Research-Quality of Life Technology Center - Carnegie Mellon University

Vision-Driven Research

The Quality of Life Technology (QoLT) Center's research deals with almost all aspects of human living. QoLT systems will affect people in different settings with different functionalities. The setting may be at home, providing personal support and help for daily living; it could be a neighborhood, where the systems help a person to engage in community activities; or it could be more societal where a person commutes to work and contributes to society through employment. In each setting QoLT systems provide different forms of functionality: enhancing dexterity and mobility, helping with some home chores, supporting memory, coaching through job functions, helping to drive cars, and so on.

Our approach to user involvement is characterized by:

  • incorporation of universal design principals
  • active involvement of all relevant stakeholders and a clear understanding of the circumstances of the target user and task requirements
  • multi-disciplinary research, design, and development processes involving users, engineers, designers, marketing, clinicians, service delivery, social and health professionals
  • an interactive development process

This approach allows us to produce prototypes and evaluate design solutions according to user criteria. We define this process as Participatory Action Design, which incorporates universal design, but includes much more stakeholder involvement than may be characteristic of current universal design.

Our strategy encompasses a few QoLT systems that embody the vision as the focus, align our engineering research and development efforts with them, develop a series of integrated prototypes in each family with progressively greater capability over the life span of the ERC, evaluate prototypes in the testbeds, and feed back findings into the main research areas. This overall strategy is depicted on the right.

Three-Plane Strategic Plan Chart

qolt 3 plane strategic plan chart

[click on image to enlarge]

The top level displays implemented functioning systems with capabilities to be realized after several years of effort, and the project really both begins and ends there.  We start with a needs assessment and analysis coming from end-user focus groups, health and rehabilitation clinicians and physicians, community leaders and social scientists, informed by means ranging from personal and professional experience to a plethora of statistics and research studies. These serve to define and set the goals of the QoLT systems that will ultimately emerge as the products of the fundamental research conducted and enabling technologies developed at the levels below.  Whereas some particular QoLT systems may “bubble up” from the lower levels, the constituent projects of these levels are the result of a top-down analysis motivated from the QoLT system definitions at the top.  The top level also illustrates the fact that data gathering for revealing unarticulated user needs and the evaluation study of QoLT systems’ performance and acceptance, occurs in our natural environment testbeds, and feeds back additional requirements to the technology base and basic research.  We also evolve business cases at this level to better understand and speed the commercialization.

The middle level generates a technology base of modular components providing necessary functions or capabilities to the multiple QoLT systems, tools to be used in designing and implementing such components, and knowledge and data bases to inform our work and that of our colleagues elsewhere.  The technologies of the middle plane map to the modules of the QoLT System Architecture.  

The bottom level basic research increases fundamental knowledge to support the development of the technology base.  We have categorized these as being primarily focused on individual human function (the micro-level), behavior and interaction with the living environment (the meso-level), and the social and economic factors (the macro-level) that enables or constrains the outcomes of our work.

Research Overview

Research Overview Graphic depicting an overview structure of the Center's research. In the first level are the research trusts. Requirements and feedback flow from the research thrusts into the next level, QoLT engineered systems. From the engineered systems level, technology and knowledge feeds back up to the thrust level. At the bottom level are the cross-cutting efforst: Natural environment testbeds and grand challenge. There is a two way flow of information, knowledge and technology between this level and the qolt engineered systems level.