How can create a way for someone to enjoy the experience of running with someone else no matter where they are in the world?

OVERVIEW

A study done at MIT showed that, when people run together, the slower runner will try to meet the pace of the faster. The scientists spent five years tracking exercise data and information from all over the world to support this insight. This made me wonder whether there was a way to allow runners who were not in physical proximity to pace each other and to motivate them to run faster. In addition, I want to create a way for someone to enjoy the experience of running with another person, no matter where they are in the world. Running while talking on the phone might be an option, but with my prototype of the wearable Run Together, I am exploring another way to motivate and engage people in their running experience.

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THESIS PROJECT

Thesis Advisor: Joseph A. Quackenbush, 

 Fred Wolflink, Fish Mcgill

 

My role: Design research, Interview, User test, UX Design, Prototyping

LAUNCHED

December 2018

KEYWORDS

different location, running experience, sound, share, motive

1 Aral, Sinan, and Christos Nicolaides. “Exercise contagion in a global social network.” Nature communications 8 (2017): 14753.

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THE CHALLENGE

Sharing experience of running

Most of the digital fitness apps on the market are collecting data and information, such as pace, distance, and heart rate. These products have one thing in common: music is just an add-on, making the auditory sense less important in the running process. My project, on the other hand, will provide an interactive experience for people who do not live in the same location who use the telephone, radio or TV to hear another voice. The sound triggers an emotional response.

 

What if we used sound to share the running experience with runners in a different location? I was wondering what kind of sound they would want to share: music or voice? And if the sound is not strong enough, how could I add a visual sense to simulate runners? Before I started, I had to understand what interactive auditory experience runners wanted in their running process. I had to design a way to meet their expectations in a way that was technically achievable.

USER RESEARCH

Testing, testing, and testing

In a general sense, we already know that there is a strong connection between sound (music) and exercise. But how could we build an interactive connection between sound and running? When people exercise in the gym or outside, 70% of them run regularly with headphones, listening to music or podcasts while making their effort towards a healthier lifestyle. Do runners like the sound? How does the sound affect the running experience? In order to accurately answer this question, my testing process is divided into three main sections: sound/auditory only, auditory-visual and the final prototype.

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2 “Adidas Go.” Ustwo, www.ustwo. com/work/adidas-go.

​1. Sound / Auditory only

2. Auditory-visual

3. Final prototype

DESIGN PROCESS

Auditory Only

In the beginning, I built a virtual runner; I was trying to see if the volume of the sound created by the runner’s footstep sound was controllable, and I wondered if the differences in pace and position could be discerned by the human ear. The importance of hearing is often ignored. In his Ted talk, designer Julian Treasure said:

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“The sound around us is affecting us even though we’re not conscious of it. There’s a second way through, as well. That’s interference. Communication requires sending and receiving.”

3 Treasure, Julian. “Transcript of ‘Why Architects Need to Use Their Ears.’” TED, www.ted.com/talks/julian_trea- sure_why_architects_need_to_use_ their_ears/transcript?language=en&fr om=singlemessage#t-62205.

In order to explore how the runners’ experience of sound in virtual space is affected in the running experience, I designed my first prototype to test the question of whether the change in a runner’s position can cause a change in sound that she can detect.

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Audio only prototype (Max) interface

I found the prototype worked. When I moved the black dot in the circle space, I could clearly feel the change in position accompanied by changes in sound. In order to test my thoughts further, I invited runners to test on the gym’s treadmill.

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Test virtual runner interacte with real runner on the treadmil

I controlled the virtual runner’s location to see how it affected the real runner’s pace. According to the feedback from the runner, she thought that, because the background music around the gym is a bit noisy along with the mechanical sound of many students using the equipment, it did affect the sound she heard in the headphones. But when she heard the sound, she would unconsciously listen to the sound and wonder why sometimes it seemed to be near, and other times far away.

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Create the second version prototype with touch OSC system

Instead of controlling the virtual runner’s location personally, I hope to see a real runner controlling the virtual runner by herself. Using the touchOSC system, I built a wireless connection between a virtual runner (in the computer) and a real runner (with the mobile phone). When the real runner ran, they needed to hold the smartphone. This simulated part of the real running experience, as many runners like to hold their mobile phones when they are running. Also, considering the noisy environment, I chose a small gym outside the peak period.

Auditory-visual

With the runner’s movement, I could see her speed was leading the virtual runner’s most of the time. But at the same time, I was very curious: what would it look like if I let the runner see her data displayed on my computer? Would it influence the speed at which she is running?

