A young boy wears the Harmony Device.

Design students focus attention with wearable tech

Northumbria University students have been granted £5,000 to develop a wearable, printable technology design that will provide music therapy for autistic children.

Creating Harmony

The students have developed the ‘Harmony Device’, which works by transmitting sound via light vibrations directly to the inner ear and cancelling out noise.

Dr Stuart English, Director of Taught Postgraduate Design Programmes at Northumbria University, who provided guidance to the four students, explains its functions.

“Firstly, it helps autistic children filter out background sound and create a perception of calm so they can focus their attention more easily. Secondly, it provides therapeutic music that helps develop an integrated appreciation of soundscape.”

The tiny device is secure, lightweight and attached to the child with bio-inspired adhesive and waterproof tape, which uses tiny splayed hairs with flat ends to stick to an irregular or rough surface, and is twice as sticky as flat tape. Inside the device is a printable battery that is ultra-thin and environmentally friendly, which uses contactless charging called uBeam technology to charge itself.    

How the Harmony Device works

Using iCalm technology, the device monitors the sympathetic nervous system via electrodermal activity (EDA). Taking information from the child’s heart rate and skin conductance it sends a signal to the printable circuit, which plays therapeutic music via a choice of devices to help focus their attention, while alerting the parents if necessary. It then conveys this information directly to a device where it is collated and monitored to keep an eye on the child’s physiological state and their wellbeing at any time.

The WearCare Project

The aim of this project was to create a piece of wearable technology that empowers people to manage their conditions and stay well. Named the ‘WearCare’ project, it challenged the students to bridge the field of environmental and hard product design with the skills of fashion and interaction design.

“It was an extensive learning experience,” says student team member Dhrumin Giasotta.

Stuart explains that the students were asked to push the boundaries of technology design. 

“Future wearable solutions will not be limited by traditional technologies. New developments in advanced manufacturing will enable cheap, thin, flexible, printable intelligence that will spread into all areas of our lives.”

“Plastic will disrupt our relationship with technology through the development of intelligent clothing and environments,” he adds.

Developing their design

The team of four students: Dhrumin Giasotta, Tian Tian Wang, Huahua Guo and Hao Luo were tasked with researching wearable healthcare technologies along with multinational strategies for the development of wearable healthcare technologies, printable electronics and the NHS key needs and mechanisms.

“They used problem framing techniques developed at Northumbria University to interpret this data and to reveal new person-centred wearable healthcare solutions,” Stuart explains.

He goes on to explain how this domain was once centred on the experts but work such as theirs is beginning to change this.

“New technologies begin to challenge this status quo by putting both diagnosis and treatment in the hands of the patient.”

The team applied for a grant from the Academic Health Science Network (AHSC) for the North East and North Cumbria. After being judged by a group of industrial collaborators, they were awarded £5,000 towards prototype development.

“The feedback from the panel was valuable and the £5,000 from AHSN will be used to develop product prototyping of our design,” says Dhrumin. “Practical projects like this are of high importance as they help you understand how companies work in real-time scenarios and what is expected of you as a professional,” he adds.

The design is now under development and will be required to undergo trials before being made available to the public. 

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