Assistive tech is changing disabled people's lives
Independence has no price. For disabled people, new assistive technology can make all the difference. These recent examples show what's possible and set a standard for tech with a purpose far beyond speed and convenience.
Assistive technologies change lives
For some people with disabilities, doing daily tasks independently can be a challenge. Assistive tech (also known as adaptive technology) is any device or other means that means a disabled person can do more without support from for example, a care assistant.Assistive tech itself isn't new. Magnifying glasses for people with low vision date back to around 1250 and Braille came along in 1820. Technologies range from the relatively straightforward, like this text-to-speech app for people with dyslexia to more affordable high-tech artificial limbs like Motorica's:
What if everyone who needed it could use assistive tech?
A billion people or 15 percent of the world's population has some form of disability. But only 1 in 10 can access assistive technologies. While Motorica sets its sights on making prosthetics affordable for everyone, assistive technology is often expensive. With widespread adoption, how could these assistive technologies change lives for the better?
With more companies starting to understand the importance of assistive tech and disabled people increasingly spearheading its development, affordability can only improve in future.
Here are some compelling examples of assistive tech that's on the horizon or already here.
Computers can be challenging for people with some kinds of visual and motor impairments. Norwegian start-up No Isolation has stepped up to make computing more accessible with its one-button computer, KOMP. Here's how it works.
No Isolation also offers a rent-a-KOMP model as a way to make their assistive tech more accessible.
This smart cane uses ultrasonic sensors to identify obstructions like street signs and tree branches, sending out vibrations to warn its user. WeWalk also connects to a smartphone app, giving voice-activated directions and alerts to help find a misplaced or moved cane. There's even talk of connecting the cane to autonomous vehicles in future.
3. Fridai: Voice-activated gaming AI
Could voice-activated AI for billions of gamers with disabilities be the future of gaming? See for yourself in Tomorrow Unlocked's Defenders of Digital series:
For people with visual impairments, The Dot is a Braille smartwatch that gives users the time and date in Braille, and includes alarms, a Braille dictionary and the ability to answer or reject phone calls. On top of all that, a five-day battery life makes it all the more usable.
Useful for people with conditions like lateral sclerosis, spinal cord injury or multiple sclerosis (MS,) Open Sesame lets you control smartphones, tablets and computers with head movements. Like so:
Another piece of genius hands-free engineering, this time for people using electric wheelchairs. Munevo DRIVE is a pair of smart glasses that lets users manipulate their wheelchair using head movements. See for yourself:
One device theoretical physicist and author Stephen Hawking used to communicate involved him tensing a muscle in his cheek. Earswitch lets users operate it with a tiny, hidden muscle in the ear:
OrCam MyEye2 is a voice-activated, wearable assistive vision device that can read out any text and even tell you people's names using facial recognition, designed for people with vision impairment and reading difficulties. Here's how it works:
Cybathlon: Assistive tech’s ultimate showcase
With the pace of assistive technology development speeding up, Cybathlon is a great way to see the latest in assistive tech, with a competitive edge. At Cybathlon, people with disabilities compete against each other using their assistive tech to perform everyday tasks and more. We even made a film about it:
As with all new technologies that can improve lives, assistive tech needs regulation to make sure people's personal and sensitive data stays safe. What are your thoughts? Tell us how you see the future of assistive technologies on Twitter and Facebook.