Beacon is a future system for explorers. It is a wristband that helps hikers, backpackers, and campers stay safe when in remote, wilderness locations. Working with HTC, our team sought to explore the realm of wearable technology and for the past ten weeks we researched and designed what Beacon would look like and how it would function. Comprehensive research, including background web research, interviews, surveys, and a competitive analysis yielded interesting insight into how wearable technology could help hikers. We learned that most of the time being unaware, unalert, and ineducated with the environment could lead to emergency situations like getting lost or injured. We scoped our project on two points of emphasis: 1) making users more contextually aware and informed when in the wilderness, and 2) assisting search and rescue with material technology. To address these points we decided on three key features for the Beacon system. The first feature is a notification system. Large icons represent Beacon’s notification system that pushes alerts to the band based on GPS location. These notifications can range from weather alerts to time measures and serve to keep the user aware and making smart decisions. The second feature is a trailhead network infrastructure. Syncing your band to the kiosks on the trail will load the device with preset notifications that are tailored to position, time of day, and current conditions. A network of these kiosks will help the hiking community stay alert and safe no matter where they are. The third feature is an emergency assistant. In case of emergencies the built in locator beacon within the device can be activated to alert search and rescue teams. In addition, the Beacon wearable is constructed of electronic signal reflective material that aids SAR teams in pinging the user’s precise location. These features come together to form the Beacon wearable system and help the user stay safe in the wilderness. Task interactions involving each aspect of the system were tested on users and future iterations and feedback has been summarized and analysed.
Meet the Team
Vicky Tran is a graduating senior who loves to work on design projects. She has worked on several UX projects while interning at CONNX Solutions and Impinj over the last two summers. Vicky has also worked on many design projects within HCDE courses. Outside of school and work Vicky loves to go hiking, play sports, be on the water and eat lots of good food.
Brian Vergara is also a graduating senior in HCDE. Originally from the Bay Area in California, Brian has enjoyed his time in the HCDE department. Through many group projects, side projects, and internships, he has gained a strong understanding of user-centered principles and product design. He hopes to continue working in UX after graduation.
Andrew Lo has a degree in Human Centered Design & Engineering with a focus in Human-Computer Interaction from the University of Washington. He has interest in computer science and enjoys the problem solving that goes along with that. He also enjoys the user centered process in designing and building products.
Our first milestone is a comprehensive research report. For the first four weeks of the quarter we conducted research on our domain and user population through four different categories of research: background web research, a competitor analysis, an online survey, and an interview with a subject matter expert.
Background Web Research
We started our research by performing background web research. We wanted to find out as much information as we could by searching the internet for articles, stories, and other papers that could help us gain insight into our domain and user population. Our web research revolved around three different themes. The first is researching case studies of wilderness emergencies and injury and death statistics while hiking, backpacking, or camping. We looked at stories and articles and tried to identify trends and patterns for causes of injury and getting lost. The second is looking into search and rescue procedures to get a feel of how they work. We looked at SAR team methods and timelines of their typical activities. The third is researching general hiking guidelines involving safety, preparation, and different actions and reactions. We found lists of essentials when packing and good practices for preparing.
Another important part of our research was to do a competitor analysis on products that are already on the market. We searched through a number of wilderness safety wearables and products to get a better understanding of what kind of features exist on devices already. We focused on five products: Suunto Core Crush Altimeter, DeLorme inReach SE, Personal Locator Beacon, Garmin Quatrix, and RECCO. These devices ranged from GPS watches to patches and we looked for patterns in considerations such as battery life, portability, durability. size, and features.
In an effort to better understand our user population we decided to create an online survey. We hoped to get a better feel on the kind of equipment that typical hikers, backpackers, and campers brought with them on their excursions. We also hoped to gain insight into what kind of emergency equipment people used, how prepared and aware people were of their safety in the wilderness, and what they liked about wearable technology. We received over 140 responses after posting the survey on social media sites and learned that around half of our respondents did not rate themselves as “well prepared” or think about safety very much. We found out that the average hiker only takes a backpack with food, water, and a cell phone.
