While their peers are developing apps, four students from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and the China Academy of Art opted to go against the trend and created a novel television set to cater to the needs of the elderly. Last month, the group visited a home for the elderly and impressed the residents no end with a demonstration.
"I've never seen a group of elderly people look so happy," said Urvil Sheth, one of the project's designers and a final-year mechanical engineering student at HKUST. "When we were demonstrating the product to them, they were actually laughing and very excited. They were especially delighted to see the HSBC building."
The project, named Memo-TV, looks like an antique television set. But more than an ordinary TV set, it is a computer containing news items, entertainment clips, videos and photos from the past.
Unlike computers, operating the Memo-TV is much simpler and easier for the elderly. It has only two buttons, one to select content and the other to select the period of time that viewers wish to watch.
"Its primary function is to help the elderly recall their experiences in the past," he said. The principal objective is to provide the elderly with mental exercises and hopefully, activate their cognition as they watch various things they have seen in the past as they sit together and chat with other senior citizens.
"Usually, family members gather around a TV set and watch together a favorite program. But you don't do that with a smartphone or a tablet. With Memo-TV, we want the elderly to sit together and watch TV."
Sheth knew his team's hard work in selecting the most appropriate content paid off handsomely after seeing the big smiles and delight on the face of the elderly during the demonstration. He was with his teammates, Lin Yanzhao and Zhou Linwei from China and Naveen Pitipornvivat from Thailand.
"A senior citizen who lives in my building and speaks good English gave me some suggestions for songs that we used in Memo-TV," said Sheth, a Hongkonger of Indian descent.
His group came up with an array of classical songs as well as historical news and videos that truly delighted the elderly during the demonstration.
Their development work on Memo- TV is far from done, Sheth said. Some of those who watched their presentation suggested adding content from the 1930s and 1940s - when they were in their 20s, the period which they recall most.
Ravindra Goonetilleke, a professor at the department of industrial engineering and logistics management, said Memo-TV has a long way to go. "The main thing here is for the elderly to recall key pieces of information which they would really want to recall."
Goonetilleke said the most important part of the product design is how to come in and fill in a gap in people's needs.
"Some of our students do projects here at the university but are unsure how to use them so they don't pursue and just give them away," he said.
Memo-TV is a product of the design thinking summer course at HKUST. Goonetilleke, who takes charge of the course, said it aims to identify what people need and try to resolve it by coming up with a product that can address the issue.
Organized by HKUST's School of Engineering in collaboration with the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, the design thinking course is held every year. During the four-week course, 40 students were divided into four groups. All groups had to come up with ideas for actual products that will address identified issues or problems.
"We want to bring together science and technology with art and design," Goonetilleke said.