Research at Kyushu University

Research Projects and Initiatives

Recent Studies at Faculty of Design

The scientific approach to user -friendly design- ergonomics research of daily living aids

Department of Human Science, Faculty of Design
Active Life Research Group, Physiological Anthropology Research Center
Professor Satoshi Muraki
(Certified Professional Ergonomists)

 In recent years, there have been great strides in the development of daily living aids for people of advanced years and those with disabilities. In order to effectively support the physical and cognitive needs of its users, it is desirable for these products to be developed based on evidence-based design and human characteristics-based design. I am involved in the establishment of such design processes for aids supporting bodily movement. Both basic research (improve understanding of human motion and its age-related and disability-related changes) and applied research (make use of that knowledge in designing devices) are indispensable in that effort.
 The underlying concept of my research, as per the title above, is “the scientific approach to user-friendly design”. Here, “user-friendly” does not mean “to ease your life”. Instead, it means design that aims to accommodate its users to enable independent living.”.

■Starting from an understanding of the users’ characteristics

 As an example, I am currently involved in attempts to develop chairs that assist those suffering from Parkinson’s disease to rise to a standing position. One of the impairments associated with Parkinson’s disease is that the sufferer is unable to initiate movements smoothly. Any designer intending to design an assistance chair must first understand this problem. When we stand up from a chair, we need to activate various muscles all over the body in a right order with finely-tuned timing. However, when an electromyogram study was performed on Parkinson’s sufferers (Figure 1), it was observed that the muscles are activated in a different order compared to those of a non-sufferer. I am currently developing a chair that will allow a smooth move to stand up from a chair based on that knowledge (2017 academic year, informally approved for funding as a translational research/novel development seed project, recipient of Japan Ergonomics Society research award)

Figure 1: An electromyogram of the leg muscles of a Parkinson’s sufferer rising to a standing position [adapted from Reference 1]. Unlike with a non-sufferer, when a sufferer starts to rise, the tibialis anterior muscle and the rectus femoris muscle are activated at the same time.

■ Utilizing users’ characteristics in product development

 In my research, I implement evidence-based design and human characteristics-based design while developing various aids and assistive devices as mentioned at the beginning of this article. Academic-industrial collaboration provides a valuable opportunity to put this into practice. Previous joint researches include products such as cellphones, smartphones, cordless phones, staircases, home interiors, shoes (Figure 2), undergarment, nursing care beds, wheelchairs, styrofoam boxes, and touch screen games. The main target users for these are the elderly, those with disabilities, and children. A thorough consideration of the users’ characteristics from scientific approach is critically important in designing products.

Figure 2: Using motion capture to analyze gait characteristics of elderly people to develop appropriate walking shoes (picture and diagram are for illustration purposes)

■ Interaction with users enhances ideation

 Meanwhile, it is important for researchers in this domain to understand the circumstances and environment of the users. Therefore, I have particularly emphasized on the interaction with elderly members at the local community. Having succeeded developed an easy and safe method in measuring the lower limb muscle age, I then bring it into the community to conduct checks at various locations. The implications of each person’s results were explained to them individually. Additionally, information regarding each person’s lifestyle and daily difficulties was collected too (Figure 3). Seeds of future research can emerge from this kind of initiative. For the first time, we will run “Active Life Classes” (a public class looking at the practical application of life-improvement techniques) throughout 2017 academic year.

Figure 3: Personal result explanation of the “lower limb muscle age” to the participant, as part of the ikiiki seikatsu ouen (active life promotion) project (over 10 years, I have spoken individually to more than 2,000 people at the events)

■ (Vision for the future) Considering assistive robotic technologies from the viewpoint of “Humanization of Technology”

 Technological progress has made assistive devices and robots increasingly familiar in daily life. However, their development often starts from consideration of where a new technology can be applied, a type of development entry point known as “technology-oriented”. This name implies the need for an alternative “user-oriented” entry point where technology is developed in response to human characteristics and the needs and lifestyle of the user. As a member of the Faculty of Design at Kyushu University, which aims to “Humanization of Technology”, I intend to contribute to the development of assistive devices and robots based on human characteristics and lifestyles through a project funded by a Japan Society of the Promotion of Science KAKENHI Grant-in-Aid for Challenging Exploratory Research (Grant number 15K14619).

(1) Shogo Kitamura, Satoshi Muraki, Tomoko Oeda, Hideyuki Sawada, Masayuki Tahara, Yoshishige Ueda, Masashi Toguchi (2014) The features of standing up movement from a chair in Parkinson’s disease patients. Japanese Journal of Ergonomics 50 (5): 265-270
(2) Satoshi Muraki, Kazuyuki Iwakiri (2015) special issues no.1: the current state and future of ergonomics in each research field (12)-The current state and future of ergonomics research for the elderly. Japanese Journal of Ergonomics 51(2): 79-85

■Related Sites
Laboratory of Ergonomics for All Ages and Abilities
Physiological Anthropology Research Center

Faculty of Design and Department of Human Science
Professor Satoshi Muraki