Sport and fitness

Why human centered design is critical to solving problems with technology

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The Internet of Things. The Cloud. Big Data. Just some of the terms we seem to hear every time we turn on the TV or read an article. These technologies can at times sound cold and stoic—mechanized abstractions of an advancing society—and some question if, or how, they can bring real value to everyday lives. But the leaders in advancing IoT applications understand something crucial: today’s technology needs an understanding of the human mind and body more than ever.

team usa cyclist on trackTeamUSA cyclist takes a training lap

mobile telephone is mounted to teamUSA cycleMounting a mobile phone to a TeamUSA cycle

the components to mount a mobile phone to a teamusa cycleEquipment for mounting a mobile phone to a TeamUSA cycle

Yes, IoT and big data rely on technology that is incredibly complex and cloud-based—but, in order for these trends to truly impact our lives, teams like the Emerging Technologies jStart Team at IBM know that creative, problem-solving people are going to be those who give these 21st century applications the power to impact our world.

This commitment to cutting-edge technology and thoughtful problem solving is what brought the IBM jStart team to Porticos. At Porticos, our engineering group works to humanize technology as expressed in our tag line “Product Designed for the Way We’re Designed”. For us, it’s more than a slogan—it’s a mission to look at technology from the perspective of the person who will be using it. No matter what the product, a high-powered satellite radio or an energy-efficient clothes dryer, we understand that all the technology in the world won’t solve today’s challenges unless the people using these products are taken into consideration.

Product designed for the way we’re designed – human

On a smaller scale, IBM is doing the same thing with cloud services through Watson IoT. The cloud alone is incredible—but what’s impactful are the solutions that the cloud can bring to people and their communities. At Porticos, we strive to be seen as a partner that can help support groups like the jStart team as they problem-solve the real-world challenges of product design in cutting-edge and people-focused ways. In our initial conversations with the jStart team, we understood right away that the developers in jStart focused not just on advancing the complex world of cloud computing, but also applying that incredible technology to real-world, human problems.

We do this through creative problem solving. We ask questions that lead to big picture thinking. When designing a dial on a satellite radio, we consider whether or not the user will be wearing work gloves. We ask what degree of turn is most ergonomic. We consider whether the feature will need to be water proof, heat resistant, or crash-safe. And so on—not just for the dial but for every part of the device. It helps us ensure that products suit the people using them. It also leads us to think of new ways that products can be used, and new problems that future products should solve.

The jStart team brought an exciting project to the table: the chance to support the US Women’s Cycling Pursuit Team. The cycling team and its coaches were interested in harnessing the power of advanced data analytics, and the jStart team was leading an effort to track riders: through their biometric data and performance data, from heart beat to bike speed. By mounting sensors to the bike, this IoT solution would help the team instantaneously record, analyze, and share data via a mobile dashboard application. In other words, the sensor turned the bike into a FitBit on steroids (the legal kind).

Real-time access to data allows the coaches and riders to make instant but informed decisions during the effort. In the past, teams did this after an effort—debriefing about strategy and technique once everyone had passed the finish line. But the jStart team’s solution focuses on bringing this decision-making to the track while cyclists are still on it. Cyclists can mentally correlate their perceived performance—how fast they think they’re going, how tired they think they feel—against their actual performance—based on real, instant data. It’s the difference between reviewing your strategy after the medal ceremony and changing your strategy during the practice to help secure a win at the race.

Porticos supported the jStart team by focusing on the mount. A mobile-enabled device is mounted to the bike, to capture data and send it to the cloud during an effort. The mount would have to be strong enough to hold the device in place during a grueling ride and light enough to not impact the weight of the bike.

In a dizzying two-week push, Porticos engineered a solution that took advantage of an existing off-the-shelf rugged case, modifying it and designing a custom bracket for it. With this bracket, the rugged case is attached securely to the supports under the cyclist’s seat. Future embodiments can be more elegant and aerodynamic, but this solution met the physical specification requirements and the urgent deadline.

‘Smart’ IoT devices, the ability to wirelessly record and transmit large amounts of data, and the computational power afforded by Cloud-based systems are here for the foreseeable future and are expanding exponentially. Groups like the jStart team, and our own engineers at Porticos, have the opportunity to connect these technologies to our community’s biggest problems. Porticos has developed or ideated Smart IoT devices for a variety of customers and applications: from autonomous body temperature regulation systems for soldier mobile triage stations to home-based drug delivery for medication monitoring, the applications are seemingly endless. But the key to unlocking the potential of new technology doesn’t lie with the technology itself—the key is the creative problem solvers who will approach modern product design challenges with people in mind. Porticos will continue working with great partners who are humanizing the technology and working towards “Product Design for the Way We’re Designed”.

Join us each week as we explore the Team Pursuit #RidetoRio through the lens of photographer John Huet and the words of the athletes, coaches and technologists.


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