Professor Amos Winter, who came into class on Monday, was one of the lecturers for 2.007, Design and Manufacturing I. I was really inspired by his talk on thewheelchair project last year, but in addition to the Leveraged Freedom Chair,he also talked about the prosthetic project his group was doing. I forgot some of the details, so the description might not be entirely accurate. The project was called ATKnee.
One of the researchers in Professor Winter’s group designed a well engineered prosthetic and took it to the field for testing. The researcher sent out a survey asking the users what feature they want in this prosthetic. Some of the top ranked answers were the ability to cross their knees so the users can sit like other Indians and that the foot of the prosthetic looks like a real human foot.
When I heard that in class, I was shocked. Consumer product design has been centered on catering to the needs of users for a long time, so we have really user-friendly features in all well received consumer products, yet the same standard is not replicated to AT. I have a feeling that ATs are designed like medical devices. The main focus is on the functionality instead of interface, look and usability. This standard makes sense for medical devices (though doctors might disagree), but doesn’t not make sense for AT. AT users are not doctors; they most likely need to bring the device around, use it multiple times everyday and conduct social interaction with or using it. Some even require the users to pay out of pocket instead of going through insurance.
ATs not only need the high design standard in functionality like medical devices, but also in all user-related aspects. Unless manufacturers start to design ATs like consumer products, the gap between what the users need and what the world has will continue to exist. This is way easier to say than to implement. People with same kind of disability can have very different needs, how can a manufacturer cater to so many different needs?
Perhaps ATs do not need to be packaged and sold on the counter. Perhaps users can assemble different pieces together to make a piece of AT that suits them perfectly, or bring it to a community based shop to have a technician do it. This can be like PPAT on a large scale. I can really see this idea work in the hardware realm, for example the project I’m working on with Paul, a coffee holder on his crutches. Just an idea.