Project Wallk at Big Bang Fair

Imagine a show bursting with clever inventions, hands-on workshops and innovative ideas to give thousands of young people a glimpse of the exciting and rewarding opportunities to be found in the world of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. Well, that’s precisely what you’ll find at The Big Bang Science & Engineering Fair – one of the largest events to celebrate STEM for young people. Exhibitors at the fair include some of the UK’s most influential design and engineering companies such as Rolls Royce, Airbus Group, and Atkins, as well as hands-on workshops by Space agencies and the NHS.

NHS workshop at Big Bang Fair

Amongst exhibitors at the Big Bang Fair 2016 was the comparatively low-tech ‘Project Wallk’ workshop. Project Wallk is a social venture fuelled by the seemingly humble vision that “The chance to walk should be offered to all.” But for many children with walking impairments who live in developing regions of the world there is often no access to healthcare and as a result getting hold of a much needed walking aid is not easy.  A walking aid can enable a child to attend school, integrate in the community and escape the disability-poverty cycle, so the mission of Project Wallk is to offer a long-term and affordable solution for mobility rehabilitation across developing regions of the world.

The majority of designers and engineers in the UK tend to focus on developing products/services for consumers with disposable income (the top 10% of people in the world). Facilitators at the Project Wallk workshop were focused on teaching young visitors about designing appropriately for ‘the other 90%’ (the billions of people who don’t even have their basic food and water, shelter, sanitation, education, and healthcare needs met). The main hands-on activity being run at the workshop was a product assembly challenge, to put together various walking aids from the innovative Evolvable Walking Aid Kit. The kit consists of a set of locally manufacturable parts made from half a wooden pallet and up to 24 cable ties, which can be assembled to form a walking frame, crutches or a walking stick. The whole kit can be locally produced in a sustainable manner using simple hand tools and it will adapt to correctly support a child throughout their mobility rehabilitation process…for just 68 pence!

Assembling Evolvable walking aid kits

Throughout the Big Bang Fair, feedback was collected about the Evolvable Walking Aid Kit’s visual assembly instructions, to ensure it will be as intuitive as possible to assemble. The fair proved to be a great platform for Project Wallk to simultaneously collect design feedback and share their passion with such a large young audience, whilst inspiring the next generation of innovators to focus on solving humanity’s biggest design challenges.

You can follow the progress of Project Wallk at www.facebook.com/Meru.llama

Breaking the mould

Back in October we headed over to Germany to explore what felt like the largest trade fair for walking aids in the universe; for us it was market research paradise. There were some funky colours and patterns on show but in general the walking aid market was begging for some deeper innovation. On return from this trip we filled our workshop with every imaginable type of walking aid and then disassembled and dissected all of their components to gain a good understanding of the various manufacturing processes involved.  That same workshop was then filled with engineers and design thinkers along with records of feedback from our walking aid users, which enabled us to reduce the number of parts in the final design and lower the manufacturing costs.

We’ve been determined to give this range of walking aids a unique character and remove the stigma associated with existing grey disability products, and I’m pleased to say that with a little visual guidance from designers at MAP and Sugru we have done just that. Several useful and innovative features have been designed into the range and we are ready to get making version 3 of the test model to collect more feedback from physiotherapists. Our final design is in the process of being structurally analysed by a fantastic engineer from Major Engineering and we will be ready to make the final pre-prototype in a few weeks time. Getting to this stage of the project has been a massive learning curve and we’ve overcome countless obstacles and challenges along the way. In the next few weeks we will be stocking up on components and materials in preparation for reaching the next big milestone.

The MedTech Prize winners

Last night I was at the Royal College of General Practicioners (no, this isn’t a career change). I was actually there to pitch as a finalist in the MedTech competition run by MedCity and the Design Council. It felt like a sped up version of Dragons Den, minus the cash; not my standard Tuesday evening, but maybe it should be.

MedTechSouthEast has been designed for medtech entrepreneurs to help us develop effective, usable and commercially successful health technologies that can support older people or those with debilitating medical conditions to lead more independent lives. The 10 winners will take part in an intensive accelerator programme led by design experts and medtech industry leaders. The MedTechSouthEast accelerator programme will give teams a practical, thorough understanding of how to use design to fast-track the commercialisation of their innovations. We will also learn how to better plan, prototype and effectively communicate our products, maximising impact and managing risks.

