Prosthetic X: Gamification for health benefits
23 January 20222
How can we keep people healthy for as long as possible in an aging society? This question was the starting point for Prosthetic X, a multidisciplinary, speculative design project by Flemish product designer Isaac Monté. In collaboration with, among others, national research centre SPRINT (consisting of various commercial and academic parties) and V2 Lab for the Unstable Media, Monté developed 10 prototypes of prostheses that give the wearer insight into their own health, helping them to remain active (including socially active), healthy and independent for longer.
Have I moved enough today? Have I spent enough time outdoors in the fresh air? Did I manage the necessary social contact? The wearers of Monté’s prostheses can answer these questions by simply looking at the colours or shape of the prostheses they are wearing on their bodies. There is, for instance, the eyebrow prosthesis, PX III – Anemone movement, consisting of five small anemones. The more steps you take, the more anemones will open and light up. Do your anemones look closed and dull? Then there is work to be done. Monté prefers to give wearers this ‘poetic feedback’, instead of an exact quantification in terms of a number of steps. ‘People are a little tired of screens and data. By giving them feedback on their behaviour in this way, you can still elicit behavioural change through gamification’. All the prostheses become more attractive with healthy behaviour. Aesthetics are never far away in Monté’s work.
Als je je eigen gezondheid niet nauwlettend in de gaten houdt, is het dan je eigen schuld als je ziek wordt?
That is precisely the quality that scientists often lack, according to Bart Verkerke, a biomedical engineer affiliated with the University Medical Centre and the aforementioned SPRINT research centre. He was working on exactly the same topic when he learned about Prosthetic X at a conference and became closely involved. This made it possible for Monté to work with students from TU Delft and the University of Groningen. ‘We have an enormous amount of technical knowledge in house, but designers know better how to entice people,’ says Verkerke. ‘And the great thing about students is that they know “nothing” and so they come up with creative solutions.
Prevention plays far too small a role in Dutch healthcare, Verkerke believes: ‘Calling it “sickcare” would be more accurate.’ Prosthetic X paints a picture of the future in which individuals closely monitor their own health and preventively adjust their behaviour for the better, based on the feedback they receive from their prostheses. The tenth ‘prosthesis’ in the project, PX eXo – Lotus, is a single device that is connected to the other prostheses and can be given a place in the home of a third party. This allows adult children to monitor the health of an aging parent.
opening the dialogue
‘In all my work I ask questions, and that includes moral questions,’ says Monté. ‘Above all, I want to open the dialogue and let the viewer think for themselves. But I may not be completely neutral this time.’ Both Monté and Verkerke think it is a good idea in principle to use technologies like these to achieve health benefits. But both admit that there are still pressing questions that need answering: Will technologies like this become accessible only to those who can afford it? Doesn’t this perpetuate the inequality along socio-economic lines that already exists anyway when it comes to health and life expectancy? What if it is not a loved one but an employer or health insurance company that monitors my behaviour through devices like these? And if you don’t keep a close eye on your health, is it your own fault if you get sick? One moral issue, that of data privacy, has been overcome: Prosthetic X operates with User-centered Terms and Conditions. All data collected by the prostheses stays in principle the property of the prosthesis owner, unless they specify otherwise.
website and wearable
Because of the pandemic, it was not so easy as before to go public with the work. At the end of 2021, Prosthetic X could be seen at The Grey Space in the Middle in The Hague. To make the project accessible to the public even in lockdown, the website ProstheticX.eu was created. But a project that is meant to raise questions and start a conversation thrives on a physical encounter. ‘People are better able to picture it then and feel more urgency,’ says Monté. He is currently working on developing his speculative project into a marketable product, VYX: a wearable with a pedometer and UV sensor that gives the elderly insight into whether they have exercised enough and benefited from sufficient (or too much) daylight (vitamin D). The data collected by this wearable will be combined and analyzed – in a new parallel project with Verkerke – to provide targeted lifestyle advice, which will then be passed on to the user. ‘Now that it’s becoming a real product, people are reacting much more critically,’ Monté says. ‘They don’t want to wear just anything on their body.’ It also becomes extra important now to test the wearable’s readability with the target audience. ‘It’s an extensive, long-term project.’
This project was supported in 2020 through the Design Grant Scheme.
Text: Merel Kamp