I came across a great story this week that puts this whole “wearable” discussion into perspective. U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer is calling for the DOJ (Dept. of Justice) to create and fund a program to provide voluntary GPS tracking devices for children who have Autism or other developmental disorders.

I applaud this effort and realize that something calling for the government to fund connected devices is not unprecedented (a federal government program already in place to track seniors who have Alzheimer’s using GPS devices). I love the fact that connected devices can help provide this type of peace of mind for loved ones and caregivers, and even more so the fact that someone is out there championing efforts to help offset the cost of the device (which can be more than $100) and even the monthly service costs to those who are in need.

I keep rather close tabs on this matter for personal reasons. One of my wife’s best friends is the mother of an Autistic child and as a result we always tend to keep an eye out for things that can help. In particular, because of my role as Chief Editor of Connected World I am constantly trying to share new devices, apps, and other ideas with my wife’s friend. So needless to say I was excited to share this news today. Again, I applaud the efforts of Schumer, and for those who might be questioning whether or not this is necessary, I find his quote here to be particularly insightful: 

He says: “The sights and sounds of cities, schools, and other busy places can be over-stimulating and distracting for children and teens with Autism, often leading to wandering as a way to escape. Voluntary tracking devices will help our teachers and parents in the event that the child runs away and, God forbid, goes missing. DOJ already funds these devices for individuals with Alzheimer’s and they should do the same for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Funding this program will help put school systems and parents of children and teens with Autism at ease knowing where their children are.”

Some would characterize this as “bolting” or wandering—and officially this is called elopement, which means having a tendency to leave a safe place. Schumer’s proposed voluntary program for parents would be run by local law enforcement agencies and even include funding to help train individuals for how to use and maintain these devices. 

So coming full circle with the whole connected devices discussion here, I think opportunities like this present yet another compelling argument for this whole burgeoning wearable-technology market. I’ve said before that while the market is hot right now with many players, I contest that those that ultimately exhibit staying power are the ones that differentiate themselves in two ways: usefulness and style.

In the case of this program, I believe success will be tied to the way in which the devices are able to hide, for lack of a better term, into the everyday lives of these children. In other words, a device clipped onto a belt might not be as readily embraced as perhaps a cool-looking watch or bracelet or anklet that becomes not only a potentially life-saving device, but also a fashionable accessory.

This is a big topic in the senior market these days and we have been testing out a few devices that are small and light weight enough so as not to pose as “tracking device” to seniors, but rather just another accessory that also happens to provide a useful function. This will be important for what Schumer is proposing as well. I hope the wearable technology market is taking notice of just how powerful a role they could be playing in this world beyond just providing some “cool” looking watch.

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