Ford’s third age suit helps engineers when designing cars.
I recently had a brush with my future. I experienced what it could be like to get in and out of a car with a host of limitations that might affect me as an elderly person. And let me tell you, it was enlightening.
Ford Motor Company has created “empathy suits” to help vehicle engineers and designers build vehicles with special needs and limitations in mind. The Third Age suit, which I experienced, simulates the limitations of people aged 50 – 75. There is a pregnancy suit which simulates… well, pregnancy, of course. Ford also has a Drunk & Drugged suit, which they use to help educate new drivers on the dangers of impaired and distracted driving.
Designed to significantly reduce mobility when worn, Ford’s third age suit helps engineers and designers create vehicles with the needs and limitations of the elderly in mind. Here’s what happened when I tried on the suit.
Understanding the needs and limitations of an elderly driver
I was outfitted with the following:
- Third age suit vest, which weighs about 22 pounds and restricts movement and flexibility
- Elbow and knee braces to simulate arthritis
- Neck brace to limit range of motion
- A motorized hand glove to mimic tremors and reduced strength in fingers
- Weight on my foot to simulate difficulty in lifting the foot and moving from the brake to gas pedals
- Impairment glasses to demonstrate eye diseases such as glaucoma or cataracts
With the suit on, I immediately felt pressure on my back and was hunched forward. The knee and elbow braces significantly limited my movement and simply getting in and out the car was a bit of a struggle. According to Mary Heck (who you see in the video), Ford pays particular attention to the design of the seat bolsters, pillars, and roof line to accommodate those with mobility issues. Once in the car, I was able to reach all of the controls. Everything was grouped together logically, which is a key component in the design of Ford vehicles.
With the weight on my foot and limited movement in my legs, I could see that moving quickly from the brake to the gas pedal might be a challenge. And I felt that my biggest challenge would be turning my head and upper body to check for cars when changing lanes. According to Mary, safety features like adaptive cruise control, lane assist, and forward collision warning all address the needs, and contribute to the safety, of the elderly.
Using Ford’s third age suit was an eye-opening experience for me. I’m almost 50 and feel great, so it’s hard to imagine that these changes could take place in my body over the next 10 – 20 years. But we all know our joints don’t hold out forever and it’s likely I will have some limited mobility in my future. It’s reassuring to know that Ford Motor Company has these issues in mind when designing their vehicles.