MOTOR TRANING FOR BLIND CHILDREN

TUNE

In many developing counties, there are less than 10% of blind children are receiving effective motor skill training in their critical development period. TUNE presents a new possibility to tackle this problem.

WHY TUNE?

During 2013 - 2014, I was working on haptic perception research and tangible interaction design at Microsoft Research Asia. One of my research interest is how people with visual impairment perceive differently from normally developed ones. To answer this question, I engaged with visually impaired people from different, from special education school to local massage shops. Shortly, I learned about that early training for rehabilitation is neither affordable nor effective for most of them, which results in a host of problems in their later life.

In the following year, I initiated a project to design an affordable and ready-to-use product to help blind kid practice motor skills. Working with a hardware engineer and an industrial designer, we created Tune, a motor skill training belt. This product has been designed, prototyped, and put into clinical experiments now.

MY ROLE

  2015.05 -
  • Project Lead
  • Researcher
  • UI & UX Designer

SKILLS

  • Product Design
  • Interaction Design
  • User Study
  • Experiment Design and Coding
  • Project Management
1

PROJECT SUMMARY

The Problem and Solutions

In developing countries, less than 10 percent of blind children could receive motor skill training in their sensitive period for movement development. Insufficient motor training will result in permanent sensory impairments in their later life. What caused the problem and how can we tackle these challenges?

THE PROBLEM

According to the annual report from China Disabled Persons Federation (CDPF, 2015), there have been around 2000 special education schools in China and more than 8 billion budget has been spending on rehabilitation projects each year. A significant amount of the investment goes to people suffered from visual impairment. However, why so few blind children are receiving sufficient motor skill training?

After a few months’ research, the answer became clear. Motor skills training is age sensitive. The kids should start exercise before their school education (it is around six years old for most blind families). Parents' lack of knowledge and awareness in motor skill training is the substantial barrier for their early rehabilitation. The problem continues even after they get into a school. Although most schools provide rehabilitation programs, the number of specialists is scarce compared to the demands. Thus, their families’ low socioeconomic status paired with limited resources and accessibility of rehabilitation programs make the situation worse. Moreover, motor skill rehabilitation requires long-term intervention. Kids’ lack of interest in training further limited the effect of current training programs.

Thus, to help blind children developing better motor skills during their sensitive period, we need a product which:

Is inexpensive and easy to use at home
Provides customized training plan
Provides motor exercise with real-time feedback
Is motivating and attractive for children

OUR SOLUTION

TUNE used pervasive technology to tackle this problem. The product consisted of a haptic belt and a smartphone application. We used phone sensor to track kids’ motion and provide sound and haptic feedback accordingly. We designed motor activities that target on different skills with multiple challenge levels. The product turned motor training into games that are fun and motivating for the kids. At the same time, it makes the training process intuitive and trackable for parents and specialists.

MOTIVATING
TUNE uses music tunes as positive feedbacks. Mapping sound (notes) to children’s steps. They could “walk” out a song like “twinkle twinkle little star” , which is naturally attractive to children
EFFECTIVE
TUNE uses haptic (vibration array) as feedback for errors. If the child deviates from the chosen track,sound feedback stops and vibration arrays will intuitively guide the child to the right track
TRACKABLE
TUNE provides systematic training including straight going, directional cuing training, and gait correction.
EASY TO USE
TUNE Uses phone sensors to track motion,provide sound feedback and control haptic feedback. Parents and tutors can simply download our app to choose the exercise, mount their phone in the TUNE and begin the exercise

PRODUCT PREVIEW

PRODUCT STRUCTURE

TUNE uses accelerators, inertial and geomagnetism sensors to track children's step, walking direction, and body angle information. We also use smart phone to provide sound feedback and control the vibrators on the haptic belt.

PHONE APPLICATION

Parents and tutors can use a phone application to help kids practice motor skills at home or community center. It provides customized training based on kids’ information and history data.

USER SCENARIOS

Easy to use with phone applications. Motor training at home or community centers.

2

RESEARCH PROCESS

Understanding the Users and the Science

TUNE is based on my research in human perception and developmental psychology. However, as we all know, a good scientific research is not enough for a user-friendly product. Thus, the research process aims at bridging the gap between scientific research and user experience. The research process is divided into two perspectives. I run lab experiments to decide the specific haptic information that works for the visually impaired people and field study to learn about users’ pain points to decide how to deliver the training by design.

