Students from Carnegie Mellon University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The University of Pennsylvania, and Northwestern University congregated in Chicago for a 24 hour design challenge. The Shirley Ryan Ability Lab provided us with tours of their facilities and prompted the challenge. Our team of four, consisting of one student from each university, worked to address the travel needs of those who are deaf or hard of hearing, specifically focusing on "first-mile/last-mile" difficulties.
Over the 24-hour period of the challenge, we worked to each of our strengths and weaknesses, delegating roles accordingly. As a team, we learned to integrate our unique skills and background experiences to create minimum viable and medium fidelity prototypes. Our solution relied on haptic feedback for users navigating busy city streets and public transportation scenarios.
Roles I Played
Rapidly built team and assessed strengths to work effectively
Rapidly iterated under extreme circumstances
Created of minimum viable prototypes
Prototyped with a "MacGyver" mindset
Given the rapid nature of this process, the research conducted was entirely secondary in nature. On the evening the challenge began, we went for a one-mile walk in downtown Chicago while depriving ourselves of hearing - wearing headphones and noise cancelling ear plugs. This excursion allowed us to experience first hand some of the difficulties faced by users with hearing impairments while out in the real world.
We synthesized our experiences using sorting exercises and a series of rapid frameworks, including an input/output chart of current alerts and a journey map. Our greatest insight was that while many people use their phone as a way of navigating, looking at the phone while deaf or hard of hearing can lead to total loss of awareness of one's surroundings. We sought a means to offer navigation assistance and situational awareness to the user, without the use of distracting or attention-consuming stimuli.
The design needed to be discrete, universally appealing, and difficult to lose or misplace. We wanted to make sure the device easily learnable so that users would be more likely to try it and to continue using it.
We conceptualized a prototype to test and designed a minimum viable prototype to experiment with as we walked across campus. We "MacGyvered" a vibrating mechanism using two telephones, one sending messages to generate vibrations and one attached to a team member's shoe.
Our team member was able to distinguish between different vibration patterns and identify which foot was receiving the vibration even while walking.
By using different vibration patterns for warnings and giving directions, we were able to lead our team member on a walk around campus. For example, a double vibration on the right foot indicated to turn right in ten feet, while a long vibration indicated a "noise warning," such as approaching ambulance to be aware of. While we were testing, our team member confirmed which vibration he had gotten, indicating what navigational direction he believed he was supposed to follow or what warning he had received.
Using the information gathered during the prototype testing, we reevaluated our design and presented our concepts to a member of the Chicago Regional Transportation Authority's Travel Training Program. Following our discussion and reevaluation, we repeated the prototyping process to develop a "looks like" prototype with popsicle sticks (final image at left).
The final design from this process was a second, medium resolution prototype that resolved issues found in our previous popsicle stick model surrounding accessibility of technology and ease of access to technology charging.
Challenge mentors from each of the four schools, as well as challenge leaders from the Ability Lab raised concerns about potential implications of having to remove the device from the shoe to charge it - what if it got forgotten at home? Our team realized through this conversation that, addressing potential areas of user error could also account for users without consistent access to wall-charging devices. We put the device in the heel of the shoe, with the intent of creating a self-charing device. With every step, internal stress generated in the device by the user walking would maintain the device's charge. As a result, the heel insert would never need to be removed from the shoe, making it impossible to accidentally leave at home, assuming each pair of shoes could have its own set of the navigational device.