Results and Conclusion

In this work we presented the design and implementation of a smart garment named Vibe-ing (see the figures below), and explored the possibilities of embedding vibrotactile actuators into a smart textile.

vibeing_studio_back     vibeing_studio_front

In order to understand how to design the behavior of such vibrating textile, we implemented and tested two vibrotactile patterns which were applied on the upper back area (addressing the paravertebral muscle area) and front area (addressing the deep abdomen muscles), using vibrotactile actuators embedded in a cardigan looking garment.

The two vibrotactile patterns were designed in accordance with physiotherapy treatments. The first pattern was an upward, sequential pattern starting at the lower back, while the second was a bi-directional pattern starting both at the upper and lower back and ending in the middle (see the figures below). The vibrotactile actuators would start when people touched the touch sensors near their belly in the front of the garment. The intensity in both patterns was increasing gradually (minimum to maximum) from the first to the last vibrotactile actuators in the sequence, sustain for a while, and then decrease each of the vibrotactile intensities gradually from the maximum to the minimum again. Moreover, the aspects of the vibrations we manipulated were order, timing, and intensity of vibrations of the vibrotactile actuators.

pattern_upward      pattern_bidirectional

We evaluated the prototype qualitatively as the whole concept, i.e., how people perceive vibrations applied directly on the body through an interactive vibrating piece of clothing, and how they interact with the garment. A total of nine targeted participants (five without and four with posture problems) participated in our user studies, consisting of a semi-structured interview, recorded observations, and the writing up of a love- and break-up letter to the garment.

Then we compared the two patterns to disclose the following aspects of vibrations that people recognize: 1) differences in understanding and interpreting the patterns, 2) associations people have with each pattern, and 3) how they experienced each pattern in overall.

The results show that most participants preferred the upward vibrotactile pattern over the bi-directional one. They were able to recognize, predict and describe the upward vibrotactile pattern. It was often mentioned that the bi-directional vibrotactile pattern felt random and out-of-control. For example, one participant told us:

I prefer the first pattern (i.e. bottom-up) over the second one (i.e. bidirectional). You can feel it building up and it’s much more predictable. The second one seemed kind of random.

A preference was also expressed for the lower intensity of the upward pattern, compared to the bi-directional one. It was generally recognized that the vibrations were not well detectable when the garment did not fit the participant tight enough.  For example, one participant said:

I only feel the vibrations on my back when I sit or stand against the back of the chair or the wall.

The finding shows us that predictability and repetitiveness of the pattern should be seriously considered while designing vibrational patterns for use in smart textiles, and intensity and fit of the garment should be included in the design. These results contribute to understanding how to design devices interacting with the users through vibrations, as well as identifying the aspects of vibrations that are important for designing the vibrotactile patterns.

Further, this open platform garment suits well for future design and research work of different interactive vibrotactile patterns for self-care, self-treatment, massages and stimulations. Our garment can offer different possibilities for applications, such as for example:  1) a reminder system for keeping a better posture, 2) a massaging tool for a tension release, 3) a stimulating system of the muscles to be addressed for posture correction, and 4) a feedforward and feedback system for posture correction exercises.

For more information, you can look at our final presentation slides, and you are more than welcome to contact us for any questions or requests.

User Testing Sessions

As you may have already read in previous post, we held a number of the new Vibe-ing evaluation sessions. To be precise, through two weeks time we traveled to 4 different towns and cities in the Netherlands to meet our 9 possible Vibe-ing users.

We started off on the 29th of November, when we took a train to little village in Gelderland province of the Netherlands – Zaltbommel. There we met our first user. Everything went perfectly fine, except for the hard rain, which caught us just at the end of the interview. Luckily our participant didn’t think twice and offered us a ride to the train station.

IMG_7039

The next trip followed on the 2nd of December and took place in St. Anthonis, Noord Brabant. It took us over an hour to get to the beautiful home of our participant on the edge of the village. Walk through the nature, the smell of animals and ready to sleep through the winter plants prepared us for hard work. This time we had in total four ladies participating, thus it took us approximately four and a half hours to show them the Vibe-ing prototype, let them experience it and interview them about their first experiences and ideas about garment. When these four interviews were through, the dark had already hit the sky, so we had to get moving back to Eindhoven. We packed our bags, tripods, cameras and headed towards the bus stop. To make sure that we don’t travel too short, we accidently took the bus to the wrong direction and increased the traveling time for that day at least with one half an hour. But OK, all in all we gathered a lot of valuable data and were half through with the user testing.

