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SDP 1 

EchoStep, the first of the Somatic Design Projects, aimed to address the mobility and safety challenges faced by visually impaired individuals. This project involved developing a smart shoe equipped with integrated haptic feedback mechanisms. The shoe was designed to enhance spatial awareness by alerting users to nearby obstacles through varying intensities of vibrations, thus helping to mitigate the risks associated with limited or no vision. The inspiration for SDP1 stemmed from a combination of personal experiences with mobility challenges and an analysis of the needs highlighted by current research on visually impaired populations. Our team, leveraging insights from academic studies and market gaps, identified the critical need for navigational aids that go beyond traditional tools by integrating sensory feedback directly into the user's footwear.

DESIGN PROBLEM

The central design problem addressed in Somatic Design Project 1 (SDP1) was enhancing the mobility and safety of visually impaired individuals through the innovative use of wearable technology. This project tackled the challenge of navigating various environments safely without visual cues. Our goal was to develop a solution that could help visually impaired users detect nearby obstacles and navigate spaces more confidently and independently.

The specific issues we aimed to address included:

  • Limited Spatial Awareness: Visually impaired individuals often face significant challenges in perceiving and avoiding obstacles in their path.

  • Dependence on Non-Intuitive Tools: Traditional aids like canes are useful but do not provide information about obstacles that are not in direct contact.

  • Need for Enhanced Safety: There was a critical need to increase the safety of visually impaired users in various environments, particularly in unfamiliar settings.

MY ROLE

As a key member of the design team, my role involved multiple aspects of the design and development process:

  • Conceptualization: I participated in brainstorming and conceptual discussions where the initial idea of integrating a Pomodoro timer within a shoe evolved into a more focused assistive technology incorporating haptic feedback.

  • User Research: I was involved in gathering insights from academic research and interacting with potential users to understand their challenges and needs better.

  • Design and Prototyping: I contributed to the design specifications and worked on the prototyping phase, focusing on integrating the haptic feedback mechanisms into the shoe. 

DESIGN PROCESS

INSPIRATION & IDEATION

The project began with a focus on enhancing personal safety and mobility, inspired by common challenges identified within our team's personal and professional observations, as well as broader societal needs. We recognized a significant opportunity to assist visually impaired individuals by creating a more intuitive navigational aid. This phase involved exploring various ideas, including the integration of a Pomodoro timer inspired by sedentary behavior challenges and a visibility enhancement feature for cyclists. Eventually, we refined our focus towards a device that could improve spatial awareness through haptic feedback.

UNDERSTANDING

Once we had a clear direction, we deepened our understanding of the challenges faced by visually impaired individuals. This involved reviewing current research and engaging with the community to understand their needs and daily obstacles better. Our objectives were defined to focus on creating a shoe that could communicate with users via haptic feedback about nearby obstacles, enhancing their ability to navigate various environments safely and independently.

PROTOTYPE

The prototyping phase was critical in bringing our conceptual ideas into a tangible form. We developed initial prototypes that integrated vibration motors and ultrasonic sensors within a shoe. This setup was designed to detect obstacles and provide feedback through varying vibration intensities. Each prototype iteration was tested for functionality, comfort, and effectiveness in obstacle detection.

TAKEAWAYS

The final design of the EchoStep project in Somatic Design Project 1 (SDP1) was a sophisticated wearable technology aimed at enhancing the mobility and safety of visually impaired individuals. This evaluation reflects on the effectiveness of the design, the extent to which it met its objectives, and the insights gained from the project.

Effectiveness and Achievement of Objectives

The primary objective of SDP1 was to enhance spatial awareness for visually impaired individuals through an innovative shoe that used haptic feedback to signal the presence of nearby obstacles. The final design incorporated ultrasonic sensors that detected obstacles from various directions and conveyed this information through vibration motors embedded within the shoe. This approach allowed users to perceive their environment more accurately and navigate more safely.

Technical Achievements and Challenges

The project succeeded in integrating multiple technologies into a single wearable device, which was a significant technical achievement. However, challenges such as managing the power supply efficiently and ensuring the durability of embedded sensors were notable. These technical hurdles were addressed iteratively, with solutions such as optimizing the power consumption of sensors and reinforcing the structural design of the shoe to protect components.

Areas for Future Improvement

  • Battery Life: Extending the battery life through more efficient power management systems to ensure longer usability without frequent recharges.

  • Connectivity Options: Incorporating wireless connectivity features that could link the shoe with other devices, providing a more integrated user experience.

  • Design Aesthetics and Comfort: While functionality was prioritized, future iterations could further enhance the aesthetics and comfort of the shoe, making it appealing to a broader audience.

SDP 2

Building on the foundational work of SDP1, Somatic Design Project 2 (SDP2) aimed to enhance the capabilities of the EchoStep shoe by integrating Internet of Things (IoT) technology. This advancement was designed to expand the functionality from simple obstacle detection to a comprehensive system that included health monitoring and real-time connectivity.

Enhanced Mobility with IoT Integration

SDP2 retained the core functionality of SDP1, which involved enhancing mobility for visually impaired users through haptic feedback. The project then introduced IoT connectivity to allow the shoe to interact seamlessly with other digital devices and platforms. This integration facilitated new features such as real-time location tracking and health monitoring, significantly broadening the scope of the device's capabilities.

