Industrial design that’s out of this world

Thomas Garvey takes out a book on Mars and flips to a picture of Olympus Mons, 13 miles high and the biggest volcano in the solar system. Since his early days in space-station research, the professor at Carleton’s School of Industrial Design has been a fan of The Red Planet’s terrain.

So when Garvey needed ideas for his senior students’ annual comprehensive design projects, he decided to bring Mars into the classroom. One suggestion – for a Planetary Pressurized Rover – came from Marc Cohen, a former colleague at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). And last September, three of Garvey’s students started the unlikely task of designing a space buggy that could transport up to four astronauts around Mars for up to four weeks.

“These students aren’t (space) experts, so the challenge is to come to the table with an industrial-design perspective that fits the range of the human body into an extreme environment,” says Garvey. “They’ve done a good job of managing to understand a huge picture while doing work on individual elements.”

For Adam Looker, Mark Simmons and Napapong Naparat, locking themselves mentally in space and creating a useable environment is typical of the diverse, hands-on tasks they’ve faced during study at the School, one of only three in Canada.

It’s no surprise for Garvey that his students have risen to the challenge. Since joining Carleton’s industrial design faculty in 1999, he’s known the School’s “students and training are worldclass. I’ve tried to get them out there, into more industrial design competitions because of the quality we have here,” he says. “This rover project is a good example because it is so out-there.”

It’s also had the benefit of good timing. When the design team had a crisis of confidence during the Christmas holiday, U.S. President George Bush announced he was planning a manned Mars mission, and the bloom returned. The appointment of Dr. Marc Garneau, Canada’s foremost space expert (and also a Mars fan), as Chancellor last fall brought his experience onto campus.

The Chancellor looked over the project with the trio, zeroing in on the human aspects. “You’ve done a great job with your attention to detail on things like privacy, because (off-Earth) little things can become major obstacles,” he says.

The project is so timely that Garvey managed to get the team’s design into July’s International Conference on Environmental Systems in Colorado. The conference is one of NASA’s “free R&D” shops, and Looker, Simmons, and Narapat will be critiqued by some of the best minds on the planet.

And until humans actually test Mars’ surface for themselves, the challenge for students of industrial design doesn’t get more cutting-edge.

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This entry was written by Mike Levin and posted in the issue. Tags applied to this article are: . Leave a comment, bookmark the permalink or share the following short URL for this article via social media:

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