Not settling for digitally creating scenarios, concepts and user experience, but validating them using haptic prototypes during the design process — that’s the main idea of our IoT lab in Saarbrücken.
We chose the board term „IoT lab“ to cover the wide range of possibilities it has to offer. „IoT“, the acronym for „internet of things“, describes the intelligent linking of and communication between devices with each other. Furthermore, the interaction with humans and the support of their everyday life plays a vital role.
Our Ergosign IoT lab is a creative space which our employees can use to explore three important areas at once:
Firstly, they can create haptic prototypes. The lab offers the possibility to physically realize important hardware and operating elements, e.g. switches, for customer projects and immediately connect them with our house made user interfaces. This allows us to collect precise and transparent feedback about the interaction between the hardware and our design in a very early project stage, which we can immediately use to improve our interfaces. The prototypes and elements, which we create using various sensors, hardware and a 3D printer in our lab, serve as realistic input devices during the further project progress and usability evaluations in particular.
Because we are now able to model and create haptic prototypes by ourselves, the lab forms the basis of their connection and opens the doors to the dynamic world of IoT research. The knowledge and experience our employees collect in the lab deepens their know-how about the efficient conception of hardware communication — from which not only they, but also our customers profit.
In addition to these project- and practice-oriented possibilities, our IoT lab lives from the innovations, ideas and creativity of those puzzling, crafting and exploring in there. Our team members have the freedom to let their creativity and visions run wild and also put them into practice in order to solve everyday problems. This is also how our first Ergosign-internal project came around: interconnected meeting room displays.
Lots of additional spacial changes came with the move to our new building in Saarbrücken. A challenge, which increased due to the significant enlargement, is the transparent organization of our numerous meeting and creative spaces. To develop a practicable solution, both designers and developers worked closely together.
When booking a room, the top priority is to provide an overview of the availability of all spaces and to create an efficient and transparent booking process. The overview also must be able to be updated both globally and on site, i.e. in or in front of the room itself. When we created the solution concept, we therefore identified the following challenges:
The solution of our problem: in addition to our current global calendar system, which allows every colleague to check the availability of the rooms via their MacBook, we installed a touch display next to every meeting room, respectively. Using the display, we can see the availability and time remaining of the respective room, directly book the room or an alternative and share the room after a meeting ends.
All displays are equipped with a Raspberry Pi and connected to our WLAN; power is supplied via USB sockets.
To match the displays with the style of our new headquarter, we produced very own housings using the 3D printer of our IoT lab, which also provides enough room for the Raspberry Pis.
Every Pi is connected to a synchronization service on our own server, which communicates with the global calendar system. Since the synchronization of the display’s calendar overview is updated frequently, the availability of every room, which is booked either via the display or the global calendar, gets updated on all devices. It is then no longer proposed as an alternative room for a new, simultaneous appointment, for example.
Of course, we didn't miss the opportunity to design the interfaces for the new displays ourselves. The task was perfect for our Pixel Warriors contests, which our Field Leads Visual Design Nina Meier and Sascha Strass have started.
The challenge’s feedback was overwhelming. Amongst numerous convincing designs, the idea of two of our UX designers from Saarbrücken has prevailed: Anna Polzin and Bento Orlando Haridas.
In addition to the clear solutions for all the above requirements, the design impresses with additional refinements. Its bold highlight-colors immediately show the current status of the rooms — which means that unnecessary walkways in search of a free meeting space are saved.
Every appointment also includes at least one organizer, so it is easy to know who you have to talk to when you need to talk about possibly necessary arrangements or room changes.
The targeted, coordinated animations guide meaningfully through the booking process and are used carefully to avoid visual unrest.
The next idea is already in the making! To design a flexible process to book a room and to avoid temporal overlaps, a small team of designers and developers created a new device: a meeting 'hourglass'
This 'hourglass' includes an ESP8266 micro controller, nine LED strips and an inner ring. Both the housing and the inner ring, which will hold the LED strips, will be produced with our 3D printer; our colleagues will assemble and wire the hourglass themselves.
The housing also consists of nine transparent rings, which will be illuminated by the LED strips. They represent the remaining blocked time span — every ring usually stands for 15 minutes. Like a classic hourglass, the time elapses: after every 15 minutes, a ring in the upper part turns off; instead, a ring in the lower part lights up. In the last five minutes of the meeting, the color of the rings also changes and a "countdown" is symbolized. Now, a ring symbolizes one minute remaining. Once the last five rings have turned off, the meeting time is over.
In addition to the visual concerning the remaining meeting time, we will be able to use the hourglass to extend the booking of a room — as long it is not blocked by the next meeting. Initially, the booking will be possible by simply tipping the clock. To keep this interaction as easy and intuitive as possible, the extension time will be predefined.
The clock will communicate with both the meeting room displays and the global calendar via the micro controller, which means that all calendars will aways be kept up-to-date.
In order to recreate the Mental Model of an hourglass as precise as possible, we are planning to reduce the interaction with the clock to one simple gesture — the turning of the device.
This version requires an interaction and feedback concept which is considerably more complex — but our colleagues are already working on it in the lab.
With its subtle visual feedback, the hourglass quickly provides feedback on the current booking situation during the meeting room without disturbing a meeting. The simple touch gesture to extend the booking process is minimally invasive and does not disturb our designers and developers during their creative processes.
Currently, our team is building the first prototype which can be tested soon.
We are not only excited for the result, but are also looking forward to all upcoming lab projects!