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Hacking the home to improve quality of life

A one day hackathon hosted by Calderdale Council to develop ideas and prototypes to assist independent living for people who have disabilities.

During the introduction one of the organisers provided an overview on the goals and ambitions of the hackathon. It was very interesting to find out that events similar to this had been held in vast cities such as London, New York and Sydney! And now it comes to Yorkshire and the scenic city of Halifax...

This first talk gave all the attendees a great insight onto how we could come up with new project ideas using technology such as 3d printing and rapid prototyping, to solve challenges in social care.

Short talks

Merran McRae - CEO of Calderdale Council

Merran really motivated everyone to want to make a difference in the way the local government is run. She explained how at first glance Halifax may seem significantly smaller in comparison to the places where events similar to this have previously been hosted, however ,she explained about all the entrepreneurial spirit and other events such as Wuthering Bytes which are already hosted here. She also spoke of how there are many heritage crafts in the local area and explained how there is an opportunity to combine these with technology.

One very important point which came up was that not one size fits all, meaning that everyone is different and something which works for one person may not work for another. This is especially true with social care, where people with disabilities need more independence and choice, with many solutions which have to be personalised and tailored to individual needs.

Denise Stephens – Founder of Enabled by Design

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a neurological condition that can affect people very differently, and Denise explained how many off-the-shelf solutions that are provided by the care industry often look ugly and make her home feel like a hospital.

Denise gave an example of where she found her own simple solution; instead of using the assisted technology designed in the care industry, she found a bar stool from Ikea which did the same job, was suited to her individual needs and was far more aesthetically pleasing.

She then reinforced Merran's point, saying that one design is never accessible to everyone and there needs to be customisation and individuality. Denise gave many other examples of ways technology is already helping those with divisibilities. However this is only in small numbers and she wanted to look at new ways of collaboration and accessibility for the masses.

Rachael Russell – Occupational Therapist

Rachael again reinforced the previous points about providing new solutions for people with disabilities. She believes that by doing this we can improve and maintain the health of people living with disabilities, by easing the challenges they have in their everyday lives.

Rachael gave an example of how 30 years ago a dressing stick would have been cutting edge technology. She then gave several other examples of assisted technology which have been developed over the years and which need to become less obtrusive.

This showed the responsibility which we have for the development of assisted technologies and their aesthetics. She believed that there should be collaboration between creative designers and the technology industry to provide something both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Dr Raymond Holt - Lecturer at the School of Mechanical Engineering, Leeds University

Raymond spoke to us about research through design and the various stages in this process, including developing ideas, design, prototyping and testing. Also how you may need to prototype many times and test the concept before you get an effective and desirable end product, and how you need to have empathy and understanding in order to be able to create worthwhile solutions.

Video presentation

Following the short talks we watched a brief video showing four individuals and specific challenges in their day-to-day lives. This video gave us insights that allowed us to start thinking how we could come up with solutions to adapt their homes, to make them more accessible and for people living with disabilities.

Breaking out into groups

Next we divided up into five teams and each of these were challenged with developing a concept that would assist the independent living of one of the four individuals. We would then have to prototype it, come up with a implementation plan and produce a PowerPoint presentation.

To show us exactly how quickly we were going to have to come up with a concept and build it we did a rapid prototyping exercise. This consisted of building the tallest structure we could in five minutes, out of dried spaghetti and marshmallows. This proved very competitive amongst the groups and created a real team spirit. Our group managed to come second even after our structure collapsed! (perhaps more secure foundations were needed if we were to attempt this task again)

Our group project

Our client was John, a 54 year old male who had suffered a number of strokes. John is a very sociable person and enjoys spending time with his friends and attending various cubs. He also enjoys gardening but he finds this difficult. The strokes have resulted in John having significant weakness in his left side and blindness in his right eye. Due to this weakness this had left John in an electric wheelchair.

We thought of a number of solutions to make John's hobby of gardening slightly easier, and decided that the best thing would be to devise a flower bed which was wheelchair accessible and meant that John didn’t have to reach very far.

After coming up with the concept we began to prototype. We looked at several different mechanisms and designs which would be best suited to John.

Our specifications for the flowerbed:

  • It had to be wheelchair accessible

  • It needed to be manoeuvrable so John didn’t have to move much

  • It would require no heavy lifting

  • It had to be easily accessible from all sides

After some thought we came up with this prototype and discussed alternative mechanisms for the flowerbed drawers, so that John didn’t have to use a lot effort.

As a group we were very happy with our end design and had great hopes for the competition. We even managed to design a logo for the product and called it Garden- EASE!

Group presentations

Following this each group had an opportunity to come up and deliver a presentation and plan on the idea that they had developed and how it would be suited to their individual client's needs.

iDrobe

This group developed a wardrobe concept that was designed so that each article of clothing was stored in a different coloured section. They thought this would be a good idea for people who struggle with organisational skills, such as children, and people with learning difficulties or mental illnesses. Along side this they developed a range of labels which go on the inside of clothing to indicate which way they should be worn.

Kitchen Friend

Group two developed a perching stool which was attached to kitchen units on a slide rail, so it could be moved along the work surface and placed where needed. This was aimed at clients who had difficulties standing for a long period of time or that became easily fatigued. The aesthetics side was a key part of this as there are already existing aids out there, however, these tend to be heavy, bulky and not very pleasing to the eye. This was designed to be available to custom measurements and in a range of materials and colours, to fit in with the home of each individual.

Rail Way

This was aimed at the client group who needed support whilst walking up stairs, and was a bar on rails to aid stair climbing, with accessories available so that things such as baskets and trays could be attached while walking up the stairs. One special feature of this design was that if a client were to let go of the bar it would lock to prevent them from falling. There are already existing products on the market similar to this, however, they do not have the ability to attach accessories and to lock in place to try and prevent a fall.

Garden-EASE

This was my group's opportunity to pitch our concept to the judges.

I've got your back/ Pimp my perching stool

Group five developed two concepts: one was a back brace to enhance core stability for those who had issues standing for a long period of time, and the second of which was an adjustable robotic stool which was voice activated and meant that the client could use the one stool all around the home, without having to worry about needing to go and get it.

To say that each group only had about three hours to think of an idea then develop, prototype and deliver a presentation on that concept, I think that every group did an amazing job considering the time restraints!

Judging

After the judges deliberated they said it was a very close call, as they cast two votes each and came to a tie. However, when they went back to their initial votes they decided that Garden-EASE won runners up and that iDrobe was the winning concept! The winning team won a 3d printed trophy and had a group picture taken.

Overall...

The Hack the Home event was a great day and gave many people an opportunity to interact and work together. There were many people from Calderdale and Wakefield councils, social workers, designers and engineers, with a wide range of skills.

The event was also great fun as it allowed people to express their creative skills, while thinking about a client's needs. Throughout the entire day the room was filled with energy and a buzz, and allowed people to work as part of collaborative teams.

Trainee Electronics Engineer, currently studying towards my degree in Electronic Engineering at the University of Hudderfsield. Completed my HND in Electrical & Electronic Engineering from Bradford College 2017. Love to try new things and build interesting projects!

23 Sep 2014, 8:14