Ankit Potdar, Sara Al Mughairy, Matthew Eziashi
An intelligent device to monitor and ensure healthy backpack use.
Improper backpack use can lead to health problems, such as back, neck, shoulder strain, and headaches. This is especially common and problematic in children, who often far exceed the recommended weight limit. How can we help children and adults practice better backpack health? SteadyPack is a smart device used to monitor and ensure healthy backpack use.
SteadyPack is a small electronic device that connects to a users backpack, and determines if weight is distributed evenly across ones shoulders. Feedback will be given when weight is above or below a certain threshold on one shoulder, and as a team we decided that the best method would be visual feedback through red and green LED lights. SteadyPack is also able to sense if the overall weight is above above a recommended limit. By placing a force sensor on the main strap across the top of a backpack, a user can pick up their backpack and immediately determine if they’re carrying too much weight.
In order to help us scope down the problem space, we chose non-native speaking international students, graduating from schools in the US as our target user. They're looking to build their careers in English speaking countries. These students have already taken formal English classes and have academic learning experiences. However, their lack of contextual language learning experiences and concern about their language skills could lead them to encounter difficulties in communication at the beginning of their careers.
When deciding on the form factor of the model, we decided it should be self-contained to the backpack so a variety of people could use it, and it would be useful for many different activities (hiking, walking to school, etc). We decided the feedback provided should be accessible to both the wearer, and others. In the case of children, caretakers should be able to perceive the feedback and assist the child accordingly. This means that the device needed some sort of external, visual display. We also wanted it to be an accessory so users could place it on a bag they already own.
I prototyped many different materials like matte board, acrylic, wood, and cardboard. Using a laser cutter, acrylic, LED lights, and Velcro, I crafted a clip on accessory that provided feedback using different light patterns. Ankit was in charge of programming the device, and decided on which sensors we would use for the device. Sara was in charge of the video, and she storyboarded and shot it. I added effects to the video using Adobe After Effects. Text and lights for the LED's constituted the bulk of the effects.
We wanted to know if users would find the shape and function of the device intuitive, so we asked users where they assumed the SteadyPack would attach. 5 out of 5 users tested answered that they would clip it around the strap of the backpack. Users found the lighting interface intuitive, and haptic feedback was unanimously preferred (however, we didn’t have time to build this feedback model). Two parents we interviewed thought this would be a good tool to teach their child to carry weight properly.
2 parents we interviewed said that while they thought it was a concern, rather than helping their child carry less weight, this would be a good tool to teach their child to carry weight (even excess weight) properly. One of the parents showed an image of how much supplies her child is expected to carry (thereby relating to the magnitude of the problem).
Lastly, multiple people mentioned ideas for specialized use cases, as opposed to every day use: military personnel often carry a large volume of weight, professional athletes need to avoid injury at all costs, backpackers and street bikers both care a ton about exact weight and weight distribution. In general feedback for the device was very positive, and users understood how to use the device.
We performed two rounds of expert interviews based on their different roles in the language learning system. We interviewed teachers with decades of experience, to students studying in Seattle. Their insights gave us many different perspectives on the current landscape for our target users. We accounted for their opinions, pain points, and suggestions, scoping down our design.
We wanted to see how viable of a product this would be in the hiking market, so we met with a specialist from REI to learn more about hiking backpacks, their construction, and how users interact with them. Going forward we would go to an REI store to talk with employees about the process of fitting users with backpacks, and how this device could fit into that process.