Exploring creativity in music, design and engineering

Justin Pither is at the forefront of a company behind an innovative hi-tech seating system designed for children with disabilities.

His work as Chief Technology Officer for Aergo is the latest stage in a varied career for Justin (OE 1999–2006), who spent five years between School and university playing in a band with two QE friends, Michael Lane (OE 1999–2004) and Jake Schogger (OE 1999–2006).

Justin, who secured his Mechanical Engineering Master’s degree from Imperial College London in 2015, joined Aergo in June last year. The company was founded by students from a course shared by Imperial and the Royal College of Art.

“They went to observe students in a special educational needs school and noticed how the postural support equipment was very rudimentary, stigmatising, and bulky. The concept solution they designed improves these issues by using smart, inflatable air cells that hug the user into a healthy posture,” says Justin. The company’s website states that the system, which is designed for wheelchair users, is the “world’s most adaptable posture seating device”.

""“I wasn't an original founder of the company, but I am their first employee. I currently also hold a position of ‘hacker-in-residence’ at the Imperial College Adva nced Hackspace and have been able to bring my engineering knowledge and Imperial College resources to help with product development at Aergo.

“My role centres around developing and testing the product with users suffering from the target disease group. However, I have also become involved with other aspects such as pitching for investment, managing sub-contractors and working on regulatory compliance.”

Justin has had a proclivity for making things from a young age. “Even during my time as a musician before attending university I learnt about electronic engineering in order to fix and modify my keyboards and guitars.”

""His interest in design and engineering was further stimulated while he was at Imperial. “The degree course provided a rigorous and demanding engineering education, and my position as President of the Imperial College Design Collective society (now named Imperial College Design Engineering Society) allowed me to learn about the core elements of product design and how to foster creativity.”

Justin says he has many good memories of his School days at QE: “A lot of them involved the Music department. There was a strong feeling of community there –  my A-level Music class and the teachers were all friends. Being able to play music together only enhanced that.”

Those experiences strongly influenced his decision to pursue a music career in the years between leaving QE in 2006 and going to Imperial in 2011. “I played bass guitar in the same bands (Minus IQ, The Band Called Up) as Michael and Jake – we started to play together at QE, aged 13, and continued throughout School, carrying on afterwards to try and take the band forward.

“We had some moderate success – we signed to a small independent record label and subsequently released an album and toured the UK. We were self-managed in the day-to-day running of the band, and I personally organised multiple UK tours. I consider myself very lucky to have seen and played in the major cities of the UK – another special perspective that most do not get to experience.”

Justin still maintains a strong connection with Jake and Michael, together with others in his QE friendship group: Yash Zaveri, Robert Hyams, Sean McCaffery, Andreas Lefteris and Kapil Joshi.

""In the interval between graduating from Imperial and joining Aergo, Justin sought out work on projects he considered interesting. This included a short period with GyroGear, another company focusing on a healthcare product, and United Visual Artists, where he worked in a team to construct and test large-scale, outdoor light installations for Selfridges department store in London.

“I have also worked in the Glastonbury festival recycling team for five years, which has inspired me to develop a chair that is easily recyclable: however, this is still in development so I can't give away too many details at this stage.”

“I have undertaken a few cycle tours, the most notable of which was in the summer of 2015: I was in a three-man team from Imperial, riding from Venice, Italy, to Sofia, Bulgaria, along the Adriatic coastline. We covered 1,000 miles, passing through nine countri es, carrying all of our own gear and we spent most nights camping in the wild. It was tough at times – some very steep hill-climbing in mid-summer heat – but we were able to get away from the beaten path and have a unique experience.”