A judging panel led by Roger Highfield (science journalist, broadcaster and DEA at the Science Museum) selected 10 winners from the companies who pitched, and I was honoured to be one of them. The most valuable outcome is that I will now receive exclusive mentoring from one of Design Council’s leading Design Associates to develop and commercialise the walking aid kit.

To add to this unusual evening, I picked up an Evening Standard on the train journey home to see an article about my project in there!

A research trip to Düsseldorf

After a month of user research and design refinements we’re gearing up to make test prototypes for our walking aid kit pilot tests.  This includes making some important decisions about the manufacture and sustainability of the product so we needed to hunt down some professionals in the field to expand our knowledge and help us make the right choices. When it comes to the manufacture and distribution of walking aids [or in fact anything that makes daily life easier for the elderly or people with disabilities] there is one place to go; Rehacare.

 

With more than 750 exhibitors from 37 countries, the annual Rehacare trade fair provides a comprehensive overview of the most up-to-date organisations in this sector, and it just so happens to take place in Düsseldorf! We spent an intense few days at the show collecting information, talking to manufacturers, assessing the market place, networking with distributors and generally learning as much as possible. We also did a fair bit of people-watching and pretzel eating…

 

Last night we returned from Düsseldorf with a wealth of new information, a list of useful contacts, and an overall better understanding of our next steps in the design process. I’d call that a success.

 

Wheel range

Three Designers and a patchwork llama

What’s this you ask?

This, is the new generation of walking aid kit designers; an enthusiastic tribe of fresh-thinking innovators. A team (finally!).

Our two amazing new students are Katey (left) who will carry on with the project I started 365 days ago (designing for developing regions of the world) and Dot (right) who will join me on the current project designing for the UK. It will be a unique collaborative structure and I’m looking forward to mentoring both of them along the way to ensure we all achieve our best – I’ll let you know how this works out later on!

Feedback, Feedback, Feedback

Over the past month we’ve taken a co-creation approach to develop and refine pre-prototype models of the evolvable walking aid kit, using feedback from walking aid users to ensure the product fulfils their needs and desires.

The four main user groups of people offering valuable feedback on the design include:

– People in the process of mobility rehabilitation
– People with deteriorating mobility conditions
– People whose mobility support preferences/needs change
– Physiotherapists and occupational therapists who carry out assessments and/or distribute walking aids

Since being in touch with these walking aid users the design has really begun to take shape and we are excited to further explore how the kit can give people more choice and control over the walking aid they use.

Project Update

When this project was started last year, the aim was to improve life for children with walking impairments in developing regions of the world. After designing a version of the walking aid kit which could be made locally in rural areas at very low cost I met with Kenya High Commission’s Counsellor for Education to discuss how the provision of walking aids could enable more children to attend school.

I am now looking to collaborate with a design student from Brunel University to continue developing this version of the kit in parallel to the UK version to achieve a greater scale of impact. A diary of the project is being kept by our design mascot Meru Llama if you would like to find out more.

 

Project Foundations

One month into the project and we’re well under way with the walking aid kit design now. The project aims to offer long term walking aid users with the ideal type of support throughout changes in their condition by providing a walking aid kit which can be assembled like a LEGO® set to form a walking stick, crutches or a walking frame. By eliminating the need to buy more than one type of walking aid the design aims to reduce costs and improve the mobility rehabilitation experience.

The past month has been focused on putting together the project foundations and refining the design specification. As well as analysing health and safety standards and identifying design constraints, there have been some insightful talks with walking aid users, occupational therapists and physiotherapists about their experiences with various walking aids. I visited a mobility rehabilitation centre with several different types of crutches which meant they needed a huge store room to keep them all in alongside all the sticks, walking frames and all sorts of other equipment! The most progressive activity of the project this month has been meeting with designers and engineers to discuss potential manufacturing methods for the kit. Keeping the manufacturing costs low is integral to the final product so these discussions will have significant influence on the design.

Physio store room

We’re moving in to a brand new makerspace for entrepreneurs!

