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Inge NahuisUser experience design

5 promising examples of IoT and wearable devices that enable people with disabilities

Deze blogpost is eerder gepubliceerd op Medium door Inge Nahuis en is in het Engels gepubliceerd.

IoT and wearables have a huge potential to enable the lives of people with disabilities. It is well known that these technologies provide us with many opportunities. All sorts of IoT applications are already making our lives easier and smarter. Our devices connect with our houses, electronics and environment. Smart lighting, for example, lights our houses automatically and increases our sense of safety. Without much effort, you can think of dozens of examples. Another great opportunity for IoT is the one of making EVERYONE’s lives easier.

With moving the emphasis from making a smart environment to an enabling environment IoT can have a great value for people with disabilities. Researchers are starting to explore the role of IoT for accessibility, but some practical and real applications already exist. While investigating this topic I came across some great examples of how technology can make the lives of people with disabilities easier.

 

The role of Assistive Technology (AT) for accessibility

There are many assistive technologies available that have been helping people with disabilities for decades or even centuries.

Assistive technology is any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.

AT’s can be hardware or software and low-tech or high-tech. Examples of assistive technologies are screen readers, hearing aids, voice recognition, wheelchairs, screen enlargers, canes, alternative keyboards, etc. Some of the high tech AT’s can almost be seen as wearables, being worn on your body and incorporating advanced electronic technologies.

IoT technologies and applications have the potential to help people with disabilities in a similar or even better way. Additionally, the arrival of IoT could accelerate development of assistive technologies. Below you’ll find examples of applications that are already released or being developed.

 

Example 1: The Toyota mobility band helps blind people navigate

Toyota Project Blade showing the design of the mobility device

Toyota is developing a wearable device that will improve the mobility of blind people. It’s a band that can be worn around your shoulders. The main input for the device is generated by its cameras that detect their surrounding and recognise signs. The shoulder device returns feedback to its carrier by sound and vibration, telling him what’s in front of him or helping to navigate.

Currently, the band is being developed for indoor places, such as shopping malls and airports, but it has the potential to be used outdoors as well. For the future, the developers plan to implement mapping, object identification and face recognition as well, which would help to create an even richer experience for blind people. Toyota hasn’t announced a release date yet and says it has just begun, I’m looking forward to hear more of this development.

Example 2: Philips HUE Light Bulbs can be made enabling within a smart environment

Philips Hue Light Bulbs

IoT applications that help people with disabilities do not necessarily have to be developed with that goal in mind. The Philips HUE Light Bulb is an example of a popular IoT application that can easily be set up in a way that it helps people with multiple types of disabilities.

The smart light bulb can help people with cognitive impairments navigate through the house or reminding them about things that they still need to do. Deaf people could use this device by letting the bulbs shine in colours when there are certain noises. For example, they could radiate purple light when the bell rings and red light when the fire alarm goes off. These are just some basic examples, with services like If This Then That you can set up smarter and more complex support systems.

 

Example 3: Decrease risks and time with Medtronic GUARDIAN® glucose monitoring

Medtronic’s Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) device

This glucose monitoring device for diabetes patients is a wearable which continuously tracks your glucose levels. The monitoring device detects and notifies you if your levels are reaching a too high or too low limit. This is tracked with help of a small sensor that is placed under the skin:

A tiny electrode called a glucose sensor is inserted under the skin to measure glucose levels in tissue fluid. It is connected to a transmitter that sends the information via wireless radio frequency to a monitoring and display device.

When wearing the device it is still needed to prick your fingers for blood samples, but it drastically reduces the amount of pricks a day. This, coupled with early insights on whether your glucose levels are heading in the wrong direction, makes the lives of diabetes patients easier.

 

Example 4: Home automation devices let you control your home easier

The Homey voice controlled home automation device

Home automation allows users to control parts of their home that may otherwise be difficult to reach, see or hear. Home automation easily lets you control lights, security systems or temperature. For people with disabilities some of their frustrations with domotica could be solved by simply automating it.

Athom has just started delivering a device called Homey. This is a voice controlled device which can be used to control everything in your house: lights, music, temperature, TV, etc. This device would be extremely suitable for people with certain disabilities, since it can be controlled by voice and it is therefore not dependent on sight or touch input. Athom doesn’t mention anything about Homey’s possibilities for making lives of people with disabilities easier on their website yet, but the potential is there.

 

Example 5: Navigation without screen with connected insoles

When thinking about wearables I usually think about smart watches, bracelets and glasses, but this device is even more integrated with your regular clothing. These insoles, invented by a MIT researcher, help you navigate without having to look at a screen. Constantly looking at your smartphone screen with Google Maps showing you where to turn left is annoying and risky. With these insoles that would be in the past: you don’t have to look at your screen to see where to go, but you will know by sensing vibrations in your shoe. As you walk, it vibrates on the side that you will want to turn to. If your route continues by taking a left turn, the insoles would vibrate on the left side, and a right turn means the insoles would vibrate on the right side.

The insoles are designed to work with a mobile device to help the user navigate a city without looking at a smartphone for directions. The insoles do this by vibrating to let the wearer know where to go, and also to make recommendations for specific locations based on the wearer’s learned behavior.

For me, the insoles are a great example of a wearable that is integrated in your normal clothing and that makes life easier. For people with visual or hearing impairments this is a great invention. It increases mobility and independence by giving subtle feedback, without having voices surrounding you or having to wear weird systems.

Do you know any other inspiring examples? I’m really interested to hear them!

I’d like to get to know more about developments in the field of enabling or accessible IoT applications and share our ideas and knowledge. Do you know any other good examples of applications that enable more people? Please share your ideas.