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This digital necklace and wearable soap have stolen the show at UNICEF's Wearables for Good challenge

If there’s one accusation the tech industry has been forced to withstand time and time again, it’s that many of the products and ideas that emerge from Silicon Valley don’t really solve a pressing need. They’re first-world solutions for first-world problems, making their applicability in countries that could most benefit from innovation a bit questionable. But thanks to UNICEF’s Wearables for Good challenge, this accusation has been tackled head-on, and solved by some pretty impressive winners. “A digital necklace that stores electronic health data to track child immunization and a wearable soap that helps limit the spread of infectious viruses by encouraging hand washing” have taken top honors at the UNICEF, ARM, and Frog “Wearables for Good” Design Challenge, applying wearable tech to real-world problems.

Launched in May 2015, the Wearables for Good competition ultimately garnered 250 design submissions from 2,000 registrants who represented 65 different countries. By “moving the perception of wearables from nice-to-have devices to life-saving products that could work in any environment,” the competition quickly became one of the most accessible and indeed, useful tech and design challenges to date.

The necklace, named Khushi baby, is “a data-storing necklace that provides a two-year personal immunization record for children.” By making use of near-field communication (NFC), Khushi baby is able to transmit and receive information by way of a smartphone (which are slowly but surely gaining in adoption rates even in developing countries). The data stored in the necklace can be synced to cloud technology, which then allows it to be utilized by health officials who can see relevant information displayed on a dashboard.

“Khushi Baby want to ensure that all infants have access to informed and timely health care by owning a copy of their medical history,” said team member Ruchit Nagar. “The Khushi Baby system enables access to culturally appropriate wearable digital medical records, even in the most remote and isolated areas. At its core, Khushi Baby functions as a key to connect those in need of services to a digitally integrated community.”

SoaPen, on the other hand, is an ingenious “soap-crayon that encourages the habit of handwashing among school children” particularly between the ages of 3 to 6. Capitalizing upon children’s love of drawing (especially on themselves), the soap can actually be used as a marker for the skin, allowing parents or teachers to “clearly draw out critical cleaning areas on the child’s hand.” And of course, to get the marks to disappear, the child must “enthusiastically engage in handwashing — awaiting the visually clear reward of unmarked hands.”

“We believe that a serious problem can be solved through a simple and fun solution,” said Shubham Issar, one of SoaPen’s founders. “Our focus is to reduce infant mortality rates and the spread of disease by promoting the habit of hand washing with soap among children. SoaPen taps into the power of the two directional awareness flow between adults and children all over the world, with the aim to reach as many hands as fast as possible!”

As a result of these two products’ success, each will receive a $15,000 prize and incubation as well as mentoring from UNICEF, ARM, and Frog.

Erica Kochi, co-lead and co-founder of UNICEF Innovation said: “UNICEF scans the near-future horizon focusing on areas undergoing rapid changes that could have a significant impact on children. By showing how wearables and sensors can be re-imagined for low-tech and unconnected environments, our winners were able to demonstrate the potential life-saving benefits these innovations can offer. These results are really promising — if I told you 10 years ago that I thought mobile phones could strengthen national health systems, you would have told me I’m crazy. I’m excited to see if wearable and sensor technologies could be the next mobile revolution.”  

Noting that their team was “truly humbled and impressed by the solutions generated by the solutions,” Denise Gershbein, executive creative director of Frog, noted, “We wanted to elevate wearable and sensor technology in a way that moves beyond fitness trackers on the wrist and towards improving the lives of mothers and children across the world. It was our goal to bring together a broad and diverse community of people whose ideas and efforts would be much more powerful when brought together in new ways …We look forward to seeing real impact in the world from these ideas.”