2020 Vision: Wearable Haptic Ultrasonic Object Detector; The Role of Human-Centered Design in Humanitarian Engineering

Mitchell, Renee, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Powell, Harry, EN-Elec/Computer Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Seabrook, Bryn, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

2020 Vision is a device that increases situational awareness in users’ blind spots, and involves the design, development, and production of a wearable device that communicates with users using haptic feedback concerning incoming objects. The MSP430 microcontroller performs the necessary calculations and powers the embedded system, which entails detecting incoming collisions and notifying users as appropriate. Users may wear this device throughout the day so that it informs them of such dangers in their environment. What sets this project apart from current projects is the use of haptic feedback that responds not to human touch, but rather to object detection. More specifically, if an object is coming towards a user, the wearable device uses haptics to communicate the upcoming collision, more specifically through a vibration motor. The device relies on the MB1010 ultrasonic sensor, which detects approaching objects within 0 to 6.45 meters away, with an approximate 45-degree cone around the sensor. Sufficiently fast objects within a minimum distance threshold of 30 centimeters trigger the haptic feedback system, and users consequently feel a vibration depending on where they mount the motor(s). In short, the portion of this project that creates new knowledge is the development of an algorithm for object detection on an MSP430, specifically to interface with an ultrasonic sensor and wearable vibration motor.

As for the STS project, in a world where many humanitarian engineering efforts fail to create sustainable impact in their recipient communities, engineering design must implement an approach to project development that cultivates long-lasting and truly beneficial technological systems. One such method of design thinking, known as HCD, promises to deliver solutions that are both useful and meaningful to end users. As such, focusing on the issue of poverty, the research question is as follows: To what extent does HCD increase the effectiveness and impact of humanitarian engineering? Overall, this exploration demonstrates that the three E’s of an effective and impactful humanitarian engineering project are empathy, education, and empowerment. Through the STS framework of technological momentum, empathy informs the beginning phases of a project with respect to the social construction of technology (SCOT) theory, education increases community engagement with the project, and empowerment defines the lasting impact of the project through technological determinism. Analysis of various scholarly perspectives on the effectiveness of current humanitarian aid, as well as on HCD itself, bolster the proposition that these three E’s are quintessential to sustainable humanitarian engineering projects. Evidence from interviews and IDEO.org case studies agree with these results. For decades, critics of humanitarian work have lamented the lack of pedagogical value and overly simplified intervention approaches that often characterize aid projects, and this paper proposes that HCD is an inseparable part of the solution that they have been looking for.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
technological momentum, design thinking, haptic feedback, ultrasound, wearable electronics

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering
Technical Advisor: Harry Powell
STS Advisor: Bryn Seabrook
Technical Team Members: Joshua Arabit, Jazlene Guevarra, William Zhang

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