Big Life Fix mends again

Viral video from the show has had 53m views. Now the producers of Big Life Fix – the BBC Two TV series that sees technology deployed to change people’s lives for the better – are on the hunt for technologists who can help improve lives, as well as more people who could benefit from a tailor-made tech intervention. Julian Blake reports.

haiyanemmaTechnologists with design innovations that could help change lives for the better are coming forward to offer their knowledge, after the producers of BBC’s Big Life Fix confirmed that the groundbreaking tech-for-good show is to appear on our screens for a second series early next year.

In the show’s first series, (available on BBC iPlayer), some of the UK’s leading inventors created tech-driven solutions to people’s real and everyday problems – working directly with those people to build the products.

The show is a great example of how human-centred design can change lives for the better – and stars from the show joined us on stage at our Impact Awards at the Barbican Centre on March 2.

Among the speakers was London-based graphic designer Emma Lawton, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at just 29. The tremors that come with her Parkinson’s has massively restricted Lawton’s ability to draw by hand. As a result of working with designer and technologist Haiyan Zhang, a prototype ‘watch’ was developed that helped her overcome her tremor.

The watch deliberately shakes the wearer’s arm and when it does it seems to confuse the brain of the person with Parkinson’s, allowing them to draw with some precision.

“Being a creative in design I don’t have to sketch. It’s not necessarily part of my job, but it’s something that I choose to do,” said Lawton, who is head of creative at Spixii. “To not be able to do it makes me feel I am not myself. It’s a basic human right to be able to write your name and make your mark on a piece of paper and say that’s me.”

Zhang, innovation director at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, worked closely with Lawton to create ‘Emma’s watch’ is an early prototype and Zhang and the team is now exploring how it could be made available to more people.

The video of Emma’s story went viral and has now been viewed on Facebook no less than 53 million times.

Since her diagnosis, Lawton has gone on to write Dropping the Bomb, a book about her experiences. “I see it as an opportunity to share my story,” she said. “I talk at events and speak to a lot of people, and because of that I get to say the things that a lot of people don’t have the platform to say.

“Having Parkinson’s really young is something that a lot of people don’t really understand,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to tell my story and tell the story of others and definitely through writing the book it’s been a great experience to chat to people all about the condition.”

Ruby Steel, a senior design strategist at Smart Design, was another fixer on the show. Steel worked on the first series with Graham – who has locked-in syndrome following a stroke – on a ‘reaction pad’ app to help him reconnect with the world around him.

“When the team and I met him he had not actually been able to communicate with his family for a two-year period,” Steel said. “The only way that he was able to communicate was to type things out very slowly with a tiny bit of movement he had in one of his hands on an iPad.”

Steel said Graham’s app constructed tiles “as shortcuts to the things that were really important to him to be able to react to things in the room”. Locked-in syndrome meant that Graham hadn’t been able to use his own voice, but when his wife Zoe found some old videos that contained Graham’s voice the team was able to populate the tiles with his own voice.

Alongside personal challenges, the show looks at the problems faced by communities, including the lack of connectivity in rural communities, and the tech response to that.

The first series addressed nine challenges in all. Other fixers on the show included Ryan White, Jude Pullen, Ross Atkin, Zoe Laughlin and Yusuf Mohammed. It was filmed on location at east London maker space Machines Room.

Confirming the second series, the BBC said: “We’d like to hear from anyone who wants help from the fix team. It might be that you have a regular task or job that could be made much easier, or a hobby that is proving difficult because the equipment doesn’t fit your needs.

“We’re also really keen to hear from anyone who thinks they can help the fixers to improve more lives.”

Filming is expected to start this summer, with the show being transmitted early next year.

If you’re interested in taking part in the second series of Big Life Fix, email Studio Lambert by March 31.