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.
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.
Our approach seems viable, although not complete. Though the product appears feasible, and most people seem positively inclined to it, it does not appear to satisfy any one user group completely, and a majority of users would prefer something changed. Even so, most people that encountered the idea did seem concerned about the problem. 95% of survey respondents believed that SteadyPack either might or would help reduce improper backpack use, showing that improvements in desirability could lead to overall better results. In terms of usability, the particle board design was flexible enough for light use, and was aesthetically favorable. For heavier use or mass-production, a bendable plastic may be more suitable. The use of lights was intuitive for users, but complete comprehension was not unanimous.
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.