Nicholas Tamás

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Design for Supporting the Body

Building on the functionality and material constraints that I established for myself by exploring the different mechanical functions of the octopus, I began theorizing what form my extended body design would take. I knew that it would have to fit around the human body and that if it inhibited human functionality that it would ultimately be counterproductive to create. The intentionality of my design is one that is additive in the tasks and functions that it can perform and a design that inhibits a users range of motion or the use of their limbs would contradict this. To start, I began by looking at how things are rigged and attached to the body. This process involved analyzing and deconstructing a number of wearables and harness systems to identify not only how to attach a heavy form to the body securely, but also to identify anchor points on the body where my extended body design can extend from. Through this research I identified two distinct groups of designs that work around the body. Those that are bodily supporting and those that are supported by the body. Bodily supporting designs are those that quite literally support the user and are strong enough to support their body weight, examples of these include climbing harnesses and exoskeletons. Bodily supported designs on the other hand, require the user to support the weight of the design themselves and are much more common as they dont require as much support or power; examples of these include backpacks and any other wearable. This research also identified key areas of support and interconnection, these “stabilization points” are areas where more rigid designs could be placed while minimally impacting a users flexibility and range of motion. Since my design is striving to create new modes of movement and interaction, I chose to go with one that was bodily supporting as it would not be hampered by the limitations of the users individual strength in order to accommodate the design. I also prototyped multiple designs at scale around a couple of anatomical figures using wire and clay to visualize how different octopus extended body designs would look when orientated on different parts of the body. Of the two stabilization points that I could have orientated my design on, I chose to go with one oriented around the hips as it would allow the user to sit or rest comfortably into the design and would more naturally support their body. A design oriented around the shoulders,contrarily, would require additional support for the rest of the users body in order to accommodate and would likely be much less comfortable as it is requiring them to put all of their body weight on their shoulders and under their arms.

Two early designs looking at how an octopus based extended body would fit on and work around a user’s body. These were sculpted out of clay using scaled anatomical figures as a base.

To inform how my design would conform to the body but still provide a strong and secure connection that could support the robotic mechanism, I had to look back at the design structure used in contemporary prosthetics. They face a similar design challenge with the implementation of their altered body designs as I do with my extended body designs. For strength and durability, most prosthetics, especially commercial prosthetics, are made out of rigid materials. These materials do not intersect well with the soft human body. Additionally, the point at which an users’ residual limb intersects the design changes from person to person. To overcome this, an intermediary material is used. In most cases it is a soft flexible material, like silicon, that conforms to the user’s body and shapes it so that it can more readily intersect the design of the prosthetic. Essentially, it is a silicon sleeve that “fills the gap” between the user’s body and the design. I took a similar approach when addressing the gap between my design and the human body and incorporated a soft silicon undersuit that the user would wear while interfacing with the design.

These images showcase the development of a partial visual prototype so that users can see the section of the octopus extended body that intersects with the body. This process involved a material exploration to identify the right type of silicon for constructing the undersuit as well as the fabrication and assembly of a sectional of the octopus extended to go on display in the RISD Museum.

Defining Aesthetic Choices

For informing the aesthetics of the design itself I again returned to my specimen the giant pacific octopus. I think that it is important to highlight that the creature inspiring my design, the giant pacific octopus, has the highest variation of color and texture in its chromatophores in comparison to any other cephalopod species including other octopus species. They have no true resting state, and even when dead, their chromatophores typically retain the color and texture of their latest environment. But within a vacuum, their bodies are blank slates which is a reflection of their physiology as without an environment or activity to ground them in, the octopus appearance and behavior is quite innocuous and inert. This is contrary to how we often view them within their native aquatic and semi-aquatic environments; but it is just this contrast that highlights their versatility and adaptability. The octopus, in its neutral state also offers multiple avenues of biological exploration in and of itself and I am only exploring a few of those with this design. Likewise, my design based on the octopus offers multiple avenues of approach by the mere presentation of possibilities within a consolidated form, but it doesn’t make preconceptions on what to do with those forms by suggesting a specified activity, mode of use, or by adopting a particular design aesthetic for a specified user group. This also allows the design to be more conducive to creating dialogues with people across different industries and more successfully conveys my intended goal of conceptual exploration. This would not have been possible If i had made the design hyper specialized for a particular use. An example of this could be, that if the design is informed by a military aesthetic (color, forms, materials) then that would preclude a military use for the design and military users for the design which would exclude other narrative or theoretical possibilities. This would likewise be a problem if I adopted any other specific aesthetic, therefore, in order to leave the potential open and to demonstrate the multifunctionality of the design and let viewers imprint their own potential direction and uses for those functions, what I am presenting is a centrist perspective. I want to emphasize that this does not mean that the design does not have any specific uses or specific users, only that if I presented very specific uses for a very specific user group it would narrow the potential for the design and muddle its intended purpose.

Exhibition

These are photos from the 2021 Masters of Industrial Design Thesis Exhibition at the RISD Museum. The exhibit includes a partial model showing the wearable section of my octopus extended body attached to a female mannequin form. Surrounding it are two tables. On one, is an interactive two stage tentacle mechanism that allows visitors to the exhibition to experience how my mechanical facsimile of the octopus’ tentacle would work. Each controller allows the user to control a different end of the tentacle, each of which have 4 axis of motion similar to my previous mechanical prototypes. The other table has a monitor that informs the user about the designs development, intentions, and potential modes of use.

These final renderings represent how I envision a fully functional version of my design looking as well as the ideal material choices for each section of the design. The tentacle mechanisms consist of two distinct parts. An internal mechanical section composed of rigid discs that are fixed to a flexible central core. Like the interactive prototype that I made for the exhibition, these discs are activated via the use of cables running through all of the discs in the tentacle. The pulleys for these cables are located in the core of the design situated around a potential user’s waist. These rigid mechanical parts are surrounded by a soft silicon sleeve turning the tentacles into a hybrid design of mechanical and soft robotics. The wearable section of the design consists of two parts as well. A soft silicon undersuit that conforms to the user’s body acts as the transition layer between the user and the rest of the design. On top of the undersuit is the rigid shell of the design. This part houses all the additional computers for controlling the tentacles as well as a link to the users implanted BCI for operating the tentacles, the batteries (located on the rear compartment) for powering the design, the cable pulleys, and the various other electronic components necessary for the design to function.