Launch Forth and Allianz Team Up to Challenge Innovators to Push Boundaries of Assistive Design Through 3D Printing
The utilization of 3D printing has been a game changer for many people with disabilities; this year alone we’ve seen advances made in hearing aid technology, surgical interventions, and social integration tools that have been made possible as a result of the technology. Not only has 3D printing helped to create a new level of possibilities for people living with disabilities, it has also raised awareness that this is both an exciting and rewarding area of innovation to pursue. Building upon that swelling tide and helping to augment the enthusiasm is an initiative created by Launch Forth and Allianz that challenges members of their innovators’ community to develop a new mobility device that can be prototyped using 3D printing.
The challenge comes with awards totaling $21,500 across seven categories: first ($10k), second ($5k), and third places ($2.5k), as well as Most Original, Most Feasible, Most Futuristic, and Community Vote ($1k each). The call to design is structured around the creation of a personal mobility device that in addition to being functional is also aesthetically valuable. In order to describe that match, they reference eyewear which is, at its core, an assistive device but which has grown to be something that can be not only visually appealing, but also communicative of its wearer’s personality, to the point where even those who do not need the vision enhancement sometimes choose to wear glasses.
The team at Launch Forth and Allianz have primed the pump by asking innovators to think in terms of urban commuting, vacation and adventure, shopping, social scenarios, long distance traveling, and/or exercise. For each type of design, they include a brief of additional considerations, available resources, load to be handled, and a variety of factors that need to be addressed. For example, if designing a device for long distance travel, the designer must consider TSA requirements so that the device would be able to travel with its user. Their call explains the context they wish to create:
“We invite you to create a mobility device for use by those with permanent or temporary disability, be developing solutions and concepts that are beautiful and envy-invoking functional pieces of design…Personal mass mobility, like eyewear just a short time ago was viewed as a medical device. Now eyewear has become and iconic form of self expression and utllity, amplifying the relationship between function and design. As you begin your design, take cues from such products and tackle this challenge as a design problem. We ask you to emphasize form, self expression, and social dimensions in your design. Ask yourself: Is this something I would want to use?“
In that final question, they raise to front and center the key component of eloquent design: empathy. This, at its core, is what differentiates designers from engineers, though of course, the two are not mutually exclusive and have a very necessary relationship. In keeping with this, they recommend that those submitting designs to the challenge work with individuals who either have permanent or temporary mobility barriers or those whose jobs it is to serve people with mobility disabilities. This helps to combat the all too easy trap of well intentioned but unfortunately tone deaf responses to a misunderstood experience of an ‘other’.
One of the most appealing aspects of this challenge is the realization that while it is important for people with impaired or limited mobility to be able to engage in the daily activities of shopping, running errands, or navigating their homes, there is more to that that needs to be addressed. People with disabilities also wish to travel, go to the gym, and attend wine tastings, and any number of other activities the choice of which for those without disabilities is so easy as to go almost unnoticed.
In addition, the emphasis on aesthetics raises an important point. There should be no assumption that the people using these devices want them to be invisible. Think again about the eyeglasses analogy. Yes, some people want rimless, non reflective glasses in order to make them ‘disappear.’ Others use those glasses to accessorize or even to project themselves with no concurrent worry that people will treat them differently as a result of having a visual impairment. These mobility devices need not be efforts to make others forget about the differences, but instead can serve as a platform from which an individual can be proud of their personhood in exactly its manifestation.
To submit an idea to the challenge, visit the briefing page to see the requirements; submissions are due by April 14, with voting to take place by May 19.
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