USER RESEARCH FINDINGS

The user research process includes multiple research methods that help me understand the user from a different perspective.
Expert Interveiw: Understanding the basics about motor skill training from both the science and reality sides.
Contextual Inquiry and Observation: Learn about the current motor training workflow and frustrations.

Here are some significat findings that serves as the basis of our design:

1
Manpower is not enough for sufficient trainings. There is a growing demand for products that are parents / tutor facing.
“There are just too many students and not enough specialist here, even that we are one of the best institutes.”
-- An intervention specialist
2
Motor skills need long-term and regular training, which might be discouraging and boring to the kids.
“Many kids just get bored after doing the same exercise. But they have to repeat those tasks to master it anyway.”
-- An intervention specialist

EXPERIMENT (ACCESSIBILITY RESEARCH)

At the same time. I did some accessibility research on haptic information design for the blind. Those psychophysical experiments helped us to pick up the most distinctive signals that can be used in the product (Haptic belt).

To make sure that the haptic belt can transmit directional cues effectively, I used psychophysical experiments to find the most distinctive signals that can be used in hapic interaction design.

Details about the experiments can be found in my relevant paper:

3

DESIGN IDEATION & VALIDATION

Fail Fast, Move Fast

In the design process, we tried different technologies that can be used in this product and iterated on the design to make the product more user-friendly.

FAIL FAST - THE INITIAL DESIGNS

At the very beginning of the design process, we brainstormed more than ten design ideas and evaluated them according to three criteria: User Experience, Scientificity, Technique Feasibility.

Based on the initial product validation, our team came up with the idea that using in-door games with different colors marker as the task and computer vision as the technology. The test result was good, however, when we bring it to the user, a lot of problems occurred. The in-door game with the color marker was constraint by their home or community facilities. Parents did not have time to place all the marks everytime they want to train their kids. Also, there are a lot of distractors can affect the detection accuracy.

The first idea failed when we brought it to the use. However, it made us realize the importance of participatory design and usability test. We learned fast and moved on.

MOVE FAST

After the failure of the first design, I went back to the user and spent more time observing their behaviors and the environment.

Observing users in the real context helped us to find the new solution. It was my initial understanding of “Contextual Design” and Empathy.

Being with the user in the real context brought me a lot of insights. One of the insights is that kids are very sensitive to sound. It can be distracting in same cases, however, when the sound has a specific meaning, it can be very encouraging. The insight shaped the idea of our design.

“Many kids are extremely sensitive to sounds. They sometimes follow the sound while walking and deviate from the right track.”
-- Observation Notes

ITERATE FAST

Based on the research findings, we made prototypes of our designs. The early prototype focus on the technical feasibility and accessibility. After we made sure that this product is technically feasible, we iterated on the product styling and interaction design.

Hardware Testing

The early prototype focus on the technical feasibility and accessibility. After we made sure that this product is technically feasible, we iterated on the product styling and interaction design.

Product Prototype with 3D Printing

Based on the research findings, we made prototypes of our designs. The early prototype focus on the technical feasibility and accessibility. After we made sure that this product is technically feasible, we iterated on the product styling and interaction design.

Phone Application Prototype

Based on our user research, we defined the key features of the phone application and prototyped the product.

Training Task and Experience Design

We also went back to our users and domain expert to decide the training tasks. Their experience in motor training helped to make sure that the training can be achievable yet challenging for the kids.

Final Product Test
6

FINAL DESIGN

And Our Vision

TUNE is inexpensive for most institutes or individuals and could be a good complementary product with the classic Orientation and mobility training and newly artificial intelligence product for the blind, Seeing AI. Improvement in basic motor skills could help the blind people use other products in their future life.

INDUSTRIAL DESIGN

PHONE APPLICATION DESIGN

TRAINING RECOMMENDATIONS

The phone application can suggest training tasks for the kids based on their age level and performance.

DATA TRACKING

The application tracks kids’ historical data to show their development level. This data can be used by a specialist at school to create future training plans with parents.

VISION