Japan aging suit puts car makers in senior circuit

ATSUGI, Japan (Reuters) - Planning for your old age? Designers in Japan are.

Carmaker Nissan Motor is using a specialized driver’s suit and goggles to simulate the bad balance, stiff joints, weaker eyesight and extra five kilograms (11lbs) that may accompany senior citizenry.

Associate chief designer Etsuhiro Watanabe says the suit’s weight and constriction help in determining functionality and accessibility within cars by putting young designers not only in the minds of the mobility-challenged, but also in their bodies.

“Difficulty in walking, back pains, trouble in lifting arms -- we wanted to consider assorted infirmities,” said Watanabe of the concept known as universal design.

“It’s easy to do this for the young, but we wanted to design for adverse conditions and see what modifications are needed.”

An ageing suit was first used by Nissan a decade ago, while Japanese washlet maker Toto uses such suits to simulate bathroom mobility, even including tub water as part of the program.

Launched in a rapidly graying nation where over 40 percent of the population is expected to be over 65 age by mid-century, the design strategy also aims to find traction abroad.

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Over 40 percent of Nissan’s Japanese and U.S. sales are to customers over 50 years old, according to the company.

Nissan says the suit and glasses help decide dashboard angles and visibility issues, as well as driver space and support.

“It’s very difficult to drive, says Nissan’s Naoki Yamamoto after a turn at the wheel in a suit that runs from neck to feet.

“You lose the freedom you’re accustomed to, and while you can move, there are limitations, such as turning the steering wheel or switching on the blinker.”

Universal design is not just for the elderly, as larger drivers with space and mobility concerns also look for greater access and share of the road.

Reporting by Dan Sloan; editing by Sophie Hardach