Enter the maze

Dreams, sticky tape and pass me a soldering iron! The Haptic Wave

by Jane Waite, Queen Mary University of London

Touching a sound wave: copyright www.istockphoto.com 61740466

The HapticWave is a special gadget that lets people feel sound waves. Making it was fun: mixing performing, experimenting and hacking! It is a Here is how it happened...

Who made the HapticWave? Not just one person. No one did just one thing. It was a team effort. The DePIC research team from Goldsmiths, Queen Mary University of London, and Bath University, audio engineers, music producers and musicians with visual impairments, designers and makers worked together making, hacking and modifying instruments,music and gadgets was their thing.

They didn't make the HapticWave in one go.They held lots of workshops, generated lots of ideas, designs and makes. They used participatory design, a way of designing where the ultimate users help decide what the problem is, what is needed and help come up with the design itself.

The team videoed each workshop, so they could look back at things people said and did, using a shared design notebook to write up their work, with photos, notes and diagrams, like a huge multimedia scrapbook. Everyone added their ideas and made comments. No idea was unimportant. Nothing was lost.

At first they worked to understand the problems audio engineers with visual impairments had when working with sound. They designed 'dream boxes' of ideas of how to overcome the problems, inspiring everyone to come up with even more ideas. The big idea they hit on was to 'touch a waveform', and they took that idea forward.

Their big idea was being able to touch a waveform

Next they made a prototype. They didn't spend ages working things out, they just got stuck in. It was a DIY prototype. They used second hand things like, old mixing desk parts, old computers and old scanners. They even used sticky tape to hold it together.

Then they had another workshop, where the audio engineers tried using it and again they were videoed and their ideas recorded. More people were then called in to help make the next version. Materials experts helped decide what to make it from. Specialists in human computer interaction helped to design the best possible interface between the technology and the users. This is a crucial part of developing computer solutions, people just won't use technology if it's too complicated or tricky to use.

It was a truly collaborative project, where problems, ideas, dreams, prototypes and expertise was shared. Prototypes were made, trialled and changed over and over again until the solution was just right for the users. Everyone was involved, every voice heard.

DePIC is funded by EPSRC on research grants (EP/J017205/1 and EP/J018120/1): see depic.eecs.qmul.ac.uk