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Cutting Edge Technology

Updated: Jan 21

Shaping Connections Founder and Director, Associate Professor Bernardo Figueiredo explores how older adults are using technology on his recent study tour to Europe.

What an inspiring day!

During my visit to Newcastle, I had the opportunity to spend a day at the National Ageing Research Institute (NICA), housed in the contemporary building known as The Catalyst.

National Ageing Research Institute (NICA)
National Ageing Research Institute (NICA)

I was particularly excited to meet with its director 🐨 Nicola Palmarini who shared his ambitious vision to shift our society from one focused on problematising ageing to a society that embraces technology-enabled longevity.

Nic's plan involves a comprehensive approach that integrates human-centred design, technological innovation, and data science. By combining these elements with a strong emphasis on people's experiences, NICA seeks to create inclusive futures that benefit individuals of all ages. One key tool in this endeavour is the VOICE platform, which serves as a foundation for understanding and incorporating the perspectives of individuals into the development of new products, services, and experiences.

I also had the opportunity to chat with Jennine Jonczyk who is the Programme Manager for the North of Tyne Combined Authority Internet of Caring Things (IoCT).

The IoCT is all about devices and services that “actively care for people and what matters to them”. I was impressed by how Jennine repurposed her skills as a data scientist working in co-designing urban sensor networks with citizen stakeholders to promote innovations for the Internet of Caring Things. They plan to launch dozens of new products in the next couple of years.

I also got a tour of the building by Rachel Tang, one of NICA’s innovation consultants. Rachel showed me the state-of-the-art workshop areas, the private product testing rooms, the larger exhibition spaces to promote active collaboration, and the TED Talk-style Theatre. I also had a chance to see one of the gita robots in action. The gita robot pairs with a person, freeing their hands, and follows them as they walk throughout their day carrying up to 18 kg of cargo. It communicates with the user through sound, light and touch, and safely follows with sensors that see its user and its environment.

As someone who teaches experience design, I was inspired by the way NICA seeks to leverage design thinking to address the unique needs and aspirations of ageing individuals.

The integration of cutting-edge technologies such as AI, robots, and data science also holds great potential for enhancing the quality of life not only for older adults but also anything that can contribute to everyone's journey in ageing well.

I firmly believe that RMIT University would benefit from aligning its approach to ageing and tech to the one NICA promotes. It showcases a commitment to harnessing the power of technology and human experiences to address the opportunities and challenges brought about by an ageing population.

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