One day later we were back on the track heading to meet our sixth participant in one of the physiotherapy clinics, Schaafsma en De Jonge, in Utrecht. The trip was pretty adventurous, since we got stuck in the train just before the Utrecht’s central station. This gave us some stress, because we were at least 15 minutes late to meet our participant, excluding the time needed to prepare the interview setting (e.g. build up the cameras, find the righters spot to seat the participant, etc.). Although we were late, our participant waited for us and actually was really excited about the whole session. Once again, we have gathered a lot of valuable data about our prototype. And were already very much looking forward to analysing the data. But first, we still had to interview three more ladies.

The last three sessions took place in physiotherapy practice, Boerrigter Fysiotherapie, in the center of Eindhoven. There we were hosted by a great man – the head physiotherapist of the practice. He made sure that we have a private room to perform the interviews and, moreover, he opened the practice exclusively for us on the last day of user testing!

The two last participants were not able to meet us during the day and thus were scheduled for the evening on the 9th of December. Thanks to our host, Hans, we were done slightly after 9PM that evening. Monday the 9th of December was the last day of user testing.

IMG_7013 IMG_7169

Now, having one week left in the whole project we are reviewing what we have done, and collecting all the data from of the users. Today we have 9 love letters, 9 break-up letters, 9 long videos, 9 big reflection tables and much more other data to analyse. Exciting! And now, I better get back to work.

As you may guess, the next post will be about our findings. For now we say ‘bye’ and hope you get back to us!

Prototype evaluation methods (user tests)

In the past two weeks our little user-testing team (Indre, Derec, and me) had great fun traveling all over the Netherlands to meet our target users. We tested our Vibe-ing prototype with 9 women in total (more about this in the next post). A complete testing session took about 50 minutes and was conducted in Dutch (see also the picture for the standard set-up). In the following paragraphs you will find the protocol we used to collect the data.

Introduction

User testing

User test setting

The participant was greeted by the researcher(s) and offered a drink. To make the participant feel at ease, we talked a bit about things that come to mind at that moment, before actually starting the interview. We introduced ourselves and the USI program, and explained the Vibe-ing project (but not into too much detail).

Consent form and demographics

The participant was explained why the cameras are there (i.e. for transcription purposes and to record the bodily movements while wearing the Vibe-ing cardigan). When there were no further questions she was asked to read and sign the consent form, which allows us to record the session. Next, 3 background questions were asked on age, occupation, and menopause phase.

First vibration pattern

Free exploration

The participant was asked to put on the cardigan, to close it with the zipper, and to freely explore how it feels. If the participant did not notice the touch sensors (and thus did not feel the vibrations) she was prompted to touch them. The participant was observed while doing this and no questions were asked at this stage to not disturb the free exploration of the cardigan. The participant was encouraged to try out the interactions and really experience the vibrations.

Expectations, associations

When the participant seemed to be finished exploring, she was asked what her expectations were when she first saw and put on the cardigan. She is also asked if she has any particular associations with the cardigan in general and with the vibrations, that come to mind.

Explanation of the goal

The participant was then explained what the aim of Vibe-ing is: to explore the possibilities of the Vibe-ing cardigan to improve posture correction and to examine different vibration patterns meant to stimulate posture correction. To get the participants first impression on VIbe-ing’s posture correction functionality, the participant was then asked for her opinion on this.

Table of characteristics

To give the interview a bit more structure and to facilitate data handling afterwards, we ask the participant to mention characteristics of the cardigan. The participant was prompted into doing this by explaining her that these characteristics can include anything as long as it’s related to the cardigan (e.g., to the appearance, the functionality, the experience, the vibrations, etc.). When a characteristics (for example ‘pleasant’) was mentioned and explained by the participant, she was also asked to rate this characteristic on a scale from 1 to 10, and to explain why she give this rating.

Interactions

When it hadn’t come up yet during the previous part, the participant was asked specifically about the vibration pattern; while still wearing the cardigan, could she feel the actual vibration pattern? How does it feel? And how does she experience it? Also the interactions with the cardigan by means of the touch sensors on the belly was questioned in detail.

Second vibration pattern

After the participant had taken off the Vibe-ing prototype, the second vibration pattern was uploaded to the cardigan (the order of the 1st and 2nd vibration patterns were randomized to preclude order effects).

Free exploration and differences with 1st vibration pattern

Again we started with a couple of minutes of free exploration. The participant was requested to mention differences with the previous vibration pattern and to further elucidate her experiences with the second pattern. Also, it was questioned whether the participant changed her posture due to the vibrations, or whether she moved in an another way.

Table of characteristics

The table of characteristics was then expanded, first with new characteristics that related to the second vibration pattern. Second, the participant was asked to rate the second vibration pattern on the characteristics that she mentioned previously (regarding the first pattern). Third, when ratings were low, it was asked how this characteristic could be improved. What needed to be done to reach a 10 for this particular characteristic? Lastly, the participant was asked if she had any associations with this particular characteristic.

Love and Break-up letters

The last assignment we gave to our participants consisted of writing a love and a break-up letter (see also Martin & Hanington, 2012). First, the participant was asked to imagine that the cardigan is a person who she is in love with. She has to write him a love letter in which she elucidates why she loves him so much, what she likes about him, why he is attractive, and why she would like to meet him again soon. The next task was to write a break-up letter, in which she explains why she is breaking up with Vibe-ing, what she doesn’t like about him and what should be changed for their relationship to work.

Prototyping software

We used Crisp Motor control modules for implementing the vibratory feedback based on detected touch events. These control modules were developed by Metatronics for the Crisp Project, and are equipped by input and output interfaces, as well as an I2C interface, the SDA (data line) and SCL (clock line) allowing a communication between the modules.

The I2C communication is mastered by one LilyPad Arduino USB board, which controls 16 Crisp Motor modules (I2C slaves); Ten of the slave modules were placed on the back of the garment, and the remained six were put on the front of the body, as we described in the previous blog post. The H-bridge circuit of each of the 16 Crisp Motor modules was connected to corresponding vibration motor, and we only use the touch channel equipped with the six front Crisp motor modules for detecting touch events.

To use I2C protocol for establishing a communication between LilyPad Arduino and the modules, we first assigned a unique I2C address to each of the slave devices (Crisp Motor module in our case) and stored addresses in their corresponding EEPROM. Then we let the Master (LilyPad Arduino board) continuously check if there is any touch event detected by the six touch sensors. Once a touch event is detected, the Master decides which vibratory pattern should be executed based on the source of the touch event (i.e., which sensors were touched and in which combination and order). Specifically, the Master asks the series of target slaves to vibrate gradually in a sequence. That is, the vibration intensity increases gradually (minimum to maximum) from the first to the last vibratory motor in the sequence, sustain for a while, and then decrease its vibratory intensity gradually from the maximum to the minimum again. The effect of gradually increasing or decreasing vibratory intensity is implemented by putting a one millisecond delay in the program loop, and then the vibratory intensity is increased or decreased by the given value every millisecond.

In order to easily adjust different factors of the vibratory patterns, such as the delay, the minimum and maximum intensity, and the duration of overlap of the vibrations between neighboring vibration motors, we set around 20 parameters for the program. That allowed us to easily experiment with different vibratory patterns we designed, and also makes the further development of the software easier and faster. Through the co-design session consisting of a programmer (Derec), an interaction designer (Dominika), and a tester (Indre or Carmen), we tried out different values of parameters, and fine tuned each of them based on the feedback of the tester wearing the Vibe-ing garment. The immediate direct feedback of the tester helped us to design the final vibrating patterns in a way it was described earlier. The two final vibratory patterns we created this way were resembling the rehabilitation taping, and the stroke by a palm on the back. We tested these patterns in the following user test.

programming vibratory patterns

Prototyping hardware

Building the electronicsNext to redesigning the dress and designing the interactions, in order to prototype the behaviour of the garment (including the interactions and vibrations), we had to redesign and rebuild the hardware embedded in the textile. The hardware consisted of the electric circuit connecting the PCB control modules, vibrating motors and touch sensors, and a Master control element – LilyPad Adruino. Control modules and vibrating motors are enclosed in custom-made 3D-printed casings. The whole garment is powered by a battery that is connected to the master module.

Circuit design

Soldering the electronicsBuilding the circuit with control modules and vibrating motorsWe decided to design the whole architecture of the garment as a series of 16 control modules connected together and programmed as slaves (being controlled centrally by the Master module). Having this design, we are able to add or remove control modules from the circuit as needed, and the programming of the behaviour is done centrally at the master module.

Control modules

Control moduleControl modules were a custom-designed PCBs produced by Metatronics for the Crisp project. The modules have internal memory that can store the program defining the behaviour of every module. In our case, all modules were programmed to listen just to the commands of the slave and respond to them. Modules were interconnected in series, having a unique address defined. Then they were controlled by the Master module that reached them by their address. Control modules can have multiple input and/or output devices attached; we used 16 vibrating motors as output devices, and 6 touch sensors as input devices.

3D-printed custom-made control module casings

Each module was enclosed in a custom-shaped 3D-printed casing, which included the printed circuit board, and also contained little protruded holes that we used for sewing the casings to the textile. The casing was designed to have rounded edges and corners, to make sure it does not cause any discomfort when for example users incidentally press the dress at the place of the casing.

Vibrating motors

Ten control boards (placed at the upper back body locations) and six control boards (placed at the deep abdominal muscles location) have vibrating motors attached. We used motors of type KE8-944 (similar motors as those used in mobile phones). These motors are shaped as flat cylinders, 10 mm in diameter, and 3 mm in height, operating at 3 V DC, 70 mA.

Soldering the vibrating motors Seties of control modules with connected motors Vibrating motors in their custom-made 3D-printed casings Vibrating motors in the casings embedded in the textile pockes on the back part of the garment

The motors were attached into custom-designed 3D-printed casings. These casings were designed to spread the vibrations over a larger surface, staying as flat as possible. The transfer of the vibration on the skin through the textile was even supported by placing tiny spikes on one side of the casing (the side oriented towards the skin). The corners of each casing contained little eyelets that can be used for attaching the casings to the textile.

Touch sensors

Touch sensor connectionSix control modules positioned on the front (abdominal muscles) area were also attached to the touch sensors created from the conductive thread, in the form of a conductive embroidery. More details about the look and creation of the touch-sensitive embroidery are described in the previous blog post.

Master module

As a master module controlling the whole circuit we first used Arduino Uno (powered from the computer via USB), and in the end of the prototyping phase we replaced it with LilyPad Arduino USB. This LilyPad Arduino is more suitable for our purpose, because it is flat, small, washable, and still sufficiently powerful. Arduino is attached to a 3.7V battery (1200mAh) powering the Arduino and the whole circuit with control modules and vibrating motors. Arduino contains the program defining the behaviour of the whole garment, which is convenient for maintenance (we do not need to re-upload the software to each of the 16 control modules separately, but only to the master module), and also for the further development. You can read more about the software in the following blog post.

The prototype is currently very sturdy and reliable (especially in comparison to the previous prototype), so it can be (and we hope it will be!) used for further tests and exploration of vibrating wearable smart textiles. Moreover, it became a truly interactive device with specifically defined behaviour responding to the user’s actions.

Prototyping interactions

Having the concept clear, we defined requirements for the new prototype of Vibe-ing, and started building it. The prototype of the garment is intended for testing with users. The prototyping of the new Vibe-ing consists of several steps – first we need to rebuilt the dress itself, then we build the electronics to be embedded into the dress, then we prototype the interactions and develop the software to control the behaviour of the garment. In this blog post I focus on the prototyping interactions and building required electronics.

We derived the requirements for the prototype from the affinity diagrams containing information from various sources (such as target users, rehabilitation experts, literature, and results of initial user tests). Regarding the interactions, the vibratory behaviour should follow the recommendation from physiologists and rehabilitation specialists (symmetry, positioning of the vibrating actuators on the muscles, not on the bones), and should resemble touch of a person (such as stroke), or tension known from taping rehabilitation method. It should be also responsive, providing feedback on user’s action, and working stand-alone without a need of connecting to any external device.

Placement of the vibrating motors on back side of the body. Placement of vibrating motors and touch sensors on front side. (Sensors are placed at the same positions as motors) Schema of the final behaviours

Redesigning of the dress itself is described in a separate blog post. Now, let’s focus on interactions we implemented into the garment. We began with designing the vibratory pattern on the back (five pairs of vibratory actuators along the spine), then with the front part (three pairs placed diagonally over the deep belly muscles) and touch sensors at the belly area.

Upper back

Testing electronics and preparing interactionsVibratory pattern No. 1

Due to a lack of detailed information about the specific hands-to-body treatments on the wrong posture (specifically upper back posture problem – kyphosis) we went back to physiologists for a re-defining. They told us that they use taping method as external reminders. During this taping the specialist sticks two layers of tape (pieces wide about 5 cm, and long about 15cm) on patient’s upper back when the patient stands in a straight position. Then, whenever the patient bends their back, the tension on their skin caused by the non-flexible tape reminds them to correct the posture. This inspired us to design a vibratory pattern starting at the top and bottom end of the back at the same time, and following symmetrically into the middle of the back while increasing intensity – resembling the two-sided tension known from the taping. Add picture showing the pattern on the muscles and the graphical visualisation.

Vibratory pattern No. 2

Second vibratory pattern we created starts at the bottom of the back and follows upwards to the top, while increasing intensity of vibrations. This pattern is made to resemble a stroke made by a palm over the back when prompting someone to straighten up their back. Add picture showing the pattern on the muscles and the graphical visualisation.

The speed, intensity, and overlap of the vibration patterns were designed during co-designing sessions, when we tested various different settings, and in very fast iterations adjusted them immediately after trying out and evaluating their tactile qualities.

Front deep belly pattern + 2-way interactions

Then we started designing the two-way interactions between users and the garment. It started with determining the position of the six touch sensors. Those are placed exactly on top of the six vibratory actuators that are targeting the deep belly muscles. The choice of the position was made due to an easy accessibility by the users when they decide to interact with the garment. In addition we also decided to use the front vibratory actuators to provide local tactile feedback on touch as well as a stimulation of the deep belly muscles. So when the user touches one of the three touch sensors on either side of the belly, the three vibratory actuators on the touched side vibrate as a feedback. But, since we want users to correct their posture, we want them to touch their body symmetrically in order to straighten up – therefore, the vibratory pattern on the back starts only when a user touches the touch sensors on the belly by both hands on both sides of the belly. When both sides of the belly are touched at the same time, the local feedback is followed by a vibratory pattern along the spine.

Sensor and motor circuits hidden in the textile Sensors in a form of touch-sensitive embroidery

The combination of touch input, vibratory output, properties of the vibrations (patterns the vibrations follow, intensity, overlap, delay, and location) we call it the behaviour of the garment. Evaluating of this behaviour is going to be the main goal of the user test with the final prototype. But that is the topic for a different blog post.

Prototyping of the vest garment

As we found out from the affinity diagram containing information from various sources (such as target users, rehabilitation experts, literature, and results of initial user tests), the re-design of the current vibe-ing dress is necessary. The new prototype must look like a regular everyday piece of clothing, not as a rehabilitation tool (not to label users wearing it as “patients”). It must be lightweight (especially around the neck) and less warm than the previous one, it must be easy to take it off and on again (since menopausal women often want to add or remove layers of clothing to regulate their body temperature). Last but not least, the pockets that hold the vibratory motors should be repositioned on the garment according to the requirements for posture correction.

Preliminary prototype

Preliminary prototype – back Preliminary prototype – front Prototyping – work in progress

Corresponding to the requirements touched upon in the paragraph above we decided to re-design the original vibe-ing dress into a prototype in a shape of a vest with a zipper at the front. The vest is supposedly more of a regular piece of clothing than a dress since many of our users don’t often wear dresses. It’s more lightweight and with its zipper it gives an option to put it on and take it off anytime a hot flush appears. We have pursued the opportunity to closely work with a fashion designer, Bregje Brocken, on getting the vest prototype pattern correct as well as its size. She helped us to create a preliminary prototype made out of a simple textile material in size 40. The size was selected in order to address most of elderly women’s trunk size and to sustain the tight fit in order to get the vibratory motors as close as possible to the skin.This prototype suited as a great template for the next steps that led to the final prototype.

Final prototype

Final vibe-ing prototype – the vestFinal vibe-ing prototype – knitted patches on the upper backFinal vibe-ing prototype – allocation of the knitted patches

The original vibe-ing dress was designed in a way that consists of several knitted patches that are sewn together to create a whole dress. There are patches that contain several pockets in a row that can hold the vibratory motors with their printed circuit boards. These patches are made out of double-layered knitting and felting techniques with a rippled finish and allow voluminous stretching. We decided to take an advantage of this thoughtful approach and chose to reuse these knitted patches in our design. The dress was unstitched in the seams and the patches were laid out on top of the preliminary prototype of the vest. First, we started to position the patches with pockets according to places where the vibratory stimuli should happen – in our case in the upper back (addressing the paravertebral muscle area) and at the front (addressing the deep abdomen muscles). From there on, we selected the remaining knitted patches according to its stretching characteristic as well as aesthetics of the whole vest. The stretchy patches were used for the shoulder area and a belly area; in these parts the dress must be flexible to fit different body sizes.

Final vibe-ing prototype – measuring the placement of the frontal vibratory motors Final vibe-ing prototype – final touch Sensors in a form of touch-sensitive embroidery

All patches were sewn back together into a final prototype. In the end, we ended up with a vest containing symmetrical patches with ten pockets for holding the vibratory motors at the upper back area. Lower back consists of the double-layered knitted part with a pretty ripple finish. The shoulder, chest and lower seam consist of a double-layered stretchy part. The double-layered parts of the vest prototype hold the property of pulling the garment down by its weight, therefore the vibratory motors are always going to be stimulating approximately the same area on user’s body. Two knitted patches with three pockets in each were sewn inside of the front stretchy part of the vest in a place addressing the deep abdomen muscles. At the same place as the pockets for the vibratory motors are, we embroidered a snowflake pattern in the top stretchy layer. This pattern was embroidered with a conductive thread and these disconnected patterns suit as the touch sensors in the frontal area of the vest prototype. We decided for a snowflake pattern as sort of a metaphor for calm the body down during the hot flushes of the menopausal women. “When you touch the snowflakes, the garment helps you correct your posture and therefore overcome menopausal symptoms better.”

Embedding the electronics

Final vibe-ing prototype – embedding the electronics Embedding the electronics – vibratory motors + 3D printed casingsWhen the electronics were assembled together, corresponding to the design of the final prototype, it came to embedding the electronics into the prototype. The total number of sixteen vibratory motors were inserted into pre-designed 3D printed casings and put into the knitted pockets appropriately. The total number of six touch sensors made out of conductive thread were attached to the printed circuit boards.These printed circuit boards leading from each vibratory motor as well as touch sensors were inserted into another separate pre-designed 3D printed casings and sewn on the inner side of the vest and hidden alongside each side of a torso. All loose wires were either hidden in the seams of the prototype or carefully sewn onto the surface of the knitted material. All the casings with electronics were also covered by a layer of knitted fabric in order to provide the comfort and safety for the user. By these final touches to the vest, the prototype was ready to get user tested with our target group. More about the user-testing in the following blog posts.

Final vibe-ing prototype – embedding the electronics Embedding the electronics – conductive thread touch sensors Final vibe-ing prototype – embedding the electronicsEmbedding the electronics – PCBs + 3D printed casings

 

 

From Affinity Diagram to Conceptual Design

In this blog post we will discuss the transition from raw data to conceptual design.

Firstly, we had to analyze the data gathered from first user interviews, literature reviews, interviews with experts and second user study. This data were combined to one huge affinity diagram (in the picture below you can see a small piece of it).  After clustering post its and searching for patterns four categories emerged:

  1. symptoms (e.g. hot flashes, tiredness, sleeplessness, tiredness, deteriorating posture, osteoporosis, etc.),
  2. preventing & coping and treatment (e.g. exercise, medical treatments with hormones, motivating patients, changing lifestyle, etc.),
  3. technology suggestions (e.g.something for pain relief, comforting, something that senses the body temperature, etc.),
  4. experiences with current Vibe-ing (e.g., too heavy, too hot, pleasant vibrations, preffered as a cardigan or shawl, etc.).

IMG_9715  IMG_9728

After having the data structured and categorized, we started to search for possible gaps and niches for a new Vibe-ing design. This was done during afternoon discussion. Interestingly, from our data we noticed that there is a direct relationship between two symptoms – bad posture and osteoporosis. Apparently, with age women’s body needs more attention and decaying posture has influence on bad bones and weakening muscles. Could we use Vibe-ing to help women to sustain a good posture for longer and prevent or at least decrease the risk for osteoporosis? And, could we improve Vibe-ing’s design so, that the message to keep good posture would be sent in most natural and comforting way?

These questions triggered a challenge in us and we decided that we are going to solve it. We will design new Vibe-ing which is meant, through natural and comforting interactions, to help women straighten up.

To achieve our goals we had to do the following first – decide where to place vibrating motors and touch sensors, and then design the vibrating motors behavior and user’s interactions with Vibe-ing.
Here we could call for help to one of our experts. With advice of physiotherapist and rehabilitation scientist the decision was made that motors will be placed symmetrically on the back along the spine on the trapezius muscle and symmetrically on the lower belly (see the pictures below). In total we decided to use 16 motors.The touch sensors will be attached only to the 6 vibrating motors which are positioned on a lower belly. Those will be acting as a remote (users will be able to interact with Vibe-ing via touch) and the rest 10 (five pairs) vibrating motors on the back will act as a display (react on the users behavior).

IMG_6713IMG_6714

With decision made where motors need to be placed we realized that the design of interactions and vibrating motors behavior will be our task in further phases of Vibe-ing project – prototyping and user testing. As already mentioned we will focus on design of natural and comforting interactions with Vibe-ing and the semantic level of communication, that is, how to translate vibrations into something meaningful for the user. We will considered both users’ body (vibrations felt by their skin on certain locations, and the corresponding posture change) and their mind (meaning they give to the certain interaction and/or vibration behavior, experience of using it, and social meaning of touch).

For next phase, we will work on the prototype of the garment and finalize the vibration patterns and interaction methods.

Talking to participants about current Vibe-ing prototype

p2hands

In the last week of October we performed our second user research (UR) session, where existing Vibe-ing garment was introduced to two women representing our target group. From this session we expected to find out how women would use the existing vibe-ing smart textile garment to fight the menopausal symptoms and to comfort themselves. We also wanted to evaluate the physical properties of existing garment, such as looks, feel of vibrations and textile.

The meeting took place in a small town in Noord-Brabant – Uden. Each woman was interviewed separately for approximately one hour.

Method

  1. Observation: we observed our participants interacting with the garment
  2. Semi structured interview: we interviewed women, while asking them to perform a number of prepared tasks with a garment.
    How would you use Vibe-ing if you had pain in neck/shoulders/lower back/lower belly?

Main outcomes

Vibe-ing is heavy, seems to be too warm, too tight and thus probably not suitable for women undergoing menopause. However sensation of vibrations are very comforting. How did we get to these conclusions?

While observing women it was extremely interesting to see how both of them were exploring Vibe-ing. They were touching the vibrating spots, saying that it feels nice – “I like the feeling of the vibrations when you touch it with your hands”, exploring the shape, asking whether they have to wear the garment – “But how do you wear this? – or if they can use it as a scarf or a blanket, and then, finally, put it on. During this phase of the UR session both ladies said that current garment is too warm and heavy – “It’s so hot!<…> Oh my god, that’s heavy!”. Moreover both participants mentioned that existing shape of Vibe-ing is not necessarily the best choice for women in menopause. Mainly it’s very tight, too close to their body and thus could be rather annoying and disturbing when the heat wave comes – “Not everybody can handle/stand wool well..”. Even though the shape of the garment was not appreciated, the feeling of vibrations was perceived as very pleasant and comforting  – both participants said it feels very nice and gave us a smile – “I like the feeling, feels good. <…> It creates a nice, relaxed feeling.

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Flexible shape (shawl, blanket) would be better to be able to position it directly on the spots of discomfort. Vibrations are felt more, if garment is used as a blanket or scarf. It is relaxing and comforting.

In the second part of the interview, as already expected form the exploration part, both women seemed to prefer the garment as a blanket or shawl. They said that garment shaped this way will be more appropriate for them, because they could easily put it on the places where they need it the most (e.g. if they have a complaint in shoulders or neck, then they’d wrap Vibe-ing around it) – “When I have tension/stress in my body, I would use Vibe-ing as a stole, wrap it around my shoulders.”. In addition, if the garment would be a shawl they could easily put it on and off when struggling with hot flushes during a menopause – “Although it’s hot during a hot flash (I would go outside or stand in the garage), afterwards I would be a bit cold as well. So then it might be nice. That’s why we like to wear jackets and cardigans, and shawls.” Finally they  both said that vibrations feel better and stronger when they are not actually wearing the garment, but wrapping themselves into it – when he garment was on her knees one participant said, “Now I can feel the vibrations more clearly”.

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Other findings

  • Vibrations can cause a lot of sound if the surface of Vibe-ing is pressed to another surface, e.g. wearing Vibe-ing and leaning against the arm chair.
  • From the interviews it seemed that women would be keen on using Vibe-ing at home in the evenings – during their relaxation time. Although, if it would be properly designed (no inappropriate sound, not too warm, etc.) the users mentioned that they would be willing to  use it at work as well.
  • Women prefer interacting with Vibe-ing by themselves and not involve other parties (e.g. their husbands).

In summary, this user research gave us lots of qualitative information and guidelines for the future steps in our design process. We had the opportunity to observe interactions and behaviors which were specifically targeted on menopausal women. For example:  the vibe-ing having an unsuitable shape and weight for menopausal women experiencing hot flushes or the added quality of comfort for them. Some of the most interesting experiences were captured in a video so we can communicate the experiences of menopausal women with experts as well as our client.

