Designing for the Animal User: Smart Controls for Mobility Assistance Dogs

Ruge Castro, Luisa Fernanda (2021). Designing for the Animal User: Smart Controls for Mobility Assistance Dogs. PhD thesis The Open University.



This research explores the mismatch between mobility assistance dogs’ (MADs) current working environments, their characteristics and capabilities as users, and their resulting UX. This thesis presents the design of a set of smart controls for MAD use, including the development and application of a series of mixed-method approaches for the systematic analysis of MADs behaviour while interacting with technological devices. These approaches were used to define a set of MAD user requirements with which to evaluate their UX and inform the design of controls. The research consists of five phases during which the main research question “How can interfaces for MAD users be designed in a way that provides them with a good UX? was addressed. In the course of the research six empirical studies were conducted, to gather recorded observational data of MADs’ interactions with existing and prototyped controls – in two distinct settings. Data was also collected from the MADs’ handlers: from their trainers and their human partners. The research has generated a series of methodological, design, theoretical, and animal welfare contributions, which included: i. a tail wagging ethogram for the assessment of MADs’ affect-based interactions with technological devices; ii. a method for evaluating animal usability (MEAU); iii. an approach to measuring MADs’ levels of confidence while interacting with technological devices; iv. an Ethical Toolkit for ACI Research to prompt ACI practitioners to articulate their ethical research related values; v. an animal-centred design framework (ACDF) in which a user-centred approach to design technology for animal users is proposed; and vi. a set of smart controls whose use was confirmed to improving MADs’ UX.

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