Communities and Engagement

Finding friendships in the old and new world

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Image: Republished with rights / tonefotografia

15 December 2021

Conceptualised as part of the Diversity and Inclusion initiative, Project Tinker Thing aims to promote social inclusivity between youths and seniors through active ageing.

Write to be kind: Creating the first connection

A team of NUS student volunteers started the project writing to seniors from the Sree Narayana Mission (Singapore). Every fortnight for six weeks, they exchanged life experiences, troubles and wisdom through letter-writing. This nostalgic method of interaction was well-received as the seniors enjoyed exchanging stories with our volunteers.

tinker things pen pals

The return of a pen: being a pal to seniors

Tinker Thing volunteer Mark Tin, a second-year Industrial Systems Engineering student says: “The seniors appreciate our small little effort… sometimes our presence is sufficient for them. I feel like a grandchild communicating with a grandfather through my daily sharings . Although there is no chance to meet face-to-face, it is heartening to know that I am a companion to someone."

Another Tinker Thing volunteer, Muhamed Insaf, Year 2 Mechanical Engineering, supported the idea of remote engagements with vulnerable groups. Given the tightened COVID-19 restrictions, physical visits to nursing homes have been discontinued and social interaction drastically reduced. He was happy for this window of opportunity to interact with the seniors and he wished to speak with them face-to-face someday.

Exercising the body and mind

While the pen pal programme was in place, the volunteers also worked on an Arduino-based tactile game to promote mental and physical wellness. The games focused on improving the memory or cognitive functions of seniors, as well as their muscle movements.

The team drew inspiration from the early portable music player – the boombox. Back in the 70s, the stereo system was a popular device that brought communities together through music and entertainment. The team developed the Boombox application featuring simple functions for seniors to communicate and play memory games.

Seniors would toss a velcro-padded touch sensor ball onto a cloth target board that lights up when comes into contact. Scores were recorded on the BoomBox.

tinker things - boombox

The BoomBox App features simple functions for non-tech savvy users

As the residents are generally excited to interact with one another physically, the second activity the team worked on is to make physical exercise engaging and fun for the seniors.

Physical motion and movement are gamified, detected, and displayed on an interface. This creates visual feedback to the seniors as they execute their physical exercise and record their motions.

To integrate the usefulness of exercise and ensure it is an enjoyable experience, the team is currently working on designing basic dance movements with music accompaniments. To support collaborative engagements between seniors, a multiplayer feature for up to five seniors to exercise together is being created. Using the Raspberry Pi hardware, the team was  easily able to customise  the system instead of using traditional operating systems. The prototyping board's adapters also allowed the team to "plug and play". Given that the seniors that they were engaging with are mostly new to technology, the flexibility of the hardware that they used made it easier for them to be creative to maximise engagement with the seniors.

senior engaging in tech

A senior engaged in technology

What’s next for Tinker Things?

The team has rolled out the pen pal programme on  August 2021 for a period of eight weeks. As the ideas are still being tested, the team is improving the technical development of the ideas. So, they are looking for students who are familiar with Ubuntu and Arduino. If you have the expertise in hardware and software development to improve the existing games, you can write to us at


Willoughby Niki Lee Yan Xing, Faculty of Engineering