How to bring Senior Citizens into the digital age
A recent student project concerned how to create a computer system that is ‘user friendly’ for senior citizens. Here’s one student’s interesting approach using rapid prototyping to get the idea across.
Many senior citizens struggle with this “digital age.” In an effort to address some of these issues, Timothy Ng, a student at Art Center College of Design chose to research, evaluate, and design a computer system that would be user-friendly for seniors. This college semester project had to have multiple components that were interesting enough for him, yet complicated enough to show how much he’d learned.
During his research, Ng discovered that most current windows-based computers were intimidating for seniors to use because of inherent limitations in the design. “Computer manufacturers focus on the general user and do not address the limitations that seniors need to cope with, like changes in posture, viewing distances, and working with a mouse that’s not suited to arthritic hands,” he said.
“Through my design, I attempted to create a complete system that actually encouraged seniors to engage with the computer. My aim was to make the experience as comfortable and inviting as humanly possible,” he said.
Ng created a model of a non-functional computer in its entirety. To make the project accurate, all components needed to be prototyped, including the main body, rear articulating arm, monitor, keyboard, and a uniquely designed joystick input device. As the designer, it was up to him to produce all the CAD drawings for each of the final components.
“I was determined to have only one copy of each component produced. So I needed a service that could provide an accurate rendition of each part,” he said. After researching the options he chose ZoomRP.com. “They could handle the production of components in a variety of technologies, giving me one place to go instead of having to coordinate component manufacturing with several different companies.”
Ng was able to have parts made of a variety of materials and through several different processes. Technologies included in the fabrication were SLA, Polyjet, and SLS Nylon. Once the components were prototyped and mailed to him, he spent time on post processing. Each component was sanded by hand and then painted for optimal esthetic look and feel.
“The main reason I used ZoomRP,” said Ng, “was the fast turnaround time that they advertised. Plus, my fellow classmates also recommended it because they had used the company with good results. The 3D printing process helped me create a highly accurate physical model that had compound curves and tolerances that would have been very difficult for me to create if I had to create everything by hand.”
The computer model is a non-functional visual model, so none of the parts move or interact with each other. All the pieces are either glued down or snuggly fit together to provide the look of a single system. Conceptually the rear arm on the computer is supposed to articulate and pivot to give the screen many degrees of movement, which can be seen clearly on the CAD drawing of the system.
The wall thickness of most of the parts is 0.02 inches and all the parts fit snuggly together as planned. There were no surprises. The monitor itself has a display size of 20 inches, which Ng felt was optimal for most seniors.
“The files were easy to work with once I had the design down,” Ng said. “All that had to be done was to save the design in an STL file, and then to check for possible errors. Upload that data to ZoomRP’s site and you’re finished until the parts arrive the next day.
The most frustrating components were those produced in SLS. “The nylon parts are a little rougher than some of the other prototypes, so I had to sand them down more. Of course, the nylon is pretty tough, too, which made sanding more difficult,” he said. “Still, it was worth the time and effort to have the look and feel that I wanted for the final project.”
“If time and money were not an issue, I would have made a fully functional prototype, which could have been easily done using ZoomRP’s broad spectrum of technologies,” Ng said.
Solid Concepts Inc.