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Meeting the needs of older adults through design innovation. Urban areas in Europe have an increasing population of older people and therefore an increasing need to support this population for example through self- management and assistive technology (AT). Despite availability of AT, there are significant issues in terms of user and acceptance. AT development often doesn’t involve the end-user in the design process resulting in dissatisfaction and abandonment rates as high as 75%20 (e.g. due to aesthetics and unattractive appearance).

MATUROLIFE will provide AT that addresses these issues from design, to materials development, electronic integration and production of prototypes. The project will adopt an inter-disciplinary approach bringing together specialists from material science, design, fashion, user-involvement, health professionals and specialists in AT. The knowledge exchange between researchers and SMEs, the innovation pathways and AT users will be critical. It will raise awareness not only the needs of older people, but also of their wants and priorities. The project seeks to capitalise on the potential of AT to enable independence for longer ensuring useable, desirable and satisfying products that reach the end-user by adopting co-design approaches (in this case involving older people in the design process) and emotional design (making sure wants, desires, aesthetic, emotional responses are embedded in design requirements). The views, cultural values and ideas of older people will become central to producing AT that will be not only functional but without stigma as a result of being aesthetically pleasing and desirable.

This co-design process will undoubtedly produce highly innovative concepts for AT for older people. It will require creative design to turn these concepts into potential mock ups and drawings and require innovative materials solutions to ensure that these AT designs can really work. The MATUROLIFE consortium has been chosen to ensure that it has the toolbox of skills in design, materials and electronics required to bridge the gap between creative design and working products to produce highly innovative AT that doesn’t currently exist.

Technical innovation. To achieve the innovative AT designs will require highly innovative materials solutions, one of the most critical of which will be the further innovative development of a selective metallisation process to produce highly conductive textiles. The development of a selective metallisation process for fabrics and textiles to enable AT for older people builds upon CU’s experience in developing metallisation processes for non-conductive materials and their expertise in nanotechnology. The development of a copper nanoparticle (CuNP) catalyst lies at the heart of this objective. This will require challenging materials innovations in terms of functionalization of the CuNP with long chain ‘self-assembled monolayers’ (SAMs) which will be designed with functional groups that will attach to the fibres in the fabric. Ideally this catalyst will attach to all textiles and fabrics but in reality it is likely that specific functional groups will be required on the SAMs to attach to specific textiles and fabrics. Advanced technologies (such as ultrasonics and megasonics) will be used disperse these functionalised CuNP to produce a novel catalytic solution that will be selectively deposited onto the textile or fabric. MATUROLIFE partner PEL is expert in the selective deposition and printing of such catalyst solutions using approaches such as ink-jet and micro- contact printing and spray.

The CuNP will then initiate electroless plating (and an advanced protective coating for the final conductive lines will be developed to protect them from washing, sweat and other aggressive environments whilst thermochromic, halochromic, chemochromic dyes and pigments will add further functionality to the textile. The selective metallisation process will be developed towards industrial scalability using SMEs in the materials supply chain (PLAS, PEL), surface engineering (BAI) and textiles sectors (IFTH) who will investigate methods to selectively deposit the CuNP catalyst and develop methods for plating the textiles and fabrics which will be easily integrated into a traditional surface engineering factory. The versatility of the technology is so wide that it has applicability to many industries (textiles, electronics, surface engineering,etc.) hence the high numbers of SMEs involved in this work who would like to develop innovative AT prototypes new in their markets. The design of the AT will be focused on the needs of older people living in an urban environment and will emerge through co-design workshops with older adults working alongside designers to co-create solutions. Based on initial analysis of needs and discussions with care providers, it is anticipated that examples might be:

  • Clothing: the discreet incorporation of sensors to alert for movements, vital signs and dehydration. Dehydration is particularly important (urban areas are hotter) which is associated with increased rates of urinary tract infections, constipation,
  • Furniture: sofas and seats with sensors to detect ambient and body temperature – to prompt activity and an adjustment of environmental conditions to meet individual
  • Footwear: shoes for tracking and warning of Many older people live in small flats in urban environments and this AT would help to avoid falls (as well as alerting to collapse) particularly for visually impaired and with blue tooth beacons and receptors, safe areas could be created. In addition, this type of AT could support tracking and wayfinding.

In MATUROLIFE the sensors will not be simple ‘alerts’ but will analyse the data over time aiming to produce personalised AT that provides useful and useable information that meet the requirements of the older person and supports self-management, independence and security.