Physical Computing Kits for Senior Citizens

Electronic toolkits are all the rage as part of a STEM curriculum. From LEGO Mindstorms, to GoldieBlox, to simple Arduino kits, researchers pour considerable resources into developing the most effective learning tools for a young audience. Older adults have largely been left out of this DIY-electronics “boom,” even as we rush to develop digital devices with simple controls and big buttons and offer “Intro to Facebook” classes at senior centers.

The Maker movement encourages people to become creators rather than just users. It’s empowering to know some basics about how your electronics work and to apply that knowledge in your own project. It can be a form of personal expression or a practical way to customize an existing gadget. There’s no reason why retirees should be left out.

For my master’s project at Georgia Tech, I designed a low-cost, open source kit specifically for an older audience. Rather than basing the kit around the popular Arduino Uno microcontroller, I altered an Adafruit Gemma (only $7 each), creating a color-coded system of snap-able wires. I made similar adjustments and hacks to the breadboards and LEDs, in an effort to make the kit simpler and more accessible.

The kit comes with a paper guide and several different inputs and outputs to use with the Gemma. It’s designed to be used in a one-hour workshop setting with a knowledgeable facilitator. The goal is to introduce the workshop participants to the toolkit and provide the resources for them to continue exploring physical computing.

Author, Designer
2013-2014
Master’s Project