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HapTech: in the pursuit of tech happiness

Sam Hunt on haptech

Written by: Sam Hunt, innovation programme manager, Plexal.

Let’s call it. Tech is having a tough time of it right now. There’s rising speculation that we’re in another bubble of overinflated stocks and disappointing IPO returns, Brexit continues to cause uncertainty in the UK, tech startups like Uber are being accused of having a systemic bro culture, gig economy startups are having their business models called into question…the list goes on. This paints a pretty bleak view of the industry, yet still I remain a tech optimist.

Perhaps this is because as a child I experienced the benefits of tech first hand. The assistive technologies of glasses and contact lenses significantly improved my life and prevented me from walking into walls and losing at catch because I couldn’t see.  

However, we need to be careful about holding up all new tech as a positive step for human happiness. 

The link between device addiction and social media overexposure to depression among young people has been well-documented. There’s also a growing school of thought linking dial-a-human style dating apps to loneliness. 

I believe a framework is needed to help the tech industry think through the impact new inventions might have on human happiness. Jonathan Haidt’s book The Happiness Hypothesis provides a useful starting point.

Haidt’s book proposes a formula:

Haidt

The disciplines of pharmacology, psychology and genetic engineering are focusing on base happiness. I’m most interested in how tech might be able to improve our conditional and voluntary happiness, something I refer to as haptech. 

We should take heart from the fact that there’s currently a lot of activity in this space. Here are just a few startups that I think have a real chance of improving the conditional happiness of humans:

  • Lechal– An India-based company building shoes for the blind. The shoes are connected to the GPS of the wearer’s smartphone via Bluetooth and the use of haptic vibrations allows blind people to find their way around cities more easily.
  • Kokoon -  A UK startup producing ergonomic headphones designed to sense your sleep patterns to provide you with the perfect night’s sleep.
  • Pideon Air Patrol – Each day, a flock of pigeons are strapped up with pollution sensors and flown over London. The sensors are connected to an automated tweet service, advising Londoners to avoid areas with high levels of air pollution.
  • Foodvizor – An AI vision app that, from a single picture, can provide you with detailed calorie information about what you’re eating.

Understanding the psychology of happiness and building tech products that make a lasting difference to human happiness excites me. For that reason, I’m very excited to join the team at Plexal – a convening force that brings startups, scaleups and corporates together to create products and solutions to improve our lives.

One example of this is the accelerator we'll be running in partnership with the Global Disability Innovation Hub. It focuses on accelerating the time to market for assistive technologies – a world first. By focusing on inclusive design and bringing diverse teams together, we’re confident that the innovations that come out of the programme will make things better not just for disabled people but for everybody.

If you’d like to find out more about Plexal or our assistive tech accelerator, please do get in touch.

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