But it wasn't quite the real nine-month maternity experience, clarifies ergonomic engineer Eero Laansoo, although the back pain, sore neck, and restrained mobility felt very real when he and other Ford
engineers had put on the Empathy Belly™—a 30-lb pregnancy simulator suit—for the ergonomic design research on the 2004 Ford Freestar and Mercury Monterey minivans (http://rbi.ims.ca/3845-531). According to the company, these two models have a broad customer base. To achieve the ease- of-use that would attract various customers, ergonomic engineers must consider extreme usage conditions, such as pregnancy. "There are a lot of elements that the Belly has helped to verify and not just to trouble-shoot," Laansoo adds. The most significant finding, he says, was in the third-row seat, which has been counterbalanced for one-hand fold-and-tumble operation. Other changes include pop-up head restraints that do not need to be removed when storing the seat, and an adjustable second-row bench seat that tips and slides horizontally along its rails when the lever is pulled. For four years, Ford engineers have been using different suits to simulate pregnancy. But not until the design research for the 2004 Monterey and Freestar did they learn about the Empathy Belly, which was created to raise teenage pregnancy awareness by non-profit Vashon, WA-based Birthways Inc.
(http://rbi.ims.ca/3845-532). With a rib belt that constricts lungs, two 7-lb weights to represent fetal limbs, and a 6-lb pouch to apply pressure on the bladder, Laansoo says the Empathy Belly has allowed Ford engineers to really "live in the skin of a pregnant woman." Ford has purchased seven Empathy Bellies for its ergonomic study. To understand the needs of its senior customers, the automaker has also developed the Third-Age Suit, which restricts the movements of the knees, elbows, stomach, and back when it is put on.
Digital healthcare devices and wearable electronic products need to be thoroughly tested, lest they live short, ignominious lives, an expert will tell attendees at UBM’s upcoming Designers of Things conference in San Jose, Calif.
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