Designing for the Developing World

The "Wearables for Good" Design challenge, in partnership with Arm and frog

UNICEF Innovation
Baby wearing a KhushiBaby necklace
25 March 2016

Wearable and sensor technology could provide access to 2-way information for people in remote places, but they have yet to be designed for the end-user in developing economies. At UNICEF, we believe in creating wearable technology that isn’t just nice to have, but something people need to have.

In May 2015, UNICEF, in partnership with ARM and frog launched the ‘Wearables for Good’ design challenge which attracted 250 submissions from 46 countries around the world. In November 2015, we announced the winning teams: Khushi Baby and SoaPen received a prize of $15,000 and incubation and mentoring from partners.

SoaPen and Khushi Baby
UNICEF Innovation

SoaPen is a teaching tool in the form of a soap-crayon, which promotes the habit of handwashing among school children between the ages of 3 to 6. Teachers and parents can use it to draw or write on a child’s skin, marking out the critical cleaning areas on the child’s hand. The SoaPen device is also supported by a free mobile app that provides teachers with techniques to incorporate personal hygiene using soap into the existing academic curriculum. Check out this cute video of children testing out the soap-crayon.

Khushi Baby, which means happy baby in Hindi, is a plastic pendant on a black string. A computer chip which is embedded in the plastic pendant stores vaccination data of the baby wearing it, along with the mother’s health records, which also has potential value for on-the-move populations. By keeping the information on the child rather than on medical cards, health workers can ensure babies get the right vaccinations at the right time.


Let’s take a look at other organizations that are designing wearable and sensor tech for the developing world:

Winner of the 2015 NYUAD International Hackathon for Social Good in the Arab World, Hakee is an armband designed to monitor the health of construction workers. Hakee can provide warnings to workers if they are getting dehydrated or getting too much sun. Hakee also provides anonymous reports of the working conditions to governments.

Lumkani is a startup founded by engineers at the University of South Africa. It is a low-cost sensor which uses heat detection technology instead of smoke detection. Using rate-of-rise temperature technology, the sensors can accurately measure the incidence of hazardous fires, triggering an alarm inside the home to alert the family of danger before the fire becomes unmanageable. Since November 2014, Lumkani has distributed detectors to 3,500 households.

The Red Cross, frog and more than 20 other partners are piloting a new community-wide system designed to help prevent fires or catch them before they spread across slums in South Africa. The team began testing sensors from Lumkani.

Halo Smart Labs: 
The Red Cross is aiming to make 1 billion people safer by 2025. To help the organization achieve this goal, Halo Smart Labs and the Red Cross started testing the use of low-cost smart sensors in Kenya to prevent fire deaths. The smart sensors are placed inside settlement homes. If a fire is detected, the alarm will sound and people are alerted via SMS.

Embrace Warmer:
Babies born prematurely are unable to regulate their own body temperature. Embrace is a non-profit organization that created the Embrace Warmer, a tiny sleeping bag-like device for premature infants.

In parts of the world where there is limited access to modern equipment, incubators, which can cost up to $20,000 are unaffordable. The Embrace Warmer costs $200, less than 1 per cent of the incubator and keeps babies warm.


Do your know of wearable and sensor tech for the developing world? Tweet us at @unicefinnovate