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MIT's AgeLab is Engineering for the Ages

MIT's AgeLab is Engineering for the Ages

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 places."

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.

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