BENGALURU: There is a great need for designers to work on real-world problems, not just for the luxurious world. Not a quote borrowed from a thinker or a designer you can Google and find, but it is from 23-year-old Ashwathy Satheesan who was declared the national winner of the prestigious James Dyson Award in September 2019 for ‘Fleo’. While many of us are bent on creating an impact on the world but unsure of the direction, Ashwathy was certain that she wanted to row her boat towards social innovation and multidisciplinary projects.
Her brainchild, Fleo, is a writing aid for those with Parkinson’s tremors. A National Institute of Design (NID) graduate, Ashwathy had developed the pen as part of her third-year curriculum in her Product Design course. “At NID, we are encouraged to select a problem area and try solving it. This was my second research project and I wanted to do something relating to inclusivity and people with special needs. Which is how I found people suffering from Parkinson’s disease. During the interaction with them at the Parkinson’s Disease Society in Ahmedabad, I had observed their daily routines, understood their difficulties and realised they need help in writing and drawing. This inspired me to work in this area,” says Ashwathy. The James
Dyson Award, an international student design award, challenges young people to ‘design something that solves a problem’. While an overall international winner is chosen, a national winner and three runners-up are chosen from the participating countries. “The award celebrates, encourages and inspires the next generation of design engineers. We have to submit an open entry explaining the concept, inspiration and aim to compete with entries from 27 countries,” she says.
According to Ashwathy, Fleo, derived from ‘flow’, works on gyroscopic principles to stabilise and reduce tremor impacts, facilitating a more confident and efficient writing/drawing. Albeit, like any invention, several prototypes were made to test user involvement and its efficaciousness. “Initial rapid mock-ups helped to set a direction, while later ones were focused on finding the right engineering principle to solve the issue. This stage was crucial for proving the concept and get optimum results. The most challenging part was making the prototypes in-house by hand to test the results,” she says.
Fleo wasn’t born by an accident nor was it exactly planned. “The journey of Fleo started by finding an opportunity to finally developing a product. I had no idea that it will land up as a pen/product. The ideas and concepts completely evolved throughout the development,” says the young innovator.
What happens next? “Fleo is at a very nascent stage where I have a proof of concept that it works. If I do get funding and collaborate with subject matter experts, then I feel this could go a long way in empowering those suffering from Parkinson’s tremors,” she adds.