Interaction with the speech assistant REY works hands-free and leaves ears open
The technical build-up and components.
The charging station can be converted to a casing and supports in keeping order and having rituals.
Product packaging and accessories play an important role in creating an accessible offering.
REY's context awareness and ability to adjust to user needs is highlighted by diverse use cases.
What it does
REY empowers people with visual impairments to manage tasks with more independence and eases social participation. The AI companion can equally be used by sighted people and thereby cleans up with prejudices that traditional assistive devices foster.
The project started with the research question of how to enable people with visual impairments to greater independence and participation in society. Numerous in-depth interviews with visually impaired people, trainers and experts, observations and co-creation sessions served as inspiration. Many people with visual impairments are early adopters of speech interfaces – using their phones for various tasks. However, they would need a hands-free, ears-open and context aware solution to really make use of digital assistance. Besides this, the research also set the requirements for product packaging, digital service and detail design aspects.
How it works
The technical build-up of REY includes a depth sensor and camera in front, capturing the user’s view and translating visual inputs to hearable inputs. The user is thereby enabled to read text, recognize colors, people and facial expressions as well as to gain a better understanding of his surrounding through descriptions. The two integrated bone conduction speakers let the user hear REY’s voice without sealing off his ears, which is an important aspect of safety. The speakers are capable of producing 3D sound which alongside the two vibration motors makes navigating instructions much more intuitive and less distracting. Furthermore, the 3D sound makes it possible for users with visual impairments to localize objects around them, which facilitates a lot of tasks. Besides the features that specifically support users with visual impairments, REY also makes it easier to perform smartphone-based tasks on the go, which makes a connected life easier for everybody.
The design is based on a research phase that included desk research, visit of a fair, empathic modeling techniques, 8 target group interviews and 7 expert interviews. Besides the qualitative research I conducted a survey to evaluate findings on a broader scale. Many of the people I met through the interviews became curious about my project and supported me throughout the whole process. We met in 4 focus group sessions to co-create, evaluate and test ideas and designs. Their input was the basis for creating a truly meaningful product. The design of REY follows main principles that I discovered to be essential for the target group. Firstly, the product is designed for simple and distinct use. Additionally, it follows the two senses principle. This means that every product aspect is perceivable by at least two of the three senses: hearing, seeing and touch. Not only the product itself but also packaging and digital experience play a key role in creating an accessible offering. My research also highlighted the importance of keeping order and having rituals, which is giving safety to people with visual impairments. Therefore, I designed a home charging station for the wearable product. Converting the cradle into a practical casing makes it easy to take REY along while traveling.
How it is different
Due to the fact that REY was co-created together with visually impaired users it differs from current assistive devices in various ways. While existing technology often focuses on one function only (such as recognizing colors) REY's main advantage comes with its multiple skills. Its ability to adjust to individual user needs and skills makes it the perfect companion. Another key aspect is that the device does not take over tasks from visually impaired users but rather empowers and also motivates to do more things independently. Finally a big impediment of current assistive devices is their stigmatizing look and feel. It was therefore essential to design REY as a lifestyle product. Lastly a lot of REY's functions can be equally used by sighted people, which underlines similarities rather than differences and creates a truly universal product.
The project was conducted as my Master Thesis. It's main purpose was to explore user needs in depth and create a design concept. After finalizing my Thesis my main goal was to gather feedback towards the design from target group representatives. The haptic and ergonomic model helped a lot with this. My contacts at local associations and a school for visually impaired enabled me to present the concept to a broader audience and gain valuable user feedback. The functional principles were tested on prototype level in order to optimize for user interaction. The next step would be to re-evaluate technical feasibility on detail level.