My research is principally concerned with the mechanics of prehension: the ability to grasp and manipulate objects around us. Almost every daily activity relies on a degree of dexterity and manual capability, from feeding and dressing oneself to writing and interacting with technology. When this is impaired (whether due to injury or illness), the consequences are severe. My research therefore looks at two solutions to this: reducing the demands placed on our prehensile abilities through better design; and improving prehensile capabilties through training – whether to recover function after a stroke or spinal injury, for example, or to improve capabilities in children, surgeons or technicians who must master fine manipulation. In particular, I focus on:
- Using engineering dynamics methods to identify how object properties (such as size, shape and surface) and individuals’ capabilities (such as hand size, grip strength, co-ordination) affect the ability to manipulate objects in the ways required by activities of daily living.
- Developing tools for measuring these capabilities and demands in the field (for example, in schools, homes and hospitals – such as the ongoing Born in Bradfordproject);
- Developing therapeutic and assistive technologies to improve individual’s prehension, with a particular emphasis on play-based therapy;
- Developing decision support tools to aid inclusive design: by helping designers to predict the capability demands their concepts place on individuals, we aim to raise awareness of where they are causing design exclusion, and what they can do to reduce this; and
- The effects of postural stability on manual skills, and how postural deficits can be addressed through supportive seating.
This means working closely with psychologists, physiotherapists, clinicians and sociologists to develop workable technologies, and ensure that the systems developed are driven by the needs of end users rather than by technological considerations. To this end, I am part of both the multidisciplinary Perception Action Cognition lab and the Centre for Disability Studies as well as institutes within Engineering.