Smallfry head Out of this World

Smallfry Industrial Design always enjoy doing the Engineering Design Show, but this year is more exciting for them as recently they have been able to talk more freely about the ‘Out of this World’ projects, they are involved in. Smallfry have been working with leading innovators in Retail, Automotive, Consumer, Medical Device and Education for almost 50 years. Recently some of the projects have included a Home Dialysis Machine SC+ developed with Quanta Dialysis Technologies, this device is set to transform the lives of people suffering from chronic kidney disease, enabling them to dialyse for longer and more often and in the comfort of their own homes.

Smallfry have also been working with leading researchers at the Hamlyn Centre for Robotics - Imperial College as part of the FAIR-SPACE, or the Future AI and Robotics for Space project. The team are focussing on remotely operated tasks in potentially unsafe environments for astronauts.

Human Robot Interaction in Space (FAIR-SPACE)

The research team at Hamlyn Centre, Imperial College London exploits new advances in AI and AR/VR technologies to improve performance during human robot interaction (HRI) tasks in space. For example, when a new module needs to be docked to the international space station (ISS), astronauts need to operate manually the canada arm or to navigate the module themselves. The operations are extremely critical and failure to complete them in time, can result in the loss of millions of dollars and it even puts the life of crew members in danger. Furthermore, the unusual environment of space affects the cognitive states of the astronauts. As a spacesuit is multi-layered, the team envision the technologies to be useful on at least two layers of the spacesuit: the innermost layer for monitoring of physiological signals and an assistive layer for musculoskeletal movements. In addition to the garment, the work on brain computer interfaces and AR/eye-tracking/EEG technology could be incorporated into the space helmet for better situation awareness in HRI applications.

One of the exciting emerging field is called neuroergonomics, which studies the brain in relation to work.  This involves monitoring the brain state of an operator to provide feedback that can enhance their performance, and also minimise performance differences between operators.  As part of the project, Smallfry have developed concepts for a spacesuit with sensors embedded into the fabric and an EEG skull cap with eye tracking through smart glass. This technology will use augmented reality (AR) to provide direct feedback to the user, whilst monitoring operator’s awareness and mental workload.

The brain isn’t the only part of the body that the researchers are interested in. The team are also developing flexible electronic sensors that can be worn on the body. These wearables would again monitor various different signals, including heart rate and a reaction to stress called galvanic skin response, where increased sweating changes the electrical characteristics of the skin.

The idea is that this information would be pooled to determine an individual’s stress levels, again with the ultimate aim of improving performance.

During the show some of the Smallfry team will be on hand on stand E110 to talk  through these projects and they will also have examples of some of their more ‘Down to Earth’ work on show. They would like to thank Imperial College and FAIR-SPACE for use of the space suit and helmet for the show.