News and Events

Innovative UniSA designers respond to ageing population

on Wednesday, 27th August 2014

Creating a new nurse call handset, specifically designed for aged care residents living with arthritis, is the aim of a UniSA project team who have begun work at the Hills Innovation Centre in Adelaide.

The prototype handset is set to be the first fruit of UniSA’s new partnership with Hills Limited which has led to the creation of two new innovation centres, where new technological products are due to be designed for use across aged care, health and safety industries.

UniSA industrial design graduates, Robert White and Daniel Weiss (pictured above), together with industrial design lecturers Dr Peter Schumacher and Sandy Walker, are heading up the design team and are currently in the research stage of the 12-week project.

“A nurse call – or 'pendant' button, is often not suitable in aged care facilities for people who have arthritic conditions and may not have the dexterity or ability to use their thumb to push that button,” says Robert.

The hand grips that have been created as a first step in the project.

“So we are now researching and learning everything we can learn about arthritis and hand-held devices for people with arthritis. We are talking to specialists, as well as learning about nurse call systems and how they are used, to gain knowledge which will be essential for developing an appropriate design.”

Using technologically advanced design equipment, including a 3D printer, the team have begun by creating hand grips which provide physical and visual feedback of how people intuitively use their hands in picking up and holding items.

“We are following a new product development process, from the detailed brief to the research phase to product development, and we hope to have a prototype created within a few months,” says Robert.

For Daniel Weiss, the opportunity to create the product reflected a wider consideration that as more people live longer lives, they will require products relevant to their physical condition.

“We are an ageing population so there is going to be an increasing need for products to be more useable as we get older,” Daniel says.

“The world today is more designed for younger generations but as these generations age the technology and the way we build things around us is going to have to adapt enormously – within that there’s a huge opportunity for new products.”

Dr Schumacher, Program Director of Industrial Design at UniSA, says the project is a golden opportunity to have the team working out of the new innovation centre.

“This innovation centre has the tools to enable the team to go through the design process to validation,” Dr Schumacher says.

“The technology enables people to create a design and have something built by the printer machine – which can simulate different material properties – within two hours, ready for testing. This turbocharges the process enabling more adventurous thinking and better validation of design.

Hills CEO Ted Pretty outlined the market value of the new product.

“The UniSA proposal brings together clever design and simple functionality to improve the quality of care and make it easier for those Australians living with arthritis to connect with the support and help they need,” he says.

“The arthritis handset is the first project to go into our innovation centre with several more planned over the coming months. All of these projects have been identified as commercially and operationally viable with strong potential to go from the drawing board to the marketplace.”

Sandy Walker, of UniSA’s School of Art, Architecture and Design, says the collaboration between UniSA and Hills provides students with a bridge to gaining relevant employment.

“We have a long tradition of doing real projects with research partners but it is usually restricted by the academic year so we needed to develop a new model, one without timing restrictions,” Walker says.

“Currently we have a three year undergraduate degree in project design, a one year graduate diploma or a two year Master’s, on top of that this is an industrial design incubator – it can hopefully be a transition for recent graduates, such as Robert and Daniel, into employment to give them real life design experience in conjunction with organisations such as Hills.”

Aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs interested in turning their ideas or projects into reality can apply to take part in the next Hills Pitch Day. Applications open on September 8. For more information, go to the Hills website.