Big Life Fix harnesses the life-changing potential of technology

by Fiona Rae / 04 December, 2017
Big Life Fix.

Big Life Fix.

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Changing lives through inventions using new technology is TV presenter Simon Reeve’s latest mission. 

Simon Reeve is usually seen stomping through jungle or driving through deepest Siberia, but he stays at home in Britain for Big Life Fix (TVNZ 1, Tuesday, 9.30pm).

Does it sound like a lifestyle show? It’s not. At heart, it’s about how our brilliant human minds have an endless capacity for invention. It’s also about making technology do what it should, which is make lives better.

The show gathers a group of inventors, engineers and designers in what Reeve describes as a “maker space” in East London and presents them with some particularly gnarly problems for people with disabilities or communities in need.

“A rare example of TV making itself useful,” said the Telegraph, in an unusual bit of praise. This was after seeing 22-year-old James in Liverpool, whose passion is photography. However, James suffers from the debilitating condition epidermolysis bullosa (EB) and is wheelchair-bound. He has lost the use of his hands, and his dad must help him with his camera. Crucially, photography takes James’s mind off the constant pain. “That’s what we live for, distraction,” he says.

Jude, who has designed firefighting robots, must figure out a way for James to use his camera independently, and although it is not possible to fit in too much of the detail, the series is also about how ideas become reality and the many stops and starts in between.

Meanwhile, electronics engineer Ryan and product designer Ross travel to Wales, where a small community is in a “not spot” – an area of patchy telecommunications. There are 80,000 across the UK, says Reeve. The landline infrastructure in the village of Staylittle is so old it is unreliable and can’t support internet connections, and the Welsh hills seriously affect wireless transmission.

“I can’t believe this is a problem right now,” says Ryan. The answer lies in something called a Mesh Potato. There are meetings with residents, quite a bit of driving around and much fiddling around in the freezing Welsh rain before Ryan is able to say, “I got Google in the barn.”

It appears that nearly all the inventions that emerge in the three-part series have real-world potential, especially the “watch” designed for a young graphic designer with Parkinson’s. Emma has lost the ability to draw, but computer scientist Haiyan experiments with a vibrating wristband that counteracts her tremors.

The result? Emma writes her name for the first time in three years. Life-changing.

This article was first published in the December 2, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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