IxD and Assistive Technology

Honours Studio 2 – Week 1/2/3/4

Honours Studio 2 – Week 1/2/3/4

I’ve started a great many blog posts with the words “it’s been a while since I last posted…”, but once again those time honoured words come to mind. It’s crunch time for the Honours year, with our thesis due in just a handful of weeks and a mad scramble to get as much research/process from the physical work into the paper as possible (the studio work isn’t due for a couple of months yet). The paper is ticking along, but doesn’t make for particularly interesting reading, so I won’t post it here.

For obvious privacy reasons, I can’t go into too much documentation here from the first device being handed over to the participant. I can say that it went quite well though. Serendipitously, I had built the tactile module from the first device to need more force to trigger than the child was capable of. This meant that the mother had to help, taking the child’s hand and helping to push down on the vibration motors. The response was instant and palpable: there was a clear excitement in the child’s face and eye contact with everyone around – this, according to the Occupational Therapist, was a powerful signal that social interest was achieved and very important in the development of a child with ASD.

Less fortunate was some poor coding that hasn’t been sending data to the Pachube feed that I set up for the first device. Because the device only sends data out once every 5 seconds, if something isn’t being triggered at that moment, it doesn’t register as having been triggered at all. Something I will definitely have to fix up for the next device.

Off the back of the feedback I have received from the first device, more exploration of vibration and tactile sensory experience was clearly the way to go. My first design looked at using the RFID tags once again to select a vibration frequency, which is triggered by a large switch/lever…

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First 3D mockup

This 2-step process seemed like a logical one, but my supervisor suggested that this may be ending the dialogue between myself and the child prematurely – a concept that has found its way into my thesis as a primary foundation of my methodology. This idea of the design process being an addition to the feedback loop between participant and device seems to suit my practice well, and is what I cite as the conversation between designer and user.

It also raises interesting questions around who is the author of these works and where the aesthetics of my practice come from. This Olafur Eliasson quote sums it up nicely:

What I am aiming at is to isolate the negotiation or engagement, that is, neither looking at the person or the street, but instead the in-between.

I have taken this quote as the basis for my thesis, titled The Aesthetics of Negotiation. I’ll revisit this on the blog more once the paper is finished, but it’s quite exciting to start articulating a clear idea about what it is that I do, and my own methodology – even if it’s just a fledging concept.

Back to the designs… Something both my supervisor and the Occupation Therapist from Aspect were interested in was getting an idea whether it’s the vibration, or the texture of the surface that the child is attracted to – which makes the original RFID/switch design too limited in scope. The next idea I came up with is a 3-joystick design. Each joystick will be covered in a different texture (soft, hard, fluffy etc), but will trigger vibration in the same way: push forward for fast, pull back for slow, left for intermediate, and so on…

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Second 3D mockup

I wasn’t totally sure about the complexity of this interaction, so I also came up with a simpler wedge-button style trigger. The further down each trigger is pressed, the more it will vibrate…

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Third 3D mockup

The problem with the trigger design is that a 2 year old child has the propensity to mash the buttons without making a connection to the finer controls. Whilst I like the simplicity of the trigger design, this means that it will be difficult to track exactly what frequency of vibration that the child prefers. However, the many small vibration motors that I used in the joystick design above seemed like an overly complex design, so I tried something else: lengths of plumbing pipe with an off-balance DC motor inside…

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It’s rough, but it works. And that’s pretty important at this stage of the game, so what will hopefully be the next design has taken shape. With the surface of the device itself being a relatively blank canvas, I want to also convey a sense of tactility about the entire unit. So I’m hoping to cut the next device from wood, rather than acrylic.

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Final 3D design

This device has come together a lot quicker than the first (which was stunningly – and probably stupidly – complicated), and I hope to see this one in the child’s home in around 2 weeks. So, back to work…



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