(Project completed: 2012-12)
In the winter of 2012 I took the free online course Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society, hoping to learn something about design.
The assignments consisted of applying the process taught in the lectures to identify a problem to solve, come up with some possible solutions, select a handful to develop further, develop one into a prototype and then a more or less finished product.
The first step was to identify a gap (problem) in my everyday life that could be solved by creating an artifect, be it something physical, a process or software. This part gave me the hardest time and I felt I was really scraping to come up with one. What I settled on was to design some way of making a computer keyboard and mouse available while using my recumbent exercise bike, so I could play computer games while exercising my legs.
The next part was to determine what were the most important qualities of such an artifact. I came up with this short list:
- Ergonomics (confort while using the computer controls)
- Freedom of movement (able to exercise and get on/off the bike easily)
- Safety (no chance of injury while exercising, using the controls or getting on or off the bike)
- Stability (controls must not move or jiggle; bike must not become unbalanced)
- Convenience (easy to move controls out of the way to get up or sit down; easy to move bike)
- Appearance (this is actually just a latent need for me, but for an actual product it would matter)
After that, we were to come up with ten potential designs and evaluate how well they met these criteria. Here are my rough sketches of the designs (click to embiggen):
After doing those sketches, I thought of a better design which became the final one shown below. By this point it was time to develop a physical prototype, which I made out of foamcore:
From this model I was able to make some good measurements and find a set of constraints and changes for the design. I made a more detailed sketch:
And finally constructed and refined the first actually usable version out of wood:
This was an unusual project for me - I have made things out of wood before but never this complex or with such a need for precision and strength. It was difficult also because I don't have the greatest tools in the world, and very little space to work in. But I pulled it off and I'm rather proud of it.
A few minor, barely visible revisions were made, and here's the final product:
I'm using this now. I put a spare trackball and keyboard on it, and bought a second Nostromo for the left hand. A small bus-powered USB hub links them so there is only one cord that needs to be hooked up to the computer when it's in use.
An unexpected side benefit of this design are that it also works well as a stand-up desk for a laptop or for drawing. Also I intentionally fastened key joints with bolts instead of screws so it can easily be disassembled for storage.
If I were to do another iteration on this design or try to develop it for sale, I would try to find a way to make the overall height adjustable so it could be used with other exercise bikes or with a deck chair, I would lower the keyboard platform a bit as it's still too high for comfortable typing, and I would want to find a way to make it look nicer.
Overall a useful and rewarding project.