Burgeoning engineers working in MIT's AgeLab have stepped into the shoes
of the aging to learn firsthand how hard it is to complete the easiest tasks
like bending down to reach a low shelf at the supermarket or lowering
themselves into a car.
Using the Age Gain Now
Empathy System (AGNES 2), a jumpsuit fitted with elastics, braces, a hard
hat and vision-impairing goggles, they have experienced what it is like to grow
old and are using what they have learned and felt to help design products that
are easy for people, whether age 45 or 75, to use.
AGNES is designed to focus on vision, flexibility and use of
the hands, says AgeLab Founder Joseph Coughlin.
"It forces you to change your posture - how to approach a
store shelf. (The AgeLab) is about inventing life tomorrow," Coughlin says. "People
are living longer - how are you going to get around, how are you going to get
to work, how are you going to live tomorrow? Hopefully, (engineering students)
bring that insight back with them when they are out designing products and
AGNES was developed by an engineering team and
physiologists, according to Coughlin, and is also used by MIT's research team
and corporate sponsors like Siemens,
Daimler and Proctor and Gamble.
"It's not just students who are using it and learning from
it," says Coughlin. "It's about creating products and places that everyone can
use. We cannot and we should not design an old person's product or service. If
you build an old man's anything, a young man will not buy it, but an old man
will not buy it either. We want to create products that delight and excite the
consumer at any age."
The next-generation, AGNES 3, will be fitted with sensors
for more accurate measurements, according to Coughlin. He declined to elaborate
on plans for AGNES 3, stating the project is now in the process of being
registered with MIT's Intellectual
Property Office. It is expected to be complete this summer, he says.