Next Steps

The information as well as experiences gathered from the UR session is being added to the affinity diagram. The findings from this UR session as well as the expert interviews and the first UR session will be merged and analyzed in order to derive conceptual design opportunities. These will then lead to defining a more concrete direction that we will take in the coming phases of our project.

Meet the Experts

Menopause can have a huge effect on women’s physiological and mental states. In order to get more acquainted with this from an objective (medical) perspective, we approached three experts who are working closely with menopausal women. They were:
1. a physiotherapist and researcher in bio-medicine with an expertise in rehabilitation sciences and co-development of technology-supported rehabilitation applications for musculo-skeletal problems
2. a hospital gynecologist
3. a private menopausal consultant.

Method

The goals of the semi-structured interviews with the experts were threefold:Woman in her 50s smiling outdoors portrait
– to discover background information about the menopause, its symptoms, and possible treatments known from the medical practice.
– to affirm the persona (Marina) that we created based on menopausal women’s interviews as well as literature reviews.
– to explore the vibration implications on any medical symptoms that menopausal women can have.

After the introduction, the semi-structured interview started with asking general questions regarding menopausal women. Second, persona “Marina” was introduced to the experts, in order to get them acquainted with one ‘typical’ patient or client and for us to obtain an affirmation of such a persona. We asked several questions regarding Marina – a woman in menopause with typical symptoms and lifestyle, such as: “Could Marina be your patient? (if not, why not?) And do you miss anything from her story?” “What are the most common major complaints that women like Marina have (during the different states of menopause – pre during and after menopause)?” “What kind of special medical treatment pre, during or after menopause do you advise women like Marina?” . Third, we introduced the vibe-ing garment via showing the explanatory video as well as introducing its functions. Then we stirred the conversation on vibrations and their possible effects on any menopausal symptoms as well as the envisioning of the use of the garment within their practices.

All interviews were transcribed and important quotes were highlighted. These quotes were translated into several attributes and clustered in a large affinity diagram of expert findings.

Affinity diagram Affinity diagram

Outcomes

What is menopause?

Women are diagnosed with menopause when they haven’t had a menstruation during at least one year. The average age at which this happens in the Netherlands is 52. The accompanying changes in hormonal (mostly estrogen) levels cause the women to have short-term and long-term symptoms. The short term symptoms can include: night sweats, hot flushes, mood swings, sleeplessness, insecurity, not feeling happy around other people, drier skin and eyes, and dryness of the mucous membranes. The long term symptoms are: higher risk for heart disease/failure, as well as osteoporosis.

Why vibrations?

The vibe-ing garment currently offers 17 small vibratory motors on 3 locations. 6 vibratory motors are placed across the shoulder area (transverses stripe), 3 vibratory motors are placed on the lower part of the spine and 8 motors are allocated symmetrically at the chest area.

Shoulder + spine vibratory motorsChest area vibratory motors

Since the garment currently offers only a vibratory stimulus, we decided to focus on vibrations mainly and link this product feature with literature review as well as obtain the experts’ opinions about it. The literature says about vibration, especially the whole body vibration, that it has a positive effect on improvement of the bone mineral density in the hip area (Slatkovska et al., 2010). One of the experts said: “Vibrations are known to reduce pain. It can, if it’s the right vibratory sequence, give a comfortable feeling and reduce pain, like massage does. However you cannot say that vibrations treat the pain.”  Another expert mentioned: “Sometimes I also advise massage, yoga or haptotherapy to menopausal women.”

The experts also advised us on the body locations where the garment could be beneficial either for a better blood flow (e.g. abdomen), massage (e.g. neck, shoulder line) and correcting a posture and therefore strengthening the muscles around the bones (e.g. paravertebral muscle area, shoulders – transverses stripe, neck area, deep abdomen muscles).

Other related applications

The experts elaborated further with the vibe-ing and brought some new insights on how the garment could be used. They mentioned:
“I think that the therapeutic value in this prototype lies in having the vibrations as reminders for keeping a good posture. It might also persuade the patient to do a certain action.”
“The device would be useful for people who are less prone to do sports or other activities which help to prevent the low bone density or reduce the risk of heart disease.”
“It would be nice if you could come up with something that cools and chills to battle the hot flashes.”

Next steps

The next work on the menu is the user research. Our target users will explore the vibe-ing garment. They will be able to touch it, feel it and comment on its functions and modalities. The existing affinity diagram (currently including the outcomes from the menopausal women’s interviews and expert findings) is going to be extended with the experiences of the users from the user research.