Emerging Technologies

Innovative tools of the trade

By Daren Maynard

Molding human interaction with technology

Waking up in 2014 means that humans have to interact with technology in various ways, from the industrial equipment we use to the ever-present smart devices. And industrial engineers have to consider the ergonomic implications of these interactions in their designs of workplace equipment.

For example, Optis developed its full-immersion virtual reality tool Human Integrated Manufacturing (H.I.M.) to be used in a 360-degree computer-generated visualization of machine design by its customers. Steelcase has designed Gesture, an ergonomic office chair that supports the human body based on the different postures the user adopts while interacting with technology.

Simulation is an important component in the process of designing engineered products. Having a tool like H.I.M. at one’s disposal enhances the design process. It simulates the product design in manufacturing and industrial usages from ideation to training of the user. The dimensions and physical footprint of the designs can be reviewed without resorting to expensive prototypes. The engineer can map out the best way to assemble, disassemble and maintain the machine before production even starts.

During the iterative design process, H.I.M. can be used to validate the ergonomics of the design by using an interactive virtual human/avatar. In addition, the design’s performance in the industrial environment can be simulated to ensure it meets physical, mechanical and thermodynamic parameters. When the design is finalized, it is released into production. The intended users now can be trained on the new machine even before it is delivered to the customer’s site. This reduces the down time between machine setup and actual usage.

With the continued proliferation of mobile devices, our bodies find themselves in variously named contortions: the cocoon, draw, the multidevice, the smart leap, the strunch, the swipe, the take it in, text and the trance. The Gesture chair has been designed to support and match our bodies in these new positions, positions that put us into uncomfortable, sometimes painful and stressful conditions of various time lengths. The Gesture interfaces with the body in terms of the core, the limb, the seat and the user to give a more ergonomic human-technology experience.

The core interface supports the user’s back in synchronicity with the various positions he or she adopts when using a computer, tablet, phone or a combination of mobile devices and accessories. The limb interface cradles the arms and shoulders as the user swipes, types and texts; it moves in harmony with these body parts. The seat’s flexibility matches the user as the person assumes different postures, providing comfort. The user interfaces with the Gesture as the chair can be adjusted to the various body types and sitting preferences to make it a personal experience, almost like the chair was designed just for the particular user.

Daren Maynard is the portfolio management lead for Novus Tech Limited and F1RST Media Limited in Trinidad and Tobago. He has an M.S. in program and project management and a B.S. in industrial engineering. He is a member of IIE’s Young Professionals group.