Anima is a concept for an intuitive navigation system for emergencies that uses bone conduction headphones.
Description

As a part of the course "Mobile Technologies" we were tasked with developing a (conceptual) navigation system for special use cases. Our project, Anima, is a navigation system that helps new doctors to find their way through hospitals in emergencies efficiently and without distraction.

Type

University project, second semester

Tools used

JavaScript, HTML, CSS, Wacom Tablet, Bone conduction headphones

Partners

Lukas Kenntner
Marc Martin

Scope

To encourage alternative and uncommon ideas, we were challenged to design a navigation system without a display. After researching, we wanted to explore how emergency situations in hospitals are managed and if an optimized navigation could potentially save precious seconds.

Requirements

To get to know our users and their needs we talked to an assistant medical director working at a pediatric hospital. We wanted to get an idea of hwo emergency situations are handled and how new doctors are trained. Throughout the project we kept in touch with our contact to verify our hypotheses and gather feedback on our process. We found out that due to several additions to an original hospital building and suboptimal space-dependent hallways, it's a common issue that hospital staff need to memorize the paths to individual wards. We also learned that hospitals often use outdated technologies to communicate emergency information to doctors due to cost issues. We wanted to create a system that would be affordable in mass-production and unintrusive for the user.

Piezo speaker mounted to a pair of sunglasses
Joystick used for manually controlling the piezo speakers
Exploration

A lot of brainstorming and technology research lead us to the idea of using sound for navigation. The biggest issues with sound is that it is intrusive and the doctor would likely not be able to concentrate on the sounds while being briefed about the emergency. With a proof of concept where we connected piezo speakers to an Arduino we wanted to see if a subtle tone is noticable enough to react and unintrusive enough to allow for communication.

This concept worked surprisingly well and we further enhanced it by giving it an analog signal. When the user has to turn soon it slowly starts to make a ticking noise that increases in frequency the closer he gets. We simulated this process by connecting an analog joystick to the Arduino.

Prototype

We were able work with a pair of bone conduction headphones to further develop our concept. The audio signals are translated into vibrations in front of the ear that will transfer the soundwaves directly into the user's auditory canal. This way the ear is still free and the user is able to have conversations while still hearing the navigation signals.

Using these headphones we developed unique sounds for starting, stopping, turning, going up and down (at staircases) and for alerts. We programmed a simulation with JavaScript to test these sounds. Our prototype was a vacuum formed floor plan made from white plastic with a large Wacom drawing tablet underneath. The Wacom pen simulated the user and with the help of the graphic tablet we were able to track the pen and guide it through the floor plan.

Top view of the exhibition prototype
Bone conduction headphones
Testing

For user testing we built another prototype also based on JavaScript. We used a MacBook as a server inside a backpack worn by our users while we controlled the sounds through a web app on a phone.

We could give any signal and control the frequency of the turning sounds. This testing proved that the system worked, the users intuitively understood the signals without being distracted.

Outcome

9
fair exhibitions
683
lines of code (exhibition prototype)
335
lines of code (user testing prototype)
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