Students design high-tech desk of the future

desk-design Six years ago, before liberal arts engineering studies senior Bill Trammel became a Cal Poly student, he had an epiphany while sitting at his mahogany desk at home.

"What would this desk look like if Q from James Bond designed it?" he asked himself.

He pictured a desk with a sliding screen, a finger print recognition system and video conferencing - all from his single, sedentary unit of space.

"But the key point is that it would look like a completely ordinary desk," Trammel said, and the idea for his senior project was born.

Now, years later, he's finally turning his vision into a reality.

Although something as high-tech as finger print recognition isn't in his plans yet, the concept of an electromechanical desk controlled by buttons has kept Trammel and three classmates spending all their free time working out of a garage in San Luis Obispo for the past two months.

The team is designing furniture that treats computers as a crucial part of the structure, rather than an accessory to plop onto it.

"Assimilating people's physical environment and their technological, computing environment hasn't happened yet," Trammel said.

The basic idea is that people can have the ability to own both a desk and computer, and use both at the level at which they're supposed to be used.

The design would allow LCD flat screen monitors to retract within the desk when the monitor is not in use. A swivel panel would allow the back of the computer tower to be accessed without having to pull the entire appliance off the shelf.

A sliding panel within the desk, built by LAES junior Ryan Inouye, will house the keyboard.

All the electromechanical actions will be controlled through buttons at the edge of the desk.

"Basically what we'd be doing is creating desks with a series of mechanisms installed in them that can handle whatever computer system that they have, as long as it's a flat screen," Trammel explained.

The concept is derived from structures already prevalent in homes of celebrities and in major casinos.

"The technology is all already out there," Trammel said. "It just hasn't been applied in home office or in an executive and personal environment."

Trammel said the way desks and computers function together traditionally isn't ideal; when people want to use their desk, they usually have to move the keyboard and wires out of the way.

"If you have your computer always available, your productivity goes down about 50 percent, at least for me," he said.

When a person can put the computer away, instead of having it always available on top of the desk, Trammel predicted productivity will go up.

"When it's out of sight and out of mind - it doesn't damage your productivity," Trammel said.

The eventual goal is to create a company, since neither the technology nor furniture industries have made the transition yet.

"You kind of have to start from scratch," Trammel said. He predicted that if a furniture company tried to incorporate the concept into their work, they would damage the customer loyalty they've built up for years.

"The industry is small enough that there's less barriers of entry for someone to come in and make an integrated design company," he added.

Based on Trammel's informal surveys, the product seems to be popular.

"When I tell people about it I usually get two reactions," Trammel said. "One, 'Can I buy one right now?' or, 'Yeah, and-' and they come up with another idea."

LAES junior and project co-designer MJ Robotham said he was originally skeptical about the concept.

"At first when he started talking about desks, I was kind of speechless, like, 'Really? Desks?'" Robotham said.

But after he understood the huge business potential, he has dedicated his time to turning the idea into an eventual business.

Ryan Alba, an LAES senior who is helping with the project, said he knew from the start that he wanted to be involved.

"I knew Bill and MJ from last year, and I've seen Bill's leadership skills and I know anything he does is going to be a great, great experience," Alba said.

Plus, he's learning skills that will eventually help him establish his own start-up.

"Apart from the design part - which I love - I learn a lot from the business side of it," he said. "I want to be an entrepreneur, that's what my parents do."

Last week, the group got their automation control equipment and plans to have a bulk of the mechanical work done by Thanksgiving.

The final prototype will be completed by Dec. 12 for a business plan competition.