Students Are Redesigning Long Life

Update April 3: The winner of the Stanford Design Challenge is TAME. Scroll down to read more and take our poll.

America is getting older every day, but you wouldn’t guess it from the range of innovative new products hitting the market. Most of them are designed by young people for young people.

The Stanford Center on Longevity’s annual Design Challenge aims to change that. Launched in 2013, it encourages college and university students to design practical products or services that will optimize long life. Since part of the design process involves the competitors familiarizing themselves with issues of aging—from difficulties getting around to financial insecurity and social isolation—the challenge organizers hope that a new generation will become knowledgeable enough to come up with products that meet real needs as the older population skyrockets.

“The younger people are, the longer their life spans will be,” Nancy Easterbrook, Director of External Affairs for the Center, says. “We were looking for really innovative ideas that might address somebody in a younger subset, not necessarily 70 or older.”

Judging from comments by previous years’ winners, some students end up reevaluating their notions about aging in the process of spending time with older people and learning to understand their lives. “To our surprise, not only did the seniors enjoy giving us feedback, they spent time looking over our designs and commenting on them,” 2015 winner Nicholas Steigmann wrote in PSFK, who with his design partner interviewed seniors and tested ideas with them to come up with a device that helps older people keep doing what they like to do without having to worry about falling. (The original idea was a simple fall-prevention device—that idea changed as the student team got to know what seniors really want.)

This year’s Design Challenge theme is “Innovating Aging in Place” and invites design solutions that can empower people who want to stay living in their own homes for as long as possible.

The best design solutions, Easterbrook says, are engaging, practical and easily to understand, and can be implemented within the constraints of existing technologies and the market. Judging criteria for the submissions also include originality, economic viability and their potential to impact people’s lives.

Competitors were introduced to the principals of universal design and encouraged to design “for people, not an age.” And they had access to the Stanford center’s resources and research on mind, mobility and financial security.

The call for entries went out in fall 2016 and resulted in close to 75 submissions—a record year, Easterbrook says. On March 30, nine finalists will meet on Stanford’s campus and pitch their designs to a panel of judges selected from the worlds of technology, elder care, government and medicine.

These are the finalists—they’ve all developed their ideas further with input from mentors. Take a look and then tell us, which would you pick as the winner?

The Stanford Design Challenge 2017 Finalists

Uppo: Virginia Tech, USA

A team from Virginia tech took a look at the connection between fear of falling and social isolation. After spending some time in a local retirement home, they discovered that walkers currently on the market lead users to hunch over, creating poor posture that could actually lead to falls. Uppo’s ergonomic design increases balance and stability, and helps people feel secure while promoting an upright posture. Standing tall and upright also increases a person’s confidence. Click here to see a slideshow about the design process for Uppo.


Timtim por Timtim

These online classes teach people ages 60 and up how to use digital devices. Classes can be downloaded for offline use or printing. A team from the University of São Paolo, Brazil, came up with the solution; the Brazilian Portuguese phrase timtim por timtim means “something explained in detail.”



Some 280 million people worldwide have lost their independence due to tremors. This wearable sleeve or wristband was designed by a team from Pakistan’s National University of Sciences and Technology to suppress hand tremors, making it easier for people suffering from conditions such as Parkinson’s to manipulate objects and complete routine daily tasks like eating, drinking and getting dressed. Tame is worn discreetly under a shirt. (TAME stands for Tremor Acquisition and Minimization.)

tame-be worn under a shirt and


A team from the University of Waterloo, Canada, wanted to make it easier for people with mobility issues to get from sitting to standing, and back again. They came up with this electrically powered lifting seat cushion that integrates into any chair or sofa to help prevent strains and injury when you’re getting up or sitting down. The Smart-Lift incorporates buttons you can use to adjust the cushion height as well as operate the lift action.


Air travel isn’t what it used to be. Seat-Case, from a Cornell University team, is a carry-on suitcase that doubles as a seat for those long lines and wait times. The luggage-chair meets FAA and major airline specifications and is a vast improvement over an invention with a similar name that 85-year-old former British MP Tony Benn invented in 2010.



This virtual reality platform invented by a team from MIT uses VR goggles and a tablet or computer to let people with limited mobility visit a childhood home, travel the world, and connect with family and friends. Rendever’s 3D content is meant to inspire conversation and bring new experiences into the living room; the product is already available for use in assisted living facilities. (To get a feel for VR, see Senior Planet’s story about a WW2 veteran’s experience.)



Coming out of Stanford University, this technology platform lets “folks who don’t like smartphones” access and use Uber and Lyft with a simple phone call, making it easy to stay independent. GoGoGrandparent is already a success: It’s being used in the US to make rides available 24/7 in more than 200 cities via a flip phone. The idea was inspired when 25-year- old Justin Boogaard, one of the inventors, witnessed his grandmother’s real-life challenges when she lost her vision and couldn’t drive anymore. (Read an interview with Boogaard about GoGoGrandparent on



The BeeHome website matches aging homeowners with tenants who want to put in  a few hours a week doing household chores in exchange for a more affordable rent. Dreamed up by a team from UC Berkeley, the platform helps owners price chores, runs background checks and checks in monthly to make sure everything’s going smoothly. The result: Older people with extra space can use their homes as an income source and get some help. Plus of course, intergenerational social relationships are likely to come out of it, too. (Here’s a video about BeeHome.)



A team from Beijing University, China, came up with this gardening tool—a solution for a country in which the younger generation is moving to the cities in droves. A-Helper helps the older people in rural areas to keep tending their household vegetables plots even as it becomes harder for them to bend and squat.

The Stanford Design Challenge Finals

At the end of the day on March 30, three prizes will be awarded with $17,000 in total prize money, and winning teams will be introduced to experts and resources in the Entrepreneur Center of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. This will allow winners to explore the option of bringing their designs to market. Some Design Challenge alumni have made, or are in the process of making, their creative designs a reality—among them a San Francisco student team whose walker/shopping cart, City Cart, was inspired by the experiences of retired industrial designer Dr. June Fisher (top photo).

The March 30 Challenge Finals event is free and open to the public, and also includes talks on aging. To attend, pre-register online by clicking here.

  • For more details about the 2016-2017 Design Challenge click here
  • To visit the Design Challenge Facebook page, click here
  • For information about the Stanford Center on Longevity click here

Which Invention Would You Vote For?


4 responses to “Students Are Redesigning Long Life

  1. Many great ideas! I like the UPPO. But it needs to have a basket for carrying what you need and purchases. I can also see, like the walkers that are hybrid, a seat. Is that a lot to modify?
    I also like TAME, although those elastic type sleeves are very difficult to get on and off.
    BeeHome looks like a wonderful service…much as GoGo Grandparent is.
    These products and ideas should all be developed and sold as accessibly as bed bath and beyond,or any chain that can survive the business climate. Barnes and Noble ?
    I’m grateful for the efforts at Stanford. Thank you.

  2. How/where can I purchase the UPPO?
    I have a conventional walker and it’s not ideal although better than nothing.
    The UPPO is the best innovation I’ve seen for someone who requires a walker and also wants to be comfortable.

  3. My concern about ‘Uppo’ is that there is nothing to keep a person from falling over backward. At least with a standard ‘walker’, the user is leaning slightly forward, so they are not likely to pitch backward. Perhaps if the back wheels of Uppo were a bit farther back, they could help stop the user from falling backward…?

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