Tech for good: The wearable tech projects and devices trying to save the world

Because it's not all about you, y'know
Incredible tech for good projects

It's easy to think of wearable technology as just smartwatches and fitness bands for tracking steps, sleeps and notifications.

Tech giants like Apple, Samsung and LG have been spinning out consumer-friendly wearables that offer these functions right throughout the year. But the sensors, screens and form factors being developed for the consumer world are also capable of doing some serious good.

More wearables for good: Check out our Saves the Day hub

We've rounded up just a handful of the wearable tech projects, devices and startups out there making a difference in health, safety, charity, equality and education. All of them are capable of changing and saving lives, as are the companies and campaigns we cover every week in our Saves the Day regular.

Owlet

wearable tech for good

This $250 smart sock is taking baby monitoring to the next level: Owlet keeps tabs on your baby's breathing by measuring pulse oximetry and heart rate through the night. If anything looks out of the ordinary then the parent's smartphone app will get an alert to check on their child.

Read this: We speak to Owlet's president Joe Atkin about saving little lives

Amazingly, the startup has had zero reported deaths from 40,000 customers so far. That's versus the one in a thousand babies who would usually pass away, undetected, in their crib.

VR Care

wearable tech for good

This low cost, open source VR headset from Frog is designed to distract burns patients in hospital from treatments, over days or weeks. How? With Epione, a game developed for this precise purpose and playable when lying down in a hospital bed. VR Care is water resistant, durable and flat-packed, plus it could be made for less than $30 per unit. If you're interested in the project, you can grab the APK files from GitHub.

Starling

Another parenting focused wearable, but this time one dedicated to language, learning, development and redressing the education balance between privileged and underprivileged children. Starling is a clip-on, star shaped wearable with a built-in mic that records how many words a preschooler hears or says during the day.

It lets the parents know how they're doing, reminds them to keep talking and using more complex words and setting manageable targets to help their kids learn via verbal engagement. The startup's goal is for every new parent to leave the hospital with one – for now, you can pick a Starling up for $199.

Athena

wearable tech for good

In the US a woman is attacked every two minutes, and it's this harrowing statistic which inspired Yasmine Mustafa, an entrepreneur based in Philadelphia, to create Athena. It's a pendant-style device that sports a button that, once pressed, sets off an 85db alarm.

The smart element connects to the user's smartphone to send a GPS location to pre-specified friends and family when the alarm is raised. Athena, the company behind it, plans to add automatic 911 calling before the device ships. Other features include water-resistance and a three-month battery. The wearable raised over $300,000 on Indiegogo and is up for pre-order with shipping set for this autumn.

MyBivy

wearable tech for good

With servicemen returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, post traumatic stress disorder is a common side-effect. As a result the traumas they experienced in battle can lead to depression and night terrors.

MyBivy is a smartwatch app aimed at helping veterans overcome such symptoms. Developed by Tyler J Skluzace, whose father is an Iraq veteran, it tracks and learns the physiological pre-cursors of a night terror while the wearer is asleep.

When those triggers are detected – heart rate change or body movement are giveaways – the app uses a smartwatch to gently bring them out of the deep sleep stage. It will also save a history of attacks and can send them to the sufferer's doctor. The app, which is currently available on Pebble but soon to expand to the Apple Watch and Android Wear, raised over $26,000 on Kickstarter and was completed earlier in 2016.

WAAA!

wearable tech for good

Around 2.8 million newborn babies die every year and the vast majority of these deaths occur in developing countries. As part of Unicef's Wearables for Good challenge, experts at the University of Huddersfield have developed a wearable sensor module capable of protecting newborns.

Aptly called WAAA!, it's been designed to be used for about three days following a birth. The device slots onto a silicone band worn around the newborn's chest and monitors ECG signals, heart rate and respiratory effort levels. If an abnormal signal is detected, it's transmitted to a companion gateway box via radio frequency and details are sent via an SMS message to a nearby health professional.

First Response Monitor

wearable tech for good

When soldiers are injured on the battlefield or there are casualties in disaster zones, it can be difficult to manage medical help. Enter the First Response Monitor.

Created by Cambridge Design Partnership, it's a wearable that's clipped onto the nose of trauma patients to measure and monitor heart and respiratory rates. Information can be provided on its built-in screen or smartphone/tablet app. It enables emergency medics to keep tabs on a patient's heart and respiratory rate and how it's changed over time. First Response Monitor can also send this graph using Bluetooth LE in real-time, helping medics to care for multiple casualties.

Ekso GT

wearable tech for good

For the last ten years, Richmond-based Ekso Bionics has been making high-tech exoskeletons for the military. In 2012, though, it decided to do something new and started to begin helping victims of lower body paralysis.

Fast forward to 2016, and the company's GT rehabilitation suit – the Esko GT – is being used to help survivors of stroke, spinal cord injury and other such disabilities walk again instead of going through regular physiotherapy.

The suit is made from aluminium and titanium and weighs just 23 grams. Steps are made through electric motors, and the level of assistance each user needs is identified by a gyroscope, trajectory sensors and torque sensors.

Armis

wearable tech for good

23-year-old Loughborough University student Robin Spicer developed Armis, a smart polo helmet and app aimed at minimising head injuries in the dangerous sport. The helmet uses a crash sensor that connects to the player's smartphone via Bluetooth. It's an early warning system for head trauma, which can manifest itself long after the game has finished.

Guard Band

wearable tech for good

GuardBand has been developed to tackle the issue of child abuse and forced labour around the world. It's a band worn by children to collect data about their health and location via GPS. Aid organisations are then able to use this information to protect children in danger and help keep track of their location. The system, developed by a group of university students in Vietnam, was a finalist in Unicef's Wearable for Good campaign.

Droplet

wearable tech for good

Millions of people in developing countries live without access to clean water supplies, relying on drinking contaminated water which puts them at risk of life-threatening diseases.

In a bid to make water in such countries safe to drink, a pair of San Francisco-based technologists have developed Droplet – a water purification device that can be worn as a bracelet. It comes kitted out with a UV purifying light bulb, which wearers place into water to kill contaminants and bacteria in just a few minutes. It also feeds back data about water contaminants around the world.

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