User research on the train

We are currently busy with the development of 'Whiskers': objects that remotely connect people in a playful way. We think these means of communication can play a role in the future care of the elderly. The existing alarms just let you know when something is wrong, while this solution starts on the positive side: showing that you are doing well.

It works as follows. An elegant object with a long reed will find its place in your living room. And a friend, son, daughter, neighbour or acquintance also has such a design object at home. By touching the reed, it not only moves at your place, but also at the other end. We now have a working prototype, and I have the honour to test this on location with test persons.

When the prototype was finalised, it traveled with me on the train. That felt a bit weird, as these Whiskers are rather heavy and those long reeds are jumping in all directions. While I was rushing on my heels to get on board of the train, those long antennas were sticking out of my bag. I did not take long before the first remarks were made: "Are you connected yet?" "Yeah, very funny", I thought, and manouvred myself and my Whiskers into a seat. But as soon as the train started moving, the reeds were already hurtling themselves in the direction of my fellow passengers. "Sorry on behalf of the prototype".

Someone in the opposite chair asked: “What is it?” I explained. The idea was well received: "What a nice idea, communicating with movement, never heard of before - but as soon as this becomes a hit next year I will remember I was on the train with you. Where do you work, that you can think up these kind of things?"

And so many people around me were interested in the Whiskers. So much curiosity, I noticed more people were listening in, while the first person let his imagination flow: "Can't we connect them to the free WiFi of the train? I don't know why, but that would be fun, right?" Then, the train inspector made his round and the Whiskers swept in his face. I said sorry, but he did not blink an eye. Other passengers left the train saying: "Nice you brought that along, it gives you something to talk about".

And I said to myself, we should do that more often, user research in the train. People are just sitting around doing nothing, or play with their mobile phones. Everyone spontaneously gave their feedback, shared their experiences while I had so much trouble in finding test persons. Luckily I found a pair of single friends, I hope they are just as enthousiastic as those people on the train!



Helma van Rijn