A Personal Assistive Device For an Older Adult
The Exercise Companion is an assistive device for an older adult that would improve a certain aspect of their daily routine or bring more positivity to their life.
We collaborated with our Osher client, Fredrick, and communicated with him throughout the process of the project to help us design our intervention. The problem we decided to tackle was how we could make Fredrick’s daily exercise routine more interesting by creating a guide and friend that could not only carry the routine sequence but make the process more engaging.
April to May 2020
3D printer, rapid prototyping, Arduino components
Physical prototyping, storyboarding, user research
Aadya Krishnaprased, Zerui Huo
What does our client want and how can we help?
This project had a unique scenario where the target user was especially important, because the product was essentially created for them. Therefore, our preliminary preparation and consistent communication with out client was the most important in this case.
We started with introducing ourselves to gerontology and how to conduct an interview an older adult, such as the language should we use when interacting with them. Some points that I learned about conducting interviews with older adults, is how to address them. For example, call them as "older adults" rather than the "elderly" and to not describe them as "cute" (a typical mistake that many people do) as it can make the other seem inferior.
With the right etiquette in mind, we planned out our interview with describing our motive, context, and asked him with open-ended questions to discover an area where we can intervene.
A snapshot of our interview plan
Our Zoom Interivew
This is one of the times that I was reminded of again how important the planning process is in a project. The brainstorming and back-and-forth communication between our client was the most crucial aspect in this process and determined the course of what the final product would be.
Our questions led Fredrick to talk about his hobbies, the routines he goes through his daily life, as well as the problems or inconveniences he commonly faces. However, I realized that many of these "problems" he described was regarding his wife, such as his wife would forget where she put something because she is so busy. Even though these were at the top of his mind, I pushed forward not to go through with the route of designing reminders for his wife, because that his wife was not our target user and we would not have the most accurate research in solving this issue through another person's perspective. Other options of assistive devices were too complex to create such as having a way to collect and sort the books that are lying around in his house.
One of Fredrick's favorite hobbies was doing his yoga exercises and he talked about how he does the same routine every time. He wishes that there could be some more variation to it. This was a topic that I thought was within our capabilities and would also create a meaningful impact in his life. With communicating with the team, we agreed that this would be a good project idea and together we made sketches of what this device would look like on Zoom.
Sketching what our device could look like together on Zoom
Creating a thoughtful plan
We created different prototypes to examine the different iterations that we could create for our exercise companion concept.
All prototypes include:
LED strip/ring that would show the progress of the overall completion of a category of exercises
Button to shuffle order of exercises in a category
LCD screen(s). One for that mimics a face and anthropomorphizes the device and one that has the title of exercise.
Speaker(s) that would announce each exercise
The device should be on a smaller scale so that it’s easy to hold in one’s hand and to carry around. Appearance wise, it should be be simple and also have only the essential interactive touch-points such as the one button. The first level of feedback the user should receive is sound, the exercise that is announced. Then sight is secondary where the user is able to see the LED progression and check the description on the back LCD screen if needed.
This is my prototype, where a ring light surrounds the button is a progression bar for the routine, and the button would shuffle the exercise routine. There are two screens, one solely to animate the device with changing expressions and another to show the titles. There is a speaker on the side to emit the exercise titles read out loud by the device.
My teammates prototypes
These are my teammates prototypes, the one on the left recreates the look of the actual device where instead of a cubic screen like in my prototype, only the mouth is a 16x2 LCD screen where the titles of the exercises will be shown. The eyes could be stagnant or animated with LED lights. The progression bar is at the front almost like eyebrows. The one on the right is a 'how it works' prototype and shows how some of the essential Arduino components would be wired.
