Wearing Your Technology On Your Sleeve

Posted by Rob Mineault on

Wearable technology has technically been around for many many years. Given the very simple definition of wearable technology as ‘technology that is worn on the body’, one could argue that wearables have been around since the first pair of eyeglasses or the first wristwatch.

These days, however, wearables usually applies to some sort of a smart device that is worn, either on the body or on the clothing, and that serves a specific purpose or augments other more conventional smart technology, such as a smartphone or a tablet.

Wearables in this sense have been steadily growing in popularity and numbers since around 2015, with the advent of Smart Watches, Fitness Trackers, and VR Headsets. These days there are also Smart Jewelry, Smart Clothing, and even Implantables in the case of implanted insulin pumps or contraceptives. There are multitudes of different types of products, with more being added everyday. The field is growing at a breakneck pace, with new products coming to market all the time, touting ways to make our daily lives more streamlined.

SO WHY ARE WEARABLES IMPORTANT?

While these mainstream products make the promise to make our lives more efficient or to give us more information about our lifestyles, some of the most important work within Wearables are being done by companies that are using the technology to built new and innovative Assistive Technology solutions.

Wearables that can fit on the body or that can be worn can prove invaluable as pieces of assistive technology since they can provide a more efficient and hands free alternatives. This of course can be highly useful, especially in the case of mobility aids or as solutions for people with limited mobility.

Some of the most popular wearables that are being developed however, fall in the realm of Low Vision solutions. Companies have sought out a wearable solution for visual impairments for years, but in the past they’ve resulted in large, clunky headgear that wasn’t all that practical to wear for extended periods of time and the LCD screen and digital zoom technology didn’t exist yet to make them particularly powerful. That’s beginning to change, however.

Image of Jordy Wearable Low Vision AidEnhanced Vision’s new generation of Jordy wearable low vision magnifier, for example, boasts a HD camera that can magnify objects up to the equivalent of 30x from a 2 foot distance with an entire unit that only weighs 13oz -- a fraction of what similar wearable units of ten years ago weighed.

Image of IrisVision Low Vision AidThe IrisVision, meanwhile, is a Low Vision wearable that is built using the Oculus Rift Virtual Reality headset as its platform. Worn like a typical VR Headset, the unit doesn’t display a virtual world into the screens inside but rather gives the user a 70 degree field of view in which areas can than be magnified.

As the LCD screen technology gets better and better over time, the next generations of devices like these will only get smaller and lighter. It’s not at all inconceivable in the near future that a low vision solution like the Jordy or IrisVision will be able to be built into something as light and innocuous as an eyeglass frame. As you will soon see below, that future is nearly here.

Blindness solutions have also benefited from the advent of wearables. Many mobility aids have begun to enter the marketplace and these aids make it easier for blind people to travel more efficiently and safely, using technology such as haptic feedback (vibration).

Image of Sunu Band Blindness Mobility AidOne such example of these haptic solutions is the Sunu Band, which is worn like a wristband and emits sonar signals out in front of it, alerting the user to obstacles by vibrating. The more intense the vibration, the closer the obstacle is. The Sunu Band would never replace a cane, of course, but serves to fill in the gaps that a white cane might miss in terms of obstacles.

Image of OrCam MyEyeThe OrCam MyEye is a very effective and robust blindness solution that encompasses several different solutions all bundled into one device. The OrCam MyEye touts itself as an artificial vision device that is able to read text, identify products, and even recognize faces. The OrCam MyEye is mounted on a eyeglass frame and is worn like a normal pair of glasses -- the camera mounted on the side is able to process printed text through OCR technology and then read that text aloud to the user. It also is equipped with facial recognition software, meaning faces could be saved into the device and the OrCam MyEye would recognize that person and inform the user of the person’s identity. The OrCam MyEye boasts the ability to recognize and translate barcodes as well, giving it the ability to identify thousands of products as well.

Image of Dot Watch Braille Smart WatchThe Dot Watch is yet another wearable for the blind. This lightweight device straps to the wrist and looks much like a regular wristwatch, but has a four cell braille display built in and has many of the common features of other smart watches. This includes the ability to pair with a phone via Bluetooth and check text messages and notifications, or access accessible weather and fitness apps. Oh, and of course check the date and time.

And these are just a few examples of what’s out there right now. Wearables are poised to revolutionize the way we live our lives in a multitude of ways, especially when it comes to assistive technology. Augmented reality, virtual reality, and even smart clothing are poised to make a splash in the coming years as the technology continues to improve and innovators continue to move the ball forward in developing new ways to integrate assistive technology into our daily lives.


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