Parametric Humans are Coming to Montreal

Autodesk is sponsoring the third International Workshop on Biomechanical and Parametric Modeling of Human Anatomy (PMHA). As part of the Parametric Human Project, PMHA is all about modeling the human body and simulating it to better understand biomedical and human factors.

Parametric Modeling of Human Anatomy (PMHA)The program for this year's PMHA is rich with content and includes talks on:

  • Developing models for how speech, the tongue and swallowing work
  • Virtual Reality for medical simulation
  • Biomechanical models of the knee and spine
  • Muscle modeling and simulation

This event will take place at Autodesk's beautiful office in Old Montreal.


It is Indeed Possible to Type 30 Words Per Minute on a Smart Watch

Ironically, as cell phones are getting bigger, we see increasing popularity in ultra small screen devices such as smart watches. With these smaller screens we need to find ways to work more efficiently with them or risk these new devices being regarded as novelty items. The same old interfaces don't work.

Autodesk Research Swipeboard Smart Watch Text Entry
What time is it? It's time for Swipeboard!

One of the most common things to do on a mobile device is to enter text. We've learned to enter text with our thumbs so we can continue to learn. The problem with a smart watch is that it's a one handed device and the size of the screen really only works for a single finger without obscuring too much of the screen. Not content to revert to hunt-and-peck typing 101 the Autodesk Research User Interface group set out to find a solution.

Enter Swipeboard

Autodesk Research Swipeboard Title

Swipeboard takes inspiration from Morse code and gestural input for an easy to master text entry paradigm that sees users entering more than 30 words per minute (wpm).

Morse Code
The fastest recorded Morse code entry is 140wpm.

Swipeboard uses a QWERTY keyboard broken up into segments of 3 or 4 characters. The user simply taps in the region of the character block and then swipes to identify the character. Some users have achieved a level of comfort with the system that allows them to enter text without looking at the screen.

Autodesk Research Smart Watch Text Entry Swipeboard
First a QWERTY style keyboard is shown for selecting the character region
Autodesk Research Smart Watch Text Entry Swipeboard
After a tap, the keyboard zooms in to prompt for a gesture to define the specific character

Hard to believe? Watch the video of Swipeboard in action below. Note that the video is not sped up - you're seeing it work in real time.


What's next for Swipeboard?

Well, we'll be talking about it at UIST 2014, the User rInterface Software and Technology Symposium, for starters.

Autodesk Research Swipeboard Glasses
Swipeboard could be applied to other wearable devices such as glasses

For future work, this could be interesting to explore on other wearable devices like glasses and rings. It could also be interesting to see Swipeboard expanded from characters to complete words. What do you think?

If you liked this post, you might also like to read about Duet, a research project that looks at making a smart watch and smart phone work well together. Duet shows that 1 + 1 can equal more than 2.

I don't know who designed this chair but they didn't use Project Dreamcatcher

OK, as a follow-up post to the reddit thread on uncomfortable chair design this title is not quite fair. Project Dreamcatcher is not yet ready for general use and testing but if it was we would see some interesting chairs and other designs.

What is Project Dreamcatcher?

Autodesk Research Project Dreamcatcher

Project Dreamcatcher is a shared research initiative between our Design Research and Computational Science Research groups to make the computer aware of your design considerations, constraints and goals. In this new envisioning of Computer Aided Design (CAD), the computer would crunch through your instructions and give you a whole bunch of possibilities that meet your criteria; the computer aids you by doing actual design work.

Let's look at the exciting possibilities this offers with designing a bike frame. A typical bikeframe is usually made of some kind of metal tubing. Our designers created this cool looking bicycle concept with Alias

Autodesk Research Project Dreamcatcher Bicycle Frame
A bicycle designed with Alias

They then wanted to explore a number of design ideas relative to the more familiar tube-style design:

  • Could the frame be made in a different style?
  • How light-weight could the frame be without sacrificing strength?
  • Could this frame be 3D printed to use less raw material?

Using these questions in conjunction with Project Dreamcatcher, the following, very unique frame was developed.

Autodesk Research Project Dreamcatcher Bicycle Frame Concept
A bicycle frame designed with Autodesk Research Project Dreamcatcher

Taking advantage of the power of scaleable computing, Project Dreamcatcher was able to address all of the design parameters and test all of the solutions. In meeting the wishes to use less material and not sacrifice strength, this web-like 3D grid was created to fill the shape of the originally designed frame. Our designers could then review the possible solutions, knowing all solutions met their goals, and choose a frame to do additional work on if necessary, for example:

  • exploring material colour and decorations
  • looking at a clear coating to prevent things from getting stuck in the frame
  • thinking about equipment that may be attached to the frame and how that would work

Fast Company took a look at some of the possibilites with Project Dreamcatcher and talked to Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski who says:

"In the past couple of years, we have experienced such an explosion of computing power that we can completely change the design equation"

Coincidentally, Jeff also talks about chairs and how this might apply to their design. In our previous post on chair design, Mark Gorecki, a design engineer, asks some good questions about design considerations for furniture that will be used in a public space:

  • Leather upholstery and thick padding would be nice to sit on while waiting for your train, but how long before it's ripped to shreds?
  • Using an aesthetic material as the "shell" for your item, can that material be coated so that markers, spray paint, etc. can be removed easily?

