Tokyo, Japan, 2015
In Japan, the birthrate is declining and the ballooned baby booming generation is beginning to reach an age where they need to be taken care of. Since there will be fewer people to do this, each must carry a greater burden. In Japan, there is a strong fear of being a burden and the concept of Obasute is very telling of this. Obasute is the (most likely mythical) practice of leaving the elderly in the wilderness to die to alleviate the burden on the rest of the family. There is a famous poem about a son carrying his mother into the wilderness to be left to die. The mother, riding on the son's back, picks colorful leaves and flowers to drop behind them so that he is sure to find his way home after it is dark.
One of the most important creators of empowerment is simply the ability to stand and walk.
Once we learned the frightening elderly falling statistics, we decided to focus there, namely in the realm of fall prevention rather than mitigation. We were inspired in this by work being done at the Wyss Institute on balance through stochastic resonance. When attempting to pick out a difficult to discern signal, the addition of a control / white-noise can be added to aid in discernment. This is called stochastic resonance and it is used quite often in complex modeling in the sciences (in weather prediction and astronomy for example). It turns out that the human mind can benefit from this strategy in the same way computer programs do in the sciences. The addition of an unfelt and constant vibration to the bottom of the foot results in better overall balance.
We started from a simple standpoint: to create a well designed slipper for the elderly which would at once improve stability simply through its design as well as become a platform technological experimentation into the problem of falling in elderly populations.