Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access

Winning TechSAge Design Will Help Seniors Sit and Stand

Elderly woman uses cane from research project to stand.

By Malrey Head Atlanta, GA

The TechSAge Design Competition chose Judy Kong from the California College of the Arts as the winner with her entry named "Stand."

Stand is a cane designed to assist older adults in sitting and standing.

TechSAge is a five-year, federally funded center based at the Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access (CATEA) at Georgia Tech. The international competition was created to encourage students to develop technologies that empower healthy aging.

Kong developed her project with her grandmother, Marilyn, in mind. For Marilyn, sitting and standing are the biggest obstacles in her life. Besides damaging to her body every time she falls onto her wooden couch, it is also discouraging every time she fails to stand up by herself, Kong wrote in her presentation. She wanted to design a simple, intuitive, and elegant solution that would encourage Marilyn to get up and move around.

In this third year of the competition, one criteria for students was to work with an elderly person to develop their project. With her grandmother living in Taiwan, Kong partnered with Tammy, an older adult she met volunteering at a local senior center, to get feedback on Stand.

The key to standing and sitting easily is to shift body weight, Kong noted. The more people lean forward, the easier it is to sit down or stand up, and the easier it is to fall over.

Stand is a four-sided cane that sits vertically. It has buttons to compress the cane and to guide and support the shift in body weight from sitting to standing.

It can also be used for walking. For standing, both buttons must be compressed to prevent accidental pressing while walking.

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In her presentation, Kong said that she explored solutions that require the user to use their own strength so they continue to use their muscles.

Among judges’ comments, “Very clever and elegant design that has tremendous potential to address one of the biggest problems negatively affecting the independence and participation of a vast majority of older adults with and without disabilities, and does so in a way that reduces the stigma of traditional canes.”

Claudia Rebola, director of the competition said, "Just like the other previous two competitions, this third year was a success igniting young talent to design and develop products for the older adult population aging with a disability."

Rebola, a member of TechSAge and a former Georgia Tech professor, is now on the design faculty at the University of Cincinnati.

"At the TechSAge Center, we truly believe that while Universal Design by definition is to design products accessible to the widest and largest extent of people, this does not mean that design is equally usable by everyone. If we can successfully design for one, we are closer to designing for all,” she said.

Contestants submitted entries under one of four categories: Active Lifestyle, Health at Home; Community Mobility, Social Connectedness. Judges evaluated the submissions based upon the several criteria, including independence, integration, implementation, inspiration, and progression.

Kong, who entered her project in the Active Lifestyle category, received a total of 85.33 points out of 100. She received 4.67 points out of 5 for an average assessment of meeting the universal design principles.

The competition had two phases.

The phase one judging was completed online. Eleven experts in design and academia reviewed the submissions. Judges chose 10 entries to move to phase two. Each of the top contestants received $250.

In phase two, only seven of the 10 finalists took part. They all competed for a single first-place award of $1,000. Phase two was also completed online, and the TechSAge advisory board reviewed all the applications.

Unlike previous years, there was one overall winner instead of a winner in each category. While there were no other prizes awarded, CATEA grad student Ljilja Ruzic Kascak garnered enough points for her project MS Assistant to earn second place. Her app is designed to help those with multiple sclerosis track their symptoms and share health data with providers.

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In the first year of the competition, Georgia Tech industrial design student and CATEA researcher Elaine Liu won third place for best design. She designed an app to help aging travelers navigate airports.

Competitors came from a range of universities including, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, California College of the Arts, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York State, and Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts.

The competition is organized by the TechSAge Research Engineering Rehabilitation Center (RERC) and sponsored by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The final judging took place during the TechSAge Advisory Board Meeting at the Center for Assistive Technology & Environmental Access (CATEA).

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