doubt about it: wearable technology is taking the world by storm. Products such as the Apple Watch have sparked serious consumer and media attention, and are taking wearable tech from the niche to the mainstream markets.
But in addition to being a commercial money-maker, wearable technology has also brought unexpected altruistic benefits by improving the quality of everyday life for people with disabilities. Here, we take a look at how wearable tech is helping those with disabilities, and the companies making it happen.
Helpful Wearable Tech for People With Disabilities
Georgia Institute of Technology
At the Georgia Institute of Technology, researchers are developing gloves that can help blind people read and write Braille. Using a technique called passive haptic learning (or PHL), wearers are able to develop motor skills through vibrations without even paying attention to what their hands are doing. That’s right: these gloves are designed to teach the wearer Braille while they’re doing something else. With a combined effort of typing tests and distraction tasks, PHL participants have been able to recognise and read more than 90 percent of all the letters in the Braille alphabet after just four hours.
Cambridge-based flexible display manufacturer FlexEnable has been revolutionising the wearable industry for over a decade. They have pioneered the use of ‘organic transistor technology’, which is used to create electronics on plastic film as thin as a sheet of paper. This kind of technology can be used to replace glass-based sensors with flexible ones, like X-rays and other medical photo-imaging. This will lead to more comfortable, higher quality results, which could lead to better care.
Lechal, Hindi for “take me there”, is a brainchild of Ducere Technologies, an Indian wearable technology company founded in 2011 by Krispian Lawrence and Anirudh Sharma. Lechal footwear was created with the aim of helping the visually impaired navigate their world. The Lechal app syncs with Google maps and guides the wearer from one place to another through vibrations in the shoes.
Since then, the technology has diversified, adding features to help runners monitor their fitness training and tourists navigate new cities. However, the company has stayed true to its original values and partnered with the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute so the proceeds of the sale of each pair of Lechal shoes go towards subsidising a pair for someone who is visually impaired.
Soundhawk is an in-ear hearing device which helps people who experience difficultly hearing in certain situations. The Silicon Valley Company was founded by Dr Rodney Perkins, one of the world’s leading innovators in hearing health, to improve people’s hearing simply and affordably.
The device is not labelled as a hearing aid as such- its aim is to help people improve their hearing in certain situations and is marketed at consumers themselves rather than doctors. The Soundhawk Smart Listening System contains a “Scoop” earpiece, a wireless microphone, and a charging case, unified by a mobile app. The technology gives users the power to hear soft sounds, converse over distance, and understand speech in noisy environments.
However, the wearable technology revolution is not just a commercial success. Wearable tech products are proving to make a real difference to the everyday lives of people with disabilities, giving them opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable.
Photo Credit Lechal.com