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MIT Suit Simulates What It's Like To Be 70 Years Old

The AGNES suit simulates the experience of being 70 to help designers understand the needs of our aging population.

It is a stark fact of life that none of us is getting any younger. Thanks to falling birth rates, lengthening life expectancy, and the inevitable march of time, the population as a whole is getting older too. In Japan, it is projected that by 2050 people over 65 will outnumber people under 20 at a ratio of 10:6. All these old people rightfully expect to lead long and happy lives, which means there are design challenges which simply did not exist when life expectancy was 50 (as it was in the industrialized world in 1900).

To help young designers (along with architects, engineers, planners, and more) understand the needs of their aging clients, MIT’s Agelab has created a suit called AGNES, calibrated to give the wearer the experience of being 70.

AGNES dims your sight, stiffens your neck, shortens your gait, and faithfully recreates countless other injustices of aging. It’s the opposite of military exoskeletons like the SARCOS. Instead of enhancing physical performance to super-human levels, AGNES is an empathy enhancer.

This is a physical embodiment of the advice that we should walk a mile in one another’s shoes, and a clever approach to the problem of user testing. Rather than simply interviewing subjects to find out about their experience in the world, you can go out there and feel it for yourself. It also implies a host of other meta-tools for experience designers, and takes the embodied approach of firms like IDEO (such as their famous six-minute film of a hospital ceiling) to a whole new level.

For an interview with two of the creators, click here.

[Photos by Nathan Fried-Lipski]