Wearable Tech: 3 Life-Changing Innovations

You might think of wearable technology as providing trendy productivity tools… or the potential for privacy invasion. But if you’re among a foresighted few, or you happen to have a disability, you might see these devices as potentially life-changing. Consider these examples:

• The Lechal insole ($150, Lechal.com) emits vibrations that communicate directions to wearers, enabling them to navigate their routes. Wearers simply set their destinations in the corresponding smartphone app (which is voice-activated for the visually impaired) and follow the intuitive shoe vibrations that tell them where to turn. The insole is the “perfect companion for the white cane,” says Krispian Lawrence, Ducere Technologies CEO and Lechal co-inventor.

“Imagine navigating around a city without having to look at your phone or listen to audio feedback,” Lawrence says. “We market Lechal as a lifestyle brand for everyone. However, we still remain dedicated to the cause that got us started, which is to help the visually challenged with mobility. As our mainstream sales increase, we hope to subsidize the cost of a pair of Lechal footwear for a visually challenged person.”

Lechal insoles were effective 98 percent of the time when used by the visually impaired, according to findings presented at an international ophthalmology conference after a first round of tests by the L V Prasad Eye Institute.

• Using sensors that measure the electrical activity of muscle movements in the upper arm, the Myo armband ($149, Thalmic.com) was created for consumers to wirelessly control computers or smartphones with simple hand gestures. The device holds limitless potential as an assistive device, not only to operate computers but also to use Myo-specific applications to control prosthetic limbs, says Jen Quinlan, a wearable tech and mobile strategy expert who spoke about the possibilities at South by Southwest 2014.

Google Glass may have garnered ire over privacy concerns, but for people like law student Alex Blaszczuk, a quadriplegic who lost the use of her limbs in a car accident, the device represents great independence. She purchased a Google Glass as part of its beta program, Glass Explorers, and being able to use voice-activated instructions to direct Glass in taking a photograph or getting directions has been empowering. Says Blaszczuk, “When I overcome a challenge, like becoming the navigator [during a trip], I gain back a little bit of that confidence I had before the accident, and that doesn’t go away. It’s been amazing to feel a sense of independence.”

Innovations are changing our world in more ways than one. Meet the young inventor behind Oculus Rift, a breakthrough technology that’s on its way to redefining the way we communicate and connect with each other.

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