Interactive Vibro-Tactile Cushion: a therapeutic sensory experience for people living with dementia, agitation or anxiety.
We are addressing the growing needs of people in older age living with a range of conditions that cause agitation, stress and anxiety such as Dementia. We aim to develop a truly intuitive, easy to use, sensory therapeutic aid to provide entertainment and improved quality of life for the user. Observations from our research suggest that giving a sense of autonomy and control over the user experience and encouraging movement of hands helps to build engagement and enjoyment. We will also be solving the interesting technical challenges of embedding electronics in a soft cushion, including the interface design and the method for creating the subtle vibrational patterns.
We have created a sensory and interactive textile cushion using digital touch therapy to calm and relax people living with dementia, agitation and anxiety. The sensory surface design invites touch and directs people to stroke the surface. The surface fabric has embedded electronics and programming to extend the value of touch therapy and create the interactive element of the product, generating stimulating and gentle vibrations. Hand movements across the cushion surface trigger the different patterns of calming vibro-tactile feedback. We have focused on creating a gentle, playful and engaging experience that offers the user a sense of agency, levels of interest and a reason to stay engaged.
The idea of the project was conceived by Annie, designer and founder of Bonnie Binary a young company creating sensory therapeutic products to support and comfort people living with cognitive and physical disabilities. We combine tactile textiles with our knowledge of sensory therapies to deliver delightful & functional therapeutic products. Our research explores the use of eTextile technology to provide a simple interface to control a range of relaxing sensory experiences such as warmth, vibration patterns and music to relieve, stress and agitation.
The focus of work and choice of technology for this project was finalised during our first team discussions. Our inspiration was to use eTextile technology and specifically the sensor matrix developed by Maurin to create an intuitive sensory interface to control an interesting variety of subtle vibrational patterns to extend the value of touch therapy in our collection.
This required a team with expertise in crafting textiles and technology and an understanding of interaction design and user experience so Annie approached the Worth Project community to find a team. We found each other through our shared interest in e-Textiles, the wonderful E-Stitches network and the Worth Project community to make a great team.
THE BIRTH OF THE PROJECT:
We choose to focus on creating a product to address the growing needs of people living with a range of conditions that cause agitation, stress and anxiety such as dementia. This required us to create a truly intuitive, easy to use, “in the moment experience”, providing entertainment and improved quality of life.
There were several technical challenges to overcome in order to craft the prototype and bring together the different elements of the project. The top three being: Which technology do we use to create the vibrations? How do we map the sensor matrix to trigger the vibro-tactile experience? How do we embed this all in the cushion and make it look and feel good?
THE CREATIVE PROCESS:
We started by exploring the user experience, setting the scenario of use, researching our technology options and setting goals to guide us through the prototyping process. Due to working in 3 different countries under constantly changing COVID restrictions we worked remotely with regular online meetings from home. Reviewing and resetting our goals became an essential part of the creative process and running our ideas passed Marina our mentor was so helpful.
It has been a wonderful multicultural and multidisciplinary creative experience.
We carried out market research and explored similar research projects to discover “state of the art” practice for creating the vibrational patterns. Maurin worked on the hardware solutions for making vibrations from sound patterns and then the software solutions for mapping the touch gestures with the vibro-tactile patterns to make a fully functioning prototype. This was a great technical achievement. We now have a cushion with embedded technology and functionality. When you run your hand across the different textures of the cushion surface your movement triggers changes in the vibrational pattern.
Anna then set up user experience tests under covid conditions, quite a challenge!
Early observations from previous co-design research suggested that giving a sense of autonomy and control over the experience and encouraging movement of hands helped to build engagement and enjoyment of the experience. These became the key cornerstones of the user experience we wanted to create and along with the user group scenario has shaped our design process.
Working with an experienced multi-disciplinary team has been brilliant. The collaboration has resulted in a successful prototype, and user tests which we feel has been a great achievement.
This project has raised many interesting questions. Having this opportunity to work together has helped us think holistically through the many technical and user experience challenges. It has opened up an exciting and valuable area of interaction design that offers the potential to make a positive and valuable contribution to people’s wellbeing in the social care sector.
The benefits of collaboration across disciplines are many! We explored areas of user experience and considered solutions we might not have considered on our own. We shared learning, and accessed expertise in our group network. We aim to publish our work, and continue to develop our shared understanding in Vibro-Tactile Textiles.
Alongside our core team we had support from other experts in the field of e-Textiles and user experience design. Our thanks goes to our wonderful mentor Marina Toeters, and the many other designers and engineers who have offered valuable insights and feedback.
This collaboration has been very fruitful. Thank you team!
As a team we are interested in developing this unique sensory experience further. We want to refine the user experience, develop a collection of subtle and calming vibrations and set up co-design opportunities with care experts and customer groups to test – test – test it’s full potential.
Next steps include optimising the technology, developing options for personalising the textile textures plus the interaction design to create a truly intuitive and delightful experience.
We are now looking for further funding and partners to take this research forward to the next stage. We are so excited by the potential of the vibro-textile experience to entertain and relax people.
This project brought together designers with very different skill sets to create something new and unique, which would not have happened without this opportunity for collaboration, the support of our wonderful mentor, and the Worth Project community. Thank you Worth Project team for this valuable opportunity and to the eco-system of shared learning it’s a joy to be part of!
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Maureen is a graduate in Industrial design with experience in interactive design, physical computing and electronic development with a focus on digital interfaces. She has recently worked on several industry collaborations using textile sensors.
Anna Blumenkranz is a media artist, educator and author based in Munich, who works within the field of wearable technology and electronic textiles. She has been lecturing at the Ludwig- Maximilians-Universität München since 2011.