Introduction

Two lots of .NET Gadgeteer workshops for Product Design students were held at the Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) on the 21st, 22nd, 27th and 28th of January. Attendees included 3rd and 4th year undergraduate and master’s students with little or no prior experience of programming. Hosting the workshops were Tommy Dykes, a PhD student at Northumbria University and Tim Regan from Microsoft Research Cambridge. The workshops were sponsored by Microsoft Research Connections in Cambridge.

.NET Gadgeteer is a rapid-prototyping platform that is ideal for quickly testing design ideas. Throughout the workshops, GHI’s FEZ Spider starter kits and a host of extra sensors and outputs were used. The aim was to introduce students to the use of physical computing in product design. Being able to test and experience ideas first hand through working prototypes can provide designers with a clearer understanding of how a user might interact with a product, allow them to iterate and test ideas with users and can spark new ideas through play.

The first day of the workshops involved an introduction to the prototyping platform, the installation of software, and tutorials that familiarised students with the basic knowledge required to get started. Amongst other tutorials, students were shown how to detect black lines or markings using a light sensor and made a simple digital camera.

Building Experience Prototypes       Building Experience Prototypes 2

Building experience prototypes

On day two students used their imaginations to build lo-fi experience prototypes using the .NET Gadgeteer and materials they had found lying around. The day was then concluded with a show and tell. With less than 8 hours to get from an idea, to a working prototype, was no easy task. However, students rose to the challenge! Given the quality of all the projects, we have picked a few examples that show the scope and diversity of the prototypes built.

A Selection of Student Projects

Baby Nappy Monitor        Baby Nappy Monitor 2

 

Baby nappy monitor

Shuai Zheng created a monitor for a baby’s nappy using a moisture and temperature sensor and demonstrated this using wet tissue paper. When the baby wets its nappy this is subtly presented to the parent through sound and light.

Banana Gun Attachment

 

Banana gun attachment

With a more playful theme Wael Seaiby looked at ways of making mundane artefacts more entertaining. This is clearly demonstrated through his experience prototype, which is an attachment that turns a banana into a toy gun. One can imagine kids and adults being thrilled to find this in there packed lunch box and hopefully it would make them want to eat more fruit. After six gun shots the banana pistol sounds empty and requires reloading.

Wearable Devie to help the blind cross the road

 

Wearable device to help the blind cross the road

The above prototype was made by Zhulin Wang. It’s a wearable device to aid the blind when crossing the road. When the individual arrives at the side of the pavement they press a button to determine the direction in which they want to walk. If they swerve a few degrees either left or right, one of two motors (simulating vibration) informs them of which direction will straighten them up again. The prototype used a compass, battery pack, motor driver and two motors. The motor driver was powered with a 9v battery so it could be tested wirelessly.

In the name of fun, one group decided to make their time in the elevator less uncomfortable and to encourage people to get talking by adding an extra special button. When pressed this button makes the elevator say something shocking or funny. This prototype used the music module and a powered iPod speaker to amplify the sound.

Reminiscence Game 1   Reminiscence Game 2

 

Reminiscence game

Finally, James Roebuck created a personalised interactive board game that uses your own photos and favourite music, in order to engage someone living with dementia in family gatherings. When you land on certain squares you have to answer a question based on people or places by placing your unique piece in the centre of the board. Using RFID readers and tags, a large display, modelling clay, card and plenty of sellotape, James created an experience prototype to explore the idea.

Conclusion

The .NET Gadgeteer platform proved ideal for exploring ideas through experience prototypes and suited the fast-paced workshop format. Students were able to see their ideas turn into working and wireless prototypes (using the battery packs) with no soldering or in depth knowledge of electronics. The platform also suited the use of lo-fi materials such as cardboard and the mounting of components using craft materials such as sellotape and Blu-Tack. By the end of both days there appeared great enthusiasm to learn more and possibly use the kit as part of their working process.

Tommy Dykes