Daniel Finnegan, EngD
Competition Sponsor: UK Research and Innovation
In the UK, it is estimated that around 1.5 million aged 50 and over suffer from chronic loneliness, and 40% of older people say the television is their only company. These numbers are continually rising, putting a strain on social services such as the NHS, as well as other relatives who want the best for their loved ones. How is loneliness still a problem today, in a world dominated by ‘social’ media, where we have so many tools and technologies to connect with one another? The answer may lie in the shallow experience of connectedness these technologies provide. Connectedness is more than just being connected. It requires a shared understanding, the chance to socialize, agency and independence, and to share meaningful experiences and interact with other human beings. Through co-design workshops, low-fi prototypes, and user studies, I will explore how mixed reality— technology which lets us combine the real and digital worlds—may help establish deep relationships to relieve loneliness. We can chat and gossip with friends and family as if they are in the same room with us, and even host events from our own living room. The benefits greatly outweigh the costs: for example, the devices necessary to fulfill my vision of tackling loneliness by connecting people through mixed reality would cost less than a branded refrigerator. As a researcher and co-director of a community interest company, I bring a unique set of skills and intrinsic motivation to work on projects with tangible benefits for ordinary people.