My eyes have finally adjusted to the natural light, and I’m speaking English again. It took a week to get back to normal — after spending 40 hours in the brave new world of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas recently, I have mostly recovered from the impact of two-story-tall home theater systems and 150-inch TV screens.
So here is what has become clear: While a lot of companies that exhibited in Las Vegas are creating high-tech products that do amazing things just because it’s possible to do so, there are a few companies out there actually doing well by doing good.
In other words, some people are beginning to harness the huge power and shrinking size of silicon chips to address the needs of people with disabilities or illnesses.
Consider “Re-Mission,” the new video game and Web site for teens and young adults with cancer. Their tag line, “An epic battle rages deep in the realm of the human body,” introduces kids to the idea of visualizing their own recovery. Founded by researcher Pam Omidyar in 2001, HopeLab created a video game that lets players travel around the animated interior of the human body and take literal potshots at cancer cells.
“It's just such a morale boost, being able to ‘kill’ what’s been keeping you in the hospital bed and away from your friends,” 12-year-old Taylor Carol said in a recent Boston Globe interview about the game.
HopeLab is waiting for the results of a study that they believe will show there are more than just good feelings for kids who play the game — that there will be actual, measurable benefits to cancer sufferers who feel as if they’re taking control of their illness and visualizing their recovery.
Then, as we reported previously in this space, there is a new product called GlowCaps, which tackles the problem of aging relatives who occasionally forget to take their medications. The caps, which screw onto medication bottles, glow orange up to four times a day to remind patients to take their medication. Even better, the caps send wireless radio signals to the Internet if the caps don’t get opened. The benefit: The children or friends of the people taking their meds will get an e-mail message or a phone call (whichever they choose) telling them that their grandfather hasn’t taken his medication and needs to. Given the expense, and even the danger, of missed medications, GlowCaps represent a big breakthrough.
Meanwhile, also in Vegas, Harris Radio’s HD Radio technology was introduced at a press conference and also caught my imagination — Harris is primarily a defense contractor, but it announced that it is teaming up with National Public Radio and Towson University to form the “International Center for Accessible Radio Technology.” The radio prototype takes advantage of the fact that the new high-definition, or “HD,” radio (which you’ll soon have in your car, I promise) can deliver more than one channel inside a single radio frequency.
The prototype the company showed allows the driver to listen to the radio through the car speakers, while at the same time, on a separate video screen, a hearing-impaired passenger can “read” the radio broadcast’s closed-caption transcription.
Other trends in the offing include audible cues loaded onto Web sites; the idea is to make it easier for the visually impaired to navigate the Internet and access products and services without actually seeing the site in question. This is no small matter for people who cannot see well enough to drive but who want to shop online for things like clothing and groceries.
In sum, while Vegas was great, exciting and invigorating because the horizons of “what’s possible” are constantly being stretched, it was nice to see people spending time on “what’s necessary” right now. Stay tuned.
Paul Hochman is the gear and technology editor for the TODAY Show and a “Fast Company” magazine contributor. He covered the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Athens and Torino, Italy, for TODAY. He was also a three-year letter winner on the Dartmouth ski team and has a black belt in karate. Paul’s blog can be found at: