One of the more interesting (and challenging) projects I worked on for a Human Computer Interaction class at Grand View University, was to create an Internet of Things product. The catch was, it had to be something that didn't yet exist, AND we had to make a functioning prototype that was somehow related to the product concept.
We started with some structured exercises to generate ideas, and then had to do some market research to evaluate different products that are currently in the marketplace. So I researched products like the Segway Robot, Amazon Echo, Ember mug, Parrot Flower Power, Petnet Smartfeeder and the Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator.
I initially fell in love with the idea of creating a dog collar that would alert me if my dogs got out of the yard. I thought it would be great to have an app to show the exact position of the dog, and some sort of musical element that could be turned on to aid in finding the dog (in case he was in the bushes somewhere). In my head, the music would play "Oh where oh where has my little dog gone?". Maybe it could even light up or glow in the dark.
My first stumbling block was when I learned that companies like Garmin already have dog tracking devices. A classmate had one. It was heavy and too bulky for a small dog, so I thought I could propose something small and lightweight. But as I did more research, I learned that there are already companies going that route. I also learned more about how position tracking actually works. In order to have real-time location tracking, the device pretty much has to have its own data plan.
I decided to try a different route. Inspired by all the "smart" kitchen devices, I decided to focus on the bathroom. I have a young daughter and bath time can be a struggle, so I thought about what a smart bathtub could be. I imagined a bathtub that I could start remotely that would fill to my preferred level and temperature setting.
My target audience was people with disposable incomes who enjoy long baths, or have young children who take baths. They would be early tech adopters who own a smartphone or tablet (required to operate the tub remotely). We created personas to help develop user scenarios, but they weren't based on real data.
People would not need to monitor the tub as it fills, saving time
Consistent heating for the duration of the bath would be more comfortable
Burn prevention — water would never be hotter than desired temperature
Water conservation — instead of adding more hot water to increase temperature, the tub would just warm up the existing water.
Integration of lighting, music and streaming videos could make bath time more fun or relaxing
I created a physical prototype of the app that would control the tub, and a video to demonstrate how interaction with the tub would work. This video prototype was created quickly in Powerpoint, which made it easy to produce but the pacing is a bit tedious because each slide displays for the same duration.
Making it work
For the final part of the assignment, I decided to demonstrate how to turn something on and off remotely. I thought a crockpot would be a good representation of a bathtub, but found a gravy boat warmer on clearance for $10. Using an Arduino Uno and 1sheeld, I was able to write a program that would allow me to use voice recognition to turn the gravy boat warmer on and off.
The last part of the project was to identify further research needed to make the product real. Here's what I identified:
Design a tub heating method that would warm the water without burning the person sitting in the tub. This might mean circulating the water through heated pipes, rather than heating the tub itself like a crockpot.
Devise a mechanical method of measuring the water level in the tub. That could be measurement of what is dispensed through the spout, rather than measuring the fill level of what is in the tub.
Based on the tub engineering requirements, market research would likely need to be conducted. Would people buy this tub if it required extra plumbing or electrical work? Would they be willing to pay a price that would support the tub manufacture and a profit margin?
Distribution might also be a challenge. Could any plumber install the tub, or would they need specific training?
What type of liability risk might there be with the product? For example, what if someone filled the tub remotely and a child got in and drowned?
The design of the tub control app, and the interface on the tub would need to be tested and iterated.
The tub itself would need to be tested. Because bathing is a private activity, any controlled study would need to be followed up with use of the product in a natural setting. Having the tub installed in a few people’s homes and having them provide feedback would likely result in better insights than having people pretend to take a bath in a controlled study.