Navigational Aid

TRIDENT - Navigational Aid for runners who are blind

What's this project about?

An industry-funded study to assess how blind users interact with technology while running. The end goal of the study was to develop a prototype that aids them with the detection of obstacles while on the run.

My role in this longitudinal study

This was a two-year project done in collaboration with TOYOTA. It included an overall team of 5 people, cutting across diversities, including Designers, HCI Researchers, and a Faculty as the chief investigator. As the lead user researcher , I successfully helped build the prototype to aid blind runners in leading the student team in research-related activities.

Outcome of the project

As a team, we prioritized user research and narrowed down on the type of device that can fit the users' needs.

We chose 3 different sensors (Infrared, Ultrasonic, and LIDAR) to incorporate into the device, and from the research material gathered, we decided to go with a RUNNING BELT - The TRIDENT. We determined the features from interviews conducted with blind joggers and runners.

An image of the prototype

TRIDENT stands for Tri-Positional Detection and Navigational Technology. The system's key features include:

Challenges we faced along the way

And those are like, tactical buttons, so when you can feel them, push them.

Research Gap with respect to blind runners

UX Research Methods - path to the running belt

To get a solution that would cater to the user's needs, and compelled by the need to plug the research gaps, the team divided the user research into four phases.

The first phase involved reviews and analysis consisting of:

The second phase involved profiling the user base where the team performed:

The third phase consisted of prototype building.

The last phase was the evaluation of the built prototype.

Phase #1 - Review and Analysis

LITERATURE REVIEWS

The team collected several works related to prototypes for individuals who are blind. This rigorous search helped the team to understand the development from other researchers' perspectives. I populated and read through research papers to gain insight and information on the given topic, identify gaps in previous research. Overall, we wanted to have a solid background for our study.

#1. Focus on blind navigation

#2. Multiple ways of feedback presentation.

#3. Multiple Sensor Usage.

#4. Augmenting Experiences.

MARKET ANALYSIS

The team looked at different products available on the market. The competitive analysis enabled us to go through the strengths and weaknesses of the various devices available, used by people who suffer from vision impairments. Trying out the devices gave an understanding of the features and functions and informed the design process. User reviews helped us understand what the users think about the different products.

Indoors it is fairly useless unless your'e in a high traffic space like an office... or at least one that was designed for high traffic unlike my doctor's office.
A sample excel sheet showing the different products in the market
Some products in the market

USER INTERVIEWS

We completed an interview study of individuals with visual impairments and their exercise tendencies and experiences. Through this interview, we further explored the commonly used techniques for running and got feedback on the device idea we were trying to prototype. The blind and visually impaired individuals came with a variety of running experiences ranging from casual hobbits runners to marathon runners and everyone in between.

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Participants Interviewed

Demographic: Individuals who are blind and go on runs. They can be first timers, regular marathon runners, or run with a tether. Age: 18+

Gender: Any

Ethnicity: Any

Devices: Mobile (Android and IOS) and others (BuzzClip, SUNU Band, WeWalk Smart Cane, etc.,)

#1. Quality of assistance

#2. Supporting increased autonomy

#3. Support of socialization while running

#4. Addressing uncertainty

It depends on how well you know the trail. I’ve gotten to the point where they just. Give me a really short warning. I’ll be OK because I’m prepping for it anyways. If that makes sense.

Phase #2 - Users

Having understood the competitive landscape, research projects, and the behavior of users while on the run, we were ready to profile the users, build empathy and solidify the information, help in ideating the design for the prototype given the insights we had at our disposal.

PERSONA

Image containing a user persona.
Persona

Empathy: All the above methods help generate empathy for the users by identifying the type of users who may use the device and their pain points.

Granularity of information: We looked at how much info does the user get? Can they learn about unusual obstacles (e.g. construction, tree branches, sudden hurdles)?

Granularity of Feedback: How much feedback is the device going to share? How much impact does the environment have a part in the decision making?

Level of interaction: How much focus does the user need to have on their device? Do they signal it whenever they want information, or is it automatically given to the user?

BODYSTORMING, STORYBOARD AND AFFINITY MAP

We decided to create an affinity map to populate the insights and draw significant themes from the research and the profiling. This exercise allowed us to focus on the critical aspects of the study and what users want, giving the prototype building a direction to focus. Parallelly, the team also conducted bodystorming and created storyboards to understand the situational aspects of the device in terms of feasibility and work.

Bodystorming, Affinity maps and Scenarios to aid in populating the themes from the qualitative study.
Ideation methods

Insights

The team gained valuable actionable insights from the user research conducted.

    Multiple obstacle detection: Array of obstacles to be detected and not just a single obstacle.

    A non-intrusive device that is multimodal: The device should not hinder them in any way either physically or mentally while running

    Presentation of multiple haptic feedback: Receiving an array of feedback in the form of haptics while approaching an obstacle.

    Detection of obstacles: Learning about the obstacle from a short distance away.

    Terrain: The device should work in multiple terrains, and not just track and field.

    Tether: Runners who use the tether, screen the area before the run so that they have a plan and a map in mind.

    Height: While on a trail, the difference in heights can lead to a scenario where the blind runner gets hit by a tree branch while the sighted guide just ducks underneath –

    THE RUNNING BELT - People liked the prospect of a belt to aid them while they are running as they have never tried it before. Although they did not appear to care too much about it, the idea of customization was welcomed.

Phase #3 - Prototype Building

Three different sensors (Infrared, Ultrasonic, and LIDAR) were chosen to be incorporated into the device, and from the research, material gathered, we decided to go with a RUNNING BELT.

The sensors are integrated in a way to mirror what we were working towards – A running belt worn by runners who are blind to detect obstacles.

Velcro is used for ease of use.

Front side image of the prototype device. Device consists of three sensors in the front with buzzers attached to the back.

We named the device, the TRIDENT. TRIDENT stands for Tri-Positional Detection and Navigational Technology.

Rear image of the prototype device. Device consists of three sensors in the front with buzzers attached to the back.

Impact

This low cost device consists of a variety of sensors to offer a wider detection range.

The output works on haptics and can be used by Deaf and Hard of hearing people as well.

The users do not have to spend money on devices that are expensive and bear only one sensor as this prototype is a handy alternative .

We anticipate that people in Low-and Middle income countries would be able to afford the device should it hit the market.

This device can be used for regular walking as well, extending from the runners .

We have made this belt non-intrusive as possible. Majority of the users feel that the belt is lightweight and can be used as an alternative to the devices currently available.

Next Steps

We would like to try the prototpe on users who are blind to understand what they think about it for daily wear and tear. In addition to that, we would like to go one step further in adding a camera to detect obstacles on its path and notifying the users, a field where there is a lot of research going on. Last, we would like to test the prototype in different terrains, which is currently impeaded due to the ongoing Global Pandemic, the COVID-19.

Takeaways

From start to finish, this project has been a learning curve. I realized that empathy generation is key because of the type of audience involved. In addition to that, I also learned to employ the human aspect in research. For without connection and interaction with people, I believe that nothing is possible. Figuring out the research techniques and drawing the right insights is a challenge in itself. Additionally, as we dealt with a niche audience, recruitment for context interviews and observation was also a challenge. Here is hoping that this prototype becomes a product someday. I hope to take this research into the industry where I can work to develop products beneficial for people, one product at a time.