Using insights to spur creativity

The competition's top prize of $5,000 went to the five-man Team KIBO (left) and its creation, Radio Friend. The always-on Internet-based conference radio works like a voice-based Internet chat room, connecting lonely seniors who live close to one ano
The competition's top prize of $5,000 went to the five-man Team KIBO (above) and its creation, Radio Friend. The always-on Internet-based conference radio works like a voice-based Internet chat room, connecting lonely seniors who live close to one another.PHOTO: TEAM KIBO
The competition's top prize of $5,000 went to the five-man Team KIBO (left) and its creation, Radio Friend. The always-on Internet-based conference radio works like a voice-based Internet chat room, connecting lonely seniors who live close to one ano
The competition's top prize of $5,000 went to the five-man Team KIBO and its creation, Radio Friend. The always-on Internet-based conference radio works like a voice-based Internet chat room, connecting lonely seniors who live close to one another.PHOTO: TEAM KIBO

Tasked with creating products that would help solve the everyday problems of the elderly, the 33 teams at Singapore's first national design marathon turned to ethnographic insights on how older people lived and interacted with gadgets and technology.

But Team 5wift, a five-man team that took the $500 prize for Best Prototype, had an added edge.

It boasted the competition's most diverse team, including Mr Gabriel Chong, a 71-year-old adjunct teacher with a passion for inventing things, and Mr Terence Lew, 37, a senior user-experience designer who is hearing impaired.

The Designathon 2016 competition, organised by the DesignSingapore Council, had Living Beautifully: Designing for our Golden Years as its theme. It drew a total of 170 participants who competed in teams of three to five.

Mr Chong, a former garage owner and Bungah Merah Residents' Committee volunteer, said mobility was a major issue for many seniors.

The team's idea was to return some mobility and independence to the elderly - to make them "swift" - by providing them with a wristband and belt packed with sensors.

By emitting sound, light and vibrations, the devices alert their wearer to the presence and direction of oncoming traffic.

In the event of an incident, they also alert emergency responders and provide location data.

The team drew on its combined strengths - including a knowledge of computer-assisted design, aesthetics and 3D printing - and worked through the night on the circuitry to come up with an impressive working prototype.

Mr Chong's experience in rebuilding and re-engineering cars also came in useful in figuring out the mechanics.

As one of the winners of the design marathon, Team 5wift showcased a refined version of its prototype at the first-anniversary event of Build Amazing Start-ups Here at the end of last month.

It will also work with the DesignSingapore Council to explore grants it can tap to take its product to the next level.

All participants of Designathon 2016 attended a pre-event workshop in December to better understand the use of infocomm technology in the areas of health management and active ageing.

They were then given just 36 hours during the competition, held at the National Design Centre, to finalise their idea and build a working prototype.

Judges included Mr Tim Kobe, the founder and chief executive officer of design studio Eight Inc, and Mr Low Cheaw Hwei, the global head of product and service design at Philips Design Asia.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, who spoke about the importance of design in "addressing societal issues and delivering better services for the community", gave out a total of seven prizes worth close to $10,000.

The competition's top prize of $5,000 went to the five-man Team KIBO and its creation, Radio Friend.

The always-on Internet-based conference radio works like a voice-based Internet chat room, connecting lonely seniors who live close to one another.

Team KIBO's five engineering-trained friends drew inspiration from the Amazon Echo, a wireless speaker and voice command-activated device.

They simplified the idea to address the basic need of being able to reach out and communicate with, and receive a response from, other people.

Radio Friend has two dials: one to control the volume, and the other to switch between "channels".

In their citation, the judges praised the product's "fun, intuitive and interactive user interface", as well as its "low digital barrier and cute design", answering the need for simple ways to stay connected.

Like Team 5wift, the five members of Team KIBO - all passionate technology "dabblers" - are now refining their product.

They plan to do some market research before attempting to commercialise Radio Friend, said team member Lee Yi Hao, a 31-year-old freelance IT professional.

He said: "A product that keeps older people engaged and helps them interact with the outside world would be good, especially if they live alone.

"Even if it's just to ask if anyone wants to go do taiji or have a coffee."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2016, with the headline 'Using insights to spur creativity'. Print Edition | Subscribe