Industrial design grad showcases breast cancer research

Pia Nyakairu presented her fourth-year thesis project at Design Indaba in South Africa. (Photo provided)

A Carleton alumna who has created an app to help breast cancer patients is sharing her research around the world.

Industrial Design graduate Pia Nyakairu, who now works as a designer for an appliance company in Guelph, Ont., spoke about her app at the Design Indaba Conference in South Africa this winter.

The conference is considered the TED Talks for designers and is one of the biggest design events in the world, says Thomas Garvey, director of Carleton’s School of Industrial Design.

Garvey has been taking one student to the conference each year since 2010 after he and a team of former students impressed Design Indaba with a housing project and were routinely invited to speak at the annual event.

At the conference, Nyakairu spoke about a remote rehabilitation tool and app for breast cancer patients that she designed for her fourth-year thesis project. The tool measures things like the patient’s heart rate, oxygen levels and movements. It then sends the information through Bluetooth to a mobile app that allows physiotherapists to directly track the progress of their patients.

Nyakairu also talked about an interactive vibration bracelet she designed for deaf people during her third year of university. The bracelet’s microphone and Bluetooth pick up sounds and music and translate them into vibrations the user can feel.

Speaking in front of 3,000 people was an amazing and fun experience, Nyakairu says. She met incredible and inspiring people at the conference, and says the audience really interacted with her.

What stood out to her most was meeting a woman from a digital magazine in New York who had a mastectomy.

“It was just amazing to actually meet someone that could be a user for something that I did,” says Nyakairu.

Before this encounter, Nyakairu hadn’t met a breast cancer patient. She says ethical issues can make it difficult to do so when designing products and conducting research.

Most of her thesis work involved speaking to physiotherapists and conducting online literature research.

The feedback she got at the conference has encouraged Nyakairu to bring her rehabilitation tool and app to the market. Drawing from her Ugandan background, Nyakairu says she is interested in designing products or projects that incorporate people’s needs, values and cultures.

She hopes her work can help people around the world, in both developed and developing nations.

“I want to be able to design products that work for everyone,” Nyakairu says.

This entry was written by Evelyn Shen Yu and posted in the issue. Bookmark the permalink or share the following short URL for this article via social media:

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