In September the project will move to the Central Research Laboratory (CRL) which is the UK’s first purpose built facility dedicated to entrepreneurial makers.  As well as providing workshop space and machinery to assist with prototyping and testing the design, the CRL will also provide mentoring for the business side of the project so there will be lots to learn!  A few weeks ago I was invited to talk at an event at The Old Vinyl Factory to introduce the Evolvable Walking Aid Kit to an audience of people who wanted to learn how they could help start-ups to thrive- It was a great evening as well as my first glimpse of the future home to the CRL!

Talking at the Old Vinyl Factory, Hayes

Our design journey is being supported by the Inclusive Technology Prize, you can check out the other finalist’s posts by following this link.

New Chartersip for Product Design

The Institute of Engineering Designers recently celebrated its 70th anniversary at St James’ Palace. To mark the occasion a chartership for Product Design was introduced to recognise the achievements of those working in the sector. I was lucky enough to be invited along to represent the young members of the institute, and even more lucky to get to talk with Prince Philip about my work. Design history was made that evening as the first five charterships in product design ever to be awarded were presented during a speech by Prince Philip himself; I really hope my sense of humour is as sharp as his when I’m that age!
Images: Prince Philip and Cara O’Sullivan at St Jame’s Palace, London

Prince Philip giving a speech at the IED 70th anniversary chartership for product design

The launch of Cara Design

A learning experience is one of those things that say, “You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.”

 

I’m learning to make decisions at the moment.

This next year will be used as a learning exercise and I’ll be committing time and effort in exchange for knowledge and experience. I’m trying to avoid being influenced by money for as long as physically possible. This is the point where we all laugh at my naivety, pretend we’re joking and take a 9-5 job like most sane people would, right?

Two weeks later…

I just set up a company! The whole process took around 10 minutes on the ‘Companies House’ website, which surprised me; I’d always imagined it would be a long, complex process but the hardest part was deciding on a name. Well, ‘Cara Design’ isn’t the most imaginative of names but it’ll do until I get a feel for things. Most importantly, I’ve now secured a workspace at the Central Research Laboratory for my company, after giving a Dragons Den type pitch, and I’ve also secured funding for one of my prospective design projects through a competition. Its good to make the most of the word ‘secured’ since very little of this plan seems that way right now…

Central Research Laboratory Pitch Room

The Inclusive Technology Prize Finals

Two weeks before graduating I find myself here in the London School of Economics for the finals of the Inclusive Technology Prize finals – I’ve somehow got into the top 10 from over 200 designs. The prize seeks innovation in products, technologies and systems that enable disabled people, their families, friends and carers equal access to life’s opportunities.

So far today I have had the chance to discuss my design with Justin Tomlinson MP, Minister for Disabled People. I also had the honour of talking with David Constantine, founder of Motivation charity, whose journey I have admired since embarking on my project to design a walking aid kit for developing regions of the world.

Active Hands Team and David Constantine

We’ve had a busy day so far, but it doesn’t stop here. For the next eight months I’ll be prototyping and user testing my design as well as creating a business plan and presentation in preparation for the final judging panel in February 2016.

Cara O'Sullivan at LSE

A road trip with the OTs

After a 3 hours of being wedged in a car full of folders and piles of paper, the research team (7 Occupational therapists and myself) arrived in Donnington – this year’s venue for the Mobility Roadshow.

Our aim was to conduct design Research at the Mobility roadshow to discover the unmet needs of people who require mobility assistance. After interviewing people about their mobility requirements and future mobility desires, we took the opportunity to learn about some of the latest equipment to help with mobility needs and try out some of the latest assistive gadgets, including some awesome electric wheelchairs which were unbelievably easy to manoeuvre!

Testing out an electric wheelchair

 

Should you Aspire to Inspire?

Humans have a natural curiosity for how things work. It’s what leads many of us into the design and engineering field. As design becomes increasingly dependent on ‘invisible’ technology, inquisitive children are struggling to answer their curiosities by simply dismantling things with a humble screwdriver like we used to be able to. The mission to make life simpler is adding complexity to the way products function, and instead of wanting to understand how they work, children are being absorbed by these products as consumers.