Real-time Health and Location Monitoring

A key feature of SDP2 was the ability to monitor the user's health metrics, such as steps taken and calories burned, similar to functionalities offered by mainstream fitness trackers. Additionally, the integration of a location-sharing feature provided users and their caregivers or family members with peace of mind by allowing them to track the wearer’s location in real-time, enhancing safety and independence.

DESIGN PROBLEM

Somatic Design Project 2 (SDP2) expanded upon the initial concepts introduced in SDP1, addressing new and complex challenges with the integration of Internet of Things (IoT) technology into the EchoStep shoe.

 

The primary design problems addressed in SDP2 included:

  • Enhanced Connectivity and Interaction: While SDP1 focused on obstacle detection through haptic feedback, SDP2 aimed to integrate IoT features to enhance the shoe's interactivity with other digital environments and devices. This required solving for seamless connectivity and real-time data exchange to support features like location tracking and health monitoring.

  • Comprehensive Health Monitoring: Another key challenge was the development of a system within the shoe that could not only provide navigation assistance but also monitor health metrics similar to those offered by fitness trackers. This required sophisticated sensor integration without compromising the comfort and usability of the shoe.

  • User Safety and Independence: Ensuring that the new features enhanced the safety and independence of visually impaired users without introducing new complexities or dependencies was a critical aspect of the design problem.

MY ROLE

In SDP2, my involvement spanned several key areas of the project, reflecting a deep engagement with both the technological and user experience aspects of the design.

  • Technical Design and Integration: I played a significant role in the technical design and integration of IoT functionalities into the EchoStep shoe. 

  • User Experience Design: My role also involved designing the user interface for the companion app that connected to the shoe. The challenge was to create an intuitive and accessible interface that could be easily navigated by visually impaired users, which required iterative design and user testing. 

DESIGN PROCESS

INSPIRATION & IDEATION

The initial phase of SDP2 built on the insights gained from SDP1, with the added inspiration from the prevalent use of wearable technologies like smartwatches and fitness trackers. Recognizing the benefits of IoT in everyday devices, we aimed to extend these functionalities to assist visually impaired users. The ideation phase focused on how to enhance EchoStep with connectivity features that could provide both navigation aid and health monitoring capabilities.

UNDERSTANDING

The needs and experiences of individuals with vision impairments were understood by delving into contemporary journal articles and research studies focused on this population. This scholarly approach offered a deep dive into the practical challenges faced in daily navigation, health and wellness obstacles, and the broader life goals of the visually impaired community. The data gathered from these academic sources proved crucial in shaping our understanding and tailoring our approach to better meet the specific needs of our target users.

IDENTIFYING THE GAP

Through market research and competitive analysis, the EchoStep team identified key areas where existing technologies fell short. While there were numerous health and fitness applications and wearable technologies available, very few were designed with the visually impaired in mind. Accessibility features, when available, often felt like an afterthought rather than a foundational design principle. 

HEALTH APP INTEGRATION

A key component of the EchoStep design was the seamless integration with health and wellness applications. This required the development of a companion app that could communicate with the smart shoe and other health devices, aggregating data to provide a holistic view of the user's health and activity levels. 

PROTOTYPE

The vision was clear: to create a wearable technology that not only aids in navigation but also integrates health and wellness tracking and motivational features tailored to the visually impaired. This concept aimed to empower users to lead more active lifestyles, track their physical activity, and navigate their surroundings with greater confidence and independence.

TAKEAWAYS

Somatic Design Project 2 (SDP2) extended the capabilities of the initial EchoStep project by integrating Internet of Things (IoT) technology, aiming to enhance both the functionality and user experience of the assistive shoe for visually impaired individuals. The final design incorporated advanced connectivity features, real-time health monitoring, and navigation aid, significantly broadening the scope of the device’s impact on the users' daily lives.

Achievement of Design Objectives

  • Enhanced Connectivity: The integration of IoT technology allowed the shoe to interact seamlessly with a companion mobile app, providing users with real-time data on their location and movement, which was crucial for safety and independence.

  • Health Monitoring: The shoe was equipped with sensors that tracked health metrics such as steps taken and calories burned, aligning with the functionalities of contemporary health and fitness trackers.

  • User-Centered Design: The final design maintained a strong focus on user accessibility, ensuring that both the shoe and the app interface were intuitive and easy to use for visually impaired individuals.

Technical Challenges and Resolutions

  • Power Management: Ensuring that the shoe maintained a long battery life while supporting multiple functionalities was a challenge. This was addressed by optimizing the power consumption of the sensors and electronics, and by exploring more efficient battery technologies.

  • Data Security: Given the sensitive nature of health data and real-time location information, securing user data was paramount. We implemented robust encryption methods and secure data transmission protocols to protect user privacy.

Areas for Future Improvement

  • Data Integration: Future versions could benefit from integrating more health metrics and perhaps syncing with other health apps or systems to provide a more holistic view of the user's health.

  • Design and Comfort: Continuous improvements can be made in the design and materials used to ensure the shoe remains comfortable for all-day wear and aesthetically pleasing.

  • Scalability and Cost-Effectiveness: Looking ahead, making the technology scalable and cost-effective for wider distribution will be crucial to its success and accessibility.

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