We often hear stories of how technology is going to change our health futures. Developments in assistive technology – from prosthetic limbs and exoskeletons that can aid in recovery from physical injury, to smart drugs that will help preserve memory in old age, and companion robots that will serve as carers – promise huge benefits to improved health.
itDf asks what ideas of body and personhood are at stake in these processes. How are hopes and fears about our bodies and minds expressed in the ideas we create, the stories we tell ourselves, and the products we design, when we imagine our interactions with technology?
The project is the first to combine expertise in arts and humanities, design, robotics and users of assistive technologies to increase understanding of how disability and embodiment are currently represented and used, and the ways in which technology can enhance lives in the future. It brings together researchers in Literary and Cultural Studies and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Leeds, Philosophy at the University of Exeter, Disability Design at the University of Dundee, and Robotics at the University of Sheffield. It aims to develop new work not only in these disciplines, but also in the broad interdisciplinary area of Critical Medical Humanities.
Our project partners work in Cultural Theory, Ethics, and Engineering and Robotics at universities in the US, Japan, Scandinavia and the Netherlands.
As a team, we are interested in how these imagined futures connect to the lives of people living with disabilities today. We are working with disabled individuals, disability communities and family members, and NHS user groups, all of whom we see as integral to our research design. As well as discussing the proliferation of stories that suggest the possibilities of technologized embodiment, and the experience of engaging with them, we will develop prototype product designs and robot platforms to further explore how we imagine future encounters between disability and technology.
itDf is a five-year project, sponsored by the Wellcome Trust, that will run until 2025.