Jul 19, 2016 | Atlanta, GA
To the average college student, designing technologies for an aging population might not sound appealing. The same cannot be said of Elaine Liu, an industrial design Ph.D. student, who recently won third place for best design in the first international design competition to focus exclusively on technologies to support aging and disability.
Launched in October 2015, the TechSAge Design Competition seeks to inspire a new crop of talented young designers to develop innovative technologies for aging populations. Individuals and teams from around the world competed for the best designs and were judged on the criteria of promoting independence, integration, implementation, inspiration, and progression through universal design. Competitors included 36 individuals representing 14 international schools and business entities.
“We will all get old one day. Designing for the aging population, to me, is something I do for myself in the future, for my mom, and for my grandparents,” said Liu, when asked of her decision to focus both her competition entry and her dissertation on technologies geared toward the aging population.
Liu’s winning app, GatePal, functions as a way-finding tool for senior travelers and showcases the tenets of universal design: that products, environments, and information be both aesthetically pleasing and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status.
Users are provided step-by-step travel instructions to successfully navigate their airport and complete key tasks, such as checking in, locating their gate, finding their luggage, etc. The app is also universally designed to allow older adults with different functional abilities to use GatePal at their own pace, in their own preferred ways.
For example, Liu states, “Sitting in a shuttle cart to be taken to the gates may not be the desired choice for every older adult. GatePal as a universally designed airport guide allows older adults to travel more independently and confidently.”
Technologies like Liu’s GatePal app are increasingly in demand as, according to the Pew Research Center, approximately 10,000 Americans turn 65 years old every day, a rate which will continue until the year 2030. As this older population increases, the need for design and technologies supporting aging increases alongside it. The field of study contains huge potential for the new and original ideas, the kinds currently championed by many of Georgia Tech’s research centers and students.
"It’s important to bring awareness, train, and educate future designers and engineers to design effective technology solutions for the aging population, especially for those adults who are aging with disabilities,” said Claudia B. Rebola, a former Georgia Tech faculty member in Industrial Design and director of the TechSAge Design Competition, who continues to be involved as a Principal Investigator on TechSAge.
Rebola, who is currently an associate professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, also stressed the importance of growing the field of design for aging populations. “This population needs solutions today, and we need to build capacity for the fast growing populations and generations to come. To design for this is to reach the highest level of great design; a design that it is not discriminatory but progressive, that can be used by all as the basis of universal design. With the TechSAge competition, we’re giving students the strategies, considerations, and guidance for achieving successful designs and creating the right tools for the job."
Through the work of Research Engineering Rehabilitation Center on Technologies to Support Successful Aging with Disability (RERC TechSAge) at Georgia Tech and its sponsors, the TechSAge Design competition is creating emerging technologies that take into account the varying human experiences to find better solutions for all.
With the success and impact of the first competition, the Center is preparing for its second TechSAge Design Competition, expected to launch later this year.