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New design for the mobility challenged
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- Eye on Design
Walking Sticks Reimagined
As walking sticks have advanced, their visual language has become increasingly close to that of medical devices, with the associated stigma for physically challenged people. Together Canes, designed by Singaporean-Italian design firm Lanzavecchia Wai, are among those seeking to restore a sense of the human back into these items: its elegant Together Canes (see main image) are wooden walking aids with an integrated shelf to carry personal objects. “These objects were designed keeping in mind the relationship we establish with our most valued home accessories,” says designer Mauro Bonizzoni. “They are conceived to become companions that help us perform daily rituals and not simply a functional contraption we depend on.” Meanwhile, London-based Shiro Studio has made what it claims is the first 3D-printed walking stick. Its minimalist aesthetic means it resembles the kind of personal objects of beauty you can develop a connection with, while its comfortable three-axis handle allows it to be easily rested on the floor and divides pressure across the hand. “I wanted to induce a visual and ethical paradigm shift to the typical walking stick so that it is no longer an unavoidable, sorry-looking device thats flags the disability, but rather a conscious choice that can reflect a contemporary, mindful choice,” Shiro Studio’s founder Andrea Morgante says.
EvoWalk by Evolution Devices
“Movement is a human right,” declares the website of Evolution Devices, which describes its mission as “restoring the ability to walk for those who previously could not afford it”. Aimed at people with multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, physically challenged people and a variety of other neuromuscular conditions, the EvoWalk device – currently being tested as a prototype – is a sleeve that slips over the leg and uses artificial intelligence to monitor an individual’s walking pattern, delivering targeted muscle stimulation to help them walk. “Our design is made to be easy to put on for people with limited upper mobility by simply slipping the device on their leg like a sleeve,” says the company’s chief executive, neuroscientist Pierluigi Mantovani. “We aim to make it as sleek as possible, and are innovating by making a soft-sleeve design rather than semi-rigid or rigid designs like existing technology uses, which makes devices bulky and clunky.”
Personal Electric Vehicles by Whill
“Traditional mobility devices have evolved very little design-wise,” says Masahiro Toriyama, who designed the exterior of the Model Ci, the latest in a range by wheelchair maker Whill that are stylish and versatile, designed to instill self-confidence in physically challenged people, rather than simply performing a job. The Ci is sleek and compact, it comes with arm-covers in gold, pink and other colours, and can easily be taken apart to transport in the trunk of a vehicle. But the chair compromises nothing on functionality: the patented front wheels are made of 24 individual rollers that give users precise control, whether travelling on uneven terrain or in tight urban spaces, while wireless technology means it can be controlled remotely by an app. “Our goal was to make personal EVs that allow the user to shine,” Toriyama adds.
Scooter for Life by Priestman Goode
Unveiled at London’s Design Museum in 2017, mobility engineering expert Priestman Goode’s Scooter for Life is a range of wheeled products that change with you as your needs evolve, inspired by the micro-scooters commonly used by children and increasingly by adults for short commutes and getting about town. On a basic level it operates like any other foot-pushed scooter, bearing in mind that older people are no less concerned with keeping fit and mobile, but it also has an optional seat and electrical power. Three wheels – one at the back and two at the front – provides stability and the vehicle is designed to only move when the brakes are released. An attractive basket on its front offers added functionality, while the whole thing can be easily folded and taken indoors, keeping it safe from theft and making sure its owner does not have to leave it outside their home, highlighting the fact that an older person lives there. “I think a lot of design for older generations can be quite patronising,” wrote PriestmanGoode chair Paul Priestman in Neighbourhoods of the Future, a 2019 report by the Agile Ageing Alliance. “Products are designed with a certain look. Assumptions are made about the lifestyle that older people have, and the type of design that speaks to them. I believe it’s all wrong, and we need to rethink design for ageing demographics.”
Networked Technology by Moby
A range of networked wearable devices inspired by fitness trackers now exist to monitor individual health and safety – from those that analyse and alert you to the risk of falling to ones that track your heart rate and remind you to take medication. Now, the technology that has previously been used for urban cycle share scheme has been employed in a design that could bring a new level of freedom to urban wheelchair users and physically challenged people. Moby, one of five finalists in Toyota’s Mobility Unlimited Challenge, announced in January 2019, is a proposal for an app linked to a series of lightweight manual wheelchairs around the city. Serena De Mori of automotive design consultancy Italdesign, which developed the idea, says the idea emerged in consultation with users of wheelchairs. “They said they wanted a way to make travelling easier and so we developed this platform. We wanted to have a different kind of mobility solution which is accessible to all.” The team is now looking to build prototypes in a effort to bring the concept to reality as soon as possible.
Bro Stairclimbing Wheelchair
While stairs remain part of the urban landscape, they continue to present a challenge to wheelchair users and physically challenged people. The Bro chair from manufacturer Scewo, which topped the transport category in the London Design Museum’s 2017 Designs of the Year, could change all that. Named to evoke that reliable buddy you can always count on, its stair-climbing function means it can scale steps of up to 200m in height and climb at an incline of 20 to 37 degrees. The seat is elevated by a metre, after which a retractable pair of rubber tracks emerges for the chair to slide upwards. The company claims it can take on angles and curves, and steps of almost any surface material. The chair itself is adjustable in multiple ways – the seat depth, the back, foot and arm supports. The height can also be lowered to allow you to take a seat at a low table, making it a design for both outdoors and in.
Main image: New designs and solutions for physically challenged people. ©Davide Farabegoli