From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

A Look at the Future: Ergonomics in the Wired World

I saw some interesting new technology promotions this week that got me thinking about the future of computer interfaces and the role ergonomics will play as they reach the market. Gesturing, such as the finger movements across the screens of hand-held devices, or the touch screen gesturing shown in the video below, or the body motions captured by the Xbox Kinect, is becoming more commonplace as an input method, and presents a whole new world of possibility, and challenges, for human-computer interactions. The video below, a promotion for Corning glass products, is a look to the future. As you watch it, consider how such an integrated, wired world could improve the quality of life, as well as the role ergonomics will play as these technologies reach the mainstream.

Pretty cool stuff, but how will our bodies react to the frequent reaching (biomechanics), controlled movements (low level, but possibly long duration physiological and biomechanical loading), the vigilance and distraction issues associated with constant information manipulation and interpretation in various environments (cognitive issues), the glare and other vision issues related to the visual displays — the list could go on and on. There are a lot of opportunities for ergonomics as these technologies progress.

Will ergonomists be at the table when key design decisions are made by technology companies? When I saw this new product launch, the HP TouchSmart610, it appeared obvious that ergonomics was behind the decision to include a significant viewing angle adjustment features. This desktop computer monitor reclines all the way to 60 degrees, giving users a lot more control. I wonder if 60 degree recline was a technically driven decision, or if it was grounded in ergonomics, or if it was a compromise between the two? Do any of our HP friends have insight on this question? Either way, it is good to see a manufacturer finally recognizing the importance of adjustable viewing angle.

Even Apple may be announcing an adjustable design some day, as this patent application suggests:



Source: World Intellectual Proerty Organization (WIPO)

How quickly can we expect a wired world like that shown in the Corning video to develop? My guess is that most of the technology already exists, but change like this comes slow for a number of reasons, usability/ergonomics being chief among them. But I believe a dedicated design team that embraced a human-centered design philosophy could bring a functional system like this to life rather quickly, given the resources. The real reason we won’t see that happen any time soon, though, is because the owners of the various technologies can not or will not agree on the myriad standards that would be necessary for them to seamlessly operate in a human-centered, integrated, customer focused fashion. Instead, users will set their Android phones on the Apple enabled table-top display that needs to communicate with the Microsoft enabled panel display and spend the rest of their time trying to figure out why they won’t communicate with each other. This technology won’t improve our quality of life — at least not until we can all agree and abide by usability/ergonomic standards, that is.

Is there a place for ergonomics in the development of such technologies and associated standards? Certainly. Will there be a place at the table for ergonomists as such standards are debated and developed? That’s up to you, me, and the ergonomics profession.

This article was last modified February 23, 2011, at 9:50 am MST

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2011-02-15.