Situational Awareness in a Bracelet: This New Wristband Alerts Hearing-Impaired People of Danger
It's difficult for most people to imagine living in an area like Yemen or Ukraine, even with all five senses intact. But if these regions are dangerous for those with healthy hearing, they're doubly so for anyone experiencing hearing loss. Hearing-impaired individuals in conflict zones are especially vulnerable—especially without any form of warning system.
"Sometimes, we'd see people running around frantically, and we wouldn't know what was going on, "recalls Olga Svridenko, a deaf Ukrainian refugee who fled to Romania and eventually France with her family. "My husband and I realized our family had to leave because we couldn't hear the air raid sirens—[we were alerted by a text message]."
Imagine not being able to detect the sound of gunfire or hear a siren warning of an impending air raid. Imagine not knowing that violence has broken out around you until you see the reactions of everyone around you. Imagine having to rely on a cell phone to alert yourself of life-threatening danger and having to flee without knowing if you're walking into an even worse situation.
This is, unfortunately, the reality for people living in unstable regions, many of whom are children. One group of inventors hopes to change that. While it may not be possible for them to end conflicts or make the world safer, they can at least provide people with the capacity to recognize and avoid danger as it develops.
"Hearing assistance devices are not of much use in an emergency, as they cannot typically alert their wearers to noise in the environment," explains Peerzada Shoaib Hamid, Assistant Professor at the department and former fellow at the Central University of Kashmir’s Design Innovation Center (DIC). "The problem with hearing-impaired persons is that they are least aware of the goings-on in an emergency. They are usually physically hauled out from a dangerous situation or shown danger signals of some sort … but people first try to save their own life [before] they think about helping others."
Hamid is the project lead on the Situational Awareness and Alarming System for the Hearing Impaired (SAAHI). On the surface, it's a deceptively simple innovation. Taking the form of a small bracelet worn on the wrist, SAAHI is designed to detect high-intensity sounds in the wearer's surroundings.
When such sounds are detected, it begins vibrating, providing the wearer with an early warning of impending danger—anything from gunfire to explosions to sirens. In addition to being small and unobtrusive, SAAHI is designed to be inexpensive, with a single bracelet costing less than $20 (Rs 1500). Most interestingly, however, is the fact that the current iteration of SAAHI is only the beginning for Hamid and his team.
Currently, the inventors behind the bracelet are exploring the possibility of using machine learning algorithms to improve sound detection and identification. Another feature in development is the capacity for the bracelet to inform the wearer not just of a sound's presence, but also of its direction and nature. As such, it's important to note that although Hamid and his team have filed a patent for SAAHI, the device is not yet commercially-available, with no set go-to-market deadline.
It is important to note that the idea of a specialized alerting device for the hearing impaired is hardly new. There are plenty of similar innovations designed to pick up everything from smoke to high-frequency noises such as a baby's cries or a doorbell. What makes SAAHI unique is its intended purpose—the fact that it protects individuals living in conflict zones by arming them with better overall situational awareness.
With that in mind, the one thing is certain, when SAAHI finally does officially release, it will prove invaluable for both hearing-impaired individuals and their loved ones. In the future, perhaps, people like the Sviridenkos will no longer need to rely on a smartphone network to keep themselves safe. Instead, they'll have everything they need to stay ahead of conflict located right on their wrists.