Healthcare is a space that designers are now focusing more on after the pandemic. From portable ICU pods to 3D printed masks and medical devices that monitor health at home, the design community is focusing on creating products that can help the healthcare workers as well as the patients so the burden on the overall system is reduced. While we can’t control accidents, we can be better prepared for them, and SCALED is a project from RCA aimed at doing exactly that – protecting and healing you to improve the quality of life to keep pace with longevity. This could be the next generation of casts that merge protection, healing, and mobility into one superhero-like wearable!
Research shows that human joint injuries are often recurrent and likely to cause long-term immobility. Designer Natalie Kerres then looked at nature for inspiration to come up with a solution and zeroed down on animals that physically protected from threats by skin, shells, or scales. She wanted to design a product that mimicked the natural protection and healing while allowing flexibility – that is how SCALED was born. “The geometry of animal scales has changed through the process of evolution according to environmental parameters which are critical for survival. A scale structure is capable of impact force distribution and, moreover, is flexible in one direction and limiting/interlocking in another,” she explains.
The goal of her design is to investigate the potential of a controlled motion-limiting structure in preventing hyperextension joint injuries. Usually, with injuries, you may have a cast, a brace, or a crepe bandage you use but that restricts movement and also makes the body in that region stiff as you wait to heal. “Mobility is commonly a trade-off with protection and SCALED, therefore, presents a nature-inspired solution for a flexible protective wearable.” It uses a parametric design that allows the structure to meet a wearer’s exact needs and the restriction in motion can be regulated through set parameters.
The design’s name fits the product appropriately – the scales in the wearable are a product of biomimicry. The geometry is inspired by lizards, fish, and pangolins. SCALED gives us an opening into producing mass-customized wearables with interlocking protective scales for controlled motion limitation. “The developed algorithm designs a data-driven, customized, and responsive scale structure according to the user’s specifications. SCALED can be used for injury prevention, rehabilitation, and sports performance enhancement through regulated motion control,” elaborates Kerres. SCALED received funding and is joining the MedTech SuperConnector to be further developed for series production.
Designer: Natalie Kerres