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Using real runner’s pace to affect location and sound to virtual runner

In this test, I put the computer in a place where the runner could see it. When she ran, she saw the little dots representing her moving in the virtual circle space. She realized immediately how her speed was being tracked. She slowed the running pace and realized that the movement of her arm (with the mobile phone) was running worked to convey the sense of running as well. She knew she was cheating, but she said: “I really enjoy the experience of being ahead of others.”

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Using real runner’s pace to affect location and sound to virtual runner

Final prototype

As touchOSC only supports one mobile phone, we transferred all the data to Arduino. I chose Arduino rings as wearables to track the runners’ pace in this prototype. The rings used Bluetooth to connect the computer; it was hard to find environments with wifi to run the app, so I used Bluetooth.

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Test Arduino

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Test the warable ring

My advisor and I found the rings could be a good device for people to wear when they run, as the Arduino board’s original shape was hard to grab and hold while moving
 

In the prototype process; I decided to keep the visual display since some viewing my project might not be serious runners and the environment was not suited for outdoor running. I think keeping the visual display could provide runners with a whole immersive competitive experience. People like to see where they are and how their performance is better than others.

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Test the final prototype with rings

THE OUTCOME

​Exhibition in Fresh Media 2019

I built an interactive auditory prototype with MAX (software) and Arduino (hardware). There were two parts in this prototype. One was the headsets that provided the sound experience to runners. The other part was a wearable ring for tracking each runner’s pace. The pace would affect the location of the sound from their companion. If one runner’s pace was faster than the other runner, then the sound heard by the faster runner would be behind her head, and the sound heard by the slower runner would be in front of her head. And if their paces were similar, the sound would be heard next to their ear.

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In the Fresh Media Show

After much testing, I used my concept to create the real thing. In the exhibition, Fresh Media, I found people really enjoyed the experience. They were immersed in the running experience with their friends. I also found that everyone affected different poses and behaviors in order to run faster. I received a lot of feedback that helped me to understand how I could refine my project.

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People interacte with prototype Run Together in the Cyber Art Gallery

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Introduction in the exhibition

Do you open your mobile phone, and plug in the headset, to listen to music? Or do you just follow the fitness sound instruction and keep running? Is there a moment in which you hope that your friends and families in LA could run with you in Boston?

Running while talking on the phone may be an option, but with this prototype of the wearable Run Together, I am exploring another:

Imagine that when you are running in Boston, you could not only talk with the friends running beside you but also your friend across the continent in Los Angeles. You would know her running speed and location through sound. Run Together could bring you and your friends in other places together, creating a more engaging, more competitive running experience.

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Exhibition details in the Fresh Media Show at Cyber Art Gallery

Pieces of feedback

“Very impressive. In Bose, we already have sunglasses with speakers with the speaker. They also have an accelerometer. But I never thought about the way pace can affect the sound, specially built around an interaction in two people’s experience. Love it! “

-Daniel Buckley, Interaction Design Lead, Wireless Speakers at Bose Corporation

“It would be better if there were some sound in the beginning. When I put the headset on for the first time, there was no sound. But it is a very cool concept--hope to see it in the future!”

-Guest

“I think it would be cool if you used a footstep sound.” -Guest, also a runner

“I just love the idea. The ideal test would be for people to run in different locations. I know it would be hard to do. But it would be a very powerful thing if you could demonstrate it with you running in Boston, and you could run with a friend in Seoul, and have the dynamic running experience. It would be great.”
- Professor Joseph Quackenbush, Massart

What’s Next

Run together is a concept project. The ideal condition is that two people running in different places could share their voices directly through the headphones. This sound is live and interactive. From the sound, they know their companion’s speed. Although the current prototype is still far from ideal, I am happy that the prototype has brought experience and pleasure to users.

Before I created Run Together, I did not gravitate toward conceptual design. But after eight months of researching, learning and testing, I realized that the purpose of conceptual design is to help people to think about the possibilities

of the future and to stimulate our imaginations. Without imagination, we might not think of combining the functions of watches and track motions into a smartwatch, which we wear in our daily life. I imagine that one day in the future, my headsets will have interactive features and allow people to share the running experience based on sound.

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No matter where you are in the world, you can enjoy the experience of running with a friend!

In this project, I have really felt the power of making something real. Through the iterative process, I can see the relationship between a person’s motion and sound. I have observed their behavior and the way they reacted, first with the auditory sense, and then with both the visual and auditory senses together. The step-by-step vision of prototype and user testing helped me to reach the final step successfully.

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People interact with prototype Run Together in the Cyber Art Gallery

I hope this product can be realized in the near future. I believe this concept has commercial value. As Bose’s design lead, Daniel Buckley said, my design could be combined with the technology company’s products to bring joy and convenience to runners.

Brand identity for W2K Art Space -a unique Boston-based art gallery for people 

exploring the art world together

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