One criticism of wearable technologies—particularly consumer-oriented ones—is that they merely offer first-world solutions to first-world problems. That may be a contributing factor the problem of wearables’ adherence; they’re cool gadgets, but their health benefits remain to be seen.
UNICEF’s Wearables for Good challenge, which brought 250 design submissions from 2,000 people spanning 65 different countries, answers that with devices that could benefit people who really need them. They represent the transition of wearable devices from cool tech to life-saving products. The contest was launched in May 2015, and two winners have emerged.
The first is a necklace called Khushi baby. Using a mobile app for health workers that interfaces with the necklace, worn by a patient. Health workers need to simply scan the patient’s chip, without connecting to a central database, to read, address, and update health records. Near-field communication (NFC) via a smartphone transmits and receives the necessary information. The data is sent to the cloud and shown on an analytics dashboard.
Half of the team is based in northern India, and Khushi baby’s design reflects the traditions of that area. The device is placed on a kaala dhaago or black thread, traditionally worn by children to ward of the nazar or evil eye.
The second winner of the challenge is a wearable soap called SoaPen. In order to encourage hand washing and reduce the risk of catching and spreading disease, the team created crayon-like soap wrapped in tightly rolled paper. Rather than boring old hand washing techniques, SoaPen makes it fun to wash up by being a marker for the skin, clearly outlining critical cleaning areas on a child’s hand. Hopefully, following the drawing, children will enthusiastically wash their hands to get rid of the markings.
SoaPen isn’t particularly high-tech, but in underdeveloped areas especially, proper hand washing is critical. Every year millions of kids die of infections like diarrhea and pneumonia, and the simple habit of washing hands effectively can help alleviate this. It can also help to reduce infant mortality rates.
Each winner will receive a $15,000 prize and incubation. They will also be mentored by UNICEF, ARM, and frog.