It was way back in 2005 that I first read that airplane manufacturer Boeing, using an “age suit,” was researching changes that could make airline travel easier for elders.
The company was probably using a version of AGNES (acronym for the clunky name, Age Gain Now Empathy System) then, invented by the MIT Agelab. Here is a 2010 MIT video explaining AGNES:
When I visited the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan, in 2011, I learned that auto manufacturers were using what they call a “Third Age Suit” to find ways to make their cars easier for elders to use. Here's my photo of the age suit they were then using:
While I was in Dearborn, I had a chance to test drive a car with what was then a new feature, Park Assist," that helps with parallel parking. Some of you may recall the video of me:
The very first comment on that post confirmed the usefulness of the feature (which is now standard on many cars). Kenju wrote
”WOW!! I am a good parallel parker as well, but since I can't turn my head easily now either - that would be a great feature to have!!”
A lot of elders have that head-turning problem and now, only five years later, self-parallel parking is commonplace in new autos, proving once again that improvements initially meant for old people work for everyone. Always.
So how, I wondered recently, do people without old-age limitations yet respond to wearing these age suits.
Here's a video from last year that shows a reporter with the Winipeg Free Press trying out what he calls a “senior suit” while a local Ford representative explains some the auto's innovations that have come along since I test-parked that car in Dearborn:
And in this exellent 2014 video from the Guardian, a young reporter named Josh Halliday
”...tries out an age simulation suit designed to help healthcare professionals experience and empathise with conditions associated with elderly people. Sheelagh Mealing, director of the Institute of Vocational Learning at South Bank University, explains how the suit is used as a tool for improving healthcare.”
As you may know, the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held its 16th annual gathering last week in Las Vegas where companies showed off all their latest technology inventions.
In many of the tech journalists' top ten and best-of-show lists was the Genworth R70i Exoskeleton ageing simulator. It was apparent, in more than a few of their reports, that using it for a few minutes changed minds about old people's world.
Let me quote one such at a bit of length because it is so encouraging. From Drew Prindle of Digital Trends:
”Of all the wild and crazy technologies we came across on the show floor this year, there was one in particular that stood out — not because it was revolutionary or game-changing, but because it changed our perspective on the world.
“The R70i, as it’s called, is an exoskeleton, but unlike most exoskeletons, it doesn’t make you stronger or faster. Instead, it actually makes you weaker and slower. It’s designed to make you feel like a crotchety old person.
“To do this, the suit leverages a myriad of different technologies. The motorized frame restricts your movements to simulate arthritis and muscle loss, while a special augmented reality headset induces things like hearing loss, tinnitus, and even the tunnel vision that comes with glaucoma.
“Individually, these technological tricks are disorienting, but when you experience all of them at once, it’s downright debilitating — and that’s the whole point. The R70i can’t make you stronger or faster, but it can provide the wearer with empathy and understanding for senior citizens and the challenges they face — and that’s pretty damn incredible.
“Can you think of any other technology that makes its users more empathetic? Neither can we.”
And that, of course - in addition to helping caregivers and the young people who are designing future cars, homes, stores and cities understand how the burgeoning number of elders interact with the world around them - is the point.
Here is a video from Genworth Financial (which sells long-term care insurance) with Bran Ferren co-founder of Applied Minds LLC, the company that built this latest high tech age similulator for Genworth:
As Mr. Ferren told the Wall Street Journal at CES,
“'I would like a new dialogue on aging,' said Bran Ferren, a former Disney Imagineer and president of R&D who co-founded Applied Minds. 'You can intellectualize these things all day long, but when it becomes an emotional first-person experience, it is very different.'”