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Smart Wristband for the Blind Wins AARP Contest

Device uses sonar to help wearer avoid obstacles

AARP Grand Pitch Award Ceremony

Kenneth Terrell

A wristband that uses sonar to help people who are blind or with low vision navigate their surroundings won AARP's Grand Pitch competition Wednesday night in Washington, D.C.

The device, created by Sunu, detects objects up to 16 feet away using echolocation, then uses a series of vibrations to alert the wearer. Making his pitch to the crowd — which voted on the winner of the $5,000 first prize after watching presentations from 10 finalists — Sunu cofounder Fernando Albertorio said the wristband could be used along with a cane or guide dog to help people with impaired vision feel more comfortable in new surroundings.

The theme of the competition, sponsored by AARP Innovation Labs, was finding ways to use technology to fight social isolation.

"This 2019 AARP Innovation Labs Grand Pitch finale is the culmination of several events across the country, where some of the best and brightest startups have been identified,” said Andy Miller, senior vice president of innovation and product development at AARP. The finalists were chosen from events held earlier this year in Berkeley, California; Boston; Las Vegas; Nashville; and New Orleans.

Second prize ($3,000) went to the Artiphon, the company behind a digital device that looks like the neck part of a guitar but can simulate the sounds of a wide variety of instruments. The creators said the device can reduce the physical, financial and skill-level barriers that prevent older adults from learning and using musical instruments.

Third prize ($2,000) went to a company called Loro, which makes a device that can be attached to a wheelchair to help people with illnesses such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) better get around and interact with others.

The other finalists were:

  • Golden, a smartphone app that can help older adults keep better track of their finances, while also sharing information with their family or a loved one to prevent exploitation.
  • Healium by StoryUp uses augmented reality and virtual reality technologies to help people manage stress or “travel” to places they might not be able to visit otherwise.
  • Intuition Robotics’ ElliQ, a device resembling a smart speaker, but with a robotic piece that moves around. It has a visual display (and personality) that can make it seem like a friendly, intelligent, inquisitive companion.
  • Pong Tech, which makes a seated, scooter-like device that can help users get around with less fatigue.
  • VideoBomb, a company that uses augmented reality technology to let people add their own spin to their favorite music videos and other content, and share their creations.
  • Work at Home Vintage Experts (WAHVE), a company that helps experienced workers find contract positions with employers that value their skills.
  • With the Band, a social media app that helps fans and artists create and join fan projects and meetups.

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