Every day we hear stories of incredible innovative technology being developed. Yet, when it comes to consumer wearables, all we seem to be able to do is put a few smartphone features into bulky looking devices with a step counter thrown in for good measure.

Why is the term wearable synonymous with boring? Seriously:

While that video might have made you giggle it also hits on something relevant at the moment. When it comes to wearable technology we’re celebrating average. We really are strapping smartphones to our wrist (or head) and claiming “the next big thing”. In most cases the only thing big about the wearable is its physical size.

The 2014 Intel Make it Wearable Challenge opened our eyes the host of wearable technology not yet even being investigated by consumer brands. According to Mike Bell, Intel’s new device group general manager, the technology is there to develop smaller functional wearable devices and the company has invested in battery technology to make your wearable last longer. The limit is only our imagination.

Or is it?

Africa has been behind some interesting wearable creations in recent years. The Memeza Personal Safety Device is a small wearable that can be attached to a handbag, keys or carried on your person. It’s a simple wearable operated with a pull pin attached to strap. Pull the strap and the user activates a loud alarm with a sound level of 130 decibels. It was developed by South African Software Engineer Thuli Mthethwa who now heads up the Memeza Non Profit Organisation which is aimed at providing these affordable wearable devices to women in townships around the country.

Wearable technology

Another African invented wearable was GuideMe. Developed by Algerian Badreddine Zebbiche it was a wearable device that consisted of 3D Sensors fitted in to each side of a shoe. The sensors detect obstacles and then send a message to a smartphone app which then gives the user instructions on where to turn. The GuideMe wearable was designed to aid the blind in navigating busy cities and won the 2013 Technology Idea Competition run by the Global Innovation through Science and Technology initiative.

what the wearable

According to Zebbiche the lack of access to technology in Africa has slowed down the development of wearable devices like GuideMe. Wearable inventors and innovators tend to leave the African continent for the US or Asia to try accelerate the process of product development.

Until we find a way to better support local African developers and inventors we might be stuck with mediocre smartphones strapped to our arms. Might be best to stick to a good old fashioned watch until then.

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