Beyond the Hype: These Technologies at CES Can Help People in Need

A wearable that helps people with disabilities communicate and a kit that helps workers dismantle landmines are among the award-winning devices

11 January 2016

There are countless gadgets on display at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that never fail to capture the crowd’s attention—self-driving cars, orchestrated drones, and virtual-reality headsets, to name a few. However, I always keep an eye out for devices that aim to help people in need or make the world a safer place. After all, IEEE’s mission is advancing technology for the benefit of humanity. Here are three award-winning innovations that caught my attention from this year’s show.


    TAPS (Trigger Activated Personal Assistant)

    For a world that’s constantly communicating—whether it be talking, texting, or e-mailing—it’s easy for people with disabilities to feel left out. That’s why rehabilitation specialist Michael Zinn developed TAPS (Trigger Activated Personal Assistant). The wearable device gives a voice to people who have limited mobility or difficulty speaking due to ALS, cerebral palsy, or traumatic brain injury. Zinn is founder of Forward Thinking Rehabilitation, in Petersborough, Ont., Canada. He demonstrated his device on 7 January at CES’s World Stage.

    TAPS is a flexible band with embedded sensors that can be strapped to a person’s clothing or wheelchair. DrumPants, a wearable technology company, in San Francisco, developed the sensors. They can be placed anywhere the user finds them most convenient to reach—such as the headrest of a wheelchair to help those who are paralyzed from the neck down. When the sensors are connected with the user’s smartphone via Bluetooth, he or she can tap them to play customizable, pre-programmed messages through the phone’s speakers. TAPS is compatible with apps such as Proloquo, which lets users communicate by selecting phrases or words on a mobile device. They can also type e-mails and answer text messages by tapping the sensors until the word or phrase they want to say shows up on the device’s display.

    In July, TAPS entered the Connect Ability Challenge sponsored by New York University and AT&T and won a US $10,000 award in the category of Best Solution for Communicative and Cognitive Disabilities. Now that beta testing is complete, Zinn says the company is raising funds to mass-produce the device.


    K-1, a 3-D printed hand

    Even though the technology has vastly improved over the years, many prosthetic hands are still cumbersome and expensive—some costing as much as US $40,000. That’s all about to change, thanks to 3-D printing. 3D Systems—founded by IEEE Member and inventor Charles Hull—debuted K-1, a prosthetic made of lightweight plastic and the materials only costs $50. It received a 2016 CES Innovation Award in the category of “Tech for a Better World.”

    The hand is composed of seven parts that can be snapped together. And only a pair of pliers is needed to tighten the five fingers, which bend in three places to mimic joints. The hand can be printed in different sizes to fit children as well as adults. It houses the internal wires, which are attached to the upper arm and act as muscle fibers, controlling the movement of the wrist and fingers.

    K-1 is the brainchild of Evan Kuester, an industrial designer who works at 3D Systems, in Rock Hill, S.C. The design is available online for free, and can be printed using the company’s Cube or CubePro printers, which cost about $1,000 and $3,000. There’s also a free tutorial that takes users through the process of printing and building K-1.

    Anyone who owns one of the Cube printers can manufacture the prosthetics. For example, the e-NABLE, a global network of 3-D printing enthusiasts or “makers” created and donated thousands of prosthetic limbs to children and adults worldwide over the last few years.

    3D Systems created a free video tutorial to take users through the process. The company also plans to donate 3-D printers, 3-D scanners, and printing materials to four universities so that researchers can continue to design low-cost prosthetics.


    The Standard Ordnance Training Set

    Each year, landmines kill up to 20,000 people and severely maim countless more, according to the United Nations. Eighty percent of those killed are civilians, and the majority are women, children, and the elderly. Scattered in some 78 countries, the mines are an ongoing reminder of wars and conflicts that have been over for years and even decades.

    To help demining organizations train workers to safely remove and dispose of these mines, Golden West Humanitarian Foundation developed the Standard Ordnance Training Set. It received a CES Innovation Award honorable mention in the “Tech for a Better World” category. The international charity is based in Woodland Hills, Calif., and provides aid to countries that are littered with land mines. The set is part of the foundation’s Advanced Ordnance Training Materials program, the group’s first major initiative.

    The set is designed to be used at demining training centers around the world. It contains 10 3-D printed plastic components that replicate land mine parts so that workers can get safe, hands-on experience dismantling a “practice” mine before going out into the field. The kit also comes with instructions, videos, PowerPoint presentations, and suggestions for classroom exercises. Golden West teamed up with researchers from MIT and Singapore University of Technology and Design to develop the parts and training materials. The set is already being used by several organizations, including the United Nations and the American Red Cross.

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