Technology changes life, but not all of us can enjoy the convenience and unique services brought about by technology. Internet and mobile phones have become the major means of communication among the new generation, yet the elderly are still accustomed to the traditional letter-writing style. So, how can design bridge the generation gap brought about by the development of technology ? How can humanity find its way in the forms of hi-tech products? "E-mailbox" is one trial ...
Well-being of the Chinese ElderlyBackground Research
China is now facing the challenge of an aging society with a quickly increasing elder population.
Efforts are seen to improve the living conditions for the elderly from the government, companies and NGOs. Useful products such as medical devices and motorized wheelchairs are gaining popularity.
However, these efforts are mainly focused on the basic needs of the elderly, to ensure their physical well-being and safety. Few products/services are designed to meet their desire for emotional expression and communication.
To have a deeper understanding, I spent a week interviewing a group of seniors and their children. Here are the summary and key finding.
16 participants were divided into two groups by age.
The internet and mobile phones have become the major means of communication among my generation, yet the elderly like my grandparents are still accustomed to the old ones – the traditional letter and the telegram. Therefore, an information gap is formed by the different communication technologies we adopt.
My objective is to create a product that can bridge the information gap between two generations. That is, to create a new communication method by associating technologies they get used to.
Phone call is the major means of communication between the two generations. Although it’s immediate, it has several drawbacks:1. Expensive
Most of the elderly live in the downtown far from their children. Long-distance calls charge a lot.2. Time Issue
It is sometimes hard to coordinate a shared period of time for both generations.
My idea is to connect the traditional letter form with email, so that to create a form of slightly delayed communication.
This phase involved defining the architecture， components and the data flow for the system.
In this stage, I created several proposals for the appearance and the internal structure.
I used Rhinoceros® to create 3D models of different proposals for later rendering and manufacturing.
I used Vray to generate realistic design proposals.
The hardware configuration is based on the open-source electronics prototyping platform – “Arduino”. There’re two major components needed in the hardware. One is the Ethernet component, which will automatically check email. If there’s a new email, the micro-controller will pull the data from the Internet and send it to the printer component. The printer component is the second component which will print whatever passed from the MCU. So it’s not so difficult to hook all things up:
The Arduino Ethernet Shield provides a perfect solution. With the Arduino Ethernet Shield, an Arduino board can connect to the internet easily.
For the printer component, lots of in-expensive terminal printers are available in the market and can be driven by the micro-controller. Most oftenly seen is the kind of printer that print shopping receipts (POS). They use heat instead of ink or a cartridge of any sort.
The process of manufacturing included two parts: wooden shell fabrication and CNC mockup.
I found a local DIY wood fabricaton workshop and spent two days producing the wooden shell by myself.
The inner box was made by CNC modeling. I provided Pro-E model files and specifications to a small company which offers rapid prototyping services.
After building the prototype, I invited several people to try it. The functional features work well and they were impressed by this kind of tangible communication. My work was shown at the graduation exhibition and also received lots of positive feedbacks.
The communication of the current design is one way only. That is, people can get new email printed from the box but cannot reply to the letter directly. So the future version may allow people to reply to received letter.
The wireless solution is viable and has been considered in the design stage. However, the cost of wifi or 3G network is high. But I’m definitely sure that the wireless technology will become affordable in near future.
Some people are concerned about the fact that more and more seniors in developing countries are encouraged to learn how to use computers and the letter system would be outmoded ultimately. As a result, the market demand of this product is decreasing. I agree with that. On the other hand, I think the information gap between generations is a lasting issue and there should be a sustained effort towards it.