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Center Stage at CES: An Airbag for Your Hips

'S' is for seniors at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show

Consumer Electronics Show 2018

Isaac Brekken for AARP

The Hip'Air belt aims to prevent serious injury from falls by inflating airbag as soon as it senses a loss of balance.

Would you wear an airbag around your waist if it could save your life? That’s the question facing the makers of the Hip’Air, an airbag belt that aims to cut down on an exploding health epidemic among older people: Falls. Made by the French company Helite, the Hip’Air resembles a bulbous fanny pack and is one of the most buzzed-about new products unveiled at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, which runs through the end of this week.

Using a built-in gyroscope and accelerometer, HeLite claims the Hip’Air can inflate airbags aligned on either side of the wearer’s waist in fewer than 0.08 seconds when a fall is detected, cushioning the impact and preventing serious injury. The Hip’Air will be available in Europe this spring for 600 euros and is expected to arrive in the U.S. by the end of 2018, with a retail price around $800. As yet the company isn’t working with insurance companies, making the belt a pricey proposition.

But the Hip’Air represents technological innovation aimed at solving an important societal dilemma, unlike some of the other technology on display at this year’s CES (stripper robots, we’re looking at you).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of death and injury among older Americans. Additional (and grim) statistics: Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated for a fall in a U.S. hospital emergency room. Every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall. Each year, 1 in every 4 Americans older than 65 takes a fall. And by 2060, the number of Americans older than 65 is expected to double.

Consumer Electronics Show 2018

ISAAC BREKKEN FOR AARP

Smart sneakers by E-vone are loaded with sensors that can sense when a fall occurs — and can send an alert out to loved ones and caregivers.

Clearly, Hip’Air is on to something. And it’s not the only product unveiled at the CES to address the issue. Another French outfit, the start-up E-vone, debuted new “smart sneakers” that can send out alerts when the person wearing them has fallen. The midsole of the shoe is packed with sensors, including a GPS, an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a pressure system that can sense when someone puts it on. Notably, the sneakers don’t need to be paired with a smartphone or mobile device — they can send out an alert about a fall to loved ones and caregivers all on their own. The sneakers will launch in Europe by the middle of the year and sell for the equivalent of $100 to $150. E-vone says a U.S. launch is planned in the near future.

The Hip’Air and the E-vone sneakers are two of the reasons that tech for seniors has emerged as one of the most notable trends at the 2018 CES. Among the other new and upcoming products geared toward older adults are Oscar Senior, an app that aims to simplify digital communication for seniors; glasses from Israeli company ICI Vision that improve blind spots caused by retinal disease; and DFree, a sensor system that alerts caregivers when elderly patients are likely to need to use the toilet.

Check back for more coverage of the 2018 CES.

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