Zero-G Cutlery

Masters final project thesis at Imperial CollegeRoyal College of Art

Date
May 2021
Project Type
Design Research
Product Design
Design Thinking
Featured
Reuters
[Aug 2021]
Overview

ZERO-G Cutlery is a series of food-related space products that explore new ways of designing the artefacts that shape human life in space. Zero-G Cutlery has received validation and interest from multiple domain experts from MIT Media Labs, SpaceX and NASA.

Problem Space

Human needs are being retrofitted and adapted into the technology through rigorous training instead of being an equal element of consideration during the mission development. It is not an issue for our current flights but it will be once we begin long-duration flights.

Approach

This research project begins to understand how to better facilitate human-centred design in engineering processes to address astronauts’ higher needs while still respecting the technical requirements.

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Project Outcome

Zero-G cutlery uses food as a principal tool to explore the methods and processes used to design everyday products for microgravity. Through a series of experiments, the three tools were developed to enhance the eating experience in zero gravity.

Cutlery

The spoon was designed with a flexible structure to capture the food substance, giving the astronauts a lot more control during their meals. It could potentially open the possibility of introducing a broad range of food textures as it does not rely on the water surface tension like the existing ones.

Packaging

The second artefact is the packaging of the food, which is also used as their dishware. It is built on the same design as the existing packaging with the improvement of an easy to access opening. Interaction This provides for a better eating experience and gives the confidence to astronauts to open multiple packets and create a more enjoyable meal.

Drinkware

The last object is a more speculative redesign of the drinking container. It assumes that through genetic modification we could utilise the roots of food that is grown in the spaceship as flavouring agents for drinks. So the user has the freedom to create their preferred beverage while at the same time making use of an otherwise wasted element.

Zero-G Methodology

The methodology behind these products provides a first understanding of how to better facilitate human-centred design in engineering processes to address astronauts’ higher needs while still respecting the technical requirements.

Process

Understanding the Space Paradigm

The current design process of a new mission is lacking consideration for higher human needs. The process focuses on retrofitting basic human needs in the machine in the stages of Implementation rather than considering all the human needs in the earlier stages of the process

Industry insights

Given the highly specialised nature of the space industry, it was important to engage with experts. I conducted semi-structured interviews with space engineers and space food researchers to collect insights and validate my research.

Project Methodology

I iterated the proposed methodology by using the development of the products as testing grounds to validate it and collect insights for improvements.

Testing through prototyping

I used a mix of prototyping probes and co-design workshops to test my hypothesis for an alternative methodology of creating human artefacts for space.

Testing through co-design workshops

Even though I was working in a vacuum with no real constraints and requirements, the findings helped me develop an iterative process and refine my methodology.

Press

Zero-G Cutlery gained a lot of traction and media attention. It was showcased in international online newspapers as well as on Greek national TV.

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