A Safer World

The Open Inclusion panel (photographed pre-Covid-19)

Research to help designers create safer products in a world threatened by COVID-19 is being pioneered by the developers of a revolutionary electric vehicle.

The six-month investigation will come up with a set of anti-virus design principles. It’s part of the drive by Centaur Robotics to create a personal electric vehicle perfectly suited to the needs of its users.

The Centaur, which has won accolades for its sleek design, is being put through its paces by Open Inclusion.

The London-based research, design and innovation consultancy has a UK-wide research community. Members, aged between 18 and 90, have various physical, sensory and cognitive needs. The panel includes a large community of wheelchair and mobility scooter users.

Solutions, independence, health…

Innovate UK, the UK government’s innovation agency, is funding the work, which will be shared with other designers and may help reduce virus and bacteria cross-contamination on other products and equipment.

Tom Pokinko, research director of Open Inclusion, said: “We have a strong ethic around the projects that we take on. This research stands to make the world better and safer for people with restricted mobility. That’s what we care about.

“These anti-viral principles will be applicable beyond Covid-19 and can be applied across a wide range of products.”

The research community is the most diverse of its kind in the UK, he said.

Tom Pokinko, Open Inclusion

Tom Pokinko: “Many research participants have significant needs. They often come up with solutions which make products and services easier to use in a way that maintains both their health and independence.”

He added: “We involve diverse users with a range of experiences of wheelchair usage. They are not design experts, but give you loads of practical feedback. This helps guide the design at each stage of the process. We are also speaking to health care staff and workers in care and retirement homes who will be cleaning the Centaur.”

A highly vulnerable community

“We have also reviewed the latest literature and interviewed health professionals, designers, virologists, materials experts and anti-viral chemical manufacturers and retailers.” 

Much of the research focusses on how a combination of anti-viral materials, personal approaches and cleaning regimes by both wheelchair users and their carers can stop the spread of microbes.

The research will ask what helps people clean things properly and ensures these tasks are done as well at the end of a long shift as they are at the start. The use of removable coverings for regular touch points such as cushions and arm rests will also be investigated.

“Care homes are a challenging setting,” added Mr Pokinko. “With staffing limitations, shared equipment and a highly vulnerable community there is significant opportunity for viruses to spread rapidly, as we have seen over the past nine months.”

“Highly functional and looks great”

“The Centaur is doing a lot of things very well. The hands-free approach is an absolute genius move from the point of view of anti-viral design. Having an electric motor on board reduces the need for staff in close proximity to the user pushing the chair manually.”

Centaur Robotics has also commissioned award-winning thermoplastics innovator Mark Grix of RLE International to consider material usage and create surfaces which will help reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

Practical feedback – an Open Inclusion panel member at work.

“Because the Centaur’s design eliminates nooks and crannies, it’s already got an advantage from an anti-viral point of view,” said Mr Pokinko.

“Our panel members tell us so many products for disabled people are ugly. The Centaur has beautifully addressed that – it’s a desirable, highly functional product that looks great.”