Craig Wightman Kinneir Dufort

Wearing intelligence

For the past two years, KD have sponsored the Royal Society of Arts annual Student Design Awards which challenges emerging designers to tackle a range of design briefs focused on pressing social, environmental and economic issues. KD’s brief, Wearing Intelligence, invited students to develop a design solution that utilises ‘advanced textiles’ (fabric that has been enhanced by new technologies) to improve wellbeing or the quality of people’s lives.

The brief attracted a wide range of responses, with many identifying healthcare opportunities for wearable technology as opportunities to make a difference. This year’s winner was Fred Whitten, from the University of Nottingham, whose concept, Insulive, is an insulin pump which seeks to provide users with increased physical, as well as social, comfort in its wearing.

Inspired by insights from current insulin pump users who complained of feeling “like a robot” when wearing today’s hard, machine-like devices, Fred’s concept envisages an integrated “patch” pump with a flexible, body-friendly form, which would permit users to wear it in everyday situations, without embarrassment.

This insight highlights two important and necessary trends in healthcare: one is the growth of self-care, where people increasingly take control of their diagnosis and therapy through the use of smart devices, and the other is the increasing visibility and normalisation of medical devices we use and wear to provide diagnosis, advice, drug delivery and mobility.

This trend was emphasised recently by UK Prime Minister Theresa May, who has Type 1 diabetes, and who has long exemplified that conditions such as diabetes should be no inhibitor of achievement. However, it is only her recent high-profile photographs of her wearing the Abbott Libre wearable glucose monitor, which has attracted attention to this. The fact that she felt comfortable to wear a sleeveless dress, showing off her Libre patch, whilst meeting Donald Trump, must feel greatly liberating to millions of people with diabetes who have struggled with the imposition on their social lives that the necessary accoutrements of diabetes therapy demand.

So, we say congratulations to Fred for his well-considered and well-crafted concept, and congratulations to Theresa May for being a champion for the increasing millions of us that will increasingly benefit from the humanisation and normalisation of medical devices.

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