Menomonie, Wis. — In less than two years, sales revenue from wearable technology devices is expected to reach $12 billion annually.
Who will envision and design the new personal products before they reach the market? Some of the creators could be graduates from University of Wisconsin-Stout.
A class of industrial design majors created prototype wearable technology products in a project sponsored by LSR, a high-tech design and engineering firm based in Cedarburg that recently was acquired by Laird.
Students presented their projects, as they would in a professional setting, and were given feedback by Rich Walters, LSR’s Product Design Group manager, as well as their professor, Jennifer Astwood.
Walters, a 1989 UW-Stout alumnus, works closely with LSR industrial designers, interaction designers, app developers, mechanical engineers and prototype specialists. They work with other engineers to integrate wireless connectivity into products.
“We believe it takes an integrated, diverse team to efficiently and successfully bring the right product to market,” said Walters. “Having these students learn that connection will help them in the years to come.”
“It is always great to get an outside perspective, and Rich provided that for us,” said Astwood. “It inspires the students and adds more interest to projects. It was so great to see the students get noticed for their hard work, and they appreciated that.”
Seven students were recognized for the quality of their designs:
- Samantha Floersch, of St. Paul, helmet-mounted attachment for mountain bikers that tracks location, takes vitals and plays music
- Hans Fritze, of Hastings, Minn., palm-size glucose meter for diabetics
- Emily Gawronski, of Minneapolis, communication device that helps prevent sexual assault
- Alex Greene, of Eau Claire, high-tech welding helmet that improves safety with image processing and augmented reality technologies
- Jessop Keene, of Ellsworth, knee stress tracking band for runners
- Maverick Peters, of Minneapolis, wrist-worn avalanche location tracker for skiers and snowboarders
- Aaron Thompson, of Cottage Grove, Minn., tracking system to help soccer referees assess their performances
Walters discussed the project in detail in an interview with Stephanie Newsted of LSR’s marketing and communications office:
Can you tell me how this all started, and why you were interested in sponsoring such a project?
It has been a great semester with this class. I have been on the Professional Advisory Board for the School of Art and Design at UW-Stout for the past seven years, and I know they’ve had other companies and professionals reach out to sponsor a class project. LSR is very much open to working and helping students, and I thought this would be a great way to bring that ‘real-world’ experience to the classroom. When I attended Stout I always wished there were more professionals to come in and work with us.
We started out by donating a small 3D printer from LSR to the industrial design program. The students were excited about working with the printer because it allowed them to print more detailed and finished models.
What was the goal of this project for students?
The goal of the project, titled An Introduction to Wearables, was to design a hands-free wearable device that solves a specific problem in one of the following areas: emergency, fitness or communication. This junior level required course focuses on human interface design. Personally, I wanted them to design a wearable that solved a real human problem or need in an innovative way. These projects tend to be deeper and more complex but ultimately the most rewarding.
Sometimes if you don’t push the students they tend to pick familiar, easier paths, and they do not learn nearly as much. We wanted them to understand how technology can be properly integrated into a product, that you can’t just plop items into a plastic housing. In great products, the technology and the design are so intimate. We required them to observe how people used hands-free devices and document how they utilized the technology to discover the challenges people face and base their solutions around that research.
What challenges did the students face during their first midsemester review?
I think the biggest challenge was understanding how electronics can fit tightly into the product design. At first some students were just too conservative with the technology. The concepts were a bit unnecessarily bulky, and I had to remind them that technology can be thin. Think how small the battery, antenna and other electronics are to fit in the space of a smart watch.
It was great because I got to be the client in a way, pushing them to make it smaller, thinner and more integral with the human. They were excited to be driven to go further as a designer.
What was your favorite part of this whole process?
I really think it was the ‘ah-ha’ moments from the students. When going through reviews it was great to be able to give them guidance and see it on their face and hear them say ‘Oh yeah! That would help me.’ They would take that feedback and the project would be transformed into something even better than you thought it could be. They were so open and curious about the whole process. This class was definitely a high performing class. It was exciting to see the variety of interpretation on what a wearable could be; we didn’t put a whole lot of limits on what they could do.
At the beginning of the semester it was decided to reward the students. Can you tell me how and why you made this part of the project?
We wanted to reward them like in the real business world. Good work will get noticed, elevate a designer’s status and results in monetary benefits. The reward reminds them that the countless hours will pay off when they are able to enter the profession with skills that will benefit them their entire career. The students did such a great job that we had such a hard time picking a single person for each category, so we ended up awarding two winners for three of the four categories. We based the awards on things that were important to LSR and design in general. Our categories were: innovation, communication, craftsmanship and technology.
The industrial design program, www.uwstout.edu/programs/bfaind, is part of UW-Stout’s School of Art and Design, www.uwstout.edu/artdes. UW-Stout, Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, has 9,535 students in 48 undergraduate majors and 23 graduate majors, including one doctoral degree. UW-Stout, established in 1891, prides itself on the success of its students in the workplace, with a graduate employment rate at or above 97 percent for recent graduates. The university was awarded the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality award in 2001.