Report on Chain-Aid: Domus Master in Interaction Design Final Project


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This report was one part of the product of my Final Project (thesis) for the Domus Academy Master in Interaction Design.

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Chain-Aid is a low-cost energy efficient wearable device that can be distributed to victims immediately following a disaster. This device will help victims to evacuate, communicate with recovery teams in the absence of cellular service and power outages.

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Report on Chain-Aid: Domus Master in Interaction Design Final Project

  1. 1. Master in Interaction Design 2013 / 2014 “Chain-Aid” Final Project, June/July 2014 Project Leader: Claudio Moderini Project Assistant: Nima Gazestani Author: Julie Blitzer Outline This document has been prepared as the Final Project Report for the Master Course in Interaction Design according to the general brief with specific reference to the brief of the project leader. This Project Report also includes a digital presentation and a body of work/sketches. Keywords Peer to Peer / Electronic Paper / Wearables / Geolocation / Emergency Management
  2. 2. Abstract/Rationale Chain-Aid is a low-cost energy efficient wearable wristband device that can be distributed to victims immediately following a disaster. This device will help victims to evacuate and communicate with recovery teams in the absence of cellular service and power outages. Chain-Aid is a forward-looking concept that explores using new and upcoming technologies to create a peer-to-peer network for communication. Introduction Framework Planning for what to do in a disaster situation is a depressing, sometimes even fatalistic exercise, but the harsh reality of the modern world, arguably due to the effects of global warming, is that many of us worldwide will experience a natural disaster, or several, in our lifetime. I was in New York for both Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, but the apartments I called home were mostly spared in both instances. Unfortunately, many family and friends were not so lucky. In the wake of a disaster, many people live without the cellular connectivity we’ve grown to rely on, and even without running water or power. In disaster relief situations, helping people is about much more than communication, but also managing and directing crowds. Victims need to know to where they can evacuate and how. The normal signage, landmarks and infrastructure may be damaged, making normal navigation challenging at best. Even if victims do know where shelters are located and manage to arrive there, shelters may lack resources or sufficient space. Any design solution to this challenge must not only tell victims where the shelter is, but assist in dividing the crowds amongst available beds, with updated data about capacity. As the people managing disaster relief and their respective organizations vary widely depending on the nature and location of the disaster, I chose to focus on designing something as a resource for victims. The design solution needs to be easy to learn for almost anyone and not discriminate against victims who have limited experience with new technologies. As a by-product, I hoped to address problems I witnessed firsthand as a volunteer in Long Beach, NY in the weeks following Hurricane Sandy, as well as reading reports and analysis from the United Nations and various NGOs. In Long Beach, 15,000, or nearly half, of the local residents refused to evacuate during Hurricane Sandy. Following the storm, local officials, as well as governmental organizations and volunteers, needed to communicate with and distribute information to all of these victims in their homes most of whom did not have cellular connectivity, power or even running water. The city government asked volunteers
  3. 3. such as myself to hand out paper flyers to every house in the area. There has to be a more efficient way to reach people in similar situations, given the technology available now and anticipated in the next few years. Because of this experience, I originally was interested in designing a volunteer management service that could be quickly installed on smartphones of volunteers and updated with information from local governments, but seeing similar solutions already exist and it didn’t address the core need-the victims-I changed my focus. Objectives The objective of this project was to use the existing and upcoming technologies, such as personal area networks (WPAN), ambient networks, Bluetooth, and more, to explore how we can support victims immediately after disasters. If possible, this design solution should also be applicable to other contexts in which large crowds collect with limited connectivity, a subject that I researched extensively for the first workshop of this master course. Project Description After exploring various types of forms and even using available technology on smart phones, I chose to create a wearable wristband device. A wristband is not invasive, easily viewed by both the person wearing it and others who may need to see signals from the device. While smart phones are already in the hands of many victims, battery life and compatibility are both challenges too difficult to overcome. The wristband, with an interface powered by multi-colored electronic paper, connects to other wristbands in range via a peer- to-peer network. The Chain-Aid band is supported by a “master” device, which can be given to local community leaders who are likely to know their neighbors and can assist with guidance and be in contact with the recovery and rescue teams. The wristband has four primary features: 1. Alerts: Contact victims with emergency alert notices, such as evacuate, find shelter, or avoid drinking contaminated water. The wristband animates with alert icons and when the user pinches the sides or presses the primary surface, the alert message opens and animates around the band until the user presses the band again. The master device will be alerted when nearby victims do not open the alert messages. 2. Evacuation: Guide victims to meeting points and shelters. If necessary, divide evacuees into groups to direct them to separate locations. The evacuation message
