Walking aid for the elderly comes with a box for carrying their furry friends

Humans seem to be wired to be social animals, and that is sometimes a difficult problem for certain people. Loneliness affects everyone, but the pain can become more acute for people who are more advanced in age and who find it hard to develop new relationships because of limits to their mobility. Pets have become a solution for some of the elderly folk, but that, too, comes with its own puzzles to solve. People advanced in age are often advised to still go outside as long as they are able to, but they are hesitant to leave their furry friends at home as well. Solving multiple related problems can be a daunting task, but this walker concept pulls it off in a way that is both simple and effective.

Designer: Feng Chang

There are definitely plenty of walking aid designs, some even serving multiple functions. Some are just a step above crutches that you have to lift to move forward, while others come with wheels that increase mobility at the expense of some stability. Some come with small seats for the user, and others have baskets to hold their things. This particular walker concept combines some of these to present a more agile yet safe aid that has room for your pet when you go out.

The most conspicuous part of this walker is the large box that serves as your pet’s mobile home. You can simply slide the door on top to let the little furry friend in or out, or you can keep it close so that they don’t jump out suddenly. Of course, there are vents that allow the pet to breathe easily while comfortably confined in there.

The walking aid itself has a few aspects that help it rise about common designs. The handle, for example, travels in almost all directions, giving the user the freedom to grip it any way they prefer. There’s a brake button underneath the handlebar that will prevent the user from falling over or sliding. The front wheels also have LED lights above them that can be recharged via a USB-C slot on the opposite side, offering additional safety, especially in darker areas.

This walking aid concept hits two birds with one well-designed stone to help make elderly lives a bit more enjoyable and meaningful. It offers a convenient way for them to bring their beloved pets with them for a walk while also providing mobility and safety for themselves. And while the walker is primarily designed for very old people, anyone with limited mobility and a small pet can still benefit from this idea, at least if it ever becomes a real product.

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This hearing aid’s sleek redesign turns the medical device into a fashion wearable

“Medical devices don’t need to feel like a burden. Glasses are cool, so why can’t hearing aids be too?”

The spectacles are a stellar example of a medically corrective device that’s successfully transitioned into being an object of haute fashion. The pandemic saw a similar treatment to N95 face masks too, but for the most part, medical devices aren’t designed to ‘look good’. They’re either designed to be invisible (like those invisible braces that keep popping up in Instagram’s ads), or have such a medical-forward design that they actually end up deterring people. Nobody likes showing off their asthma inhaler or nebulizer, and people would much rather prefer a stylish walking stick over a pair of crutches.

Hearing aids fall within that domain too, with most people agreeing that they have a design that can attract unwanted attention or sympathy, even though the people wearing them would just like to live a normal lifestyle. Designed to look modern rather than medical, the Overtone hearing aids are just about as stylish as high-fashion TWS earbuds. They sit comfortably around your ear, with a minimal design that features a small ear clip and a metallic disc that looks almost like a Neuralink implant.

Designers: Nick Morgan-Jones and Gray Dawdy (Overtone)

The Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids work to enhance your listening powers while being ‘unapologetically visible’. The individual earpieces hook to each ear, and pair with your smartphone to let you set up your hearing profile. Once configured, the Overtone earpieces let you clearly listen to sounds around you, while Bluetooth connectivity allows you to take calls or listen to music/watch videos through the earpieces themselves.

The Overtone was created by Berlin-based designers Nick Morgan-Jones and Gray Dawdy, who wanted to uplift hearing aids to a new fashion standard. “We’re building the hearing equivalent of designer eyewear,” said Morgan-Jones. To that very end, the Overtone has a design that feels minimal and universal. The transparent material and stainless steel details borrow directly from eyewear, while the overall design is made to augment your appearance by making you look like you’re from the future.

The Overtone is currently under development, with a waitlist open for people looking to buy their own pair of hearing wearables. The devices come with a 24-hr battery life on a full charge, and ship with a charging case that gives them an additional 36 hours of use.

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Self-wearing shoe concept automatically opens and closes thanks to a clever low-tech shape memory alloy spring

Designed to look like the spiritual lovechild of the Nike Adapt self-lacing shoes and the Nike GO FlyEase hands-free shoe, this proof-of-concept footwear design from Jeff Shen hides a Nitinol (Nickel-Titanium Alloy) spring in its outsole. Known for its shape-memory properties, the spring can be made to expand and contract, allowing the footwear to open or close around your foot! No laces, no hands, no problems!

