Imagine if normal people could augment their bodies to have super-human abilities. While that kind of genetic modification may not be possible today, we can use simple technology to give us new skills. Superhearo was inspired by the hearing ability of the visually impaired and how people could use their newfound powers to do good.
Entitled “Superhearo: Sensory Augmentation for Your Friendly Neighborhood Vigilante,” our project and paper were showcased at the ISWC 2016 Design Exhibition: http://www.iswc.net/iswc16/index.html%3Fp=751.html
The target audience for the wearable is an unique segment of society– vigilantes. Specifically, these are everyday individuals looking to make a difference with their own “super powers.” Designing for this user was a challenge– it’s a type of user that is not easily accessible or understood. As a heuristic to simplify our user exploration, we looked at fictional superheroes that aren’t too different from the average person apart from one unique trait or power. These characters inspired both our form and function.
Vigilantes require unique design considerations. The final wearable has two primary states – one for when the user is fighting crime and one for normal everyday use. Because the user is a vigilante who needs a disguise, a mask was created that could also rotate to the top of the head to look like headphones. This also correlated with the concept of covering one sense intensifies another, so the method of turning the device on is actually the act of covering his or her eyes. It was designed to look sleek but intimidating, hence the geometric shapes and horns.
When fighting crime, the wearable pulls down to cover the eyes, acting as a disguise, and distant sounds are amplified for the user. The direction of the sound is communicated through vibration motors. For nearby assistants, LEDs are used on the side of the device and on the top of the head to give them a low-res indication of what the user is hearing. These are red in order to not shock the eyes at night In everyday use, the wearable functions as a stylish pair of headphones to play music. Because of this double function and other design features, the wearable is uniquely suited for our users.
Technology and Construction
The microcontroller fit perfectly on top of a headphone ear cushion, then silicone wire was routed all the way to the other side of the mask to connect components. The microphone was placed next to one of the horns to hide it, but it was discovered that in the center of the mask would be a better option if only using one mic. The Neopixels placed from ear to eye on either side of the head represented that the absence of eyes improves the ears. Vibration motors were originally placed inside the ear cushions, but moved to the forehead under the horns due to being too loud near the ears. A rechargeable 3.5v Lithium Ion battery powered everything from a pouch on the forehead.
To construct the mask, a paper model was taped together to get a basic shape, then it was cut to make a pattern. 2mm EVA foam was cut, heated, and formed into the curved shapes of the mask, while chipboard was used for the rigid and sharp corners such as the nose, ears, and horns. Then, the entire mask was covered in one piece of stretch faux leather using spray adhesive. After the components were in place with strips of felt, a large piece of felt was used to cover the entire back of the mask for comfort and wearability.
The current design does not have a smooth transition from headphones to mask and it does not stay on the face well. To solve this, the next prototype will be made out of a 3D printed or thermoformed rigid, high gloss plastic to keep its shape. We’d also like to improve the function of the design by giving the user the option to be able to hear environment noises while listening to music. Not only would this make crime fighting more possible without covering the face, but it would appeal to everyday consumers as well.