New Direction – Wearables, robotics, code

Posted on January 3, 2015

It’s time to take this blog into a slightly new direction. It’s time to discus things I’m working on that interest me that are not of a usability subject. As a person who loves to run, I started my interest in wearables before they had a name. I saved up for months at the Applebee’s I worked at to afford a Garmin Forerunner 101. At the time, it looked like you strapped a computer to your wrist, although now they look more and more like watches.

It was bulky, especially on my small frame. It’s battery was small and difficult to charge (it might not last a marathon). It couldn’t find you among tall buildings, under dense tree canopies, or under heavy cloud cover. But it was amazing for its time. Before this wonder, in order to figure out a good running loop, you would drive your car around and check the number of miles. This was something I had to do to make sure that my distances were right for cross country training. But by the time I started training for my first marathon, I had one of these.

Garmin had spent some real time and care thinking about the type of person who would want a Forerunner. It included basic things like pace, distance, and time, but you could also calculate splits and set an 8-bit “running buddy” who would beep at you if you ran too slowly or too quickly so that you could work on your pace for longer distances. I thought I would always use one of these for running and eventually upgraded to a 405 (mostly because a friend of mine broke my 101), but then smart phones came along and made these guys obsolete.

Companies are forever working towards a new athletic device to recapture the usefulness of devices like the forerunner. I myself have a Misfit Shine on at all times. I joined the Kickstarter back when they first started and between the durability and attractiveness of the device and the excellent customer service I have never regretted that purchase.

The myriad ways in which the device can be worn makes this an excellent companion for my use case. I can wear it in the above necklace when I’m attend conferences or teaching class, wear it in the belt loop holder at the gym, and occasionally in the wrist band when doing something like swimming (it will never replace the watch my dad gave me, sorry Misfit). While the Shine is never 100% accurate (it thinks I’m walking when I’m knitting if I wear it on my wrist) it gets amazingly close for a device with only a 3-point accelerometer inside. By pairing it with RunKeeper and MyFitnessPal I get a great holistic view of my day.

I often find myself thinking like David Sedaris does about his Fitbit, if I run a little further, I can make it happy, I can make all it’s lights blink and make it proud of me (His article from the New Yorker here). Like he does, I find myself pacing Airports on travel days and going on long walks to reach my daily goal. I don’t want to lose my streak. This is the way that activity devices should make you feel, like it’s part of a game and you want to make your running buddy happy by keeping pace with it or your Shine happy by making all of it’s lights blink. It makes you want to use the device and want to reach your goals. Wearables succeed when we want to use them, when they add to our lives by making us want to reach our goals, and when they work in ways that fit our specific needs.

That’s why I enjoy learning about, watching tear downs of (AdaFruit Shine Teardown), and trying to make wearables. In future posts I plan to show you some of my wearables, as well as talk about robotics and my experiences in code. Until next time, don’t stop building.