Introduction and Problem definition
Snowboarding is one of the most practiced winter sports in Europe and in the world. It is seen as a life-style and as being part of a community.
However, on the natural drops there is a high probability that injuries can happen. For this reason to be able to communicate with each other on the slopes is really important for snowboarders. Firstly, it can help prevent situations where injured snowboarders remain alone. Secondly, it can avoid that snowboarders can lose sight of their group. Based on these main assumptions, the focus of this graduation project is to enhance the communication inside and outside a group of snowboarders in order to increase the security of these sportive individuals and avoid accidents.
Target of research
After an analysis of which user category could benefit the most from the use of ubiquitous technologies, it has been chosen that sportsmen is the target who offers an ample variety of opportunities to focus on: increasing safety for the user, monitoring body performance, adapting to environment condition, communication with others, helping rescue after an extreme strain, direct contact with the body and stimulating interaction between the team and group members.
The target group was then narrowed down to a specific one: Snowboarders. The reasons why this target of people was chosen are the possibilities of innovation it offers, the involvement of different categories of users during the practice of this sportive activity, the high injury risk snowboarding presents due to different factors such as high speed, low balance control, iced slopes; and the attitude and passion I have towards this sport.
Objective of this research
The goal of this graduation project is to design and test an innovative assisting application for snowboarders based on the use of ubiquitous technologies. The focus of innovation will be on assisting both the amateur and expert snowboarders to prevent, monitor or communicate injuries during snowboarding. Taking into account this project objective, it will be needed to understand which the main users’ demands and requirements are, and to design and prototype an unobtrusive appliance capable to satisfy these needs in the most comfortable and efficient way.
The goal of the research phase is the exploration of relevant information for the development of the study. The research was based on 4 different topics:
The chosen place for leading the user research was a ski resort located in Aosta (Italy).
The ski resort was considered as a good research environment because able to offer the possible involvement of all types of snowboarders during the study. Moreover, the ski resort provides a trauma centre and a vigilant first aid staff. This aspect offered the chance to interview injured people and the directors of the local first aid.
In order to conduct this research four different research methods were implemented:
Defining the project requirements
In order to lead the next conceptualization phase of the future appliance the following project requirements were taken into consideration:
Moreover, the findings that were analyzed considering the basis of the research conducted with first aiders are:
After the requirements analysis step an initial idea for the future device implementation was generated. During this idea generation the main objectives of the future appliance were shown. Afterwards, three different concepts were provided. These three concepts are based on the same idea but differ for the technologies used in order to achieve the same project goal. Relying on the basis of the idea for future appliance it was possible to determine the main objectives of this project. These objectives are shown in the following picture:
Considering these project objectives a working principle that helped to define three different concepts, that vary for the technologies used for the device, can be visualized.
After the elaboration of an initial idea and a basic working principle for the future appliance, three different concepts were developed. All of them were based on the same project objectives and differed for the technologies used for their implementation. The conceptualization of the three solutions was based on the survey of relevant ubiquitous technologies.
Before proceeding with the detailing of this concept, some design directions that take into account the environment and the target of users to which the solution will be applied were delineated.
The considered design directions are the following:
These design directions influenced the decisions on the technologies that were used for the project implementation and the embedment solutions.
On the basis of the selected technologies for device implementation, three different functional schemes were elaborated.
Such schemes refer to the working principle. While the working principle offers an overview of the logical structure of the device functions, the functional schemes aim to describe more in detail the happenings that appear at the occurrence of the four functions.
Embedment of solution elements
On the basis of the project requirement that considers the components embedment in the equipment used for snowboarding, an analysis on the main goods used by riders was done. Considering the major functions the device is aimed to carry out, different characteristics were kept into consideration:
From the previous analysis, it was understood that snowboard jacket, snowboard backpack and the external device are the equipment that can better support the needed device features. Moreover, in terms of space needed for the technologies embedment, the three solutions are the most appropriate ones.
Scenario and use cases
In order to give a better explanation of the interactions that subsist between the user and the device, a final storyboard was developed. In this scenario the use context of the device is shown. In the use situations of the appliance different interaction focuses are visualized. These focuses are listed in the following bullet points:
Implementation of testable prototypes
Once received the technologies from the different distributors, the first prototype was realized. The aim of this elaboration was the creation of a first testable version of the prototype to use for starting with the software programming of the appliance.
In order to obtain a unique compact product to be easily integrated in the snowboarder’s equipment an homemade PCB and a plastic case to protect the modules have been developed.
The following pictures show how the technology modules are connected within each other and the details of each component needed to obtain a ‘cabled backpack’.
After the hardware development and the connection of the functional units to the printed circuit board, the final stage regarding the hardware development phase was to embed the prototype components in the snowboarder’s equipment.
The required characteristics needed for the technologies embedment were:
The following picture shows the three steps followed to build a cabled backpack
The final step in order to obtain a working prototype was the software programming.
The aim was to create a program that exhibited the desired device functions making them interoperable. The software programming was done using Microsoft Visual Studio. The language used for writing the source code was C#.
The aim of the confirmative research was to find out if the prototypes fulfilled the expectations and how the devices performance could be enhanced. The prototypes were tested taking into consideration two aspects:
Functional performance of device
The functionality-oriented test had to show that the entire system worked properly even in presence of certain conditions such as low temperature, interferences from other devices, and so on. This helped out to learn more about the behaviour of the prototype without compromising the final confirmative user research of the graduation project. It led to possible improvements of the prototype before the user tests conducted in the mountain environment.
Five different testing sessions were carried out during this technical assessment:
User experience using the wearable device
The observations and the insights helped out to define propositions and recommendations for the possible improvements of the product.
Two different methods were followed during the confirmative user research: observational research and interviews of the participants.
USER RESEARCH FINDINGS
During the observational research it was noticed that all the participants (6 snowboarders and 2 professional skiers) were able to establish a constant connection with the other network members using the radio communication and the distance alerting function. They used the device functions along the slopes, communicating with each other several times in order to test the capabilities of the prototype, especially the radio communication function.
To wear this product was evaluated as a good experience by all the participants, principally for the safety perceived, in particular from the participants that had previously bad experiences in the mountains during the practice of this sport.
None of them considered the experience of wearing it as a negative aspect, but on the contrary they were surprised by the capability of the technologies embedded into it. Asking them to define the product using a sente
In conclusion it is possible to say that the device followed all the design directions previously elaborated, replying positively to the technical assessment. Only during the confirmative user research the device did not reach complete satisfaction of all the categories of users, but this aspect is highly dependent on the habits of snowboarders. As it is possible to imagine not all the riders are the same: they present different demands, habits and focus during their snowboarding experience. Therefore, it may sound difficult to develop a solution able to satisfy all the categories of snowboarders with a unique product. However, the device worked properly during the evaluation phase, showing positive results in both the evaluations. This is surely the principal motive of personal satisfaction after several months spent in programming and developing the device.
The final presentation during the graduation day was a great success. A lot of interest and questions were posed from the huge audience sit in front of me. This achievement brought me to be elected for a PhD program at the Research Department of TU Delft. The aim of the Phd was abviously to follow and continue the research on the graduation project I was presenting that day.