SST student teams focused on helping seniors so they could live their lives as independently as possible.
BY: Eleanor Yap
Three years ago, 12-year-old Chen Ruile saw her 89-year-old grandmother take a fall. She explained that her grandmother was living in the old HDB flats where there were no lifts at the time and so she had to climb the steps. Once, she tripped and fell. Though the fall did not break any bones but just bruised her grandmother’s knee, her confidence however took a beating. “She can walk now but it takes a long time and she has trouble balancing. She is afraid to climb the stairs as she [thinks she] might fall,” Ruile said.
So when she and her team had to come up with a design solution for the inaugural School of Science and Technology, Singapore (SST)-3M Innovation Challenge, she thought of her grandmother and helping her and other seniors. Called Steady Stairs Helper, the lightweight and portable contraption which fits onto any railings and can be used inside or outside seniors’ homes allows seniors to climb stairs without the risk of falling. Getting inspiration from stair lifts, walking frames and finger massagers, the Helper sports an anti-slip mat, LED light clip and a storage box for items like medication.
Ruile was part of some 200 SST students from the 2015 cohort of Secondary One made up of 45 teams who took part in the event, coming up with ideas for seniors, workers’ safety and education. Using 3M’s Innovator’s Toolkit (containing duct and masking tapes, scissors, coloured markers, ruler, hole punch, etc), teams created prototypes of their designs during 14 weeks and got assistance from 3M mentors.
The teams were then shortlisted to 16 by SST teachers with the consideration that they were the “most applicable”, and they were then narrowed to the top five teams. The winning project was a lightweight and affordable learning aid that makes learning easier and comfortable, especially for students from developing countries. According to SST, the school is exploring implementing the winning product in one of the countries.
Stepping into one’s shoes
Though Ruile’s team made it to the top five but only got a consolation prize, her team and other teams showed that it is never too young to make a positive impact on society, and they also learned many lessons.
Ruile said that the first design her team came up with wasn’t up to scratch. “We had a hook in the design but realised it was not that secure when hooked on a staircase,” she said. Her teammate, Audrey Lee, 12, added they even added a board to make the contraption more secure so seniors wouldn’t fall down the stairs while using it but that eventually was removed. She added: “It was about stepping into someone else’s shoes and you needed to understand.” Another teammate, Wong Yong Kang, 13, opined, “I imagine myself older and how it could help me.”
Learning to communicate with each other
Out of the 16 shortlisted teams, six teams focused on ideas for seniors. Two of the teams came up with improvements to the wheelchair. One team had a wheelchair called the Stair Chair, where it had retractable wheels to climb stairs, an umbrella and a storage area underneath so seniors could put their groceries. Said 13-year-old Sim Choon Wee, “It can be frightening when once the elderly were independent and now they are wheelchair-bound. With the Chair, the elderly can still retain some of their independence.”
The other team, which came up with a wheelchair idea called the Ywheel, made its wheelchair prototype with wheels to climb stairs as well as rocky terrain. The team got their inspiration from physicist Stephen Hawking and Professor Charles Xavier from the movie X-men. “We wanted our wheels to work and at the same time be stable,” said Elvis Leong, 13.
Beyond the wheelchair, there were also creative ideas to make seniors’ lives easier. The Pill Crusher is a product for seniors who can’t swallow pills and uses a handle to crush the pills finely through two sieves. The crushed pills then collect into a cup for seniors to just add water and drink. The Crusher can also fit into one’s pocket. “I have a small throat so when I have large-sized medicines, I tend to choke. My mother would use the pill crusher, so I thought of improving it,” said Zin Mi Myint Thein, 15, whose team also talked to seniors to improve their design.
Team member Rachel Wong, 13 shared about her learning lessons, “We learned about working in a team. If one doesn’t contribute, it is not fair to those who have contributed.” Added Perry Na, 13, “We also got to know more about team members’ working habits – Zin Mi has a tight schedule while Perry is usually quite free as we often meet up on Sundays.”
There was also an idea for a locator called Life365, which could be wrapped around things like a walking stick and if a senior loses it, an activating device can then help to locate it in their home. “Elderly have bad memory and forget where they put their things. This will help them locate them and it is simple to use,” said Sng Zhi Heng, 12.
Added teammate Zou Yun Chuan, 12, “We faced a lot of problems on how to organise our time better and cooperate so to finish the product in the short time given.” Noted Desmond Wong, 13, “We also learned how to communicate better with each other.”