As a result of this, there is a huge shortfall of interest from today’s children in the engineering industry and the government has since realised the importance of promoting design and engineering disciplines from an early age. It has become easy to get lost in the floods of figures relating to the political reasons why design and engineering so desperately needs more interest from today’s students. By re-engaging students with design and ‘the way things work’ we will be able to fill the growing skills gap, boost the nation’s economic growth and retain a global technological advantage. Failing to engage more students in design and engineering will go far beyond an increased dependence upon global labour forces. The Duke of Edinburgh (2015) recently inferred that it could hinder endeavours of the human race.

Most discoveries and innovations of the past were made by trying to understand how something works. In order to encourage innovation in the future it is essential that we foster curiosity in today’s children and equip them with the ambition and skills to want to pursue and retain a career in our industry. For the past two years I have been heavily involved in a range of STEM programmes (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) observing and understanding what deters children and students from pursuing STEM subjects and what it takes to re-engage them with the way the world around them works.

At a young age our interests are easily influenced by exposure to the stereotypical views and expectations of our society. Dame Professor Ann Dowling (2015) believes that conforming to cultural norms can make the field of engineering uninviting, particularly for girls, due to outdated stereotypes. In order to combat this we need to nurture interest in design and engineering from a young age with the assistance of role models from the industry, to show that social expectations can be overridden by an ambition to pursue engineering. Until our society is gender neutral and unbiased about engineering roles, we should focus on building young girls’ confidence so that they are equally comfortable in pursuing the subject further without feeling incongruous.

It seems rather obvious that if a student doesn’t know about a career they won’t have the ambition to pursue it, yet Ofsted (2013) states that schools rarely offercomprehensive careers advice. From my experience as a ‘Careers Captain’ at The Big Bang Fair (The UK’s largest STEM event) it seems obvious that the most influential and well-informed careers advice comes from the people who have ‘been there and done it’ and are able to discuss how particular subjects, interests and talents play a part in their job. According to Lei Bao (Head of the Physics Education Research Group) the usual theoretical style of teaching does not suit the learning style of many students which can cause them to lose interest in essential STEM subjects from an early age (Science Friday, 2009). Whilst talking to a secondary school Science club I realised how the enthusiasm and knowledge possessed by people who actually work in the design and engineering industry can have a far greater influence on students than their usual theoretical lessons, and this is often enough to reignite students’ interest in the subjects.

Significant efforts are now being made to engage schools and organisations with design and STEM education, and various events have been established across the UK to show young people (primarily aged 7-19) just how many exciting and rewarding opportunities there are in STEM industries if they pursue the correct subjects. Last month I ran a workshop at a STEM event in London to give teams of students a taste of hands-on programming to navigate a robot around a simple obstacle course. This, and many other activities taking place at the event demonstrated how industry involvement can provide a highly engaging and fun way of learning for both the students and the coordinators.

Whilst interviewing Libby Meyrick, Chief Executive of The Institution of Engineering Designers, she explained to me that “the benefits associated with the involvement of business in STEM activities are numerous. The most immediate is the improved understanding and awareness of what industry does and the role of engineers within industry and therefore society.”

Libby clarified “This improved understanding by students, parents and teachers and their appreciation of the excitement and fulfilment of a career in engineering, via hands-on experiences and/or meeting with genuine engineers and scientists is proven to increase the numbers of young people entering the professions and therefore helps to provide a supply of engineers in the future which can only be a benefit to all businesses.

As well as industry engagement being beneficial for students it is also a cost effective way for organisations to develop their employees’ core competencies such as communication, networking and leadership skills. Many organisations believe that their investment in today’s students will influence the future of their business, and some view their engagement with students as an opportunity to plant career aspirations.

We are all responsible for sharing our knowledge with the next generation in order tohelp them understand and improve the world. There is urgency for students to realise that they are capable of improving everything around us through design and engineering, and it is people who work in the industry who can explain how. If you would like to get involved or find out more, please visithttp://www.stemnet.org.uk/employers/ or get in touch with your local school. The benefits of sharing your knowledge have been underrated for far too long; now is the time to inspire.

BPMA Design Innovation Awards 2014

The BPMA Design Awards is an annual competition which seeks innovation for the promotional products industry.  The brief outlines the need for commercial viability and brandability of the design and the main requirement is that it is suitable for low-cost manufacture.

