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Northumbria University's P³i demonstrates the future of design

04 September 2012

Intelligent self-repairing clothing and sensors that can detect the potential onset of an epileptic seizure? Designers and engineers are working to turn them into reality.

The cutting-edge of design and engineering visions for the future will be showcased at the launch of Northumbria’s new P³i research group at the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) in London this month. P³i is a design research initiative that aims to accelerate the development of printable, paintable and programmable intelligent (hence P³i) materials capable of creating intelligent products, services and experiences.

Northumbria already has a strong reputation for producing world-changing graduates in the design field, such as Sir Jonathan Ive, of Apple, who has created revolutionary new technologies including the iPhone and iPad which have now become consumer staples.

The University’s investment in new technologies – including a £135,000 bioplotter machine which is capable of printing multi-component three-dimensional structures and a £65,000 Atomic Force Microscope to look at materials at the nanoscale – demonstrates the ambition to be at the forefront of future breakthroughs.

Melding design with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, P³i brings together leading designers and engineers to find technology-based solutions for society’s needs and future ways of living. The centre will engage in a design-led exploration of emerging materials and technologies in, on and around the human body in the 21st Century.

As part of the 2012 London Design Festival, Northumbria’s P³i members will become designers in residence at the RAE from 18-21 September, showcasing some of their innovations in the Towards Future Ways of Living exhibition.

Visitors to the exhibition will be introduced to the group’s core values exploring the materials used to create products that matter to people. The P³i team will present an unexpected and unorthodox exhibition featuring four interactive rooms that will display glimpses of new materials and fabrication technologies.

Future products and services that combine innovative materials and fabrics with biological functions will be explored in P³i’s laboratories and studio facilities. Staff are currently at the forefront of research into anticipatory medical devices, such as the development of ‘smartware’ – fabrics that treat chronic wounds caused by diabetes and leg ulcers; ‘senseware’ – motion sensors embedded in textiles that can detect the onset of epileptic seizures and alert medical professionals; and ‘bioware’ – technology-embedded materials and surfaces in the home and on the body.

Professor Raymond Oliver, Chair of P³i and professor of active and interactive materials, said that the work of P³i designers and engineers will place individuals at the centre of technology, devising solutions for an ageing population, developing technologies that enhance life quality and creating customised products that connect with people on an emotional level.
He added: “Our aim is to be at the forefront of design-led, need-driven, technology-anchored and solutions-focused innovative products and services with a real purpose.”

P³i researchers include Ann Toomey, Reader in Active Materials Research, and Nancy Tilbury, Reader in Fashion Interactions. Both recently arrived scholars at Northumbria University have extensive expertise and experience in design-led innovation with active materials. Tilbury, a fashion designer by training, interrogates new materiality and fashioning for the 21st century, uniting fashion and science in her work with clients, including her work on the creation of dynamic video clothing for the Black Eyed Peas 2011 world tour.

Also on board as part of the P³i research team are Lyndsay Williams, Reader in Hardware and Software Integration, and Dr Veronika Kapsali, Reader in Biomimetic Surface and Interface Engineering.

The Future Ways of Living exhibition is free to attend, and is open to the general public between 9.30am and 6pm on Wednesday 19 and Thursday 20 September, and 9.30am and 4pm on Friday 21 September.

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