With the constant comings and goings of new technology, new startups and venture capitalists, the concept of global usefulness is often replaced by want and self obsession.
Take wearables for example — there is a huge market for the Apple watch, the Fitbit and other wearable technologies that tell us exactly what’s going on, all the time, and exactly when we ask for it. But what about the social and health value of wearable technology, that speaks to a different part of us — our social consciousness being one?
“We think about wearables being super technology oriented, and all about being worn on the wrist,” Denise Gershbein, Executive Creative Director at design firm Frog, says. “But I think it’s up to all of us to look at analog versions and digital versions. For social impact, it’s how do you have the best of both.”
To that end, Frog contributes to the world by looking for opportunities to use wearable tech for social good. Pairing up with UNICEF and similar agencies, Gershbein employs wearable tech to gauge and monitor child nutrition in developing countries with a simple armband. If the paper measuring tape on the band reaches into the correct color zone, a health worker can tell if the child is getting enough food.
Another simply designed wearable is Embrace, a tiny sleeping pouch for premature infants. In hospitals that can’t afford incubators, or that don’t have electricity, this warming device can keep babies alive using almost no energy. Remedy, a Google Glass app, allows doctors working in remote locations to stream video to a hub medical center, and Emotiv, a brain-reading headset can help diagnose neurological diseases remotely and at a low cost.
It stands to reason that inventors and health organizations would be looking at the Ebola crisis and potential infectious disease outbreaks. Designers have theorized that low-cost wearables could be used to monitor patients remotely so health care workers would be at less risk of falling ill.
Wearable tech also has significant potential for keeping civil rights workers safe in war torn regions through locating devices as well as emergency communications, with clip-on wearable devices like Fearless that can detect if a woman is being assaulted, then transmits GPS coordinates to friends or police.
Designers like Gershbein urge companies and investors to continue to think outside the box when it comes to the applications of wearable tech, she believes we have only begun to tap into it’s potential for good.
“Right now startups sit in their rooms and design in a vacuum, and people like UNICEF are out in the field doing things, and they don’t often get to meet each other, and see what technologies we have and what use case that might address,” she says. “Personally I don’t want to see just another Apple watch on the market.”