  4. 4. will first reach the master device, and that user can specify a meeting point for evacuation. There are three choices for meeting points: current location of master device, a known nearby landmark, or manually entering an address. Due to the rapidly changing nature of environments post-disaster, the victim with the master device is in the best position to specify meeting points and will likely be most aware of routes that are impassable. After the master device user picks the meeting point, wristbands of victims convert to a compass-like tool that animates and helps guide them to the meeting point. Black arrows animate around the wristband showing the proper direction of movement and a line above the black arrows is used to show the user if he or she is walking in the right direction. The spaces between the black arrows can be used for groupings. This way, victims can look for other people with the same colors and follow them to safety. The color groups are used to divide victims among shelters and reduce over-crowding. The master device will provide its user a list of known nearby victims who have not yet arrived to the meeting point. 3. SOS/Rescue: Connect with emergency rescue help through the local service similar to 911 (USA) or 118 (Italy). The SOS function can be activated by a squeeze and hold on the perimeter of the wristband. The wristband contains a two-way radio and will connect the victim to the local rescue service. It will attempt to send the rescue service the victim’s location, as well alert the master device of a nearby victim in crisis. 4. Message: Receive non-emergency updates from local recovery headquarters. The wristband can also receive messages that do not have the same urgency as alerts do. The communication and interaction is the same as for alerts, but read receipts are not sent to the master device. The use of color throughout the design of the device is consistent and deliberate. For alerts, the wristband changes to yellow. Red can mean both warning and stop, so it is not used. Blue and purple are neutral colors and thus used for grouping. In compass/evacuation
  5. 5. mode, the indicator line for the color path is green when the victim is moving in the correct direction. Vibration is used as an additional method of notification in case the user does not see the color of the wristband changing or is sleeping and should wake up. The device will vibrate until acknowledged for emergency alerts, but only once for non-emergency messages. Before deciding on the appropriate form factor or type of solution, I researched extensively other digital projects and experiments that attempt to address disaster situations and communication. The most immediately relevant project, was a service design concept from frog design in collaboration with FEMA, the US’ Federal Emergency Management Agency. This project suggested having all the tools necessary to set up disaster relief centers immediately following a crisis.1 This project was fascinating, but did not fully address the needs of the victims, but rather how to get relief workers to the sites as quickly as possible. Ping, developed by Ushahidi, proposed an SMS-based system for people to get in touch with their loved ones in times of crisis.2 In the Philippines, the Province of Albay created an iOS app for communication in disasters for its citizens, acknowledging high risk in the area.3 There are also some new safety-oriented wearables for everyday use and tracking, in addition to the many existing products on the market that target elderly people at risk. The most interesting new project is this market segment is V.ALRT from VSN Mobile, which links to Android and iOS, as well as having one year of battery life.4 The most significant work to date in the technology for disaster relief space is among data collection and hacking. In several instances following major disasters like the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, Hurricanes Katrina, Irene and Sandy in the United States and the Tsunami in Japan, new groups formed to organize and assist with data collection, mapping, analysis and distribution. The largest of these groups are CrisisMappers, Random Hacks of Kindness and CrisisCommons. I then explored several new kinds of technologies that offer connectivity without the use of cellular or Wi-Fi networks, both of which I expect to be unavailable in the chosen design context. The revolutionary project in this space is Piratebox, a small device that creates an anonymous peer-to-peer network for file sharing and is completely portable.5 Piratebox demonstrates the potential for peer-to-peer networking in short range that could be used to distribute information in a chain-like structure. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recently began a project to formalize this kind of data management and sharing called the Humanitarian Data Exchange (HXL), in partnership with ReliefWeb Labs. Still in development, HXL will provide data standards, common open sourced data sets and a large repository for quick and structured data sharing in times of crisis.6
