We designed a haptic warning system for cyclists
to improve bike safety in the age of driverless cars.
3 person team
Scenarios + storyboarding
One fall day, my classmate Albert contacted our cohort saying he had been in a bike accident a few hours away and needed assistance returning to Pittsburgh. A truck hadn't seen him coming, and hit him, totaling his bike and breaking his leg in the process. It seemed like this near-tragedy could've been avoided, however - both parties were attempting to travel safely.
A few weeks later, when tasked with contributing to the smart transportation field, our team of three asked ourselves - why aren't bikes beginning to connect to other pieces of the greater transportation system? In realizing that no proprietary system existed to address this problem, Albatross was born.
Albatross is a design proposal for a smart bicycle haptic feedback warning system. It uses connected vehicle technology or V2V (think automobile crash detection systems or "self-driving" cars) to notice and monitor potential threats and relay that information to bikers in a safe, timely manner.
We believed a potential cyclist-centered warning system should provide feedback in a way that maps to the mental model by which bikers perceive their surroundings. In other words, an effective warning system should strive to both localize the potential threat, and provide an appropriate response. Literature elucidated three ways of accomplishing this goal:
Visual - augmented reality (AR) helmets
Aural - binaural recording on headphones
Haptic - tactile feedback on handlebars
We learned the market is already raft with AR bike gear, and binaural recording potential was hampered by increasing policy restrictions. We were, however, inspired by a 2016 Honda patent for a haptic crash detection system, not for bicycles, but for motorcycles.
Knowing we had uncovered a potential gap in the market for a bicycle-focused warning system, we next got in contact with bikers. We first created a short instrument designed to help bikers step through a recent uncomfortable encounter while biking. The general consensus was that bikers would like more responsive or bike-inclusive environments.
We learned riders were very resistant to the idea of a visual warning system. There was some hope that an audio feedback system might work if deployed properly, though, and a potential haptic system was met more with curiosity, as none had previously considered the idea.
Scenarios and storyboarding
In designing a brand new system, we felt visioning methods were an appropriate way to both conceptualize and scope our project. We focused on three specific scenarios and constructed storyboards for them:
over-the-shoulder - general monitoring of the environment outside the rider’s vision, so that bikers need not divert their visual attention to the periphery as frequently.
cautionary - the system is “watching” for potential issues of which bikers may not be aware, and adjust feedback provided based on the biker’s response.
emergency warnings - imminent threats to which bikers may not otherwise have time to properly respond.
Concept and scope
We employed our scenario-based use cases to scope our project for the six-week timeframe. Since our final deliverable was a presentation of our design proposal, it was imperative to define exactly what our system would do, and when. We used the scenarios to come up with a chart of situations delineating a specific set of responses from the Albatross system.
Quick user tests
As we moved forward, we thought back to Honda's haptic motorcycle warning system patent, and realized we were surprised haptic feedback could overcome the vibration-heavy environment of riding a motorcycle. To quickly assuage our skepticism (and validate our own haptic feedback concept for bicycles), we held iPhones to bicycle endocarps (the far ends of bike handlebars) and found that people could both feel vibrations, and correctly identify from which side of the bike the feeling emanated, even while blindfolded.
Rendering and printing
Albatross is a physical device, so we felt it necessary to envision what the device would actually look like. One team member created a 3D rendering of the product in Fusion 360, and 3D printed it so we could find a good place to attach it to a bike.
We wanted to prototype how vibration patterns would “feel”, so another team member built sounds in Ableton to simulate haptic feedback, exploiting the fact that vibrations permeating physical objects produce a sound similar to that of sawtooth waves.
Since Albatross is a physical product with a tangible interface (as opposed to an app or website), the physical look and feel of the product and its accompanying branding rose to paramount importance. The color scheme I created was inspired by a pastel traffic light palette, as the metaphors of stop/caution/go were appropriate for our design space. Green especially reinforces the idea that Albatross offers bikers more freedom to go, while also contributing to the smart/green movement.
I designed our final presentation for Albatross. We pitched our designs before our class and members of the Carnegie Mellon Traffic21 institute.
We were wary of proposing a design beyond one we could test under our time constraints. While we were able to see how a simple haptic implementation would work, we didn't have time to prototype a system that could tell users exactly where cars were located. Upon finishing this project, my interest in nonvisual design greatly increased. Months later, I'm fortunate enough that my masters' capstone project involves nonvisual means of conveying information, so I will be exploring these emerging technologies further in 2017.