This summer Unicef set the challenge of designing wearable and sensor technology that serves people in resource constrained environments. In the run up to the announcement of the winners on 12th November, we're proud to cover the teams and their prototype wearables, each aiming to make great impact in the fields of health, child abuse prevention, clean water safety and much more.
In the third of our series, we interviewed the team behind Communic-AID, a wearable device that facilitates record keeping, aids in the tracking of medications that have been distributed in a post-disaster context and allows the patient to take part in their treatment.
In terms of wearable tech for good, how accessible can the prototype be should it reach its potential?
If the Communic-AID prototype were to reach its full potential, it will hopefully be accessible to any person that is in an area where aid organizations are needed. At its full potential the Communic-AID system will be a standard tool for aid workers to track medical care given to patients.
What has been the reaction from the medical industry to your prototype?
The reaction has been almost all positive. Most of the people that we have talked too within the medical community see the need for this system and want to see Communic-AID come to life.
What materials would be used to design and create your device? Are these sustainable?
The materials to design and create our device would simply be a small near field communication (NFC) chip inside of a polyurethane bracelet which would interface with a smartphone or other NFC enabled device. These materials can be easily sterilized to allow the bracelet to be re-used for multiple patients and the NFC chip uses passive communication meaning that there is no need for a battery in the bracelet which gives a much longer lifetime to the device.
Does the device have any limitations? How can these be overcome?
The main limitation of this device is the amount of information that can be stored on the band itself. The way to overcome this limitation is in the way that the application on the smartphone encodes the information onto the band, compressing words into few if not singular characters to be stored on the band.
Can you tell us more about the ‘hot glue story’?
During the prototyping process, we had to get a little creative with the materials that we were using. We thought we would be able to 3D print our band with flexible material, but the machine was only able to print stiff material at the time. We had to improvise at this point, especially because we had a very short time during the summer to develop the prototype, and we thought that it was very important for the band to be flexible even in the prototype. We decided to reverse our design and create a mould using the regular 3D printer, and fill the mould with material that would still allow it to be flexible.
We tried many different materials throughout the process such as liquid latex, but our first try was to spread hot glue throughout the mould. All of this was in a foreign country, so we were running around trying to do what we could to develop a successful prototype. We ended up spraying PAM into the mould, and melting and squeezing the hot glue in layers into the mould, trying to keep the number of bubbles at a minimum.
We kind of thought it was funny at first, prototyping with hot glue, but it actually turned out quite well. There were a couple of gaps where the glue didn’t reach, but overall it did show the shape and look of the band while still allowing it to be flexible and represent the final product in a more effective way. From there, we tried other materials in the same manner, but that was our first idea in trying to get creative given the resources we had.
What impact do you project the prototype having in five years’ time should it be the Unicef Wearables winner?
Should Communic-AID be a UNICEF Wearables winner, in five years this device would be close if not already being implemented in disaster situations when they arise. Within a year or two the system could easily enter testing in IDP camps to prepare the system to be used in emergency situations and then within five years make this device the prime method of recording medical information in disaster situations.
"The reaction has been almost all positive. Most of the people that we have talked too within the medical community see the need for this system and want to see Communic-AID come to life."