With problems such as widespread electronics waste, rapid-paced technological development, and closed ecosystem product platforms, new technology platforms are particularly wasteful. 'U" looks critically at the rapid development of AR/VR hardware platforms by analyzing their planned obsolescence, cross-platform incompatibility, and hyper-frequent product releases.
'U' asks the question: how might we take a high-waste, short-life device category and use concepts such as repairability, modularity, and creative expression to create products that have lasting value and utility despite the rapid pace of innovation?
This semester-long project involved user research, service design, mechanical prototyping, and branding of a concept VR hardware platform.
User research, Service design, Mechanical prototyping, Brand design
U features a unique over-the-head aesthetic that sets it apart from other virtual reality platforms. The dual enclosure design also allows for larger spaces for the variable, swappable internal components. It creates a balanced feel on the user's head, not needing an elaborate elastic webbing system to distribute lopsided mass.
U features removable and serviceable components, allowing users to customize, repair, and update their devices as their use for the devices changes. A transparent enclosure highlights that 'inside out' design philosophy and invites the user to explore how their device is put together.
Subassemblies are marked with corresponding color finishes to their integration ports, making the swapping of electronic components safe, easy, and reliable.
Exactly how U want.
Users can select from varying prices and technology levels for the different subassemblies of their devices, perfectly suiting their uses, budget, and preferences. With a potentially wide field of uses for VR technology, this customizability prevents waste from 'settling' with pre-packaged feature tiers, allowing people to get precisely what they need.
Interfacing with U
A series of illuminated ports on the front and back enclosures correspond with threaded holes in the outer casing. Additional accessories or devices can be mounted and connected to the device using the ports and threads, linking that accessory's location in the software. The U branding was derived from the shape of these characteristic ports and attachment holes, together with the individualistic product values.
Designed for accessible disassembly, the modules are mounted to internal 'chassis' that allow for independent subassembly access. Boards, lenses, and displays can then be slid in and out of the frame and locked in place with a single set screw.
The research for this project involved gaining a general understanding of e-waste, learning about the emotional durability of devices, and talking to leading experts in VR and electronics R&D from Pico and LittleBits as well as VR researchers at CMU and KAIST. Methods ranging from stakeholder mapping, user scenarios, STEEPV mapping, and product positioning analysis allowed me to get a better understanding of the product space.
I used a set of prop artifacts (a cardboard vr model, a pile of Lego building blocks, a disassembled Oculus Quest headset, and some electronics components) to facilitate interviews with other students and researchers. These objects were chosen to represent different levels of electromechanical complexity, which allowed me to understand the thresholds of comfort and confidence that people have when engaging with their personal electronics.
Using a combination of digital and physical prototyping techniques, I first created rough spaceclaim geometries based on the dimensions of the Oculus Quest components, that I could then spatially arrange to consider their packaging, ergonomics, and ease of assembly. Moving into the later stages of the project, I really engaged with these clear mounting plates that prompt users to attach different accessories or parts to further customize these devices.
After I finalized the digital design, I 3D printed a 1:1 scale model to fully experience the assembly process, and documented and timed my assembly experience to ensure that there weren't any frustrating or discouraging steps that would impact this experience.
I created outlined renders of the device and had research participants draw and design their own attachments or accessories that mount to the device for various uses. By simply describing the mounting structure and connections on the device, people were able to quickly and creatively discover individually-driven device configurations.
I then used one of the concepts generated from that activity to render in higher fidelity. This showcases how a set of cameras might be added to the front fascia in order to add additional head tracking or spatial information to the device if the user desires.
The curved plastic arms spring outwards when worn, applying pressure to keep the devices confidently mounted to the head.
U explores the relationship between new technologies, electronic sustainability, and the lasting relationships and value we find in our devices. Hopefully, early-stage tech platforms can provide more lasting value by improving aspects of customization, accessibility, and repairability through an 'inside-out' design methodology.