Wearables Get Around: Making your Commute Smarter and Safer
When we think of portable tech, we mostly think of smart watches, portable chargers, and pocket sized gadgets that make life a little simpler. These are getting fancier every season and boasting even more features with a pretty straightforward uses. But what if there was a device that really solved a profound problem, not just lets you check your texts more easily or keeps your phone from going dead?
Many tech devices are sight and sound oriented, but there is so much potential to be found in haptic feedback: where a device vibrates or moves in some way that you can feel. It is a type of interface that does not interfere with what you may be looking at or listening to, and it is private. It is designed in such a way that people near you are not necessarily aware of what is happening. Also, it provides opportunities for a new type of interaction between blind or otherwise visually impaired people, and their devices.
Indian startup Ducere launched in 2011 with specially designed shoes to help the blind. While canes have long been used to avoid obstacles and determine terrain, Ducere’s product vibrates to help people orient themselves by indicating which way to face or turn. Since the visually impaired often rely on their hearing to assess their environment, this frees up their ears from headphones that might interfere with that. During testing, the engineers discovered multiple applications that would benefit sighted people as well.
They have released a line of shoes, inserts and buckles under the brand Lechal, a Hindi word meaning “take me along” or “take me there,” that pair via Bluetooth to an app which can be used for direction or fitness. For directions, the devices vibrate to tell you when to turn and which way. This creates a much safer and convenient navigation experience for pedestrians and cyclists, since you do not even have to take your phone out of your pocket. For runners, the sensors are more accurate than other types of devices for recording distances and burnt calories. The company is teaming up with nonprofits to help bring Lechals to the visually impaired for a lower cost, as it costs $140 or more per pair.
Another app and wearable combo that could improve your commute is made by French startup Wair. Bicycling is a great way to keep in shape while you get to the office or around town; however, air quality can be a major caveat. Pollution could even make cycling more difficult, and detrimental to your health. Wair CEO and co-founder started the project when she developed respiratory issues when commuting to her fashion industry job in Paris. She was not happy with the current air filter mask options, so she began wrapping elegant scarves around her nose and mouth.
Wair has developed a filtered mask that comes in two models, one more standard but attractive than regular face cover, and the other incorporates a full length scarf. The models use GOTS organic cotton, adding more credibility to the startup’s mission of health and sustainability. The team has also created an air monitoring app, which alerts you to put your mask on when levels are unsafe.
For a much different aspect of commuter safety, emergency wearables have become plentiful enough to form their own category. Many developers have created their own take on the panic button, using jewelry design aesthetics to house and camouflage an emergency alert device. The Nimb ring is one of those, a sculptural bauble that comes in black or white, and has a button facing the palm. It is an app-paired gadget that has a few level of alerts. You press and hold the button for three seconds, and it sends an alert with location data, and profile to pre-set contacts and emergency responders. In a threatening situation, you do not have to use the app, but if you are able to access it then you can coordinate who received the alert, and provide additional information about what is happening.
While the ring was designed by a survivor of a violent assault, Kathy Roman created Nimb to help many kinds of trouble. It is meant to address issues of personal safety from criminals, can be used in a chronic disease or disability crisis, in case of natural disaster, and as a way to safeguard a child or elderly person.
The field of wearable technology is always broadening to incorporate new designs and uses. These examples not only look great, but can help you be more safe as you go about your everyday life, and can give you peace of mind while travelling to new places. As an added boon, these products can increase the quality of life for many people living with a disability, whether that is sight-related, respiratory, or in the case of Nimb, manyfold.