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Disability Insurance Observer: Fix What You Insure

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NeuroSky Inc. told me it’s using a “crowdfunding” website to raise $50,000 to develop a new type of assistive technology aimed at people with conditions that severely limit their ability to communicate.

NeuroSky, San Jose, Calif., probably is to the idea of using your brain to run computers today what Xerox PARC was to using a mouse to run a computer back in the 1970s.

NeuroSky already uses EEG brainwave sensing systems and similar systems in computer control headsets. For $129, you can use the new NeuroSky headset to move a computer cursor with your brain.

Crowdfunding is the process of asking the visitors at an investment website to put up the money to fund an interesting project.

NeuroSky plans to invest the $50,000 in crowdfunding money it raises to get software developers to connect its headset with mobile devices, to create cheap, convenient systems that can help people who are “locked in” by conditions such as cerebral palsy express themselves and be more independent.

Today, existing brainwave-based communications technology is expensive, bulky and inconvenient, NeuroSky says.

Of course, the insurance industry is big, and I am small and harried. The NeuroSky people are in Silicon Valley, where the easiest way to raise $50,000 is probably to go work in a restaurant and wait for a new Facebook IPO billionaire to leave a $50,000 tip.

NeuroSky is probably using crowdfunding because that’s a fun, attention-getting gimmick, not because the executives are financing their company with credit cards, IRA cashouts and change left behind in vending machines.

But … what a great marketing gimmick.

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Maybe the big disability insurers have assistive technology development angels who go around investing in assistive technology R&D.

But whatever insurance-based assistive technology R&D finance programs that are out there seem to be pretty low-profile. I can’t remember ever meeting a disability insurance company employee who had anything to do with developing, or paying for the development of, assistive technology. No insurer has ever sent me a press release bragging about a new assistive technology product that the company helped finance.

Of course, the economy is still terrible. Disability insurers may have to slog through recession quicksand for many quarters till the ground turns to ordinary mud. 

Typical disability insurance claimants have conditions such as severe back pain. Assistive technology might not be able to help those claimants much.

But it hit me that the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education (LIFE), Arlington, Va., already runs a great scholarship program for students affected by the death of a parent.

What if LIFE or some other organization with an interest in disability helped sponsor an annual assistive technology crowdfunding effort aimed at developing inexpensive products that could make a big difference in the quality of life of disability claimants who could be helped by advances in assistive technology, such as disability insurance claimants with hearing or vision problems who are really doing their best to return to work?

Maybe a disability insurance organization could keep the contest simple by working with an existing crowdfunding website.

And maybe disability insurance agents could hitch a little ride on the existing NeuroSky publicity campaign by going out into the community  with tablet-based enrollment systems operated with a brain-wave-reading headset.

Maybe there are some healthy, affluent consumers out there who would at least think about having a serious conversation about income protection in exchange for getting a chance to move cursors around computer screens with their brains.