Meet the Unicef Wearables Finalists Series: Totem Open Health

10th November 2015 Posted by: Cat Cochrane

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 seventh of our series, we interviewed the team behind Totem Open Health, an open platform and ecosystem for wearable health technology, including: sensors, data collection, storage, sharing, analysis and algorithmic interpretation.



Your aims for the Totem Open Health sensor are to have ‘unhindered collaboration, faster innovation and localised development.’ Could you tell us about these motivational areas?

Unhindered collaboration: taking away legal hindrances with open licenses, providing a website for access and working together, being free to share results and knowledge with Totem Open Health.

Faster innovation: by being inclusive, inviting anyone to participate and contribute, without legal barriers, means that anyone who can contribute value is able to do so without any (artificial) entry barriers. This is also sometimes called ‘generative technology.’

Localised development: using off-the-shelf standard sensors, sharing all designs and distributing knowledge through the internet freely, any local party can pick what was made and start making their own solution. No involvement of us is needed.

The issues of violence against children, pneumonia and pregnancy complications for mothers are three vital problems worthy of positive help and impact. How did you arrive at these particular issues?

We found these issues by doing doing desk research, taking the problem areas Unicef is addressing and searching for academic studies which are about these issues and use wearable technology in some way, relating to the wearable technology we have.

Can you tell us about the meaning and accessibility around ‘off the shelf’ sensors in connection to the ‘Aurora’ device?

Yes. Using mass produced, affordable, widely used sensors makes the Aurora easier to re-produce, cheaper and makes finding knowledge and experts easier. We saw that many existing health wearables use the same or similar sensors, so the difference there is not in the hardware. So why not standardise the hardware and get that out of the way for making new solutions?

Wearers having complete ownership of their data is a great addition to the extended function of the wearable. Yet does low literacy, both general and digital, in places where it may be worn give less impact to that ownership?

We have no experience working in places with low literacy, so that question is not so easy to answer. If people do not care about their privacy or do not understand this concept or (data) ownership, then Aurora is not going to make them care. However, by not centrally collecting and storing of all data, as all computers are doing, we are taken out of the equation completely regarding data retention and policies. This then becomes completely up to the organisation distributing the solution to the clients or users. It is their responsibility to take care of the contract (social and/or legal) between these parties.

What impact do you project the prototype having in five years time should it be the Unicef Wearables winner?

Open Hardware-based health wearables are the de-facto standard for Unicef and other NGOs making or financing solutions. All universities and other research institutes use Open Hardware-based wearables for their research. A substantial part (10+%) of all health wearables made world-wide are Open Hardware.



"We saw that many existing health wearables use the same or similar sensors, so the difference there is not in the hardware. So why not standardise the hardware and get that out of the way for making new solutions?"


Totem Open Health site

Totem Open Health twitter


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