These could be applied to the design of the chair, along with other important factors, and then the designer could review the possibilities.

Imagine being presented with something like this for some design criteria that specified strength, material type, number of legs and height of the seat:

Autodesk Research Project Dreamcatcher Possible Chair Designs
A selection of chairs based on design criteria including height and material

As a designer you now have potentially thousands of concepts to explore and you know that your main criteria of strength and material are met. You could now move into exploring things like a decorative curve across the back of the chair, cushions, fabric and possible companion pieces like a table.

Thinking about designing the chair at the train station, what if you were not skilled in ergonomics? What if Project Dreamcatcher was connected with the Parametric Human Project and you could treat the human factors as some of the design parameters? You could have a base of chairs to choose from that were ergonomically correct and you could focus on other design considerations. 

What would you do if you had an assistant designer that was happy to take on the grunt work for you? What kinds of things would you like to apply Project Dreamcatcher to?

I don't know who designed this chair but they didn't consider ergonomics

A recent thread on Reddit proclaimed:

I don't know who designed this chair but they are the devil. I'd like to sit and wait for the train without developing scoliosis.

The discussion in the thread seems to settle on a number of things about the design:

  • the chair is not aesthetically pleasing
  • the designer wanted to make a chair that people would only sit on if they really had to, an elderly person who was tired for example, and
  • the chair would not be comfortable to sleep on so that people would not loiter in the train station
  • it may be part of a public art installation
Chairs are often designed with poor ergonomics to make sleeping in public places uncomfortable
These chairs are not meant for sleeping on - Image by Alan Light and shared under the Creative Commons 2.0 License

As a designer, it's good to create things that generate discussion. It's preferable that the dicsussion is positive and that what you have created is a deemed as useful and beneficial to the target audience.

The Autodesk Research Ergonomics Group wants to help you make things that are well received for their human factors. The Ergonomics Group aims to put the human at the centre of the design process. Whether you are creating something as large as a community, an office, house or factory, a vehicle, a handheld tool, a shoe or as small as a medical device that might correct a fractured bone, torn muscle or blocked artery, designing these things with human ergonomics in your toolset will help.

Considering the variety of scales that humans operate at, from very small with blocked arteries all the way up to very large when placed in a community, the Ergonomics Group is researching the navigation and visualization of multiscale datasets. In thinking about this scale, one example of the kind of things the group is looking at is called Splash. Splash helps to keep some representation of the dataset available and running in real-time so that you can always work in context.

Autodesk Research Splash Framework for Real-Time Navigation and Visualization of Complex Datasets
The data used in the Splash example may not look exactly like a human. If you combine this framework with the model being pursued by the Parametric Human Project it may make more sense.

The Parametric Human Project brings together industry and academic experts to create a fully functional, data-driven, digital human model. Working from the inside outwards, project members have captured high resolution scans of bones and the tissues that cover and connect them.

Scanned Arm Muscles from the Parametric Human Project
Scanned Arm Muscles from the Parametric Human Project
Over time, this project aims to add the human biomechanics, so an arm moves like a human arm, and parametric controls so that you could tune your digital human model, intelligently interpolating between physically correct models to represent a variety of things like age or physical impairments. A doctor may use this to compare injuries of their patients to known datasets to choose the best course of recovery.
Taking this back to our chair example, as a designer, this research may help you to answer:

Is this digitally designed chair comfortable? 

Autodesk Research Ergonomics Group Wants to Know if this Digital Chair is Comfortable

Comfortable is somewhat subjective but for a chair could include things like:

  • Does it prevent fatigue and support good posture?
  • Is it free of awkard pain points?
  • Are the arm rests positioned well or sufficiently adjustable?
  • Is it easy to get in and out of?
  • Could you write an exam to join a secret organization that supervises extraterrestrial lifeforms while sitting in this chair? 

One of the best ways to determine that today is to build or print a physical prototype. As good as a solution as that it, it can be both time consuming and costly. Prototypes are often designed to test certain product qualities like so you may need multiple prototypes to test things like:

  • Is the chair strong enough to support an average adult?
  • Is this combination of foam and fabric aesthetically pleasing and comfortable?
As this works develops, we can imagine a future state where you could use your digital human to design the intial proportions of your chair and then place the digital human in the chair to test it against your comfortability measures.

The Parametric Human Project is welcoming new contributors who may help in a variety of ways - from doing research to providing equipment and funding - please join in if you can.

The Parametric Human Project