Unlike the Nike Adapt that comes with sensors, motors, and batteries, Shen’s shoes (titled ‘Heaven’s Door’) use a much more ingenious low-tech system that doesn’t require all those bells and whistles. The shoe’s simple lacing/unlacing mechanism relies on a wireless charging mat that helps heat the Nitinol spring, causing it to expand and the shoe to open. Slip your foot in and step off the mat and the Nitinol spring begins cooling and returning to its original shape, causing the shoe to constrict securely around your ankle.

Designer: Jeff Shen

The Heaven’s Door has a unique design style that combines the close-toe design of a shoe with the open-ish ankle aesthetic of a slip-on sandal. The shoes have a leather body, punctuated by an elastic strap that runs along the side, connecting the rear flap to the main shoe. A rubber outsole hints at comfortable outdoor use in an urban environment, while hiding the springs away in a recessed channel running along the length of the shoe. Although remarkable in their automatic opening/closing abilities, the shoes don’t try to look futuristic – because they are not. Unlike the Nike Adapt that have an undeniable sci-fi backstory, the Heaven’s Door is simply a footwear concept with a clever idea driven by material science. It’s a seemingly normal-looking shoe with an incredible trick up its sleeve… or down its outsole.

For Shen, the shoe’s design required a lot of trial, error, and prototyping (you can read his entire case study on his portfolio website). Shen played with straight and coiled Nitinol elements, toyed with the sole’s design, the opening and closing mechanism, and even experimented with finding the right place to add the elastic band to prevent the shoe’s rear flap from deforming.

At the footwear’s heart is its simple low-tech opening and closing mechanism that relies on a wireless charging mat (keeping any and all tech out of the shoe itself to ensure a longer lifespan and the ability to be entirely resistant to water). The mat connects to a coil hidden in the shoe’s outsole, which then heats up to 70°C, causing the Nitinol spring to loosen and a set of expansion springs under the heel to pull on it, releasing the shoe’s rear flap backward almost like a drawbridge. This only lasts as long as the shoe is on the wireless mat. Step off it and the Nitinol cools back and begins assuming its original shape, pulling the rear flap shut.

What the Heaven’s Door shoe does is cleverly eliminate any need for tech components to be present in the shoe. This helps bring down the footwear’s price while still giving it its signature feature. It also means no chances of planned obsolescence, or parts accidentally failing. Even if things DO fail, the shoes can still be worn and removed manually, using the pull tab at the back of the footwear.

Ultimately, the shoe aims at appealing to everyone thanks to its clever, universal design… but just like with Nike’s GO FlyEase hands-free footwear, Shen designed his concept keeping the disabled in mind. Shen used the term “Enclothed Cognition” to describe most disability-focused fashion found in today’s world. “It refers to the systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer’s psychological processes”, Shen explained. “Not being able to put on shoes by oneself and constantly realizing the fact that they dress in a disabled look is devastating on the user experience and self-esteem.”

Aside from being a clever, accessible, truly hands-free, and low-tech self-wearing shoe, the Heaven’s Door footwear concept also destroys the notion that disabled fashion should look any different from regular fashion. The self-wearing shoes have a uniquely contemporary style that appeals to a broader populace. Or should I say popu-laceless!?

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This strangely shaped cutting board was designed for people with limited mobility

I always argue that good design shouldn’t be measured by how many people it’s benefitting, but rather by the nature of the problem posed to the people. Handicapped people and people with motor impairments make up just a small fraction of humanity, so products that help them overcome daily tasks are arguably and measurably better than products that help solve problems for the masses. The ‘Bulge Cutting Board’ is one such product, designed for people with limited hand mobility.

I’m sure you’ve never tried chopping vegetables with one hand, but there are a lot of people who have no other option. “People with motor impairments, such as the absence of a hand or their limited usability, are often dependent on aids that are more reminiscent of tools and are far from any aesthetics”, says Germany-based designer Jon Starck, who created the Bulge Cutting Board. Designed with a set of ‘hillocks’ that somewhat randomly cover the board’s surface, the Bulge Cutting Board enables single-handed chopping and cutting. The bulges help trap and stabilize food while you chop them, preventing them from rolling or shifting and enabling you to go through the experience with just one hand.

