HCDE 210 — Device Prototyping

The Process

This week, we were tasked with creating a simple physical prototype using littleBits. To learn how to use littleBits, we first ran through a short tutorial that explained how the system worked through a few simple examples. As a whole, littleBits was intuitive and easy to use, though it was a bit difficult to figure out how to use or adjust certain pieces.

Afterwards, we chose a user group to design for and came up with a concept to prototype. Our user group was cat owners who want a way to encourage their pets to exercise, and our concept was a device which detects if a cat has been sitting in the same place for too long, then activates a moving laser pointer to encourage them to move.

The scenario sketch for our concept.
Celebrating after getting the prototype working.

Once we had our concept, we started prototyping it with littleBits. However, our initial design was more complex than we anticipated. We intended to have the device be on a timer so that the light would turn on after detecting the cat was idle for a certain amount of time, then have that light stay on for a fixed amount of time. However, this became difficult as the timer pieces did not seem to function correctly, and the limits of littleBits made the concept infeasible to prototype.

We then backed up a bit and came up with a different approach to the problem. Instead of a timer, we had a temperature sensor connected to a threshold gate. If a cat laid on the temperature sensor for long enough, the temperature would rise above the threshold, activating the LED and motor (simulating a moving laser pointer).

The completed and labeled prototype.

Finally, we created a short video describing the concept, showing off the prototype, and discussing the feasibility, desirability, and usability of the concept.

The Experience

Like the Interaction Design sprint, I enjoyed this sprint as it allowed me to rapidly transform a concept into a tangible and interactive prototype. littleBits was also enjoyable to experiment with even without any particular goals. In the future, I would be interested in learning about the process of going from a low-fidelity prototype to a final polished product, and what design decisions go into that refinement.

As mentioned earlier, one problem we encountered was that our initial concept was too complex to prototype, even though it sounded simple on paper. I also had problems with my video editing software, which was extremely frustrating to use, crashed several times, and seemed to lack a lot of basic functionality. In the future, I intend to find different video editing software.

How do you feel about the concept’s feasibility and usability?

I felt like the concept was amusing on a surface level, but when it came to turning it into an actual product, it seemed very unrealistic and unhelpful. There was the issue of where to put the temperature sensors as cats don’t always lay down in the exact same spot, and the temperature of a certain spot doesn’t really reflect how long a cat has been lying there. Having a mounted moving laser pointer seems like a pretty bad idea due to the risk of eye damage for both humans and cats, and I have heard that laser pointers are not a good choice for cat play as they cannot physically catch a laser dot, resulting in frustration. Overall, for people who want their cats to exercise more, I feel like this concept wouldn’t really help.

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