Student design project with Hft inspires innovative personalised technology solutions

Issue date: 15 March 2016


Students at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) have been given a unique opportunity to design personalised technology (also known as assistive technology) to support people with learning disabilities by Hft, a leading national charity and major provider of services across England, based in Bristol.

The 13 teams of year 2 Creative Product Design and Product Design Technology students were set the challenging task by Hft's personalised technology team of designing a product to manage the location of adults with learning disabilities to ensure their safety (and that of others) without physically policing them.

Replicating the working environment of a real industry brief, the students have dedicated long hours to the live project, working full time for four weeks. The project began with a briefing at Bristol & Bath Science Park from key members of Hft staff, including Chief Executive, Robert Longley-Cook, Strategic Director of Innovation, Steve Barnard and Innovation Manager, Sarah Weston.

The teams then had two weeks to research, develop and submit a concept proposal to Hft. Each group then presented their final ideas and prototypes to Hft and a panel of industry experts, which included: Emma Nichols, Hft's Personalised Technology Manager; Bonnie Dean, Chief Executive of the Bristol and Bath Science Park; Dr Tim Adlam, Head of Mechanical Engineering at Designability and Lynne Elvins, Founder of DesignRally.

Some of the concepts included:

Group Four – SAFi (Speaking Assistant For individuals)

Abbie Fawcett, Freya Binnie, James Nuttall, Pauline Gavelle

Creating a desirable product that would empower the end user, was one of the challenges faced by Freya Binnie's team. SAFi is an electronic personalised speaking assistant that allows the carer to record and play back memos such as task reminders to the user. The discreet pebble shaped device contains an inbuilt GPS tracking system that enables the carer to unobtrusively trace the movements of the user via a smart phone app.

The simple device, which can be charged remotely by wireless or on a docking station, is operated by two buttons and can be used indoors and externally. A key feature of SAFi is the inbuilt alarm which allows the user to be independent but, should they need assistance, e.g. whilst out for a walk, with the touch of a button a signal can be sent to the carer's app highlighting the quickest route to them.

Freya explains, “SAFi is discreet: it resembles a key fob or key ring. It can be personalised through a choice of colours and can also provide comfort through its functions as a soft night light and torch whilst charging.

“This is the most challenging but definitely the most rewarding project we've undertaken on the course so far, as it was really important to us that we produced something that would be empowering to adults with learning disabilities but also something that they'd choose to use and would trust.”

Group Seven – Enable (the freedom of independent living)

Eleanor Duley, Molly Hyland, Rob Sissons, Isaac Watson

Presenting their final concept to a group of industry experts for the first time was one of the highlights of the project for Group 7 – the creators of Enable, a facial recognition sensor that unobtrusively manages the location of multiple users in shared housing.

Enable, is the size of a light switch and has been carefully designed to blend in with the décor of the room which can be personalised with customised strips. A pre-programmed profile is created for each user, activated through facial recognition in discreet motion sensors located throughout the house. If a user enters the wrong room, a distraction/reminder in a pre-recorded familiar voice is offered to the user. Through a compatible smartphone app, the carer is able to track the user's movements through a visual floor plan and data feedbacks to the carer so they are alerted to any changes in routine so they can ring to offer reassurance.

Isaac Watson, said, “This was a really challenging but rewarding project to work on. There were so many areas we could have focused on, so it took a lot of research before we agreed on this concept. The timescales were very demanding and we were working 40 hour weeks, alongside other projects and assessment deadlines. Working on the project definitely made us feel like professional designers and we've developed new skills to take forward to the next project. Presenting for the first time in front of a professional panel of industry experts was daunting as we were the last group to go on, and they didn't treat it like an exercise. They asked us real questions and gave honest criticism. Overall we got some great feedback and we left the presentation on a real high.”

Group Eight – Halo

Brad Newton, Miles Hamer, Oliver Lunt, Tom Langford

Good teamwork was key to the success of the project for Group Eight. Halo, is a portable check-in device that increases independent living for adults with a mild learning disability. The subtle, lightweight silicon band is worn on the wrist and simply operated by two buttons. It allows the wearer to check- in indoors and outside with a carer who can monitor movements of multiple users via GPS on a computer, phone or tablet interface. If a user requires assistance pressing both buttons will send an alert to the carer with their location. The band can be personalised in a variety of materials and styles and with a battery life of five days, the rechargeable battery is charged via a docking station.

Tom Langford, said, “One of the challenges was to understand the needs of our end user so we created something that that was really helpful to them. The quick turnaround and long hours were challenging, but with good team work we produced a product we were all really happy with. It was a good experience and gave me a real feel for the Product Design profession.”

Richard Mawle, Senior Lecturer - Product Design Engineering, said, “It is always great when we can work with outside clients. Hft created a challenging real world brief that the students really embraced, ultimately creating and presenting some innovative and exciting concepts. I was very pleased to see such high quality results in the final presentations and this was boosted by all the positive feedback given by Hft and the panel of industry experts. Throughout the project working with Hft has been a fantastic insight to professional practice and a really inspiring experience for all.”

Sarah Weston, Hft's Innovation Manager, said, “Hft's Personalised Technology team were delighted when UWE approached us to be involved in this exciting project and throughout we have been hugely impressed by the students' enthusiasm, interest and approach to the brief. By taking an innovative approach to both the design and application of the technological solutions, but keeping Hft's values and approach to technology at heart, they have developed some fantastic products with real potential.

“Hft is a recognised leader in using personalised technology to support people with learning disabilities live more independently and safely. The judges could definitely see some ideas that have the potential to be really successful on the open market and, most importantly, to make a significant difference to the lives of the people with learning disabilities.”

Live design industry projects are a key feature of product design courses at UWE Bristol. Previous partners have included Jaguar Land Rover, Dremel Bosch, Omlet and Virgin Marussia Formula 1.

For more information about studying at UWE Bristol, visit the Department of Architecture and the Built Environment.

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