Medical-device designers urged to visit home
Designers of appliances for home health care must pay more attention to human
factors research and spend more time with users. That was the prevailing opinion
at a full-day workshop on improving the usability of home medical devices.
Manufacturers, ergonomic specialists, federal regulators, and health-care
providers attended the sessions, sponsored by he National Research Council.
Among the suggestions: Before launching into design, developers should spend one
or two months visiting home-care nurses, therapists, and the patients
themselves. Also as a project progresses, patients should see drawings,
mock-ups, and prototype. "Probably 80% of the feedback we gather comes directly
from patients in their home,: one manufacturer reported. Good design is
especially critical for home medical equipment, human-factors experts
maintained. Users, they explained, may have infirmities, high stress, limited
training, and inadequate sources of advice and support. Many won't use manuals.
"Some products tend to be driven by technology rather that by user need,s:
complained a health-care researcher. "Others are designed more for clinicians
than for home users."
GM joins federal researchers to boost fire safety in cars
General Motors and a government agency have launched a two-year project to improve the fire safety of motor vehicles. Research will take place at both the Building and Fire Research Laboratory of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and at GM's R&D Center. In a cooperative R&D agreement, teams will evaluate vehicle crash and fire tests, identify potential mechanisms by which fires could start, and then create laboratory models of these mechanisms. The aim is to gain knowledge leading to less flammable materials in critical spots, improved fire barriers, and active fire suppression devices. For technical information on the collaborative effort, contact Richard Gann at NIST, phone 301-975-6866 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Super-lightweight fuel tank passes shuttle requirements
Engineers have successfully demonstrated the capability of a new external fuel tank for the space shuttle. Test results indicate that the super-lightweight tank can withstand loads greater than requirements for flight certification. Planned destructive tests took place at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL. The test article was 40-feet long, compared with the 154-foot length of a flight tank. But it had the full diameter of 27.5 feet. Martin Manned Space Systems designed and built the aluminum lithium hydrogen tank. Although it is to be the same size as the current metal-alloy tank, it will be 7,500 pounds lighter. That should improve the shuttle's ability to carry cargo to the high-inclination 51.6-deg orbit where the International Space Station will be built. Knowledge gained from working with the new alloy is expected to be used in future designs of weight-critical space vehicles.
Drifting buoys assist in hurricane forecasts
A new array of sophisticated buoys has been helping to track this year's onslaught of hurricanes. Engineers at the National Data Buoy Center (NDBC), Stennis Space Center, MS, designed the floating devices. C-130 hurricane reconnaissance aircraft dropped a series of 14 buoys between the Lesser Antilles and Cape Verde Islands. As they slowly drift west, the buoys measure wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, and sea and air temperature. They story the information until a polar-orbiting environmental satellite passes over them. The spacecraft, in turn, stores the data until it is in sight of a ground station. Facilities operated by Service Argos, Inc., in Landover, MD, process and format the observations and forward them to weather forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Each time a message is processed, a buoy's latest position is determined. NDBC officials expect the buoy array will remain in service through the remainder of the 1996 hurricane season. Development of additional capability in drifting buoys is underway at NDBC. Current activities include testing less costly barometers and improved devices for measuring wind and waves.