Designer: Jon Starck

“The elevations of different sizes and distances from each other allow fixing various foods for processing. They provide support when cutting, smearing and transporting”, says Starck.

Bulge is a rare example of a product that serves a smaller audience, but serves them well. The design isn’t ‘universal’, but caters to a universal need for a marginalized audience. Perfect for people with limited use of their hands, the Bulge Cutting Board gives them the control they need as they pursue an independent life! Pairs rather wonderfully with this ‘knife for the visually impaired‘!

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Textured buttons help the visually impaired understand what colored clothes they’re wearing

Just because you have a visual impairment doesn’t mean you can’t look good! These textured buttons allow the wearers to understand the colors of their clothes simply by touching them. With a little practice and guidance, they can then create color palettes and combinations that allow them to look good and highlight their fashion-forward personality!

Dubbed the HUEPIN, these uniquely designed buttons help the wearer understand what color clothes they’re wearing. All they really have to do is attach/sew the right buttons to the clothes once they’ve been bought. Once the entire wardrobe’s cataloged and color-coordinated, wearers can easily ‘feel colors’ to help them choose their outfits efficiently and tastefully. The HUEPINs come with specific shapes to indicate colors, and have wavy textures to help the wearer understand how bright or faded the color is. Wearers can then create pairings of contrasting colors, monochromes, triads, or a wide variety of other styles. With a little practice and help, visually-impaired wearers can easily dress their best despite their impairments! Rather wonderful, isn’t it??

The HUEPIN is a winner of the iF Design Talent Award for the year 2022.

Designers: Ang Yong Jun, Huang YuChen, Lai LiWen, Chu Pin Yan

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Foot-operated computer mouse design wins the Red Dot Award for its unique approach to accessibility

While accessibility controllers like the ones from Xbox only go so far, this concept mouse by Califor Design provides a better way for the disabled to control their laptop. The Foot Mouse is designed for people who are unable to use their hands due to disability or a neurological condition.

The Foot Mouse, as its name so aptly suggests, transfers control to the feet, allowing you to navigate and click by resting your foot on an ergonomically designed device. This mouse includes standard mouse functions like left and right buttons as well as a mouse scroll. The left and right keys are designed to be operated with the toes. The scrolling function is activated when the left and right buttons are simultaneously pressed and deactivated when one of the left or right keys is released. “The concave design of the mouse’s top surface is combined with human-machine engineering principles to ergonomically fit the complex curvature under the foot, ensuring a stable and comfortable user experience”, Califor Design told Yanko Design. “Foot Mouse is designed to fit feet of any width and size and to provide anti-fatigue support for extended periods of use.”

The Foot Mouse is a winner of the Red Dot Design Concept Award for the year 2022.

Designer: Califor Design

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These special eyeglasses by a Japanese startup can cure myopia or nearsightedness

Myopia or nearsightedness is an extremely common vision condition that afflitcs a lot of people, including me. Essentially what this means is that we can focus on objects that are close, with ease, but struggle with items that are placed further away. These items seem blurred or unclear to us. This usually occurs when a person spends too much time focusing on nearby items, causing our eyeballs to actually change in shape over time, making it too long front-to-back. And with people spending most of their day interacting with screens, it isn’t a shocker how widespread this condition is. In fact, this common condition is growing so rapidly, that it is predicted that by 2050, half of the world’s population will be affected by it. This is where Japanese pharmaceutical startup Kubota decided to step in. They’ve designed special eyeglasses that can improve or even cure Myopia!

Designer: Kubota Glass

Kubota’s wearable design has been amped with an array of nano projectors, which project light at the wearer’s retina in a specific pattern, to cause blurring at short distances, in turn forcing them to look further away. This helps the eyeball to morph back into its original shape and allows one’s vision to return to normal. You’re supposed to wear the glasses for a couple of hours a day, usually when you’re simply relaxing or unwinding in the comfort of your home. With the help of AR tech, the glasses create, “an image environment that makes you feel as if you are looking far away even when you are at home.”

“Projection of a blurred image onto the peripheral part of the retina (myopic defocus stimulation) resulted in a reduction in the axial length of the eye (the length from the cornea to the retina) compared to the target eye — proof of concept has been confirmed.”, said Kubota, after conducting multiple tests in May and August 2020, using various devices.

