Gil Sperling

video, stage and music

Week 3 – Observation

September 25, 2019 by gilsperling

Observing a piece of interactive technology

The first object I chose were the automatic sinks/hand dryers in the Brooklyn campus bathrooms.

I observed the men’s bathrooms on floors 4 and 2 of 370 Jay St. and at the ground floor of 6 Metro Tech. In the bathrooms at the new building everything is sensor-operated – water faucets, soap dispensers, towel dispensers and hand dryers. The 6 Metro Tech bathroom has manual faucets, with hot/cold water control, something that has been dispensed with in the newer bathrooms. That is an important functionality to lose, especially with how cold the water in New York gets in the winter. I can see how implementing a touchless temperature selector would complicate the system, but solutions must be out there. The most elegant one I could think of is to have the system sense the angle where the hands are placed relative to the faucet. Hands on the right = cold, and the water gets diverted in that direction; hands in the center = lukewarm, the water flows straight down; hands on the left = hot, etc. More expensive, probably, but wouldn’t it be fun!

sketch of a faucet that directs water in different temperatures to where hands are placed in the sink

Beyond that, the interaction is tuned fairly well. Using the touchless equipment worked pretty much flawlessly for all users. The only noteworthy observation I had was that most men in my sample don’t use soap when washing their hands after using the bathroom, and I don’t think it’s the fault of the soap dispensers.

As there was not much to report, I sought a second piece of interactive technology – the beverage machine at the student cafeteria at 6 Metro Tech.

This machine consists of a touch screen where the user selects the beverage and then places the cup under the faucet, pushing a lever that releases the drink.

a hi-tech soda dispenser
a hi-tech soda dispenser

In comparison with the old dispensers where each type of soda requires its own faucet, this system allows to reduce size and increase the selection. It also seems to have made it quicker and more popular to mix drinks – using one hand to switch beverages while holding the cup in place with the other hand.

a touch screen with over 15 circles indicating different beverage choices

Keeping the mechanical sensor for the cup, as opposed to switching to an optical sensor, was a smart choice. The physical feedback from the lever gives the user much more control over the flow of the drink.

Almost all the users I observed had a very easy time – but I sensed that they had already become experienced with the interface. When an outside contractor – older than the students – came looking for water, I directed him to the dispenser. He put his cup under the faucet and got lemonade, which was what the last user had chosen. The system doesn’t reset itself, and there’s no clear indication on the screen of which beverage is selected. So some training is required.

Posted in Fall '19 - Introduction to Physical Computation |

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