We designed an assistive device for deaf and blind persons to run safely and for longer distances.
Here is a peak into the design process we followed.
Usher Syndrome affects nearly 10,000 people worldwide in the form of acquired deaf-blindness.
Imagine losing your senses gradually. How would that feel?
For some of the Ushers, their vision gets clouded similar to the gradient I have overlayed on top of this image.
Running is often suggested as a form of therapy to allow the Ushers to cope with the anxiety and stress of losing their senses.
But how do they run across forests, race tracks or even marathons with ease?
Presenting Equarun, a haptic assistive device meant for the deaf and blind runners.
Equarun allows for the comfortable guiding of such runners across all such terrains.
With the principle of 'As less design as possible', we didn't overpopulated the interface with too many buttons. All the essential instructions for navigation was easy to follow with the physical structure and some advanced commands were communicated by means of haptics.
There was a small twist though. 'Empathize' was not just a phase in the design process, but so much more.
To get into the groove, we hosted blind lunches, made friends with the runners and participated in marathons to help us empathise throughout the design process.
User personas were detailed. How does a day in the life of a buddy or the Usher look like? Currently the buddies use a cotton strap to provide commands to the ushers.
A user journey map was created to understand the pain points that a running pair goes through.
This allowed in giving a better understanding of the difficulties caused by using a primitive cotton strap to guide such runners.
Ideation involved not just sketches, but also involved understanding the macro, micro and meta experiences that could be provided through the product.
For instance, what are the social, cultural and emotional attributes which the product should comprise of?
The design goal was deconstructed by 'Divide and conquer'.
For safety, we performed running gait tests.
For robustness, we performed FEA analysis and did some stress testing
For making it intuitive, we iterated on the size and shape of the handle, buttons etc through testing
We performed action research, i.e going out in the field every week and testing our assumptions with the runners.
To get deeper insights from the ushers, we sought help from a speech expert who helped us gain tacit insights - How do they feel about it? How do they think etc.
Another challenge we faced was to make vibrations intuitive. How do you communicate actions merely through vibrations?
So we designed a new language for haptic instructions which was tested for its intuitiveness.
Of course, Rome was not built in a day.
We took some time, made a lot of mistakes, but we improved through iteration to get to the final product.
Another challenge we faced was to pack all the dope electronics into the size of the handle. Various designs were made which were optimized to make it fit neatly into.
We made the assembly level planning for the first 40 units of Equarun. Right from printing, sanding, milling, painting, soldering. How does the overall system architecture look like?
Along with the product design, advocacy was equally important to spread awareness on Usher Syndrome and provide equity when it comes to running. Through the Running Blind Foundation, I was involved in spreading the message on Equarun :)