At the moment only 20 pairs have been produced and gone on sale in Japan. Each eyeglass costs $5700 and comes with a 100% satisfaction guarantee – basically a complete refund if they don’t work. We can’t wait for the glasses to be launched globally, and witness how they could actually help people with Myopia…who knows maybe I could be one of the early bird shoppers!

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Absolutely genius medical stretcher can transform into a wheelchair for patients with less serious injuries

Although its name doesn’t quite do it complete justice, the Multi Scoop Pro is a rather novel shapeshifting stretcher that also turns into a wheelchair on command. Contrary to what its name may suggest, it isn’t an ice cream machine…

The idea for the Multi Scoop Pro comes from the folks at Studio Rotor, who wanted to create one single medical apparatus that could scoop patients up, function as a stretcher, and even double as a lightweight wheelchair when necessary. Designed for Retter Medical and further developed by IDP Amsterdam for manufacturing, the Multi Scoop Pro comes with a patented mechanism that allows it to split, fold, and lock into either stretcher or wheelchair positions. The Multi Scoop Pro also weighs a mere 10 kgs, giving it a significant advantage over the heavy electrically operated stretcher-lift systems built into ambulances that can weigh 5-6 times the amount.

Designers: Studio Rotor and IDP Amsterdam for Retter Medical

The Multi Scoop Pro gets its name from being able to scoop up patients instead of having them lifted and placed onto the stretcher. The stretcher splits open laterally, allowing it to be placed on either side of the patient on the ground. When the two halves are brought back together again, they scoop the patient onto the stretcher platform, which can then be lifted and transported to the nearest ambulance. For patients with less serious injuries, the Multi Scoop Pro can simply be folded into a wheelchair, allowing a single medic to transport them while they’re comfortably seated.

A prototype unit of the Multi Scoop Pro, co-developed with IDP Amsterdam

The idea for the Multi Scoop Pro started with a broad exploration of the work environment of ambulance personnel. Through research, it became clear that, at least in Amsterdam, most ambulances were gradually phasing out manual stretchers and replacing them with expensive, heavy electrical-powered stretchers that operate like massive car-jacks, using motorized mechanisms to fold flat upon arrival, and lift up after the patient’s been loaded onto the stretcher. The second fundamental problem with this arrangement (aside from cost and weight) was the fact that patients still needed to be lifted ONTO the stretcher. With its scooping design, the Multi Scoop Pro solves the latter problem. For the former, the design weighs a paltry 10 kilograms and costs a fraction of what an electrically operated stretcher would cost.

The fact that the stretcher transforms into a wheelchair is a much-appreciated added bonus. A stretcher isn’t required 100% of the time, especially when the patient is conscious, has just minor injuries, and doesn’t need to be laid down or restrained on a horizontal platform. The transformation takes mere seconds and can be locked into position so the wheelchair doesn’t come undone during transit.

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Electric Guitar with Braille fretboard helps the visually impaired master a new instrument

While simply color-coordinating or backlighting parts of an instrument may work for regular novices, it doesn’t translate to visually impaired users. Vitar hopes to solve that by covering its entire fretboard with Braille keys that can help blind and vision-impaired people navigate their way around a guitar. Vitar, however, isn’t a traditional electric guitar either – it’s a MIDI instrument styled like a guitar, which also unlocks an entire world of potential with electronic music.

If the Vitar looks a little odd at first, it’s because it isn’t your average Spanish guitar. Designed to electronically send signals to a software (technically known as a Digital Audio Workstation), the Vitar comes with keys that you press with your left hand, indicating the notes you want the guitar to play. However, Vitar doesn’t quite stop right there. Each key located in the guitar’s fretboard comes with a Braille letter embossed on it, allowing even the visually impaired to work their way around the instrument. It’s a classic example of a tiny design detail that radically improves the product’s experience for all its users.

Designers: Eojin Roh, Seonjin Baek, Yujeong Shin

The fascinating part about the Vitar is its unconventional design. The way it was made has nothing to do with acoustics, but rather has everything to do with being intuitive and minimizing the learning curve. The Vitar’s body has an odd asymmetric shape that helps users instantly understand which way it’s supposed to be held (one could argue that it isn’t ambidextrous, although that might come across as pedantic). Strings sit in a recessed chamber on the main body, so the hand or guitar pick knows when to stop (while also giving you a place to conveniently rest your fingers). Guidelines across the main body help the hand navigate around the guitar in an instant, so you spend more time jamming and less time figuring out if you’re holding the instrument right.

