Devices such as headbands which monitor brain activity or wristbands to measure physical activity, nutritional intake, stress levels and perhaps even hormonal levels are currently being developed, tested and constantly improved upon, with the ability to produce comprehensive reports about our every physical and biological activity. Reading through some articles on the future of wearables, I was struck by how personal data collected through these devices could be utilized by insurance companies, governments and employers. Imagine having to supply your audited biometric data at visa applications or job interviews!
Potentially discriminatory? Yes.
But perhaps, also, somehow useful.
Beyond thinking of wearables as a glitzy gadget on our wrists that also tells the time, there could be many applications for the developing world that get through the common barriers of long distances to care, understaffed health facilities, lack of high-tech medical equipment, safety etc. while also leveraging the growing penetration of mobile phones, smart or not.
1.Road Safety: A Nairobi based wearable company is leading the way on using wearables for improved safety on the terrifying roads of Africa. The “Smart Jacket,” a reflector vest fitted with LED lights and transmitters allows it to detect and reflect in real time the rider’s movements at traffic lights and turnings. Another company has developed a vest that inflates an body airbag when a motorcycle crash is detected, protecting the torso from impact.
Image Source: CladLight
2. Maternal Health Monitoring: Patches or sensors woven into an elastic harness for pregnant women could be used to provide data around the clock on the status of the fetus and the mother’s health in the later stages of pregnancy, quickly alerting doctors to any complications that might arise. These devices could measure maternal health indicators, fetal heart activity as well as the frequency, duration, and intensity of contractions, in turn reducing the need for frequent hospital visits while at the same time allowing doctors to track their patients and look out for any issues before they arise.
3. Personal Security Tracking: Using a combination of sensors and communication streams, wearables can perform an array of security checks including fall detection, force attack, strangulation, nausea, drug abuse or other physical illness symptoms based on the pattern recognition of body movements. Simple GPS location devices can help keep track of loved ones or simple jewelry can alert the police when a person is faced with danger.
4. Elderly Care: Wearables could play a major role in care for the elderly. Everything from monitoring their general health through cardiac ECG, temperature, glucose levels etc., to making sure they get the right amount of physical activity, keeping track of the location of individuals with degenerative mental illnesses such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, medication adherence monitoring and reminders and finally, protective garments that inflate an airbag when a potential trip or fall is detected. As the aging population continues to grow with improving healthcare, so will the need for elderly care.
5. Indoor Air Pollution Warnings: It’s estimated by the WHO that indoor air pollution causes around 7 million deaths a year. Picture a lady cooking over firewood in a hut that isn’t well-ventilated. Now multiply that by most developing countries. Small wearable devices are now being used to measure air quality, temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, ambient light and UV exposure. A fashionable pendant, similar to TZOA’s jewel-like clip-on sensor, can warn users when air pollution levels (indoor or outdoor) become dangerously high to take action, such as leaving the kitchen for a few minutes or advocating for policy changes around ambient pollution.
Image Source: Clarity
6. Telemedicine: The most common use-case for telemedicine to date are wearable eyeglass devices that facilitates real-time transmission of live images during procedures, often allowing trained professionals to instruct technicians from a distance. Other monitoring devices also allow health professionals to monitor their patients remotely both in terms of illness and general lifestyle, automatically receiving alerts when something is amiss. These technologies will become extremely useful in resource-poor settings that have increasingly growing populations with struggling healthcare systems. One doctor could treat patients across the country through nurses or community health workers. Throw in some drones for medication delivery, and we’re solid!
7. Cancer Detection: Every 3 minutes, one woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. According to their website, Cyrcadia’s iTBra technology was successfully tested with over 500 patients and demonstrated an 87% correlation to a verified, clinical diagnosis of breast cancer including with those patients with dense breast tissue. By wearing the iTBra for 12 hours, women can have a comfortable way to have a highly accurate monthly self-breast exam. The device is a normal bra embedded with IoE sensor technology that can detect tiny temperature changes in breast tissue.
8. Fertility Tracking: Wearables such as armbands, patches or earbuds that measure basal body thermometers (BBT, which is an indicator of fertility) can help women to keep track of their ovulation cycle. This data can when coupled with a smartphone app can inform couples of when they are most likely to conceive (either with the aim of conceiving or preventing a conception). Devices/apps such as Kindara, Yono and Tempdrop measure BBT as well as sleep quality/ambient temperatures to provide a comprehensive fertility report.
Image Source: YONO
9. Infectious Disease Treatment: A disposable stick-on sensor like the AmpStrip can be used to measure vitals such as body temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate and oxygen saturation of suspected or diagnosed cases of extremely infectious diseases such as Ebola, allowing healthcare staff to monitor patients but also reducing the amount of direct interactions and risks a care giver has with a patient.
UNICEF is currently leading the way on the “Wearables for Good” movement aimed at high-impact uses in low-resource settings. A recent design challenge produced the following finalists, who are now working on developing financially-viable prototypes.
CommunicAID, U.S: a bracelet that tracks medication treatment
Droplet, U.S: a wrist-worn wearable water purification device
Guard Band, Vietnam: a wristband that helps protect children from abuse
Khushi Baby, India and U.S: a necklace-type wearable to track child immunization in the first two years of life
Raksh, India: a device worn in the ear to track a child’s respiration rate, heart rate, body temperature and relative breath humidity designed by a team of university students
Soapen, India and U.S.: an interactive crayon-like device that encourages hand washing among young children
Telescrypts, East Africa and U.S: a wearable device to take patients’ vitals and send the data to health care workers
TermoTell, Nigeria and U.S: a bracelet used to monitor and analyze a child’s temperature in real-time in order to save the lives of children at risk of malaria
Totem Open Health Patch, Netherlands: a small sensor-based device that is part of a wider Totem Open Health system for wearable health technology
WAAA!, UK.: A sensor-based neonatal health surveillance tool.
There’s a lot of room here for a growth and it will be exciting to see how the space shapes up in the next 5-10 years.