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  • Why does soft matter? Exploring the design space of soft robotic materials and programmable machines

Winters, Amy, 2017, Thesis, Why does soft matter? Exploring the design space of soft robotic materials and programmable machines PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

This practice-led research examines how the emerging role of the ‘material designer’ can enrich the design process in Human Computer Interaction. It advocates embodiment as a design methodology by employing tacit knowledge; focusing on a subjective, affective and visceral engagement with computational materials. This theoretical premise is explored by drawing on the fields of soft robotics, as well as transitive and programmable materials. With the advancement and democratisation of physical computing and digital fabrication, it is now possible for designers to process, or even invent and composite new programmable materials, merging both their physical and digital capabilities. This study questions how the notion of soft can develop a distinct space for the design of novel user interfaces. This premise is applied through a phenomenological understanding of technology development—as opposed to generating data which is solely reliant on observable and measurable evidence. Bio-engineered technologies such as electroactive polymer, pneumatic and hydraulic actuator systems are deployed to explore a new type of responsive, sensual and organic materiality. Here, traditional medical diagnostic applications such as microfluidics are transferred into the experimental contexts of textiles and wearable technology. Therefore, by thinking through physical prototyping, a bodily engagement with materials and the interpretation of the elements of water, air and steam; a designer can create a fertile ground for a polyvalent imagination. Together, this methodology is used as a qualitative system for collecting and evaluating data on the significance of design-led thinking in soft robotic materials. This research concludes that there are insights to be gained from the creative practice and exploratory methods of material-led thinking in HCI that can contribute to the commercial research and development fields of wearable technology. Outputs include a prototype box of ‘Invention Tools’ for textile designers and the identification and creation of the role 04 of embodied making in relation to the imagination. Further, soft composite hybrids, incorporating elastomers, have potential applications in colour, texture and shape changing surfaces. Thus, this thesis argues that it is within the creative soft sciences that the next advancements in soft robotics may emerge.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W200 Design studies > W230 Clothing/Fashion Design
School or Centre: School of Material
Date Deposited: 20 Jul 2017 15:48
Last Modified: 24 Jul 2017 14:33
URI: http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/2842

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