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CES 2019: big technology potential for people with disabilities

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is the world’s largest consumer technology exhibition and showcases the products likely to appear in our shops in the coming months. While CES 2018 was more of an evolution rather than revolution, this year’s show highlighted some new products that could have significant benefits for people with disabilities. Here’s a few of my picks for new consumer technologies that are likely to be helpful as they appear in our shops during 2019.  

MATRIX POWERWATCH 2 SELF-POWERING SMARTWATCH

The Matrix PowerWatch 2  is one of the most exciting devices at CES this year. This is due in part to the watch itself, but also due to the potential application of the technology for people with disabilities. The watch cleverly uses a combination of mini solar panels and body heat to keep the watch charged meaning it never needs to be plugged in.

For people with disabilities, the PowerWatch 2 offers several great features commonly found in smartwatches such as heart rate monitoring, but the fact it never needs manual charging now makes it an option for people that may find it difficult to get a watch on and off to charge due to their disability. Arguably more exciting though is the potential of the technology embedded in other products as there could be a wealth of disability-related sensors, mobility aids and communication devices that may become self-powering. This could potentially improve the reliability of daily assistance without fear of the battery going flat.

GOOGLE V AMAZON: MORE SCREENS, MORE DOMINANCE

Over the past few years the war over dominance in the smarthome has been raging with the Amazon Echo taking the early lead. However, Google Home has well and truly caught up with most new products featured now including dual connectivity for both the Amazon Echo and google Home range of products. There are also a number of specialist products such as the Whirlpool KitchenAid which has a built-in Google digital assistant and provides premium recipe services. The thinking here is that customised devices containing an assistant can have some extra advantages such as in this instance being able to rinse the assistant under the tap if food gets on it.  

From a disability perspective, there’s a few things to take note in terms of digital assistants this year including their interaction with the Internet of Things (IoT). Firstly, it’s clear this year that Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are neck-and-neck so either ecosystem appears to be well supported at this time. However, it also means that other digital assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana are not getting much traction so any automated home integration should look to Google or Amazon as their preferred provider.

Secondly, a notable trend is that the digital assistant is appearing in more devices. This means that there is a lot of potential for disability-specific products being enabled with an assistant. For example, we may see motorised wheelchairs with an assistant which could put itself away at the end of the day, then be brought back to the bedside just by calling it.

The other aspect of digital assistants highlighted this year is the move towards screen integration, but not at the expense of audio integration. This is great news for people who are Deaf or hearing impaired as it means that there are devices that can be controlled visually, but people who rely on audio such as people who are blind or vision impaired will continue to enjoy the full functionality of the device. The effective integration of multiple interfaces is a great indicator that as this area continues to develop, our ability to control our environment will not be limited by one type of interface.

LG OLED ROLLABLE TV

Last year LG demonstrated a prototype rollable OLED TV, but this year it’s ready for the shops with a likely release in late 2019. The rollable TV could potentially have many benefits for people with a vision-related disability as the giant screen can be put away when not needed, but provides a large screen display when required such as reading text from a smartphone message or using a smartphone to take a photo of text which could then be blown up on the TV. Aside from the TV itself, we’re seeing more displays being able to use the bendable OLED technology with prototype smartphones already being foldable, so the possibility of having a giant display screen in your pocket for those times that seeing things on a large display is needed is not too far off now.

GOOGLE INTERPRETER

Another highlight of CES 2019 that I personally found really exciting is Google Interpreter. While Google has had translation features in its smartphones for some time, this is optimised for conversations between two or more people with the results being both in audio and visually shown on the screen.

A big issue I have when travelling to other countries is that I don’t have many options when it comes to languages – due to being vision impaired I can’t easily point to something or even read an English translation. The potential of being able to fluently have a conversation with someone when I arrive at a shop that has something like this available would be incredibly helpful.

HTC VIVE PRO EYE-TRACKING VIRTUAL REALITY

The last thing that has great potential is the improvements to eye tracking found in the latest version of the HTC Vive Pro Eye Virtual Reality system. Eye tracking itself is not particularly new with a number of games and even Windows 10 supporting eye tracking products. However this allows eye tracking to occur in a 3D virtual environment meaning that someone who has limited movement can step into virtual worlds to engage with games, interact with productivity applications or even potentially interact in a blended mode as Augmented Reality systems are developed with the same technology. This could be the start of significant new opportunities of people with mobility impairments limited only by the imagination of the virtual world being created.

These are just a few of my personal favourites on display. If you’d like to read more about all the products at CES 2019, please visit the CES section of the CNet website.

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