As part of our research we wanted to be sure to talk to a subject matter expert of the other side of our user population. Since search and rescue teams were a part of the stakeholders that we needed to consider we wanted to talk to someone who was familiar with their practices and efforts. We went to the Ranger Station at the Seattle REI and were able to talk to Diane a member of the National Park Services who has experience in search and rescue. She emphasized that often times hikers who got lost or injured were unprepared and stressed that being aware and educated with your surrounds is very important. She also talked about self-triggering devices and that sometimes people rely too much on technology.
Ideation & Design
Our second milestone consists of results from our ideation and design phase. After compiling our research report we analyzed our findings for insight that would contribute to our designs. We synthesized our insights and started figuring out the features, functionality, and design of our wearable. Our insight included findings on why hikers were getting lost or injured. We found out that most of the times when hikers got injured or lost it was series of small decisions that ultimately led to their downfall. Sometimes when out in the wilderness hikers are not aware of their surroundings and don’t make the best decisions.
To being our design phase we each sketched out 5 sketches including labels and lists of features. We ended up with 15 different ideas and compiled a list of features and wearables types gathered from all the different idea sketches. We listed everything out and started to narrow down our features based on functionality and design.
To help us narrow down our ideas and designs we decided to discuss our product scope. Based on insight from our research we decided to pursue two major points of emphasis for our wearable. We wanted our device to help users stay in the right frame of mind (aware, alert, and making smart decisions) and to assist search and rescue. In addition, we wanted our wearable to be light, be easily accessible (both affordable and easily accessed on the body), and have low battery/power consumption. A lot of this milestone revolved around discussion of our product scope. We wanted to eliminate features that we felt were too complex and find a good balance of useful and effective features.
Based on this insight and our discussions, we narrowed down our feature list down to a signal reflector, adjustable clasp, USB connection, and sound alerts/reminders (with speakers). We also decided that we wanted the device to be some time of band or strap. With this updated list we did more sketching on what we wanted the interface of the band to look like.
After presenting our second milestone and getting feedback from our peers, mentor, and sponsor we decided to revisit our product’s scope, features, and designs. Our proposed product design at the end of Milestone 2 was a wearable band that featured a sound based alarm system and signal material technology. The device was aimed to keep users aware and alert while hiking and aid search and rescue. We wanted to keep the scope simple since we felt, based on our research, that including too many features that required signals and battery would overcomplicate the device.
We took our designs in a new direction after some discussions and decided to design for a wearable 10 years in the future. This way we wouldn’t have to worry too much about our limitations and could add more features. The general aim of the features remained the same as we wanted the features to notify and alert users to understand their surroundings and perform best practices to stay safe. We decided to add a screen to our device and include pop up notifications that would be preset or triggered by GPS location. These notifications, represented by large icons on the screen, would inform the user of various things such as time, weather, and location. We also included an emergency distress button on the band that would alert search and rescue. We also wanted out wearable to be able to sync up with a “beacon system.” We imagined a system of kiosk at trailheads that would be able to sync with the wearable and update information such as current conditions, time pacing, and other information unique to that area and hike.
Once our designs were more fleshed out we started creating some low fidelity prototypes. We used snap bands that we ordered online and used tape and colored paper to turn them into what we envisioned the wearable to look like. We marked off where the screen and buttons would be with tape.
After creating these low fidelity prototypes we decided to design and visualize the screens so we could tests the functionality and usability of the task interactions. We designed several screens through sketches and added visual design to them in Illustrator. To make the images interactive we linked them together using the POP mobile application and Proto.io and customized the interactions between the screens. The screens we designed were based on tasks we wanted to test during our usability evaluation. We tested the interactive prototype on our phones and sized the screen to match the size on our physical bands. The tasks are based on interactions with the kiosks, notifications, settings, and buttons.
There were 6 major tasks that we tested on our participants, we asked them to complete the task while thinking out loud so we can take notes on their thinking process, in addition to notes we timed how long it took them to complete the task and how many errors were made. The first task was to turn on the device, we wanted to see how the participant went about turning on the wearable device. The second task we asked the participant to perform was to sync the device to the kiosk to get information about the hike. We then asked our participant to test our prototype be handing them our phone with the proto.io app we created. Within that app, the third task was to explain what came to mind when they saw a red edge. The fourth task consisted different icons appearing on the prototype that represented different notifications, we wanted to see if the participants can quickly understand what the icons meant. The fifth task was to locate the time and pace on the prototype. Lastly, the sixth task was to locate where to change the settings of the device.
