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This giant six-limbed robot is NASA’s Tri-ATHLETE. As the robot’s name suggests, it is very “athletic.” It was designed to do the heavy lifting in explorations of other planets and moons in the universe. The Tri (“three”) part of its name refers to the fact that the robot can split into two separate three-limbed robots. These smaller robots can do things that the larger, six-limbed robot can’t.

What Is Technological Design?

The process in which tri-ATHLETE was created and perfected is called technological design . This is the process in which most new technologies are developed. Technological design is similar to scientific investigation. Both processes rely on evidence and reason, and follow a logical sequence of steps to solve problems or answer questions.

The process of designing a new technology includes much more than just coming up with a good idea. Possible limitations, or constraints, on the design must be taken into account. These might include factors such as the cost or safety of the new product or process. Making and testing a model of the design are also important. These steps ensure that the design actually works to solve the problem. This process also gives the designer a chance to find problems and modify the design if necessary. No solution is perfect, but testing and refining a design assures that the technology will provide a workable solution to the problem it is intended to solve.

Steps of the Technological Design Process

The technological design process can be broken down into the series of steps shown in the flowchart in Figure below . Typically, some of the steps have to be repeated, and the steps may not always be done in the sequence shown.

Consider the problem of developing a solar-powered car. Many questions would have to be researched in the design process. For example, what is the best shape for gathering the sun’s rays? How will sunlight be converted to useable energy to run the car? Will a back-up energy source be needed? After researching the answers, possible designs are developed. This generally takes imagination as well as sound reasoning. Then a model must be designed and tested. This allows any problems with the design to be worked out before a final design is selected and produced.

Q: Assume you want to design a product that lets a person in a wheelchair carry around small personal items so they are easy to access. What questions might you research first?

A: You might research questions such as: What personal items are people likely to need to carry with them? What types of carriers or holders are there that might be modified for use by people in a wheelchair? Where might a carrier be attached to a wheelchair or person in a wheelchair without interfering with the operation of the chair or hindering the person?

Q: Suppose you have come up with a possible solution to the problem described in the previous question. How might you make a model of your idea? How could you test your model?

A: First, you might make a sketch of your idea. Then you could make an inexpensive model using simple materials such as cardboard, newspaper, tape, or string. You could test your model by trying to carry several personal items in it while maneuvering around a room in a wheelchair. You would also want to make sure that you could do things like open doors, turn on light switches, and get in and out of the chair without the carrier getting in the way.

Summary

  • Technological design is the process in which new technology is developed.
  • Steps of the technological design process include: identify a problem, research the problem, generate possible solutions, select the best solution, create a model, test the model, refine and retest the model as needed, and communicate the final solution.

Vocabulary

  • technological design : Development of new technology.

Practice

Watch this video about NASA’s Tri-ATHLETE robot, and then answer the questions that follow.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxllCCqJKXo (5:05)

  1. What problems was Tri-ATHLETE designed to solve?
  2. How does Tri-ATHLETE solve these problems?
  3. How was the design of Tri-ATHLETE tested?
  4. How was the design refined and improved from earlier to later versions of the robot?

Review

  1. What is technological design?
  2. How is technological design similar to scientific investigation?
  3. List the steps of the technological design process.

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Difficulty Level:

Basic

Grades:

7 , 8

Date Created:

Oct 31, 2012

Last Modified:

Aug 13, 2014
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