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Over-50s will join with 16-20 year-olds to co-develop technologies to benefit coastal communities – from online games for social connectivity, to underwater gadgets exploring marine life.

Led by the University of Plymouth, the ICONIC project (Intergenerational COdesign of Novel technologies In Coastal communities) will launch in the South West in November, thanks to a £1million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) – part of UK Research and Innovation.

The project will recruit 80 older (aged 50+) people – including people living at home and those in care homes – and 40 younger (aged 16–20) people, who will work with researchers to co-develop novel technologies. Collectively, the teams will identify what will effectively connect people to the community and cultural landscape in the region.

As an EPSRC project, the focus is naturally on the technical side of the work. But the project builds on the University’s portfolio of regional research and community engagement – through its Centre for Health Technology – to address digital inequalities.

Three strands of the project involve existing broadband access, and are designed to engage people with their local area:

  • Enhanced virtual reality giving the ability to move around heritage sites and significant natural landscapes such as Tintagel Castle or the Eden Project.
  • Social games connecting older people (e.g. between care homes) based on local history, culture and environment.
  • Underwater telepresence enabling the user to explore and engage with the local underwater environment.

The fourth strand will give digitally excluded older people with no broadband, telephone access by AI voice interface to online resources such as museums and community groups.

Project lead and Professor of Health Informatics at the University, Ray Jones MBE, said: 

“As society becomes ever more digital, those without access are at risk of social exclusion. Older people's connection with community, groups and activities in their neighbourhood and the cultural landscape, are essential for social inclusion and healthy ageing. 

“In addition, the project looks to upskill and engage younger people in digital technology and STEM subjects, increasing their earning potential and keeping knowledge within the region. Traditional industries such as farming, mining, fishing, and port activity have all declined. Alternative high-wage digital sector jobs have not emerged resulting in an exodus of younger people with higher qualifications."

Professor Jones added:
“By combining the views and input of younger and older generations, we not only get valuable viewpoints, digital education and upskilling, but also connectivity in the co-design process itself. 
"It’s a really innovative interdisciplinary project that we’re looking forward to getting started.” 
Professor Ray Jones

Participants will join monthly workshops, in person or online, over 18 months, to design the four novel technologies. The project’s success will also be measured based on whether participants’ digital use and confidence changed, whether connectivity to community and culture was achieved, and whether young people had more interest in STEM subjects.

The project team will also set up a social enterprise, which will work with partner organisations and participants to demonstrate the technologies to regional and national audiences. This social enterprise will then carry forward the development, sale at low price (either to individuals or to organisations), and implementation of the technologies, as well as continued engagement of young people in this digital development. 

The multidisciplinary team awarded the EPSRC grant comprised a core team of Professor Ray Jones and four Early Career Researchers leading each of the four technology developments. Dr Alejandro Veliz Reyes (enhanced virtual reality), Dr Swen Gaudl (social games), Dr Amir Aly (phone/AI access), and Dr Chunxu Li (underwater telepresence).

Two postdoc researchers, Dr Hannah Bradwell and Dr Rebecca Baines, were to lead on recruitment and community engagement. This core team had a panel of experienced professorial advisors in Dan Maudlin, Emmanuel Ifeachor, Shangming Zhou, Sheena Asthana, Kerry Howell, Katharine Willis, and Arunangsu Chatterjee. The team comes from all three University of Plymouth faculties representing disciplines: Engineering and Computing, Nursing and Health Technology, Art and Architecture, History, Biological and Marine Sciences, Social Sciences and Medicine.

Centre for Health Technology

Bringing together digital health and health technology expertise from across the University to drive the development, evaluation and implementation of innovative technologies, products, services and approaches to transform health and social care.

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Centre for Coastal Communities

Finding solutions to the challenges facing coastal communities.
The challenges facing coastal communities are increasingly recognised, as new and worrying patterns of deprivation have materialised in peripheral coastal areas across the UK.
The University of Plymouth is one of the few UK Higher Education Institutions with a critical mass of academics with a proven track record of research on coastal communities.
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Plymouth Institute of Health and Care Research

From basic research discovering the causes of disease, through to evaluating novel ways of delivering care to the most vulnerable people in society, our thriving community conducts adventurous world-leading research.

Transformation in life course, ageing, methodologies, e-health, technology and interventions in health, social care, lifestyle and wellbeing.

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