The Royal College of Art’s (RCA) Design Age Institute has unveiled six “Pathfinder Projects” which aim to help individuals and communities “maintain an active and joyful life” as they age.
The Design Age Institute initially pledged to help fund and support 16 projects last year, as part of a suite of new measures it was adopting. So far, it has revealed six which are underway – and applications for the second round of Pathfinder Projects funding is now open.
Colum Lowe, Design Age Institute director, has frequently discussed with Design Week the importance of leveraging product and service designers’ knowledge alongside co-design principles to support life into old age.
“The fact is that people can live longer independently, even if they are mentally quite frail, if things are designed around their needs,” Lowe told Design Week back in 2020. “As for economic and social, robustly designed services and products can prevent this being a bigger problem too.”
These most recently launched projects, he says, all have the “common goal of developing desirable and commercially viable products and services for an ageing society”. Here are our favourites.
Gita the robot
A first-of-its-kind cargo-carrying robot, the Gita robot is designed to follow its user while they walk. It can carry up to 18kg of cargo, thereby freeing up the hands of the user considerably.
Gita has been developed by robotics company Piaggio Fast Forward, whose parent company Piaggio Group also manufactures Vespa Scooters. It’s currently being tested by the UK National Innovation Centre for Ageing (NICA), which works in partnership with the Design Age Institute.
According to the makers and testers of Gita, its aim is to supply older people with an “intuitive and responsive companion”. By freeing up mobility, it is hoped people will be able to engage confidently with the outside world and their local communities as they age.
Designer-in-residence Roseanne Wakely has been introduced to the project from the Design Age Institute, as part of its plan to explore and expand innovations. Her work will utilise Gita as an example for the scope of older people to actually embrace and live with robots in their everyday life.
As we age, hearing loss is one of the biggest drivers of age-related challenges. From social isolation and a lack of confidence out of the home, to its strong links to dementia and cognitive deterioration, it is something that should be kept track of – yet of the 12 million adults in the UK with hearing loss, only two million are fitted with hearing aids.
Looking to change that is Hearing Birdsong, an app that uses the sound of British birdsong to develop an immersive digital audioscape. Originally trialled as a physical installation, this audioscape aims to help people engage with their hearing health and remove “barriers of social stigma and poor user design” according to the Design Age Institute.
The organisation has revealed it will be working with lead designer Tom woods of Kennedy Woods to develop its Hearing Birdsong app prototype. The intention is to develop a “relaxing and enjoyable experience” which can simultaneously determine hearing health and inspire users to seek diagnostic testing if it is deemed necessary.
It is well documented that the UK housing industry does not have adequate responses for ageing – often older people can be pushed out of their homes as certain features or lack thereof become dangerous or difficult to use.
In a bid to kickstart a housing system where adaptability is central, the Design Age Institute is working with Northumbria University to develop a purpose-built home office. The space will consider layout, ergonomics, flexible and demountable furniture, lighting and smart technology.
The research project aims to lead a blueprint of how older people can work from home and remain active beyond retirement age.
The space will be co-designed with members of the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and older people themselves.
Beyond those mentioned, there are several other projects launching as part of this initial Pathfinders round.
These include the exploration of what an age-inclusive bank might look like, and a data-driven diabetes management solution developed in collaboration with Sheffield University and DAFNE (Dose Adjustment for Normal Eating – an organisation which helps Type 1 diabetes patients).
Also being supported by the Design Age Institute is the Centaur Robotics two-wheeled electric vehicle. Design Week spoke with its developer at Centaur Robotics back in 2020.
To apply for the latest round of Pathfinder Projects funding, worth up to £50,000, head to the Design Age Institute website.
What do you think of these projects? Let us know in the comments below…