FAB Velo: an 'Open Design' for accessible, diverse and sustainable personal transport

2019-06-21T06:01:04Z (GMT) by Richardson, Mark Geoffrey
This practice-based industrial design research examines sustainable transport through the lens of Open Design. As Whitelegg and Urry believe, automobility needs to be reimagined to meet future sustainability targets, and others like Manzini, Margolin Moriarty and Honery, deem that this cannot be achieved without new sociotechnical systems. To this end, the research question that asks: 'How might the design of a personal mobility vehicle become more accessible, diverse and sustainable?' In response, the project proposes that principles of Open Design- a term coined by Vallance, Kiani and Nayfeh to describe open source physical artefacts- be used to design a do-it-yourself (DIY) velomobile- a pedal-powered bicycle or tricycle covered by an exterior fairing. By using the device of Open Design, the production system, product materiality and end use can potentially become more diverse, accessible and sustainable. The project was undertaken using a method of practise-based research, or what Shon and Archer respectively term 'reflective practice' and 'research through design'. It relied on developing a range of design solutions through the process of tinkering, or what Buchanan terms, a 'craft' method. This was a heuristic approach which relied on examining the precedents of Open Source Hardware (OSHW) through a 3D printer design project. The lessons learned were applied to the design of a velomobile and its production system. As an extension of Open Design, the research synthesised three supporting topic platforms; modularity, DIY production and upcycling. Modularity is critical to aid end-user innovation and design diversity; DIY principles allow greater design accessibility; and, upcycling acts as a sustainability device. The two project outcomes- a 3D printer and a velomobile -were both designed as modular tensegrity systems and were made by hand in a domestic setting from waste materials, off-the-shelf components and 3D-printed couplings. The designs allow the products to be constructed, reconfigured and finally deconstructed for further reuse at end-of-life (EoL). This approach extends the value of the outcomes beyond the artefacts themselves and into their systems of production. At present, few products in the personal transport domain encourage product diversity by promoting combined end-user participation in the build process, continuing avenues for user-led innovation and what Mcdonough and Braungart term cradle-to-cradle manufacturing. None have yet approached the issues of product accessibility, design diversity and sustainability through the collective lens of DIY tensegrity structures and upcycling systems. The research outcomes are of practical significance and are presented as prototypes for further end-user development. In this respect, the project was limited to the development of Open Design 'seeds' and did not include what Fischer and Giaccardi term the 'meta-design' aspects of the process - that is, the overarching systems required to enable collaborative end-user innovation. Rather, the development of such is an opportunity for further research.