Five connected design concepts to help us grow old with sci-fi flair

New Old exhibition serves up fresh wearable, smart clothing and home ideas
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For an exhibition about ageing, the Design Museum's New Old: Designs for our Future Selves pop up is attracting all ages on a crisp weekday afternoon. The older and wiser amongst the visitors are - wonderfully - the loudest.

On Paro, the friendly robotic seal: "I didn't realise you could pick it up!"

On ideas to get more OAPs living together: "God, I wouldn't want to live with anyone else."

On book spines from a fictional, elderly self-help writer: just hearty, knowing chuckles.

Poking around the gadgets, robots and next-gen scooters, the ladies - they're mostly ladies - are a polite version of teen boys at a gaming show. They're interested in everything. They gravitate towards the interactive exhibits. They compare favourites with their friends.

Amongst the blue Philips smart bulbs to combat SAD, the Frog Design rotating TVs and the fun facts (half of babies born this year will live till 105), there were a few connected-self concepts that stood out either for their near term practicality or long term vision.


Five connected design concepts to help us grow old with sci-fi flair

Ideo's social AI concept, Spirit, combines the trendy elements of ingestibles, implantables and artificial intelligence into one, eye-popping glimpse into how we will socialise in the future.

The ingestible would be made up of biosensors, nanorobots (and starch) and produce an artificial fluttery kind of feeling in the user's stomach when someone compatible with an 'open' profile is nearby.

All in the name of serendipitous social interactions

The implantable - or wet-ware - is implanted in the user's earlobe and is how they can indicate they are 'on' or 'off' (by pulling down) as well as processing personal and environmental data. Finally, the Spirit system even turns your fingernails into a micro bio-display of how sociable you've been.

All in the name of 'enhancing serendipitous social interaction' amongst older people. A noble cause indeed with loneliness on the rise in western countries like the UK.

Walk With Path

Five connected design concepts to help us grow old with sci-fi flair

From the out-there Spirit AI to something much more practical: Lise Pape's Walk With Path smart shoes. Pape's series of insoles and shoe attachments is designed to help to prevent falls and increase mobility for the elderly, including (but not limited to) people with multiple sclerosis, diabetes and Parkinson's.

The RCA Innovation Design Engineering grad now has a small startup which is developing in-shoe tech to give the wearer tactile feedback, so that they are more aware of their steps, and which could also provide visual cues for anyone who suffers from freezing of gait. Walk With Path's first products are due to launch by the end of 2017.

Superflex's Aura bodysuit

Five connected design concepts to help us grow old with sci-fi flair

One of the big names talking part in New Old is Yvés Behar and his collaboration with Superflex on its awesome powered bodysuit which takes pride of place in the Helene and Johannea Huth Gallery. What looked like a design prototype was on show and, well, I'd like to pre-order one to wear under floaty dresses in 50 years time (or sooner).

The hexagonal pods house motors that offer assistance to anyone who finds it difficult walking, getting up and down stairs, standing up from seated or sitting back down. It sounds more far fetched than Walk With Path, and especially when you compare to existing, heavy exoskeletons, but word is that this could become a real product within just two years with applications for some disabled people too.

Yvés Behar's Fuseproject studio also worked on the ElliQ personal companion robot for the exhibition - it's split into a swivelling robot head, that lights up, and a tablet, on purpose to allow more human interactions.

Amazin Apartments

Five connected design concepts to help us grow old with sci-fi flair

Are you paying attention, Amazon?

One of the installations which really made me pause and go 'huh' in admiration was Amazin Apartments from Future Facility. It shows both the 'apartment view' and the service side of a washing machine, fridge and water units which can provide peace of mind for OAPs. And lazy arrested development millennials.

Its a serviced apartment concept in which the elderly trade access to their personal consumption data - because I mean, who cares when you're 80? - in return for smart appliances which are not only powered but also fixed, controlled and replenished by workers on the other side of the wall in secret corridors. (Who we'd hope get decent wages, breaks and working conditions).

As for the fictional company who could get into this business, we don't think it's a coincidence that one vowel separates Amazin and Amazon. Equal parts scary and exciting.

Care-Free Home System

Five connected design concepts to help us grow old with sci-fi flair

This straight-up, no-nonsense home care system is from Sebastian Conran Associates and Sheffield University spin-off Consequential Robotics. Each device contributes in its own way - the semi autonomous, tiltable Intellitable with an attached tablet for video calls; Buddi connected bracelet; a ceiling mounted, smoke alarm-style e-sensor; the MiRo robot dog companion and a data hub.

The info from these core devices can be sent, via the hub, to smart appliances, carers, friends, family and doctors. MiRo was kept in a glass box, though, so didn't make as many friends as Paro.

New Old: Designing for our Future Selves is a pop-up exhibition at the Design Museum, Kensington High Street, London until 19 February 2017.

Images: Luke Hayes for Design Museum, Sophie Charara.

How we test


Sophie was Wareable's associate editor. She joined the team from Stuff magazine where she was an in-house reviewer. For three and a half years, she tested every smartphone, tablet, and robot vacuum that mattered. 

A fan of thoughtful design, innovative apps, and that Spike Jonze film, she is currently wondering how many fitness tracker reviews it will take to get her fit. Current bet: 19.

Sophie has also written for a host of sites, including Metro, the Evening Standard, the Times, the Telegraph, Little White Lies, the Press Association and the Debrief.

She now works for Wired.

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