Buttons on the base of the electric guitar let you control its built-in speaker/amplifier.

Vitar’s most impressive feat, however, remains its Braille keys. One of the most difficult parts of the guitar learning experience is figuring out which fret triggers which note. Sure, a talented guitar can easily pick this up by ear and with repeated practice, but for a novice, it requires a lot of counting down the frets, examining the corresponding string, etc. Just by simply molding Braille letters onto the individual keys, the Vitar makes the process as easy as pressing a button… quite literally.

While the Vitar is targeted towards visually impaired students, even most regular users can benefit from the sheer muscle memory of their fingertips knowing which key is located where, and what button triggers what note. If it helps us regular folk pick up a bit of braille in the process too, that’s an overall win in my book!

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen uniquely designed and shaped electric guitars. Earlier this year, Ezra Feldman unveiled an unconventional ‘curved’ electric guitar that was designed to offer a much more ergonomic and strain-free experince.

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‘Smart Cane’ for Senior Citizens comes with bone-conducting earphones and object-detecting sensors

Designed to help augment an elderly user’s hearing, sight, and situational awareness, the Caregiver is a smart cane that leverages sensor-based technologies to make life infinitely better for senior citizens and the specially abled.

If the biggest purpose of technology was to help make lives better, the Caregiver smart cane is proof that the same technology should serve the needs of people beyond the purview of the ‘common user’. While bone-conducting hearing and camera-based smart navigation have been available to us ‘regular folk’ for decades now, the Caregiver leverages the technology to help enrich the lives of the elderly. The smart cane comes with its own built-in GPS tracker, radar-imaging cameras, and bone-conducting earpieces to help its users navigate effectively and hear well. When not in use, the Caregiver docks in its wireless charging base that helps replenish its batteries.

Designer: Ma Tianyu

Before I get into why I think the Caregiver is such a brilliant idea, let’s just get its features out of the way. Unlike archaic-looking walking canes, the Caregiver is a pretty slick, state-of-the-art walking device with a minimal futuristic design language. It has a telescopic heigh-adjusting mechanism for people of different heights, and sports a notification/visbility light on the front that glows ambiently to let others know of the elderly person’s presence… although that’s barely scratching the surface.

One of Caregiver’s most impressive features is its built-in set of earphones that help augment the hearing of its users. The bone-conducting earpieces sit within a charging compartment built into the Caregiver’s design, and can be accessed by simply opening the lid and taking them out. Bone conducting earphones work exceptionally well for people with reduced hearing because the earphones deliver audio directly to the auditory nerve via your skull-bone rather than relying on your eardrum. Given that hearing can deteriorate with age, bone-conducting tech provides the perfect alternative, allowing wearers to listen in on the world around them… albeit with stylish earpieces instead of those archaic-looking hearing aids.

Another pretty nifty accessibility feature is the Caregiver’s ‘smart eye’, a series of radar and imaging sensors located around the shaft of the cane that run object detection algorithms to help people navigate safely. The cane can sense when there’s an object in its path, and uses earphone notifications to alert the user of the presence of things that they may no have noticed – either objects out of their PoV or things in front of them that can’t be seen because of deteriorating eyesight. Either way, the earphones let you know of the presence of an object as well as its general location, so the user is warned.

A sufficiently tech-driven device, the Caregiver comes with its own charging dock that wirelessly juices its battery, eliminating the need for struggling with charging cables, ports, and a host of wires/dongles.

The Caregiver cane also comes with its own companion app that can be used by guardians/assistants/caretakers to track the elderly. The stick itself has a GPS sensor built in that helps track the cane, and each cane even registers the heartbeat of the user by detecting their pulse through both the cane as well as the earpieces.

What’s truly so phenomenal about the Caregiver is its ability to make tech accessible without being daunting. Users don’t need to learn new experiences or unlearn past ones to understand how to use the cane. It’s fairly natural and intuitive in its design, and this makes adopting the new technology much easier for elderly people, instead of having them struggle with a new learning curve at that age.

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