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Industrial Design students manufacture backpacks for Connection to Care program

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Working with Virginia Tech's Institute of Policy and Governance, students majoring in Industrial Design over several years have developed a backpack for the Connection to Care opioid crisis response program. The students traveled to Fairfield, Virginia to produce 50 prototype backpacks in collaboration with UTS Systems, a manufacturer of military grade shelters. The bags are intended to address the needs of individuals who are housing insecure or struggling with substance misuse, and will be given to the Drop-In Center in Roanoke, Virginia to be field tested so students can learn if improvements need to be made.

This is part of our studio course. So each year our industrial design students take a design laboratory where we practice design problems. And every year those problems get a little bit more complicated. Today we're making 50 backpack prototypes that are gonna go out and then we're going to follow up in about a month to interview some of the users, see what they like, what they don't like, and hopefully improve it from there. The backpack itself was designed to hold a lot of goods, safely hold some personal items. And then also with a tarp sewn on onto the bottom, can actually provide shelter. If you're housing insecure, you're carrying everything you own on your bag. Having space to carry what's precious to you, and then also things that you need to secure your ID, or medical cards and for a community that may be suffering from substance misuse, having access to Narcan or other substances that would help you stop an opioid overdose. We wanted really one big compartment with the students input and our input back. Come to this solution that we have today. And we said we support them in their first 50 to get it out the door. We design things for hostile environments, for our military. They got to deploy and work operationally in some extreme conditions and we make equipment that can work in those extreme conditions. So we took what we know from that market and made it more practical application. Seeing the way machines operate, how seams go together, what the fabric can actually do really help the students say, Okay, I have this form and now I know my materials and I know the way I can shape them. And so the designer's job is to blend those two things together. It feels really gratifying just because like kind of taking myself out of the equation and interviewing our users and just kind of making it about them and kind of improving the product for them. Really just, it feels that's why I want to kinda get into this, this whole field of industrial design is I want to be able to help others.