Block one taught about invention (an idea, concept or design for a new or improved device, product or process) and innovation (a new or improved product, process or system that has reached the point of first commercial introduction), together with different types of innovation including sustaining innovations, disruptive innovations, process innovations, and incremental innovations – a technical modification to an existing product process or system.

My first assignment required me to analyse an innovative product – I chose to write about the internet. I was also required to assess the impact my chosen innovation had on the environment, which highlighted the many things which people do without even thinking or because there is no alternative, for example use of the internet, uses huge amounts of power, which causes huge amount of heat, which in turn results in the need to build power plants and install power hungry air conditioners in our offices, homes and cars not to mention, machining the components, packaging, transportation and recycling issues.

Also the issue of electronic scrap (e-waste) which contains toxic chemicals and heavy metals that cannot be disposed of or recycled safely, so are dumped in landfills, burned in smelters and exported to Asia, where workers at scrap yards, including children, are exposed to a cocktail of toxic chemicals and poisons.

A Chinese child sits amongst a pile of wires and e-waste. Children can often be found dismantling e-waste containing many hazardous chemicals known to be potentially very damaging to children's health.  © Greenpeace / Natalie Behring

A Chinese child sits amongst a pile of wires and e-waste. Children can often be found dismantling e-waste containing many hazardous chemicals known to be potentially very damaging to children

The project work required me to carry out a strategic review to establish different possible project ideas; the review looked at the following issues (further information on each of these ideas can be found on the Project Ideas page of this blog).

The Trouble with Bottles

Muscle weakness and wasting in hands is common in people with neuromuscular conditions, the elderly and people with arthritis. Child proof bottles can be particularly difficult for such people, as the user has to hold the bottle still, turn the lid and apply pressure to the sides. There are products on the market, however, it would seem that these products are not entirely successful and during the course of my strategic review, I encountered other students who were considering the same project.  Would it be possible to design a bottle opener to allow those in need of its contents in but keep those at risk from its contents, for example young children, out?

Further information related to this project:

Powered Trike

Having searched high and low, one parent told me she was unable to find a decent all-terrain motorized buggy for a child with a neuromuscular condition. She commented that scooters, are often huge cumbersome things weighing an absolute tonne, which needed a trailer just to transport them and for which children needed to be a minimum age of 14.

A wheelchair known as the Trekinetic has carbon fibre seating, huge thick wheels, a back stabilizing wheel and is lightweight with an innovative design, however it does not have a motor, making it difficult for the carer to push up hills on outbound walks. Standard Quad Bikes on the other hand are too powerful for a child, with heavy steering, they tip easily and the seating is not supportive.

The MK1 PowerTrike was considered to be the most suitable item but a wish list included that it travel at 4 – 6 miles per hour, have faster acceleration and something with hip and neck support. The acceleration control needs to be designed, so that it can be squeezed with all four fingers to bring towards the thumb or even a ‘joystick’ control, like on power chairs which are much easier to operate. The wheels need to be large, thick and puncture proof too, like a BMX bike. It was considered that the product was too hard to get out of for anyone who has difficulty getting out of chairs – something as simple as a powered scooter, trike or adapted quad bike but with lifting seat would be better.

Car Bed Stroller

Transporting babies with neuromuscular conditions in traditional strollers with car seat attachments can be difficult. One parent told me she found the incline of this type of design made it difficult for her child to breathe, so she had to use a car bed instead. However, she was unable to find one that attached to a stroller, causing her great difficulty when transporting her son and all the equipment he needed to the hospital. Would it be possible to adapt the traditional child stroller design for use with a car bed?

Accessible Buildings

This was actually the idea closest to my heart because it came about after a conversation with my dad. I asked him if there was something he might like me to design and he said he wanted me to make all places accessible to him. Arghh! Not much of a challenge there, just make all businesses comply with the Disability Discrimination Act!

Under DDA, service providers now have to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the way they deliver their services, so that disabled people can use them. (Directgov). However, research at a local parade of shops, showed only one out of ten of the premises had made changes. Would it be possible to design a product to raise awareness of building access issues for the disabled?

Whilst undertaking the strategic review for this project, I was told that the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) produced postcards which people could send to businesses, advising that a disabled shopper had been unable to visit their shop, because the premises were not accessible. However, I found that the DRC has now been replaced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who no longer produce these postcards. They advised me that Job Centre Plus provide stickers indicating that a service provider’s premises are disabled friendly, however, this does not address the issue of how to make premises that are not accessible to the disabled, accessible.

After thinking about things for a few days, I concluded it was definitely not possible for me to enforce the law single handedly but I got to thinking about whether it might be possible to create a product to raise awareness and appeal to people’s better nature; my working title for the project was a ‘conscience in an envelope’, an envelope or small box, that talks to people when they open it, (similar to the way some birthday cards play music when you open them) or like J K Rowling’s imaginary ‘Howlers’ but not as loud and angry! The product would use the voices of disabled people to convey its message and would be better than sending a cd or dvd, because the message would be activated automatically, as soon as the envelope was opened, forcing the recipient to listen.

Further information related to this project:

Medical Alerts

At present medical alerts come in the form of paper cards, bracelets and lockets. A paper card kept in a purse or wallet, whilst inexpensive, could be stolen or damaged, by water or fire. A bracelet or locket on the other hand may be difficult and costly to update if a patient’s medical status changes. None of these items allow for a huge amount of information to be stored. Would it be possible to re-invent medical alerts, so they are more user friendly, possibly using modern technology

A pen drive, worn around the users neck would be easy to update but assumes that everyone has access to or knows how to use a computer and access to a computer in an emergency situation may not be possible; a swipe card like those used in supermarkets could be useful but again relies on a power system. Alternatively, RFID technology could be incorporated into a piece of jewellery, this would be good for say emergencies or school trips, where you need instant information and don’t have access to a computer. Ambulances or school buses would only need to carry an RFID reader.

Further information related to this project:

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