Contest Seeks to Harness ‘Wearable’ Tech for Slum Dwellers

Devices created for the contest should be cost-effective, rugged and scalable, as well as energy efficient and capable of operating from battery power.

Smart watches, exercise bands and other wearables are the latest must-have electronic gadgets. But what if this wireless technology could be tapped to help slum dwellers? Enter The Wearables for Good Challenge, a competition whose goals include employing wearables to improve developing cities.

UNICEF has teamed with frog, an international design firm, and ARM, a chipmaker, on the contest. A Use Case Handbook outlines possible applications. One idea is to aid response teams with locating slum dwellers stranded by fire, floods, earthquakes, social strife and violence, it says.

The authors note that emergency crews were slow to reach residents of three Nairobi slums consumed by fire in 2011. “Sensor technology [in wearables] could help with that response and also serve as alert and detection for natural disasters and other emergencies,” the handbook says.

Applicants are encouraged to dream big and may submit visions for technologies that don’t exist. Devices should be cost-effective, rugged and scalable, the sponsors say. They also must be energy efficient and capable of operating from battery power. And they don’t necessarily have to employ digital technology: UNICEF cites the example of a measuring tape that wraps around a child’s arm to quickly determine whether the child is malnourished.

Applications are due August 4, with winners to be announced in November.

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This story was originally published by Citiscope, a nonprofit news outlet that covers innovations in cities around the world. More at