Tactile interfaces for Older People
Can soft, interactive textile controls in home furnishing or as a wearable help the elderly access useful technology? Does the added sensory experience of textured textiles, with simple controls, help an elderly person remember how to use them? Does the sensory experience help build an emotional bond with the object?
Tactile interfaces for older people brings together a computer scientist and a social scientist with creative technologists to explore the potential for soft, interactive textiles and art to enable older people to access and manage their immediate environment and memories. Their work aimed to improve the quality of life for care home residents enabling independence, communication and social interaction to mitigate the early-stages of dementia.
What did the project involve?
The researchers sought to investigate the following questions:
- Can soft, interactive textile controls in home furnishing or as a wearable help the elderly access useful technology?
- Does the added sensory experience of textured textiles, with simple controls, help an elderly person remember how to use them?
- Does the sensory experience help build an emotional bond with the object?
- What are the essentials that elderly people might want to control around them in a nursing home or at home? Eg answering phone calls from a wearable, opening the front door safely from their chair, easy simplified communication with key family members via cushion control?
To do this, the researchers explored the technical engineering issues of making textile interfaces and the practical issues of combining electronics with textiles. They explored the link between the haptic experience of textiles and emotions – how the tactile and visual experience of using a textile control, combined with muscle memory, could help a person to remember how to control the technologies around them. And they investigated how different fabric textures and patterns might help to form an emotional attachment with the textile controller and so aid memory and offer comfort.
The researchers sought to make prototypes, define the user scenario and test the prototypes in situ. The final outcome was a prototype and feasibility study to include:
- Test results and feedback from potential users of the textile controls
- A well defined scenario of how sensory textile controls can help elderly people
- Next steps for further research funding
- An evaluation of potential products
The team made and tested several prototypes, documented the making and testing process, gathered feedback from potential users and reported on how the project can be explored further.
Who are the team and what do they bring?
- Kirsten Cater (Computer Science, University of Bristol) has experience in combining objects and technology for the elderly through the project ‘Tangible Memories’. She specialises in HCI and tangible user interfaces. She has designed and researched innovative technological products and software services for a range of users from school children to elderly residents in care homes, and with a range of clients.
- Annie Lywood (Bonnie Binary) is a designer and founder of Bonnie Binary that has pioneered research into E-textiles, exploring the potential of soft, interactive, and decorative textile interfaces that enable older people to access and manage their immediate environment and memories.
- Helen Manchester (Education, University of Bristol) has experience in combining objects and technology for the elderly through the project ‘Tangible Memories’. Her research interests include the co-design of cutting edge creative digital technologies, and the activities that support them to be used, with groups who are excluded from the digital environment.
- Pete Bennett (Computer Science, University of Bristol) is a designer, musician, academic, artist and creative technologist. His research interests include Mobile and Wearable Computing, Tangible User Interfaces, Musical Instrument Design and Design Theory.
What were the results?
There have also been a number of articles published in relation to these extended projects:
- ‘Cuddling a Mechanical ‘Breathing Cushion’ Could Help Ease Anxiety’ | CNET Article March 2022
- ‘Experts create a ‘breathing’ cushion which can ease anxiety’ | Florida Post Article March 2022
- ‘Hugging ‘breathing’ cushion eases anxiety’ | Bristol Post Article March 2022
- ‘A calming hug: Design and validation of a tactile aid to ease anxiety’ | Journal.Pone Article March 2022
- ‘Hugging a ‘breathing’ cushion can ease anxiety before exams: study’ | MSN UK Article March 2022
- ‘Hugging a pillow that mimics breathing could reduce anxiety’ | New Scientist Article March 2022
- ‘Hugging a “breathing” cushion to ease anxiety’ | Scienmag Article March 2022