Big Life Fix

Yesterday evening I found myself glued to the first episode in a new television series called “Big Life Fix with Simon Reeve” (BBC2, 9pm)

For the benefit of those who haven’t seen it, it’s essentially about challenging young, enthusiastic inventors to come up with ways to resolve specific issues that are having a massive negative impact on people’s lives. Episode 1 focused on three challenges

  • help a wheelchair-bound young man with very limited dexterity to continue his passion for photography
  • provide emergency back-up phone and internet connectivity to a remote village where regular landline and mobile coverage is unreliable
  • come up with a way of resolving the tremors in the hand of a young graphic designer who is badly affected by Parkinsons

I’m not going to produce a blow-by-blow account of the issues and fixes (they were all amazing), but found myself particularly entranced by the story of the woman with Parkinsons. My aunt has Parkinsons, and while her current medication mostly keeps her tremors under control, I have seen what a huge impact the condition has had on her life.   Parkinsons is a cruel disease at any age, but the woman in this programme was younger than myself, and so badly afflicted by tremors that she is unable to even write her own name, let alone produce the designs which are an essential part of her career and her life.

The enthusiasm with which the young inventor went about trying to come up with ways to fix the tremor, was incredible to watch. She first experimented with a pen that is specially adapted to reduce tremors, supported on a pentagraph – but this only seemed to worsen the tremors. Attempts to slow down the tremors using magnets to counter the movement of the pen, were also unsuccessful. So she moved on to investigating devices that could be strapped to the wrist of the sufferer, to slow down the tremor by creating vibrations that interrupt the communication flow between the wrist and the brain. Incredibly, this was successful, and watching the young woman strap on the specially-created wrist watch, and write her name for the first time in three years, was incredibly moving, with both inventor and client in tears at seeing how well it was working.

The telephony solution in Wales, to my surprise, used a device called a mesh potato, from South Africa. My South African friends and family are constantly bemoaning the poor telephone and internet service in their country relative to the UK and US, so it was wonderful to see a South African initiative being put to use to solve an issue in the UK.

And the photography solution used, among other things, an Arduino – a microcontroller that uses similar technology to the raspberry pi that I mentioned in an earlier post – to control the camera’s zoom. A quick Google later, and I came across a fascinating TED talk, which explains what an Arduino is as well as a few of the many ways it can be used – well worth a watch for those of you who, like me, are new to all of this and want to know more.

Of course the solutions in this programme were each developed on a one-off basis and making them more widely available will obviously take time, but I for one am incredibly excited to see what possibilities are being made available by this new technology – and some brilliant minds. Bring on episode 2!


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