  6. 6. In addition to beginning with the aforementioned research and benchmarking, I went through several steps in a design process to arrive at a synthesis and design solution. This process is documented extensively on my blog: I then developed a set of personas to assist with focusing my design thinking and analysis. The three personas represent a connected de facto community leader, a local resident new the area and an elderly person less familiar with technology. With the personas and background research, I created a list of functional requirements for the solution, which I used to arrive at the idea of making a wearable device: 1. Low-cost: Easy to mass produce with readily available materials. This project may assume a somewhat futuristic context and use currently expensive technologies that will be more widely available in five or ten years. 2. Energy efficient: Longer battery life that can last as long as a week or more. Can store battery life and be activated only when needed following a disaster. This challenge could be solved through sustainable recharging methods, like the crank-up radios and flashlights used today. Should alert the user if battery life is very low. 3. Wearable or portable: Following a disaster, people may move to new locations, so the device should be easy to wear or carry along. 4. Location enabled (GPS): Be able to send the victim’s location to an emergency services station and further, display simple directions to a safer place or shelter. 5. Peer-to-peer: Connect to nearby (range TBD based on technology of choice) devices on other victims in the community without using cellular towers that may be out of service. 6. Online and offline connectivity: Any device may be periodically disconnected from the network, depending on which technology is controlling the networking among the devices. This device should store messages and send them when reconnected to the network, as basic SMS platforms have for years. 7. Low or no infrastructure required: As infrastructure is usually damaged following a storm, this system and service must operate without support from physical community infrastructure such as antennae, power lines or phone lines.
  7. 7. 8. Send and receive messages: Send and receive messages both to longer range emergency services and to locals in the area. 9. Feedback visible both to user and other people in short range: If a user sends an “SOS” message in a crisis moment, the device should also active audio or visual indicators that can be seen or heard by others in the immediate area who might be able to help. 10. Coordinate efficient and fast evacuations: The messaging and communication service should be able to direct people to quickly evacuate to a shelter, possibly following a community leader who has a more advanced device. 11. Simple interface with no learning curve: The device should feel so simple that anyone, even the least technology-aware locals like Ethel, can use without detailed instructions. Must be intuitive without directions or assistance. 12. Bonus - Monitor vitals: Following an incident, victims could activate (or accept a request to activate) monitoring of vital signs of life, likely through pulse, so that the emergency services can know that the victims are alive and monitor communities. 13. Bonus - Simpler version that works for smartphones and mass-market wearables: If time permits, this project will also suggest a standard for emergency assistance and communication tools that could be pre-loaded with all consumer mobile devices, such as smartphones and wearables. After creating the above list of requirements, I moved on to figuring out the scenarios and the design language for the device, then sketching on paper and even cutting the paper as prototypes to better envision the interactions, notifications and animations. The biggest challenge was designing a system for navigation and guidance during the evacuation scenario. I went through several iterations and design ideas until I arrived at the modified compass-like guide shown above. For the final presentation, I also created two animations to show how notifications will appear on the band. Conclusion Chain-Aid is a somewhat futuristic concept that is based on a number of assumptions and may not be the best solution for resources available today, but more likely for three to five years from now. Electronic paper is a technology that has been around for years, but
  8. 8. multi-color versions that quickly animate are only in the concepting and prototype stages. Peer-to-peer technology, which can be portable in ways similar to that of Piratebox, is also still in development. In order to succeed, Chain-aid will need these technologies to reach a more mature state such that costs to produce the wearable device would be low enough to justify mass production and distribution to as many as tens of thousands of people in a disaster relief zone. Futuristic limitations aside, Chain-aid is a hopeful approach and vision for how technology really can “improve the human condition,” a definition of interaction design suggested by the Interaction Design Association.7 References 1 “Bringing Disaster Relief Home.” Web. 6 February 2014. 2 “Ping.” Web. Accessed 4 June 2014. 3 “PINDOT.” Web. Accessed 4 June 2014. 4 “V.ALRT by VSN Mobil.” Web. Accessed 4 June 2014. 5 “Piratebox 1.0: anonymous, go-anywhere wireless file sharing.” Web. 2 June 2014. 6 “Humanitarian Data Exchange.” Web. Accessed 5 June 2014. 7 “IxDA Mission.” Web. Accessed 28 June 2014. Interaction Design Association. Personal Blog posts Pinterest board