Posted on: 01/07/2022

Winning projects will design for ageing

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) announces £20 million for more than 25 projects to develop products and services that meet the needs of us all as we age.

Winning teams are from the private and public sector, including academia.

Co-designed with older people

Speaking on 1st July, Science Minister George Freeman said:

“Today’s winning projects, backed by £20 million government funding and co-designed with older people, will pioneer the use of the latest technologies, from power-assisted exercise machines to smart navigation systems for the visually impaired, to meet the needs of Britain’s older generations.

It is our firm ambition to ensure that the success of these projects also encourages businesses and academics across the country to develop ideas and technologies fit for our ageing population, improving our health and quality of life while building on the UK’s reputation as an innovation nation.”

Health, connectivity and innovation

Among the successful bidders for first stage funding are:

  • a Welsh project, from VRGO, to improve the long-term health of office workers via chair-based technologies, including smart sensors, which recommend better posture and physical activity
  • a Yorkshire company, Shapemaster Ltd, will make power assisted exercise machines more user friendly for older people and the machines more readily available throughout the community
  • Connected Health, a Belfast based firm, which will improve dignity for incontinence sufferers by alerting carers to issues in real time, using a remote monitor, preventing associated complications and personal discomfort
  • WeWalk Ltd, an indoor or outdoor smart navigation aid for visually impaired people. This fits onto a cane to provide audio-based assistance, detecting obstacles and connecting through a user’s smartphone to integrate with online mapping services
  • FitBees, one of our woman-led services, integrating monitors embedded in ‘smart’ garments. This is linked to a programme of community fitness for older adults, including those living with carers
  • Good Boost Wellbeing Ltd, which will transform leisure centres into community musculoskeletal treatment hubs with artificial intelligence (AI) and gamified exercise monitoring in gyms and pools. Using gamification extends the service to more people by including those who are less mobile
  • Holly Health Ltd is partnering with Age UK Lewisham and Southwark to develop a digital coaching service. It will improve the physical and mental health of older adults, to slow the onset of chronic conditions (which affects over 80% of adults over 65)
  • Scottish based Smplicare Ltd will integrate market leading wearables and digital health devices to help people track the information and insights they need to proactively manage their health.

Designed for Ageing awards

The Designed for Ageing awards are the latest to be made by the UKRI healthy ageing challenge.

The successful projects have committed to co-design with future users and to demonstrate progress at a ‘design stage gate’ after six months.

This commitment to co-design gives the projects the greatest possible chance of success in meeting the needs of older people.

The aims of the awards are to:

  • encourage collaboration between academia and business
  • support an evidence-based approach to innovation
  • create more and better services which support people as they age to remain active, independent, and socially connected
  • support business-led, near-to-market innovations that have potential to scale
  • ensure that best practice in people-centred, inclusive design is applied
  • encourage applications from businesses across the UK, by working with devolved government administrations in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Opportunities in later life

George MacGinnis, Healthy Ageing Challenge Director at UKRI, said:

“Many of us are living for longer and want to make the most of the opportunities in later life, which can include continuing to work and volunteer.

Despite this, the market for products and services which genuinely meet the needs of older people is underdeveloped.

Innovators need a better understanding of the rich and varied lives people lead as they age, moving away from a utilitarian view of providing only what they think older people need.

That is why a commitment to inclusive design is so important; it provides an understanding of how people want to live their lives and what they would most like to do to make the most of their time.”

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