Recommendations & Feedback
When asked to turn on the device, one user thought of tapping the screen to activate it, one user wanted it to be voice activated, he pulled his wrist closer to his mouth and said “turn on” and one participant pressed the button below the screen. All of the participants we tested mentioned that they would like the to see a “sync complete” screen to know that the syncing is completed accurately. Three out of four participants assumed the red edge meant danger approaching like how we intended to design it for. All of our participants we tested understood what all the icons meant. When asked to locate where the ETA and pace would be, one participant was able to successfully find the pull down menu under the time, one person thought to tap on the time, and two were unable to locate it. All of our participants were able to locate the settings button, however two participant thought it was small.
Some additional recommendation that we came across were to add projected screens, notifications for poisonous plants, focus on hiking guidance feature, distribution system, and that this device can have multiple uses in addition to just hiking.
As part of our final deliverables we created a poster and a video.
First we made an outline of how we want our video to look like and what scenes to record. Then we went and shot footage for the video at Discovery Park. We looked at footage and picked which clips to use and how to put the video together with Adobe Premiere Pro. We had our instructors Michael and Jared look over it and they gave great feedback. We edit the video based on the feedback.
Our poster started out as a sketch of how we want our layout then we made it in Adobe Illustrator. We had a classroom critiques section where all of our classmates had a chance to give us feedback about our poster. After that we reviewed the poster with our instructor as well. We read through our classmates’ comments and took suggestions from our instructor to tweak our poster. We then showed our instructor our redesign for final remarks before sending it to the printer.
Based on the feedback we received from the user tests and the HCDE Open House there were some features that we would take into consideration for future iterations of our design.
During our interview with Diane, our SME in Search and Rescue, she said that it was vital for the device to be self-triggered in the case that a person becomes incapacitated and can not activate the emergency beacon on their own. We received similar feedback at the open house and talked about how it could be self-triggered through force sensors or biometric measurements such as heart rate. Similarly, it was discussed that if we were to include voice commands into the device, we could have the emergency beacon be activated with a specific word or phrase.
Along the path of voice commands, we received feedback about not always having hands available to view or dismiss notifications while doing outdoor activities. Therefore in a future iteration of our design it is possible for us to include voice commands to navigate through the wearable such as viewing and dismissing notifications, settings, and activating the emergency beacon. With this being a concept wearable and planned for 5-10 years in the future, wearables in general and voice commands may be more widely adopted by then.
If the device was to be controlled by voice commands it may not necessarily have to take the form of a band located on the wrist. This leads to other form factor possibilities such as being a separate device that can be attached to a backpack or even integrated with the backpack itself. We had restricted ourselves to a wristband since it had a screen and is a convenient location for users to interact with it; however, with voice commands it opens the possibility to different form factors.
Some suggestions we received at the open house pointed towards opening up the features of this device to a wider market space. From the responses that we got they said that the simple notification system would be useful in everyday lives, not just while doing outdoor recreational activities. Some other scenarios that people suggested was for vacation, exercise, and work. Reminders could include events, medicine, and water and food consumption. However, this strays from what we focused on in our design question and would lead back to being another notification system that would be better suited as a smartphone application.
Reflecting on our process throughout the quarter, there is only one main mistake that we would change if we were to do this project again. It is the amount of time spent doing background research. We had spent four of the nine weeks we had to do research when it could have been done in half the time. It ended up causing us to rush a bit to complete the rest of our milestones. If we were to cut down on the time it took us to do the background research, we could have used that time to create a higher fidelity prototype such as a fully interactive mobile prototype instead of a specific workflow.
A minor change would have been to decide on the feasibility of the device ahead of time. We had initially limited ourself to the technology of our time to design a wearable and for our purposes it turned out to be a simple device that did not do much. We then decided to go with a device that was feasible fine to ten years in the future. We then reiterated on our ideation and design phase which took some time away from other aspects of our project. Since we had lost time on reiterating our design we did not have the time to go out and conduct a guerrilla style user research session at a hike as we had initially planned. Instead we tested our design and prototypes on people that we knew which may not have elicited the same response as if we had tested on some random person on a hike. However, overall we are satisfied with what we accomplished during the approximate nine weeks even with some of the setbacks we had.