User experience designers around the world recognize that a screen isn’t always the most logical interface for every task or every person. Currently, much of our time is dominated by screens. At the office, we work on computer screens; at home, we watch our favorite entertainment on televisions and tablets; and on the go, we rely on smartphones as all-in-one touchscreen devices. However, as wearable technology advances and each device fits a specific purpose, we are starting to see new, screen-free wearables created to improve our lives, both on individual and societal levels. Leaders in these technologies are often based in the same region of the world that already designs and manufactures much of the world’s hardware – Asia. Here we take a look at some of the impressive screen-free devices coming out today.
A South Korean startup has noticed a serious, global issue that it aims to address through smartwatches: illiteracy in the blind community. The World Health Organization estimates that there are ~285 million people with severe visual impairment around the world, ~39 million of whom are completely blind. Among them, literacy is a serious issue because Braille materials are rare and often expensive, especially for digital reading. Technology displays that can write Braille text in real time often cost about $3,000 USD. With this in mind, a startup has piggybacked on the exploding demand for smartwatches by creating one with a Braille interface made up of dots. Not only is the capability cool, it opens a new world of technology for the visually impaired.
Image source: Dot Incorporated
Ever since the mass consumer adoption of mobile phones, parents have been giving them to their children for safety and peace-of-mind reasons. However, kids can easily lose such hand-carried objects, and today’s smartphones have far more functionality than is necessary for a young child’s day-to-day use. Therefore, we’re excited to see a trend in simple wearables that helps parents communicate with and locate their children. The idea has initially been popularized by companies in Japan, a country where children are famously independent. This type of kids’ wearable is usually worn in the form of a watch or a clip-on accessory and connects to an app on the parent’s smartphone. The device contains a GPS and simple functionality for communicating with others, often through a touch ability to call a few pre-programmed phone numbers. With wearables like this, parents can feel more at ease knowing the location of their children.
Image source: Tinitell
A South Korean company took the idea of a fitness tracker and evolved it into a smart belt, a tool aimed at preventing obesity-related health issues by measuring waist size and physical activity. Why a belt? The rationale is two-fold. First, healthcare experts around the world agree that waistline is a more absolute predictor of health problems than weight; for example, according to the World Health Organization, men with waist sizes larger than 37 inches (94 cm) are more likely to be exposed to Type 2 Diabetes, regardless of height. Second, a wearable placed on the waist can more accurately determine physical activity than wrist-based wearables, which can be thrown off by movements such as fast typing or gesturing with hands while speaking. This invention of a smart belt represents a creative and effective idea for how to use technology to improve our diet and exercise habits.
Image source: WELT Corp., Ltd.
Two tech trends that have grown massively over the past year include wireless headphones and increasingly smart personal assistants enabled by machine learning. It’s therefore no surprise that a Japan-based tech giant has combined the two into personal assistant ear buds. They can be used to send and receive messages, check your schedule, and search and navigate. You can talk to these products just like you would talk to a friend, and they are good friends indeed – answering questions and providing the information you need – all while your hands remain free. The product is engineered with intuitive gesture sensitivity. This means it has specialized sensors that can tell whether it’s in your ear or in its charging case and recognize a nod of your head as a command. The impressive learning capacity of these devices along with their ability to allow multitasking is likely to fuel their use and popularity.
Image source: Sony Mobile Communications Inc.
In Wuhan, China, a city with a population of more than 11 million, commuters can tap a wristband to pay for public transit. Using near-field communication (NFC) technology, the device allows riders to pay for the bus or metro with a simple wave of their arm. This is an alternative to physical transit passes, which are popular around the world, but can easily be lost or stolen. The wristband comes preloaded with not only a transit app, but also a fitness tracker, making it an ideal two-in-one device. This app pairing also makes sense given that people who commute via public transportation tend to walk more per day than people who drive.
While the enabling semiconductors behind these screen-free wearables are hardly noticeable to end-users, such innovation often involves new chip designs along with new processes and manufacturing capability. At Lam, we are proud of our role in supporting technology advances like these that simplify and improve our lives.
Editorial Note: The use of any company, product, or trade names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by Lam Research Corp. or its subsidiaries.