Industrial design students invent an innovative kit for military use
As an undergraduate student, Kai Keewatin was torn between two passions: graphic design and his long-held dream of enlisting in the Canadian Armed Forces.
During the second year of his design program at the University of Alberta, he finally enlisted with Lord Strathcona’s Horse in Edmonton, where he obtained his military uniform in 2016.
He is now captain of the regiment, but the principles of design are never far from his mind. Realizing this interest, Keewatin’s commander asked him to design a better commander kit for a tank – essentially a bag that contains notebooks, binoculars, GPS, maps, and whatever else is needed in the field.
“A commander’s kit is something that doesn’t really exist,” Keewatin said, adding that commanders tend to just throw gear in a helmet bag.
“I was just thinking, there has to be a way to apply a finer level of design to that to create something more functional. “
The main challenge is that there is simply no room inside a tank for such a kit. It must fit perfectly between the two hatches of the outer turret. It should also be durable enough to withstand temperatures of -40 C to 40 C, waterproofed and raised so that if it gets wet it will not freeze in the turret in cold weather.
Seeking help, Keewatin returned the challenge to his alma mater, confident that students in the art and design department could come up with innovative ideas.
And they did.
This is certainly not the first time that fourth-year industrial design students have taken on real-world assignments, said Greig Rasmussen, Design 502 instructor.
Two years ago, they designed temporary storage facilities for homeless people in Edmonton. More recently, they submitted ideas for the upcoming renovation of the ground floor of the Student Union building, based on surveys of student preferences.
But this is the first time they have been approached by the army.
“I was blown away by their work,” Keewatin said. “Even with the pandemic, they managed to create some really cool designs. Everyone we showed it to in the regiment loved what they came up with.
Once divided into groups, the students interviewed the crew commanders with detailed questions about what they would like to see in a kit.
“Part of the design brief was that it had to be personalized for each commander since everyone has certain things they want together,” Rasmussen said.
“It’s so important for students to have real clients. We want to move beyond the idea of just designing cool stuff – it has to meet the customer’s needs.
One of the less conventional designs was a pyramid of tubes connected by Velcro, each large enough to store equipment.
“You can either detach one and bring it to the tank, or tie it up and take it to a field meeting,” Rasmussen said.
The pandemic imposed certain limits on the experimentation because the students did not have access to the hardware workshops and had to settle for computer renderings.
At the same time, working from home meant that everyday items at hand were a source of inspiration.
“We had badminton tubes in our rooms,” said student Tomas Spasiuk, whose group worked on the design of the tubular pyramid. “If you try to demonstrate how things would work – with, say, one smaller tube sliding inside the other – that helps the team get rid of it. “
Other designs included traditional bag shapes, double suitcase styles and even “luxury executive suitcases with different compartments,” Rasmussen said.
The students were also given a mission from Keewatin to design “Challenge Coins,” used to recognize outstanding achievement and participation in significant events such as campaigns, periods of service, military exercises and relief efforts in disaster.
The designs have now been submitted to Keewatin’s unit, where they’ll likely “pick” ideas to produce their own version, Rasmussen said.
“They have very good internal saddlery stores at the military base.”
Given the success of the collaboration, Rasmussen said he hopes for further postings from the military this fall.
“They are fantastic clients,” said Spasiuk, “because they knew the process and they knew how to give great feedback which is so invaluable.
“It kind of made me fall in love with product design. You take that idea that gets someone excited, and then you give them something that they can actually use.
| By Geoff McMaster
This article was submitted by the University of Alberta Folio online journal. The University of Alberta is an editorial content partner of Troy Media.
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