Improving product with consistent communication with our client
As as finalized our ideas and made modifications, we had check-ins with Fredrick and updated him on what we are thinking. Through these talks, we were able to receive key aspects of the design that was beneficial to Fredrick:
1. Using voice recognition
The first time we revealed to Fredrick what we were making, we had a button that he would be able to press every time he completed a workout. However, as we talked with him more after, we asked him to go through the process of using our prototype for us to further understand how this device would be used in his life. We realized that it would be cumbersome to go up to the device to press the button each time to go to the next exercise, therefore, this was when we decided to use sound recognition (when there is a louder sound trigger than before) to go to the next workout. This would mean that the context of the workout routine must be in a relatively quiet place and this fits Fredrick's situation, where he exercises in his home.
Initially, we had a button but changed it to a rotary encoder to better fit Fredrick’s needs. The voice recognition would be inside the device near the speaker holes.
2. Implementing categories with a rotary encoder
In my prototype, I had the screen write the exercise titles, but after talking with our client and learning about his different exercise poses, I realized that he would be transitioning from floor to standing exercises regularly and needing to look at a tiny screen every time would be difficult. Therefore, I suggested to implement the sound feedback as the primary source of feedback. This informed us to create categories in the routine where we would implement in the software to group exercises with similar positions. The individual exercises would then be shuffled in their respective categories as well as the order of the categories.
We replaced the button we planned to use before, to a rotary encoder, where the dial part of the rotary encoder would be able to switch between categories, and the button is able to shuffle the exercises in that category.
Using a rotary encoder instead of a button
3. Using a 16×2 LCD screen for a face
In our team's prototype, I had the idea that there would be a cubic screen with a digitally created face that acts as the “personality” of the device and changed expressions according to the progression and accomplishment of the exercises. Another identical screen was in the back to have the title of the routines, in case Fredrick did not hear the exercises being called out through the speakers. However, even though this would give us more freedom to be creative with the facial expressions of the device, it added bulk to the physical size. Thus led to our consensus of using the 16×2 LCD screen (smaller rectangular screen) as the mouth of the device. This adhered to the cubic motif of the design. It also allowed us to have more "dimension" in the eyes; I thought that the the eyes could be made of transparent acrylic in order to see LED lights inside, and the LED lights in the eyes would then flash to animate emotion.
Initial rendering of the device with two cubic screens, one in front and one in the back
Final design of device with one side of the cube with a face made from acrylic, a 16×2 LCD screen, and a LED strip progression bar. The back is empty.
4. Congratulatory responses
We also decided that to further make the companion element of the device believable, we added a celebratory feedback after the user finishes the whole routine. Fredrick seemed to enjoy this detail as well. To see happen, please look at the video of the interaction under the Final Prototype section below.
5. No countdown timer
We initially had a countdown feature for each exercise, however, Fredrick mentioned that he did not want this because he does not like to rush through an exercise.
Exercise Companion device
Device lighting up
The face is now constructed by essential functions of the device
The rotary encoder allows you to switch to a different set of routines and shuffle routine
Where to change the batteries
Rotary encoder twist/switching categories
Rotary encoder press/shuffle exercises
User Interaction Animation
Animation of how the device works
Annotated breadboard of our device
We also planned the internal Arduino components to our device. This can help us remember how to create the physical device after the COVID-19 situation.
Takeaways & Future Plans
My biggest takeaway from this project would be seeing how important the planning process is before creation, such as the research and communication with the user. Everyone has their own standard of what a good device or product should be. Oftentimes, there may be features that the designers thinks are important to a product, but in reality, it might not be the case for the users. With more conversations and deeper understanding with our client, the design was changed and guided by our target user's needs. Without this information, the device would not have been as useful and thoughtful. I hope to apply this to my future projects where I want to focus more time on planning and building a strong foundation of study and research for a design project that I am doing.
We hope to take our detailed plan for this project and fabricate it in real life to finally be able to hold our hard work in our hands. I think the physical prototyping of products is a major part of creating a final product; there many be more obstacles ahead with components that we we were not able to account for and being able to overcome this is something I believe to be essential for learning. I hope you look forward to the future of Exercise Companion and see how it transforms in the future.