A cooperative design approach to the design of interactive devices for small, specialized user groups

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This research considers a cooperative design approach to the design, development and implementation of interactive devices catering to small, specialised user groups. Conventional methods of mass production used in the manufacture of interactive devices demand medium to large volume production runs of 10,000 to 100,000 + units for products to remain cost effective. This drives the need for products to appeal to large user groups, which means product implementation catering to small user groups is limited. However there is a need for interactive devices catering to small user groups in industries that require specialised devices to do specific tasks. Such industries include mining, health care and aged care to name a few. Recent advancements in Additive Manufacturing technology combined with the availability of Open Source Hardware + Software offer the possibility to develop and implement interactive devices for low-volume production starting as low as one unit produced. Conventional User Centred Design approaches used in Industrial Design are tailored towards high-volume production, however for small-volume production a cooperative design (co-design) approach may be more relevant. To investigate this a study was conducted by devising a co-design approach and applying it to the design, development and implementation of an Operator Control Unit (OCU). This OCU was designed to control a semi-autonomous robotic Grit-blasting Assistive Device (GAD) that was deployed on the Sydney Harbour Bridge (SHB). The purpose of the SHB GAD is to remove old paint and rust from the Harbour Bridge steel structure by blasting it with grit. The development of the SHB GAD, including its OCU, is a joint project between Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) and the University of Technology Sydney’s Centre for Autonomous Systems. The project was chosen for the study because the SHB GAD is a tool developed specifically for the Sydney Harbour Bridge and is to be used by a small user group of ten users. The study was conducted by designing and developing the OCU cooperatively with five users, who are employees of RMS. Upon implementation of the OCU resulting from the study, a review of the co-design approach was conducted, by interviewing the five users and asking them to reflect on the process. The results revealed that this research is able to make contributions that will assist in furthering knowledge in this area. Furthermore the results led to a set of conclusions, of which one is that a co-design approach adds value to a project at a personal, team and company level. The resulting OCU was also compared to two commercially available OCUs. This comparison demonstrated, that the resulting OCU could be identified as a robotic OCU even though the users involved in the co-design approach had no previous design or robotics experience. The contributions and conclusions may provide new ways of structuring Industrial Design and Human Robot Interaction approaches to the design of interactive devices for small, specialised user groups.
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