Within the Lab we are interested in simulation from two different perspectives.  On the one hand we use simulation as a means of helping us to understand how people respond to and interact with different environments.  On the other hand, by finding ways to simulate how it might feel to experience reduced range of motion or altered sensation we can momentarily capture a glimpse of some of the physical challenges and difficulties that living with a long-term condition might bring to better understand how this impacts on a peson’s ability to undertake everyday activities.  Here are a few examples of the resources available.

Ergo (3rd age) suit
This piece of equipment is based on the concept that a young designer is able to put on a suit that will mimic the limited physical ability or loss of function experienced by an older person.  Inviting the designer to then perform specific tasks whilst wearing the suit then provides useful insights as to the challenges a person experiencing those physical losses may experience and ways that design may compensate for these limitations.

Lab4Living is currently developing  a suit that is tied into the motion capture system to provide a loop of information that details exactly the ROM of a user before they wear the suit and then limits their motion as a controllable percentage of their individual ROM.

This development arose in recognition that existing tools did not possess a means of measuring and controlling the degree of limitation imposed by the suit and were so bulky that their shape compromised normal movement to such a degree that it did not mirror an actual scenario.

Several different techniques are being explored as ways of limiting the motion. This includes audible warnings of exceeding the allowable limits (preset by the researcher), vibratory signals at the joint, when the user exceeds the preset limits or, more experimentally, an electrical impulse that stimulates the antagonist muscle of a specific joint to pull in the opposing direction and physically halt movement.

Simulation suites
A series of visual simulation suites are housed in the Robert Winston building.  The Simman, are a set of hands-on medical mannequins who look like humans, can talk and they train health practitioners by challenging them to diagnose their range of aches and pains.

Medical mannequin for the training of student medical staff in diagnosis

The building also contains a digital x-ray suite, an operating theatre and a gym.  In emulating a busy hospital environment students and researchers can understand the design requirements of such settings.

Medical mannequin for the training of student medical staff in operations

The visual immersion suite
The Robert Winston building also hosts the 3-d visual immersion suite.  This technology permits researchers and students to encounter a range of virtual environments built using the computer.  A pair of projectors enables the viewer to ‘enter into the’ image.  This technology has been used to look at ways of optimising space in the design of buildings or rooms.  One of its great strengths is that researchers and students are able to create and manipulate their own scenarios which poses designers many future possibilities.

Biomechanical modelling
Another application of computer simulation used by the Lab is in biomechanical modelling. Dr. Joe Langley and Dr. Alaster Yoxall in their work with Design Futures have significant experience in this field. They generally use a tool called Finite Element Analysis (FEA), for this purpose.

FEA is an engineering simulation tool that enables speedy structural analysis of products, components and processes. This allows for better understanding of materials and their response to forces acting upon them.  The tool provides information in relation to complex geometries, material properties, mechanical properties, thermal and electrical analysis and even fluid/solid interactions.

Data collected using this tool enables the researcher to examine the affects of life time cyclic loads, transport vibrations, thermal loads, crushing, dropping, crashing, stretching and more. The software highlights stress or strain concentrations areas, displacements, and failures.


The area of work being pursued currently is the development of the hand model.  This work is looking at stresses in finger joints. This will vary for different grips applied to different types of packaging or products. It is of interest to associate these stresses with levels of force required to carry out such actions and the relationship with comfort and pain, particularly for users with arthritis and other conditions of the hand.

With an ageing population, this work is becoming more important.

Lab4Living, Sheffield Hallam University,
Furnival Building, 153 Arundel Street, Sheffield, S1 2NU
Phone 0114 225 6753 | Fax 0114 225 6931