Devices to help the elderly rediscover music

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Students from the Department of Industrial Design at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University held a ‘demo day’ for their design project ‘Playing (with) music’ that explored human-computer interaction.

Year Two students were tasked with designing devices to improve the experience of music listening or music making for people aged 60 and over.

“This flower pot is a smart device,” explained student Duanyang Geng. “You just use it just as you would a normal flower pot, but when you water the plant, the flower pot gives you feedback through music.”

The flower pot is fitted with light and temperature sensors and plays different music to correspond with different seasons of the year.

It can also detect the proximity of a person and the level of moisture as the plant is being watered, altering the melody as the quantity of water increases and playing a particular melody when a sufficient amount of water has been reached.

As well as showcasing their innovative design work, the exhibition gave students a chance to practice their presentation skills, explaining and justifying their projects to small audiences who were encouraged to interact with the devices.

The topic for the projects was defined in collaboration with the Research Institute on Ageing and Society at XJTLU that has also overseen research projects to develop e-health products for the elderly.

One group of students adapted the ‘Guitar Hero’ concept for the pipa, a traditional Chinese stringed instrument. Another group designed a musical ‘smart foot-bath’ to be operated by a mobile phone app.

Student Jiajun Zhuang introduced his group’s project, a musical spin on the ancient Chinese board game Go:

“Our Go board is a musical instrument,” said Jiajun, “and it actually composes music. The board is fitted with sensors, and each time a player places a piece a musical phrase is played.”

Jiajun explained that the prototype Go board has only a few sensors, but the ideal version would have sensors for each of the 361 points on the board, each with its own distinct musical tone.

“We want to design an application that will record the order of the pieces placed, creating a unique musical composition for each game,” said Jiajun.

Shuyuan Tian, research support officer at XJTLU who works with the Research Institute on Ageing and Society, commented that the projects were very interesting, and that she was particularly drawn to the ‘smart flower pot’.

“All the students have been very creative. I’m impressed.” she said.

Dr Martijn ten Bhömer, lecturer in the Department of Industrial Design at XJTLU and leader of the module 'Introduction to Human-Computer Interaction', said:

“The project has yielded many interesting results and interactive prototypes, such as T’ai-Chi fans enhanced with music, and apps to connect the elderly during travel. These devices are socially relevant, and are good examples of how design can benefit society.”

Dr Wing Lau and Xinwei Wang from the Department of Industrial Design also taught classes for the module.

writer and photographer: Danny Abbasi

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