Making technology tangible: Interview with Charlotte Kjellander

June 23, 2020
June 23, 2020

Making technology tangible: Interview with Charlotte Kjellander

Holst Center and GBO Innovation makers have been working together for years on the fundamental technology of the future. The Holst Center in Eindhoven is a research and innovation center, managed by imec from Belgium and TNO from the Netherlands. Charlotte Kjellander works as researcher and team leader at TNO. The institution develops technology that responds to the global societal challenges of tomorrow, and that contributes to a healthier and more sustainable world. This means that the Holst Center is at the forefront of many innovations that have affected and will affect large numbers of people.

Interview Charlotte Kjellander
Charlotte Kjellander, researcher and team leader at TNO wears the Solar Shirt.

Researcher and team leader Charlotte Kjellander of TNO received her master’s in chemical technology in Sweden. Her Ph.D. thesis in Eindhoven was about the role of liquid crystals in creating displays. Eindhoven is a hub for this type of knowledge, a lot of which began as a spin-off from Philips, often involving GBO.

Wearable Electronics

“Without a doubt, even before Covid-19, this is the most exciting industry at the moment! So much is possible, so many inventions and products that will contribute much humanity. It is inspiring and fun to be part of that.

“There are two significant sectors in my field: smart skin/health patches and smart clothing. Health Patches allow us to measure vital signs directly from the skin. Think of things like heart rate, breathing, and temperature. Smart clothing incorporates electronics into the fabrics to monitor and provide feedback to the wearer.

“One example is the Solar Shirt by Pauline van Dongen. It is a sweater with solar panels that can charge a phone or camera. The design and function are eye-catching. Our Mysa relax shirt is a more recent example of smart clothing. We showed this shirt at CES in Las Vegas in early 2020. Instead of text, images, light, or sound, the shirt gives haptic feedback, informing the wearer of their stress level and help them reduce it.  Nothing communicates as directly and clearly as skin contact.

“It is wonderful that we, as scientists, can bring new technologies and insights into the market. We also need GBO for this. The expert designers at GBO understand exactly what we are doing, and they can translate that into a beautiful industrial design. In turn, that helps us to offer concepts and new technologies. A well-designed product inspires much more than just our impressive test results and specifications. A product that seems ready for the market inspires potential customers to come up with their own applications.”

Accurate and ethical use of data

Customers are changing, and they do less research and development themselves. Even the big A-brands ask for final designs because of the desire to see quick results from their investments. Wearable technology is developing rapidly and becoming increasingly rich in possibilities. Data and apps are almost inextricably part of this. Today, almost everyone immediately thinks of privacy. Still, it should not end there, because there is also an advantage for the individual user who can read all this information from sensors, bring it together, and then analyze it.

Charlotte Kjellander: “As a scientist, I am particularly aware of the correctness of the measurements and the accuracy of algorithms. Data belongs to the new generation of products. Ethics are of great importance, especially for institutes with worldwide scientific reputations such as TNO and imec. That is why data matters are well regulated. Users are allowed to measure everything on their own bodies, and we have clear guidelines and solid protocols on the use of data that applies from testing to the commercial transfer of technology.”

Goal-oriented partnership

Charlotte Kjellander: “It is nice if a partner technically understands what we want and can translate this into shape and material. Touch and see is the result. Working with GBO is a great and productive experience. I believe that in the Netherlands, you call that ‘right on target.’ We always start by discussing the product idea, and then, in personal contact with you as designers and technology thinkers, we work step by step through concepts to a final result. The process is tightly directed and effective. That is why we like working with you. Maybe being goal-oriented is typical of Dutch Design. Not writing everything down and delivering months later, but rather going through a lot of communication and sketches that get us to a result that feels like something of its own.

“GBO often have the difficult task of delivering under great time pressure. There are tough deadlines and high delivery requirements. Personally, I have never been disappointed with the amount of work, the steps, and GBO’s actual delivery. My experience with the process has always been enjoyable. I recently did a project with GBO that, as usual, was urgent and with hard deadlines, and the result was great.”

Human wearables

“Wearables are becoming more human and personal. All the attention is on privacy, and that is why ethics are essential. It is also necessary to get direct feedback that does not travel through the cloud. Through all the rapid technological advances, people have forgotten to listen to themselves. How do we become more aware of the signals that our bodies still always send and receive? This can be heart rate and temperature, but also things like muscle contractions. Of course, we like to make products that help people better understand and interpret their own body’s signals. You have to be able to trust those products 100 percent.

“Design agencies must be active in the digital transition. As an industrial designer, you need to know the domain, be able to act broadly, and be aware of how data and the products interact. The complexity affects the user experience. Of course, every organization is free to determine its own role. GBO is an expert in the technology of prototypes and concepts, turning ideas into touchable products. It is good to see that you are now also thinking about data.”

The Covid-19 era

In this Covid-19 era, heatlh and tech are joining forces more than ever before. The consortium ‘Diagnostics for coronavirus’ focuses on measuring the correct data, possibly with sponsorship from the EU. We will then collaborate even more with other academics who also share their information to solve this major problem together. Similarly, we are already working on TBC diagnostics. Every day 3000 people worldwide die from the effects of tuberculosis. It is valuable for a scientist to be able to contribute to the fight against this disease. Healing takes months, and analysis takes two weeks. We are working on a technique in a skin patch to be able to test in half an hour at the first screening.

“The diversity of standards does not yet make it possible to exchange data with healthcare quickly. The technology is there, but the discussion about the ethical aspects takes precedence, on both national and global levels. I have seen that Covid-19 has accelerated many things. Let’s see that as a positive element of the current era. This crisis is also coming to an end. We have the technology to create value for many people with GBO’s design power today and in the future.”