Superpower? The Wearable-Tech Revolution, written by Elaine Kachala and illustrated by Belle Wuthrich, is a delightfully immersive short book into the world of wearable technology, including exoskeletons. It is written in an informative but brisk style, more similar to what you would find in a natural history museum or an aquarium (like the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California) rather than a technology text which is a welcomed breath of fresh air. The text is colorful and easily accessible for mid-level readers. The book is divided into two sections. The first introduces the reader to wearable technology, and the second is a cautionary tale against the “move fast and break things” tech culture.
Elaine Kachala utilizes the book’s first half to introduce the readers (primarily older children and young adults) to wearable technology. The publication includes information on virtual reality (VR), brain-computer interfaces, augmented reality (AR), wearable sensors, smart clothing, exoskeletons, and powered prosthetics. The book only spends a little time on exoskeleton technology (roughly 6 out of 100) pages. However, it does a beautiful job of introducing wearable robotics in the context of Industry 4.0 and a global wearables revolution.
Imagine you are trying to describe a helicopter to someone who has never seen a plane, train, car, truck, or motorcycle! That is what sometimes happens when we try to introduce exoskeleton technology out of context. Superpower? The Wearable-Tech Revolution does a wonderful job of presenting exos in the context of wearable technology, making them significantly easier to understand and appreciate.
The book’s second half is dedicated to “move slow and think human.” Just because we can do something, should we? The author touches upon topics like data privacy, confusing reality with VR (especially for younger children), technology accessibility, and perception. One example is that we shouldn’t assume that every child that can’t walk will necessarily want to try a walking-assist powered exoskeleton.
“Wearables… are intensely personal,” writes the author. Yet, sometimes it can feel that technology companies rush products out. How was the product designed from the ground up to safeguard the humanity and privacy of the user? Have the implementers taken the time to explain to users what steps they have taken to isolate the information collected and stored by wearables? In the exoskeleton industry, we expect users to trust their bodies with this new technology, but what has been done to earn that trust? In the past, we have seen examples of mistrust, where some users have claimed that wearables are designed to record their body movements so that robots may subsequently replace their job. As much as an introduction to wearables, Superpower? The Wearable-Tech Revolution, shines a light on the ethics of making such devices, too (for more, see the work by COST Action 16116: A Taxonomy and Implementation of Ethical, Legal, and Social Considerations in Wearable Robotics, 2021).
Trexo Pediatric Exoskeleton
The book heavily features the Trexo home-use powered pediatric exoskeleton for walking assistance. Elaine Kachala has uploaded an excellent interview with the Co-Founder of Trexo Robotics, Manmeet Maggu (link), that goes through the inspiration, safety, and feedback loop behind the invention.
Exclusive Message From the Author:
“Wearable technology is all the rage these days! I hope the book helps young readers to be more informed about exoskeletons and their mind-blowing potential to improve our health and well-being. I also hope it sparks their inventor’s mind and curiosity, and what’s possible when you’re following your passion and dreaming big, like the inventors in the book.
But, CAUTION! Move Slow & Think Human. The book’s tagline alerts readers to pause and consider how all creators are responsible for the technology they bring into the world. Many are asking BIG questions as they navigate the next tech frontier: Just because we can, should we? Can innovation go too far? What if the same technologies that help and heal us also present ethical challenges? How do we design responsible technology?
Superpower? helps kids make bigger-picture connections between the STEM/STEAM & social studies topics in school and the effects of science and technology on their lives and the world. I hope educators find the book and accompanying discussion and activity guide (free download from my website [https://www.elainekachala.com] ) helpful resources,” – Elaine Kachala.
Superpower? The Wearable-Tech Revolution, written by Elaine Kachala and illustrated by Belle Wuthrich, is published in 2022 in Canada and the United States by Orca Book Publishers with Library of Congress Control Number 2021949082. The book can also be found on Amazon.com (link), where the first 15 pages can be previewed (at the time of this article).