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Students Are Redesigning Long Life

Students Are Redesigning Long Life

Update April 3: The winner of the Stanford Design Challenge is TAME. Scroll down to read more and take our poll.

America is getting older every day, but you wouldn’t guess it from the range of innovative new products hitting the market. Most of them are designed by young people for young people.

The Stanford Center on Longevity’s annual Design Challenge aims to change that. Launched in 2013, it encourages college and university students to design practical products or services that will optimize long life. Since part of the design process involves the competitors familiarizing themselves with issues of aging—from difficulties getting around to financial insecurity and social isolation—the challenge organizers hope that a new generation will become knowledgeable enough to come up with products that meet real needs as the older population skyrockets.

“The younger people are, the longer their life spans will be,” Nancy Easterbrook, Director of External Affairs for the Center, says. “We were looking for really innovative ideas that might address somebody in a younger subset, not necessarily 70 or older.”

Judging from comments by previous years’ winners, some students end up reevaluating their notions about aging in the process of spending time with older people and learning to understand their lives. “To our surprise, not only did the seniors enjoy giving us feedback, they spent time looking over our designs and commenting on them,” 2015 winner Nicholas Steigmann wrote in PSFK, who with his design partner interviewed seniors and tested ideas with them to come up with a device that helps older people keep doing what they like to do without having to worry about falling. (The original idea was a simple fall-prevention device—that idea changed as the student team got to know what seniors really want.)

This year’s Design Challenge theme is “Innovating Aging in Place” and invites design solutions that can empower people who want to stay living in their own homes for as long as possible.

The best design solutions, Easterbrook says, are engaging, practical and easily to understand, and can be implemented within the constraints of existing technologies and the market. Judging criteria for the submissions also include originality, economic viability and their potential to impact people’s lives.

Competitors were introduced to the principals of universal design and encouraged to design “for people, not an age.” And they had access to the Stanford center’s resources and research on mind, mobility and financial security.

The call for entries went out in fall 2016 and resulted in close to 75 submissions—a record year, Easterbrook says. On March 30, nine finalists will meet on Stanford’s campus and pitch their designs to a panel of judges selected from the worlds of technology, elder care, government and medicine.

These are the finalists—they’ve all developed their ideas further with input from mentors. Take a look and then tell us, which would you pick as the winner?

The Stanford Design Challenge 2017 Finalists

Uppo: Virginia Tech, USA

A team from Virginia tech took a look at the connection between fear of falling and social isolation. After spending some time in a local retirement home, they discovered that walkers currently on the market lead users to hunch over, creating poor posture that could actually lead to falls. Uppo’s ergonomic design increases balance and stability, and helps people feel secure while promoting an upright posture. Standing tall and…

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