The nine competition finalists met at the 3M innovation centre to discuss their concepts and take a look at some of 3M’s most successful designs. The designer’s concepts were exhibited at the 2013 Trade Only National Show which was the perfect opportunity for networking with manufacturers and seeking potential sponsorship and clients.

b p m a
The competition then took the final designs to Marketing Week Live 2014, which was another valuable opportunity for the designers to share their concepts and prototypes with the public and engage with businesses who would potentially market their products. The competition as a whole is a brilliant way to learn first hand about the steps involved with taking a product to market and it provides the finalists with some great networking opportunities.

Bugzi Wheelchairs for toddlers

Bugzi is a powered indoor wheelchair which offers a unique opportunity for pre-school children with disabilities to experience independent mobility, often for the first time in their lives.

Last week MERU had a visit from the Institution of Engineering and Technology, who wanted to find out more about the award-winning Bugzi.  This short film documents the process from building a Bugzi to assessing a child to use it as part of the Bugzi loan scheme.



Inspiring Girls to choose Engineering

Aspiring engineers from a local school’s science club welcomed two visiting speakers this week.

Year 9 – 12 Science Club members of Dunottar Reigate School for Girls enjoyed talks from representatives of the Medical Engineering Resource Unit (MERU), a charity which makes bespoke equipment for disabled children.

The timing for these visits was apt, considering that a shortage of engineers has been recently publicised in the national news.  Women – half of a potential work pool – make the shortfall in a career that is currently dominated by men. Dunottar’s Aims High science club aims to stretch and challenge the students’ scientific knowledge.

Cara O’Sullivan, who is studying Industrial Design and Technology at Brunel University, is on a one year internship at MERU.  She encouraged the girls to think big as she showed them her extensive portfolio of projects.  The students were fascinated to learn that she has combined Art and Science to create amazing new ideas, which can then be engineered into new products to solve some of today’s problems.

The students also listened with rapt attention to engineer Tim Wilson as he explained his route into engineering.He gave the pupils an insight into his working day and shared his satisfaction from helping young children and their families overcome physical disabilities.

Parent Sean O’Shea, who attended the event, commented:  “Thanks to our two guest speakers, the girls have now gained further information into some of the wider career opportunities available through the sciences. They have seen how science does not have to work in isolation and that, when it is fused with art, design and engineering, amazing things can happen.”

MEX event

MEX is a two day conference which brings together the brightest minds in mobile, media and design to share knowledge and create a collective response to the MEX Pathways.  Creative workshops take place throughout the event to explore ‘user modes’ and create relating design principles. By identifying common ways people engage with digital products, we can move beyond design governed by specific technologies or device types and instead use these ‘user modes’ to build experiences better suited to user needs.Luke, Matthew, Ginestra, Amanda

What is the Mayor of London’s Low Carbon Entrepreneur?

Boris Johnson wants London to be recognised as a world leader in improving the environment, both locally and globally. He is realising this vision through big, bold improvement programmes and an ongoing determination to encourage all Londoners to get involved and work together. In 2012, Boris launched a competition for students to develop innovative ideas to help reduce London’s CO2 emissions by 60% before 2025.

Students can give a fresh perspective on the situation and help develop a solution to help London reach its carbon goals by 2025. London is at the centre of innovation for green technologies and with such a large proportion of the country’s population living or working there daily, the impact of a carbon reduction in the country’s capital city would have a greater effect on carbon emissions than anywhere else in the country.

 

As an ambassador for the prize I have had the chance to hear about loads of exciting innovative designs and I’ve realised that if you have a good idea there are so many opportunities out there to gain interest and support from people who can help make it a reality. After all, entrepreneurship does require passion and confidence but without funding it is difficult to get any idea off the ground. I even met Deborah Meaden and Boris!

So, What is Industrial Design?

It was decided.

I cannot believe that a few months ago I had never even heard of Industrial Design, yet the past hour had just convinced me to turn pretty much the rest of my life towards the subject. I packed away my Art portfolio and walked out of the building, finding it hard to control the growing smile on my face.  Knowing that my passions and talents could be combined to change the world was an inspiring and motivating realisation.

To this day, it amuses me how I try to sum up the subject concisely when asked what I actually study. The word ‘Industrial’ seems only to add confusion to what Industrial Design actually is. This video was recently produced to detail some of the areas covered by Industrial Design.