In March, the Dutch government announced a national lockdown, where all non-essential personnel have to be working from home, as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, all assisted living facilities had to fully close down to external parties, as they house a frail group of people. At the time, Joran was working on his master thesis for Industrial Design Engineering at University of Twente in collaboration with Nedap. His design research focused on the development of a new product that allows older adults to make use of digital communication in a way familiar and pleasant to them. The resulting design is beppie, a tiny mailbox housing a printing and scanning solution. The mailbox is placed at an assisted living facility.
Family members of residents would be able to send a message or photo via an instant messaging application – in this case the app Telegram. The beppie-mailbox prints incoming messages as a postcard on paper. The recipient can respond to each incoming message by writing a letter back and putting it, just like real letters, in the beppie-mailbox. A digitized scan of the letter is sent to the corresponding family member via Telegram.
The design and research was coming to an end and the next phase in the project would be to develop and test a prototype with the target group. But how do you finish such a project when you are supposed to work from home and all assisted living facilities are to be kept shut?
The challenge of developing prototypes was discussed with the hardware team of Nedap healthcare, and the decision was made to actually step up the game. The lockdown of assisted living facilities means that older adults cannot receive any visits from family anymore. Loneliness could become prevalent in these times. Earlier research had shown that residents at care organisations often do not use modern communications means, such as smartphones or computers, that we are so used to. Being able to develop a product that could increase and simplify communication between older adults and their family would be super helpful, especially now!
Families were in contact once again. Which made it all worth it.
During the following month healthcare’s hardware team – the team that usually works on Nedap Luna – embraced the challenge to create prototypes for the so-called beppie . In particular Joran van der Sluis, Steyn Potze and Luuk Oudshoorn played a big part in realizing this.
So, how do you develop a new product during a pandemic? Of course, communication was mainly done digitally using Zoom. However, Joran and Steyn decided to become “corona-buddies”, as both are living on their own. This allowed them to collaborate more closely and made developing a physical product a lot easier. For instance, parts 3D printed by Steyn would quickly be integrated into the wooden chassis painted by Joran on his balcony. But frequently meeting up also served a more important role: a way of supporting each other and keeping each other sane, during such a weird and hectic time where social contact is rare.
At the end of a month of working hard, at times really shifting that work/private-life balance, the first two prototypes of beppie were finally done. The first one was delivered by Joran and Steyn late at night to care institution “Manna”, the second one two days later to “De Posten”. For this second delivery there even was someone from the press present who interviewed Joran, which was quite special. But most importantly; families were in contact once again. Which made it all worth it.