BCS has 'designs on design'

USF has high-powered "Designer-in-Residence"

Franco Lodato training at USFPictured from left, Franco Lodato, Sheila Gobes-Ryan, Alyssa Cobb

Question: What will those in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities who are "wandering risks" soon have in common with those who drive a Ferrari?

Answer: On their wrists they will wear tracking technology that has been developed by University of South Florida's William Kearns, PhD, but designed with the help of world-famous design facilitator Franco Lodato, who was instrumental in the conceptual design and wireless technologies implementation for the Maserati Birdcage 75. Lodato is the North American representative of the Italian design firm Pininfarina (Pininfarina Extra USA) and, since August, is also USF's new "Designer-in-Residence."

Junius Gonzales, MD, MBA, dean of the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, attended events where Lodato was being introduced to the university community.

"It was clear that Franco believed in a great breadth of possibilities, but it was also clear that he wanted to get technology to people who needed it," recalls Gonzales. "He was a perfect fit to the BCS mission, a mission that begins with development and extends through the implementation and analysis of innovative solutions that can affect the well-being of people and their communities."

For Ron Jones, Dean for the College of the Arts, having Lodato at USF is, as the tune says, "The Start of Something Big."

"Franco's style is to bring together people with a wide variety of expertise - engineers, budget people, chemists, people from marketing, sociologists - and organically design a product," explains Jones. "That's how they design high-end sports cars for brands like Ferrari and Maserati, by input, brainstorming, and looking for options. That's his magic. His way of thinking will engage other faculty on campus and I expect other courses centered on around finding creative solutions to sets of problems will emerge."

The "set of problems" surrounding the new tracking device has nothing to do with function, but everything to do with form.

In terms of function, the device is a radio frequency identification-based (RFID) technology that uses an embedded chip to send signals to a receiver. RFID is the same technology used by the Florida Sun Pass ™ to collect tolls and used by shipping companies to track shipments. Kearns and colleagues put RFID tags on the wrists of residents of two assisted-living facilities to track their movements accurately within eight inches in x,y,z, dimensions, then researchers analyzed the movements for signs of cognitive decline, such as a tendency to wander. Kearns is first to admit that the raw technology is not very aesthetic.

"It works well, but it's pretty ugly," says Kearns.

As newly appointed designer in residence, one of Lodato's first tasks is to help facilitate a graduate seminar in communication and design process. Students are charged with the responsibility of designing a wrist-worn device that is comfortable and aesthetic, desirable to be worn.

Fred Steier, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Communication, and Kearns co-teach the seminar with Lodato.

"The design seminar is following the phases of the design project itself, beginning with a conceptual and innovation phase, trying to understand the lives of the users, and continuing through the fabrication and 'branding' of the product," says Steier. "Included in the context of learning is an exploration of just how we design learning spaces for a course like this, including our studio space and virtual space."

The students, explains Steier, come from a wide range of colleges and disciplines, including art, communication, mechanical engineering, computer science, business and architecture. One participant is an undergraduate biomed honors student.

"As we have moved through the semester, the interdisciplinary team is finding different kinds of expertise rising to the surface," says Steier. "It's a great learning experience."

Emphasis is on bionics as applied to design, or "bionics in action," using nature as an inspiration for innovation. It's a concept called "Bio-Design," developed by Lodato over the last 20 years and on which he has built his reputation and expertise.

"I believe that observing nature, seeing how it has evolved and makes adaptive changes, can be the best model for understanding and resolving complex design and structural problems. Nature is all about beauty and simplicity, and so is my design philosophy," explains Lodato, who adds that the seminar students are very committed and that they are finished the first of three phases of innovation. "We have between 35 and 40 ideas, road maps for the future, along which we will take the technology and expand its uses."

Lodato, who has worked in academic environments prior to his arrival at USF, says that USF's research-driven environment is the right setting for a project like this and he looks forward to future USF design projects and innovation challenges.


Randolph Fillmore, Florida Science Communications