ALFRED: Walker for the seniors of 2030; it follows you
The Alfred walker is strategically designed for 2030, the year when all Baby Boomers will reach the retirement age of 65 and above. It leverages the fact that Boomers have come to appreciate the convenience of technology and connected objects. Unlike generations before them, they desire a product that outperforms current offerings.
Ironically, most assistive devices available today require a lot of effort to be carried, or in case of walkers, dragged around. Alfred breaks this existing paradigm by shifting from a cumbersome and embarrassing device to a reliable and highly skilled aid, like Bruce Wayne's loyal and tireless butler, Alfred Pennyworth.
The future of mobility will be devices that are Autonomous, Connected, Electric and Shared (ACES). Alfred integrates the first three drivers, ACE, into a personal (not shared), assistive mobility aid.
Difficulty in walking and climbing are most common in older generations. Current walkers and rollators do not support the activity of stair climbing and are practically impossible for anybody with diminishing physical strength to carry up stairs.
Alfred provides support but doesn't get in the way. Seniors can experience fatigue after short walks, wanting to rest into a seat to take breaks while out on a stroll, which is the current motivation for using rollators. They often also suffer from a loss of balance and thus use walkers outdoors for extra support and to prevent falls. However, these devices need to be carried by the user, making these experiences awkward and even dangerous. Alfred uses rangefinder laser scanners to study the gait of the users and move next to them autonomously, to be of support when needed but not getting in their way or requiring them to do extra work.
Alfred is a stair climbing walker. According to a Pew Research report, 61% of the people 65 and above desire to age in place. Baby Boomers, currently between 50-64 years, resonated with this trend and most of them would want to continue living in their homes after retirement. Most houses have stairs and are not always built with aging in mind. Alfred can reconfigure itself to be oriented on a staircase to function as a hand-rail support while climbing.
These two functions provide exponential value for the users and set Alfred apart from current offerings.
Research and future forecasting:
The challenge was to envision a new business that meets the needs, wants and desires of residential consumers in North America, with automation- and robotics-based solutions and sustainable competitive advantages, for 2030. The client, a venture investment firm, values design thinking and human-centered design and desires an innovative proposal to inform their investment strategy for the next decade.
With that context, it was crucial to find a prevalent demographic in 2030 and predict their needs. This challenge was addressed by following a future forecasting process to map trends which are predictable and are likely to have a high impact in the future.
Research interviews included a participant who had gone through a phase of using assistive devices while recovering from hip replacement surgeries, as well as those who have recently gone through the experience of acquiring assistive mobility aids for aging parents. Practitioners such as an occupational therapist and a mechanical engineer with experience designing a forearm walker also provided expert knowledge.
The concept development required an understanding of how emerging technologies would mature and potentially be packaged into the walker. With that, new manufacturing processes were also considered to ensure viability for the consumer market.
How it works:
Alfred provides the simple convenience of following the user and taking care of them as opposed to them having to care for their walker. It works on voice commands which makes the human-machine interaction easier to adopt and more natural for the aging population who might get confused with a new interface and unfamiliar buttons.
When the user wants to chat with their friends and family in a social setting, Alfred doesn't stand in the way. It goes away and parks itself when not needed at their command. The user can call it back to themselves whenever they need support, like to get off the couch or to take a walk.
The proposal outlines a clear business opportunity, targeting a growing demographic. 74 million Baby Boomers will be age 65 and older in 2030. It's a fact and not an uncertain trend. The product itself recognizes a crucial gap in meeting the needs of the elderly.
Corporate giants like Amazon, FedEx and many more have already introduced autonomous robots that can navigate city landscapes and carry out tasks without getting in the way of humans. A large number of start-ups are introducing products that can follow their users, such as luggage bags and grocery-carrying robots. Alfred uses similar technologies, making a technically feasible product. As research is turned to production-ready technologies, costs would come down to make financially-viable consumer robots that would become part of households in the next decade.
This strategic approach towards this concept gives the venture investment firm an opportunity to develop an informed futuristic product. Funding would support prototyping, user research and building brand value to get a head start in a growing market that would hit its peak by the time the product is fully developed and ready to be launched. They could also strategically invest in supporting technological development for potential IP acquisitions.
Mobility is essential to healthy aging as it satisfies the human need for physical movement and prevents muscle deterioration. The assistive walker, Alfred, offers confidence and independence for its users to freely venture inside and outside their homes to maintain a balanced lifestyle and fulfill social needs that enable mental stimulation. The confluence of a large aging population with rapid advancements in technology opens up opportunities to build sustainable societies and communities for healthy living in retirement years.
Activity restrictions can lead to physical deconditioning and ultimately lower the quality of life. Hence, Alfred not only provides the usability value of assistance, enabling increased physical movement, but also the emotional values of understanding its owner's needs and never leaving their side.
Form language and materials:
Alfred's aesthetics are based on the foundation of timeless design--one that would still be relevant and pleasing a decade from now. It was important that it didn't stand out as a medical product and instead be a highly sophisticated device that the users could subtly flaunt. Hence it has a simple visual form that resonates with its seamless and purposeful experience. The roundness of the body speaks to its reassuring quality as opposed to an intimidating robot. As a device that would be used every day, much like a car or a phone, Alfred's color palette is neutral to blend easily with different surroundings. It is also intended to be emotionally neutral for the user in order to provide a pleasant experience, irrespective of one's mood and shifting aesthetic preferences.
The main exterior shell is designed to be easily injection molded. The parts on the outside are rubberized ABS, for high impact resistance and to be softer to touch. The recessed pattern on the outside creates contrast with the smooth complementary parts on the other side. Alfred is thoughtfully designed to offer high levels of functionality and ease while being a silent and loyal companion that is unobtrusive.