I am the Assistive Technology Lead in the Creative Robotics Lab (CRL) at UNSW Art & Design. In the CRL I look at how embodied interactive experiences can facilitate, augment and assist neurodivergent peoples in profound ways. As someone without a background in robotics or even engineering, you may be wondering how I got here…
At the CRL you will find artists, designers and curators working alongside computer scientists, engineers and psychologists. Research in the group is not constrained to the definition of ‘robotics’ you’re likely to find in popular culture–we are interested in exploring the many ways that humans interface with and through machines. In particular, we examine how creative practices can contribute to social robotics and related domains of interdisciplinary research.
After I completed a Diploma of Events & Entertainment Design, followed by a Bachelor of Digital Media, I found myself working with interactive media arts as a medium for locating personal and participatory experiences. This carried through to my PhD, where I developed an Interaction Design research framework to elicit opportunities for first-hand feedback from autistic children. My background in creative and performative practice was key in my ability to develop a human-centred approach that afforded emergent and participant-led design outcomes.
Placing the value of first-person experience at the centre of research is a humanistic approach that is not uncommon in creative practices. Professor Sara Hendren identifies the importance of art and design in relation to engineering and disability research wonderfully well. I include her Eyeo 2015 lecture here as a powerful example of creativity informing Assistive Technology, and an inspiration to my own research practice.
The benefits of fully engaging with and involving people with a disability and neurodivergent groups are vast. Not only can it lead to products and services that better support people typically pushed to the margins by mainstream society; it can also produce work that better serves everyone. As part of the team that produced Microsoft’s Inclusive Design Toolkit, Kat Holmes describes disability as a ‘mismatch’ between people and their environment, which designers can respond to by ‘solving for one, extending to many‘.
I aim to bring the same spirit and attitude of Hendren and Holmes to my own research. While this is located at the CRL and described broadly as Assistive Technology, I don’t allow this framing to limit the scope of my work, nor the people I work with. If these ideas are of interest to you, you can find a list of my publications, projects and grants in the Research section of this site, as well as information for prospective postgraduate research students wishing to work with me in a supervisory capacity. I am also always on the lookout for researchers and practitioners wishing to collaborate–please get in touch here.