Friday, 25 March 2011

Ergonomics and intelligent lighting in intelligent buildings

I went to the Masterclass held by the Society of Light and Lighting yesterday. Really very very good; six good speakers, with several outstanding. Do try to catch one of the remaining events.

Lots on LED technology of course.

The design driver is reducing energy use. One aspect of this is matching the provision of light and lighting to user needs, including not putting light where and when it is not needed. New technology is allowing people to do smarter things with luminaires, offering new ways to place light and dark.

Smarter control is coming, offering all sorts of benefits, if the user need can be understood and converted to control signals. This change brings all the problems of modern digital control systems with it. New user interfaces and interaction possibilities. There may be issues with maintainer skill requirements. There will be many types of user who will need something close to 'walk up and use', or who may bring expectations from different buildings with them. The number of user types is quite long (e.g. for energy audits, for checking emergency lighting, for refurbishment planning, as well as living and working in the building). Maintaining ease of use through-life may prove challenging. The role of the integrator is set to grow. The aspirations of the builder and the owner will continue to have potential conflicts - possibly more so. Post-occupancy evaluation will become more complex, and of course the internet will change interaction between users and other stakeholders.

Regulation is prominent on the scene, with the attendant unintended consequences. As a fast-moving technical field, it is developing an alphabet soup. Lighting Energy Numeric Indicator (LENI) BS EN 15193 is likely to be important. Standards are developing, notably Digital Addressable Lighting Interface (DALI) IEC 62386.

There is a crying need for some standardisation of user interface conventions. Sectors that considered corporate design 'style' to be more important than user needs and lived to regret it include telecomms and road vehicles. Clearly, over-standardisation will kill innovation, which would be terrible at this point, but there must be a number of basics that could be standardised to support walk up and use. Perhaps some sort of consensus could be allowed to emerge with semi-formal support using wikis etc.

Many other sectors have 'gone digital' before buildings. Most of these have assumed that 'good engineering practice' and common sense will see them through the change. By and large, this has not proved to be the case, and ergonomics has been brought in late to cope with failures in design or operation. It would be heartening to see the intelligent building community employing Human-Centred Design (HCD) in a structured fashion without having to do it the hard way. I would not presume to explain the principles of HCD to Frank Gehry, but there will be many occasions when specialist input may prove cost-effective.

Update: This customisable floor plan switch is the sort of thing becoming both possible and necessary.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Making CAD become Computer Aided Design

CAD could become Computer Aided Design and support decision-making without too much trouble these days. However, it has to stop being Computer Aggravated Draughting dominated by the manufacturing viewpoint, which might present difficulties to some of the long-standing legacy CAD systems. Stakeholder viewpoints should be just that.
It is well-established that the way information is presented affects decision-making. Current CAD systems do not help most of the important decisions. Lets look at some examples, using a simple model of a ship's engine room with 2 x diesels, a control console, nominal box-shaped ballast water treatment, nominal emissions treatment on the exhausts. The model is extracted from a ship model, 'Imperva', by Lazy J, for which many thanks. Click on the pictures for embigment.

First, everything in a CAD model looks neat, perfect, finished. This could be fixed quite simply so that we know what is mature and what is still at sketch design.

Colour is traditionally used for system codes to reflect the organization of detailed design. This structuring principle may be irrelevant to a design review. The figure below uses colour and texture to indicate the maturity of the design to focus the decisions being made. The emission control is still pretty flakey, and is not ready for review. The engines have been decided, and are pretty much cast in stone. Both are in low-attensity colours. The items under review are the control system and the ballast water treatment.

Now to disrupt object-world thinking (Bucciarelli), converting the model to something like a cartogram. This is breaking 'attribute dependencies'.

Here, the size of the object does not represent how much space it takes up. It represents how much budget it takes up. The colour represents cost risk. The salience of the ballast water treatment box and the control system have increased, reflecting their importance to the customer's wallet. 'Distorting' size in this way seems heretical, but I think that is just habit. Proportional scaling should be entirely feasible. The design team might not like it; In my experience, spaces such as this are designed on a volumetric basis. Get the big bits in, add the middling size bits, then shove in all the little bits you can. The CAD model supports that viewpoint and does not ,say, challenge space / cost trade-off.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

High-Tech Winter Ergonomics

Positive user experience report on high-tech ergonomics for the winter.

Even though there are still weather concerns from Piers Corbyn, I am putting the snow-clearing kit back in the shed. I tried some high-technology aids during the cold spell. They worked well. This is my personal experience report, rather than a scientific ergonomic analysis.

First up, d3o - an amazing material. I bought a pair of 'total impact shorts' for each of us. I did not fall on the ice for test purposes, but subjectively, the d3o looks like it would give real protection in a fall on the pavement. I'll be buying a hat for next winter. Hip protection for the elderly could do wonders for A&E, if we can avoid risk compensation.

Next, shoes for crews. I have two pairs; a formal pair for meetings and a pair of trainers for pottering round the village. Subjective impressions support the data of very good slip resistance. Trying them on sheet ice and frozen snow, they were better than Vibram soles and much better than ordinary shoes. The nature of the sole made me wonder about their wear resistance. Too soon for a definitive judgment, but there are no signs of rapid wear to date. The local council now seems to use grit rather than salt, and the grit gathers in the soles. The shoes brought in lots of ice and grit; not a problem if you take them off at the door.

Lastly, the Uniqlo heattech base layers seemed to add real warmth and are remarkably cheap.

Please add your own winter ergonomics in the comments. We have plenty of cold winters to come.