Design Research Project – The AHA
Eric and Jinlong are completing their Masters in Design at UNSW Art and Design. While they share a background in graphic design, Eric focused on digital media in his undergraduate studies, while Jinlong specialised in interactive design. They also share a belief in the power, and necessity, of design to improve the lives of others. Here is a
The brief Eric and Jinlong set themselves was multifaceted; the solution they wanted should be more affordable and less bulky than existing solutions, it should necessitate less commitment from carers, in other words, the therapy device could engage the dementia sufferer for significant periods of time on its own, and it needed to be usable even if the sufferer was non-verbal as the speech centres of the brain are frequently and often severely affected by dementia, and finally to cater to most if not all levels of dementia. To be honest even looking at their rather bulky prototype the solution they have designed is pretty damn elegant. Essentially the AHA is a game based around touch therapy. The device is a series of buttons that respond when touched; they move like buttons should and they light up and vibrate. Importantly the device can be programmed to light the buttons in patterns, the games, of varying complexity for patients to follow. The act of interacting with – touching – the device stimulates the brain with the feedback encouraging memory development/maintenance as they follow and recreate the patterns. Games can be varied in sensitivity to address differences in fine motor control of the dementia patients, and the device will still respond to the interactions of those with very little motor control, providing feedback to touch.
The intention is also to make the code driving the device open source so that other people/designers can add their own games, thereby minimising cost of game development.
The physical design of the device has been carefully thought through. The size and shape of the buttons have been optimised for users, and work is continuing on the feel on the button surface. The size of the device is such that it can be used comfortably by users sitting wheelchairs as well as at tables, where is can be angled for better access to the ‘playing’ surface. User testing with the prototype mechanism has demonstrated that their core idea works. Users are attracted to engage with the AHA, which in itself, threw up a new challenge around a need to ensure the device is very robust.
Eric and Jinlong are building a device of great potential for dementia mitigation therapy. They have demonstrated that it works to engage demented suffers, though more testing still needs to be carried out to determine the long-term therapeutic benefits. Before that they are working towards the next generation prototype, refining, reducing the mechanism in size, and building a stronger device. They have invested many thousands of dollars so far and would certainly be happy for a little – or a lot of – help on that score.