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Impact 0193: Designing with senior citizens’ needs in mind

Hilsann Yong · 20 September 2021
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Hilsann Yong, 26, is the designer of Troll-E, a hybrid E-Scooter/Shopping Cart targeted at assisting senior citizens with mobility challenges. Since graduating from the Singapore Institute of Technology in 2019, he has been working on establishing his career as a Design Engineer at Dyson, while seeking opportunities to give back to the community (including his alma mater). 

He shares more about Troll-E and his passions.

Question: Tell us about the purpose behind what you do!

My primary job scope at Dyson is to design, engineer and manufacture consumer products that users interact with daily. I do what I do with the purpose of impacting the lives of others by enabling a daily activity to be done more efficiently.

Akin to my previous work in University, Troll-E was created to support the elderly with their Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs), allowing them to be independent even when managing heavy groceries. My efforts were recognised on a national and international level, where I had the opportunity to present Troll-E to both President Halimah Yacob and Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand.

If I had the opportunity to go back in time and talk to my younger self, I’d redefine my initial perception of engineering, especially about how much difference one can make in the lives of others through this work. Since I would not have much success creating that time machine, the next closest thing is to educate the next generation on the role of engineers in society that we are all on this earth for a purpose far greater than ourselves.

Question: What have you been doing to inspire future engineers?

My most recent work was with James Dyson Foundation (JDF), in collaboration with SIT, where we had the privilege of mentoring students through one of SIT’s mechanical design modules. 

It was invigorating to bounce off ideas with enthusiastic individuals and to share insights from my past experiences in a similar module, as well as from post-graduation life.

Not long after, I was invited by my professors to speak to incoming SIT Students of the 2021 batch. Looking ahead, there is an upcoming JDF collaboration with an event called Engineering Good, Tech For Good 2021 where I will be sharing with secondary school students about my engineering journey and giving them a glimpse into the dynamic role and impact of an engineer.

Question: When did your passion for engineering begin?

Before I was able to fully grasp the definition of “Engineering”, it all began in secondary school, during my Design & Technology classes. It was the idea of creating something out of nothing while solving a problem that drew me to it. Oddly enough, I’ve also had the habit of taking things like remote controllers and plastic toys apart to see what is inside. 

While attempting to make sense of my scope of Marine Engineering studies in Polytechnic, it was really only in university when I figured out that being a Mechanical Design Engineer was what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a purposeful engineer of design and innovation, who would devise solutions that make the world a better place to live in. 

Question: What would you say motivates you to continue doing what you’re doing?

I relish the idea of being able to make a positive change in the life of others, and this drives me to want to make the world a better place. Having been involved with product design in the past couple of years, I have first-handedly experienced the impact of a well-designed solution. 

Therefore, in my attempts of “paying-it-forward”, I want to be able to share what I wished I had known earlier with young aspiring engineers, in hopes that it might ease or facilitate their journey towards the unknown. Afterall, learning is a lifelong journey.

Question: There must have been challenges along the way, could you share some of these struggles and what you did to overcome them?

System integration was one the key technical challenges during the prototyping of Troll-E. The prototype consisted of three subsystems put together: the front two steering wheels from a mobility scooter, an e-scooter chassis, and a grocery storage compartment. 

Integrating the mobility scooter and storage compartment into the chassis was critical to the overall functionality and form of Troll-E. The two front wheels, with the driving wheel at the rear, allows for a “tadpole configuration” and the storage compartment has been devised to be protected by the gas-strutted seat, where the user sits.

These two subsystems were obtained during my initial research phase, where I personally visited multiple “Personal Mobility Aid/Devices” distributors to source out for components that were usually not readily available off-the-shelf. Interacting with the technical team on-site paid off, as I was able to clinch the necessary spare parts at a good deal. 

Due to the limited budget available, I improvised a Toyogo box and modified it according to my required specifications for the prototype. These were all held together with adapters that were designed, fabricated and assembled onto the main chassis. 

Personally, it was daunting to independently manage this project, which involved liaising with suppliers and convincing stakeholders on the viability of this project – and this was on top of my personal assignments. 

I’m thankful for having the support from my loved ones who helped me in all ways possible, such as providing feedback from user trials, contacts of suppliers, and, most importantly, the emotional support needed throughout this stressful period. 

Question: Is there anything you want others to know about the cause you support?

I came across this particular quote by Mary Pat Radabaugh, director of IBM’s National Support Center for Persons With Disabilities in the 80s, that sums up why I do what I do: “For people without disabilities, technology makes things easier. For people with disabilities, technology makes things possible.”

I found my passion for engineering at a late stage. At 26, I’m still constantly in search of ways to sharpen my craft and contribute back to society. Ultimately, I want everyone out there reading this to know that it is never too late to make an impact on either your own or someone else’s life.  

Question: What are your plans for the future? Any new initiatives coming up?

While I am still expanding my technical abilities as an engineer, I am keen to venture into either the renewable energy or the biomedical technology industries. I want my engineering work to make a change for marginalised groups and ultimately, the sustainability of life in this world.

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