Big Life Fix seeks participants for new series

Show’s inventors created a ‘dinocart’ for six-year-old who had his legs amputated

Six-year-old James Smyth had his legs amputated as a result of caudal regression syndrome

Six-year-old James Smyth had his legs amputated as a result of caudal regression syndrome

 

If you watched any of the episodes of Big Life Fix, the 2020 series on RTÉ 1 television in which inventors made new devises to help people live more fulfilling lives, you will have realised the impact these personalised inventions can have.

The inventions in the first series included a smart chair which told the time, date, played the radio and read books to Jacinta Dixon, a 68-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s; the coolest ride-on dinocart for six-year-old James Smyth, who had his legs amputated as a result of caudal regression syndrome; and an iPad and plotter which helped Rosie Farrell, who has multiple sclerosis, to continue her painting hobby without suffering pain all over her body.

An iPad and plotter was created for Rosie Farrell, who has multiple sclerosis, to help her paint without suffering pain
An iPad and plotter was created for Rosie Farrell, who has multiple sclerosis, to help her paint without suffering pain

Now the producers of Kite Entertainment are embarking on another four-part series of Big Life Fix and are seeking individuals keen to have innovative solutions to their struggles with everyday tasks.

“We had such a positive response to the first series from inventors and participants that individuals and organisations have already started to contact me,” explains Leah Wallace, producer with Kite Entertainment. “But in this casting call, we are looking for suggestions from people about what hinders their lives. It could be a makeshift mobility aid that’s not working well for them or help they need to get back to a hobby that they can no longer do.”

Trevor Vaugh was one of the inventors who worked on the last series and he is on board again for the new series. As assistant professor in design innovation at Maynooth University and founder of the Maynooth University Innovation Lab, Vaugh is already an expert in human-centred design. “You can’t design something without understanding the person. It’s all about empathy and design. You’ve got to figure out what motivates them and what their unmet needs are,” explains Vaugh who spent long hours with each participant before beginning the design process.

His enthusiasm for the three people he made new products for in the first Big Life Fix series is palpable. “I spent weeks with James Smyth going to museums and meeting paleontologists before working out that what he needed was something that would allow him to go to the bottom of his garden, explore and have fun.

“The solutions come out of thinking about the person rather than being driven by the technology. We start with the human need and get technology to meet that need,” says Vaugh who worked with Irish toy maker Yvolution to make the dinocart.

Róisín Foley, who has motor neuron disease, featured on the first series of Big Life Fix
Róisín Foley, who has motor neuron disease, featured on the first series of Big Life Fix

Similarly when inventing a devise for Róisín Foley, who has motor neuron disease, the human element came first. “There is lots of software that captures voice but people hate the thought of leaving behind robotic functional recording for their families, so we wired Róisín up with a microphone for a week. We gave her acting lessons on how to project her voice, put up posters to nudge her to say things, got family members to ask her questions and encouraged her to shout, scream and use curse words,” explains Vaugh who worked with Marino software to develop the technology.

Working on the first series of Big Life Fix, Vaugh says that the mothers in each family were incredible. “What they had been through. What they do on a daily basis for their children. They realised that there must be something better out there to help them.”

Lorna Ross, chief innovation officer with VHI Health and Wellness Group, Dr David McKeown, assistant professor in the school of mechanical and materials engineering at University College Dublin, and Niamh Stockil, software engineer with Microsoft Ireland are the other inventors who will work in series two of Big Life Fix.

Wallace is aware that her job is to manage the expectations of those who contact the show for the next series. “We can’t fix everything and we can’t help everybody but we will be able to help some individuals and there are lots of steps before filming, where they meet us and the experts so they can get used to the process.” Made with funding from Science Foundation Ireland, the new series promises again to “marry real problems and human drama with science – proving that with a little bit of ingenuity, nothing is impossible”.

- If you or someone close to you would benefit from a big life fix, then contact Kite Entertainment at biglifefix@kiteentertainment.com in November or December. The series will begin filming in 2022 with the aim to go on air towards the end of 2022 or early 2023

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