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Grad fuses design skills with solutions for future space travelers

Joshua Gigantino
December 14, 2013

If Joshua Gigantino sounds like he has arrived from the future, that’s because his unique perspective on art and technology inspires him to foresee uncommon possibilities. 

“Space and computers have been my obsession since childhood, but always through a creative lens,” says the graduate from Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts. He is receiving a Master of Science in Design (MSD), with a concentration in new product innovation. 

The convergence of his knowledge and skills in design, technology and space resulted in the BodyWare project, which are wearable devices for space travel and for earth. His research projects include knee braces, backpack harnesses, measuring tools and crash harnesses.

Among other possible applications are prosthetic limb attachments, custom sizing for clothing and bags, and a class of body-based robotics.

The BodyWare project foresees design solutions based on a comparison of body-mapping acupuncture techniques with “lines of non-extension,” areas in which the skin does not stretch during most normal movements.

Gigantino completed his undergrad degree in fine arts at the Massachusetts College of Art. After 15 years in industry, he tried a “warmup” semester at other colleges before joining The Design School at ASU. “Master’s study was the best way to bring what had been an advanced hobby into my professional sphere and ASU has helped make that happen.”

“Design research is unique and in demand in the U.S., but most schools focus on studio skills and only teach a limited toolkit of research techniques,” he says. “I'm really interested in the give-and-take between realms of knowledge and how that can be used in new ways.” 

“ASU has a great combination of research opportunities, strong cross-disciplinary support and rigorous academic standards,” he adds. “The Design School in the Herberger Institute at ASU combines analysis skills from the social sciences (primarily anthropology and visual sociology) with solving design problems.”

Gigantino reached out to the School of Earth & Space Exploration (SESE) for cross-disciplinary collaboration in his space travel designs. He also served as graduate advisor for SEDS (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space) and helped with the SpaceVision 2013 conference, which brought 350 student explorers together with top names in space, like Bill Nye the Science Guy and Phil Plait. SEDS won chapter of the year for 2013 based on diversity, programs and outreach efforts. 

He is the first in his family to receive a graduate degree, and says he was encouraged and supported by his extended family. What he found most challenging was recovering from a heat/stress-induced seizure at the end of his first year in graduate school.

Although Gigantino had always been physically fit with Kung Fu, Tai Chi, cycling and “anything in the water,” he now adds riding his bike and a minimum amount of cardio and stretching every morning into his busy schedule. “It is hard to find the additional time to get to the gym, and my biggest challenge has been staying fit post-seizure.”

After graduation, Gigantino has plans extending far into the future. “My next steps are finding an appropriate PhD program to provide a technical environment to nurture the BodyWare technology while I build another startup.

“The first of these startup projects will be supporting the MarsTrac open-source analog Mars rover. I'm looking forward to testing some of my projects in Utah, at the Mars Desert Research Station, and hopefully in Antarctica. This may sound ‘out there’ but eventually, I want to grow trees in space and build stations in Mars’ orbit to help others travel further.”

A combination of design research with technical and creative skills for space-related development points to an interesting future for Joshua Gigantino.

“I want to get into space-related work that will lead to research and development in exotic/dangerous locations and develop interesting new products.”