A wearable that enhances people’s awareness of skin protection in sunbath.
M11 Design Project with Kevin Lu, Carlos A. Ferriz Rodriguez, and Xinyan Hu.
Coach: Aarnout Brombacher. Sept. 2018 – Jan. 2019. Vitality Squad, TU/e
Buzz is an on-the-skin wearable designed for people who enjoy sunbathing but quickly get sunburnt. When users are sunbathing for too long, Buzz can create small electro pulses for muscle stimulation and provide unique itching feedback to enhance people’s awareness of skin protection.
This project started with some explorations under the research topic “vitality data ownership”. The feeling of body ownership is a psychological phenomenon. It can be experienced in experiments like ‘the Rubber Hand Illusion’, in which the sight of brushing of a rubber hand at the same time as brushing of the person’s own hidden hand is sufficient to produce a feeling of ownership of the fake hand.
The rubber hand illusion
In recent years, some HCI explorations emerged on the concept of “data ownership”. These studies believed that the way we perceive our own body data could be affected by illusions of ownership, which could be triggered by some products work as a body continuity to mimic humans’ visual or tangible sensations. In this study, we aimed to explore how to make use of the data ownership illusions to increase people’s awareness of their vitality data under a specific topic.
In the early stage, we made some lo-fi prototypes with Arduino to gain first-hand experience of data ownership illusions. With these prototypes, we found the way of electronic muscle stimulation (EMS) could be used as a way to provide unique feedback on the skin. It was attracting, which felt like a feeling that stronger than an itching but not enough to be a pain, and it was more annoying than only a vibration. We believed that this unique experience could be applied to mimic some particular body sensations under a specific scenario.
Lo-fi prototypes for exploring the different on-body feedbacks
Through brainstorming, we thought we could use the EMS to mimic the itching and pain caused by sunburn, as these two feelings were similar. In Europe, sunburn is a common experience for many people, because many European people enjoy sunbathing and the majority of European people have a skin type of 1 (pale white skin) or 2 (white skin), which are sensitive to the sun and can get burnt easily. We define our target group as the European adults in an age range between 18 and 65 with a physically active lifestyle. We draw a persona and a storyboard to enrich the story further.
Persona: Daan, a man who often gets sunburn
The storyboard of our concept
Design and Study
As a result of this project, we designed Buzz, an on-the-skin wearable for preventing sunbath from being too long. With its UV sensor, Buzz can detect the time of users being exposed in a high UV value and provide itching feedback, which is similar to a sunburn, before the skin burns. This unique bio-feedback can give the user the illusion of sunburn, thereby sending a signal to the user in a non-invasive way to remind them to pay attention to their skin health.
In technical realization, in order to realize wearable size products, we benchmarked on a CE approved EMS Muscle stimulator and developed a circuit to replicate the wave function and amplify the signal.
Circuit components put together: Amplifying circuit (left), microcontroller (middle), DC-to-DC step up converter x 2 (right), UV sensor (top right).
In appearance and structure design, we designed a strip-like wearable. In design, we first considered the placement of circuit components and the comfort of wearing. Here on the two poles of the prototype, we put electrodes on the bottom so that the user can stick the wearable on his/her arm in use. Secondly, to prevent sweat from conducting electricity and causing uncomfortable feelings, we designed many ventilation holes and made the middle of the product thinner. Finally, considering that the prototype might leave a mark on the user’s arm, we tried to design a beautiful curve shape.
Concept: Buzz in use
Appearance and structure of the Buzz prototype
With the completed prototype, we did a quick test with 10 participants on its usability. From the test, we concluded that: i) people might prefer a continuous EMS signal than a pulse signal to stop their sunburn as it is more itching; ii) different people had different thresholds; iii) when users were distracted by something (e.g., the video we used in the user test), their thresholds will be higher than usual. The product should consider these aspects into its future design.
Generally speaking, I played my role as a helpful teammate in this project. I shared my ideas in our group discussion, and I led the design of appearance and structure during the prototyping. I would say that I did a good job in the whole process. It was the first project that I completed under the TU/e’s education system, from which I learned how to start the design by first doing research. I got trained a lot on how to do a literature review, how to build my design on previous works, and how to find a design direction that is innovative and worth further development. Also, my teamwork skills and English got quickly improved since we often hold different ideas and sometimes debated critically with each other. It forced me to get used to the English environment speedily and developed my courage and speaking skills to directly and precisely express my ideas. However, there were also some missed opportunities throughout the project. For example, we wasted too much time at the beginning of prototyping the different lo-fi prototypes. We could get more time for future development if we didn’t focus too much on perfecting the result but just realizing the function. Also, my hands-on skills were not very strong. If I was better on that, I would be able to help Kevin prototyping the circuit and fit it into the prototype.