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Art Center Students Design Accessible Health Technology

Published on Thursday, November 21, 2013 | 5:59 am
The Rytm project includes a wooden sculpture that changes based on a user’s blood pressure that is diagnosed with a pen.

Sometimes it may feel as though technology is pulling us into a Star Trek movie or other science fiction. Add the almost limitless creativity of design students into the mix and technology ideas can soar into amazing new forms. That is what happened when XPRIZE chose to partner with a class at Art Center College of Design.

In a trial summer course initiated by an Art Center alumnus now employed by XPRIZE, design and product students collaborated in pods to design technology devices with the capability of assessing health functions while being user friendly to serve a consumer purpose.

Brainstorming limitless options, students eventually narrowed to ideas considered viable by health and technology experts that flabbergasted the two professors, Brian Boyl and Jeff Higashi. From a mini first aid kit tucked inside a Smartphone accessory case that measures the phone user for cancer to a pen that checks blood pressure and even a bicycle health monitoring app, the projects were innovative.

“I was stunned with the diversity of different things that our students did. It wasn’t designing a pretty box with a pretty interface. The challenge really was coming up with ways that people could use these things on a daily basis and then factoring those into the designs,” Boyl said.

The XPRIZE Foundation, a nonprofit whose slogan is making the impossible possible, manages public competitions intended to encourage technological development that could benefit mankind. Graphic Design alumnus Mark Winter approached the Art Center to do this course because he knew the design students focused ideas to appeal to the person who would use the product.

“It’s the designer who is the one who says, “Wait a second. Should we really be doing this product anyway for these people? If so, how should we do it so that it’s accepted by these people. The product designer is the advocate for the user in all manifestations of the use of that product,” Boyl said.

In 2012 the foundation launched the $10 million Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE, a 3.5-year global competition to challenge teams to create a devise that could accurately diagnose a set of 15 diseases anytime, anywhere independent of a healthcare professional. More than 255 teams from 34 countries registered and the Art Center of Design students joined alongside the competition.

While the design students cannot compete in XPRIZE on their own, they could partner with other companies or universities with scientists and engineers who could incorporate their ideas into an actual working technology. The designs of these students may also inspire the finalists for the Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE.

Cora, one of the most viable options produced by the course, was built by a team of three students Rachel Goldinger (Graphic Design), Andrew Cooper (Graduate Industrial Design) and Christina Hsu (Product Design).

Cora seeks to become part of a seamless life experience, a nightly ritual where the user wears goggles every night that help soothe the over-stressed eyes that have been staring at a computer screen all day with color therapy. The colors in the goggles help relax the eye to be closer to the state of sleep.

However, unknown to the user, the eyes must focus for five seconds at the beginning of the soothing experience, long enough for the device to take a retinal scan. The retinal scan is sent to an eye doctor and over time the information can help doctors diagnose a number of issues related to the vascular, nervous and immune systems.

“People do not actually want to look at their retinal scans,” Goldinger said, of why they shifted the consumer motivation of using Cora from a strictly medical diagnostic tool to a product that promotes healthy habits and well-being. “People want to be given information as it becomes relevant to them.”

A doctor will contact the patient if something happens rather than a patient coming in for a check-up. The information could also begin to compare retinas between people and find patterns relating to debilitating diseases detected by the eye. The retinal imaging technology is currently being studied in-depth in a number of places.

“The University of Washington is probably the primary place where retinal imaging–Retinopexy—is being studied most in-depth, but it’s being done from a medical perspective and an engineering perspective with of course the assumption that you’re going to want to scan your eye every single day,” Boyl said. “And that’s what the clever thing is, that our student added, is allowing this product to give you feedback that can change your life in a little way on a daily basis.”

The Art Center has received a grant from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) to take the most viable projects to the next step. In a class in the spring semester, interested groups will incubate the ideas and dive deeper into the technological viability. They may team up with nearby universities like UCLA or the Cora team may contact the University of Washington to see if the ideas could actually be made. Art Center has created an incubator in collaboration with Idea Lab in Pasadena where the students can carry out the ideas.

“I think the limitations are going to be interesting to kind of wrap our heads around and figure out how to be designing these really great ideas like Cora or Provision,” Boyl said. “If Cora is considered to be viable and we get some round of funding to put it together and have a working prototype of it, I think Cora would be a perfect example of something that could win the X Prize. It assesses someone’s health, it has the ability to determine if that person has a whole host of different diseases — and that’s one of the most important aspects about the XPRIZE.”

Higashi gave another good example of what the XPRIZE could do, “So a good example would be if you wanted to manage your blood pressure or your body temperature for a period of time, you could put up a sensor in your refrigerator door. So every time you walk at your refrigerator, it could detect with fingerprint technology who you were and some of your vital signals.”

The options are endless, the biggest issue to get around is how to make the technology accessible and useful to people without adding a burden to the person’s life.

“I’m a medical technology researcher and when I talk with patient I’m guilty of forgetting about how the average person would use these things. That was beautiful part of bringing in the design concepts. They interviewed potential customers and found out what was important, getting rid of pieces that were burdensome.” Dr. Erik Viirre said, an adjunct professor at the UCSD and the Technical and Medical Director for the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE.

Half of the score to win the XPRIZE is how well nonprofessionals can use the medical technology in their daily lives.

“We value the relationship with art center, even more their professionalism and their approach to making things better in world and look forward to our future partnership,” Viirre said.

At the XPRIZE class final Product Design Chair Karen Hofmann said, “My students have heard me say over and over again what a great opportunity this space of wearable technology presents. As designers, we have an ability to leverage technology to improve our lives, whether it be athletic performance, diet, exercise, or even sleeping.”

More about Cora can be found on Goldinger’s website Information about XPRIZE can be found at The Art Center College of Design can be accessed at

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