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Student designs talking trolley to help elderly

14 July 2010

A product design student has made a talking gadget for supermarket trolleys to help the millions of elderly and visually impaired people who find shopping difficult. Ben Charles, 22, designed the wireless device for his final project, University of Portsmouth BSc in Computer Aided Product Design course. He has graduated with a First Class degree today (July 14).

The device is attached to the trolley’s handle and when a shopper scans a product, it displays product information and price in large type and says the price aloud.

According to Ben’s research, three quarters of the UK’s 13 million pensioners (9½ million people) find it difficult to read prices and product information in supermarkets.

“I wanted to design a device that makes it easier for the elderly and visually impaired to shop in supermarkets," he said. "Many of them face huge hurdles in trying to read product information, such as if a product contains nuts or if it is high in fat, and many can’t read the price labels.
“I carried out lots of market research and it was clear that millions of people find it really hard – or impossible – to know what they are buying and at what price. These people are not disabled – but they are socially handicapped.”

The rechargeable device has an adjustable, tilting screen and three large buttons embossed with braille for displaying price and product information, triggering a quiet alarm at customer service desks if help is required (reaching a high shelf, for example) and a third for keeping a running total of the cost of the shopping. It also gives clear visual and audible warnings if a product contains any common allergens, such as gluten and nuts.

The design was developed to be manufactured through the injection moulding process and a scaled prototype was made for the product launch. Ben now hopes a supermarket will buy the device.
“I started designing things when I was six when I was at my grandmother’s house and she was having trouble opening her gate. I came up with a pulley system to make it easier – she still uses it.”
Ben was also awarded the university’s project prize, sponsored by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and ImechE Best Student prize.

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