The sudden impact wearables design challenge faded from view as the evaluation process took a couple of months. The winners were announced but not widely broadcast and the evaluation results haven't been published, so there isn't much way to recognize what was accomplished. Given that it was a grueling 6 months or work, spending every spare minute on the project, I thought I would summarize accomplishments from my perspective.
This is in no way intended to disparage the evaluation process – I am certain the judges made every effort to pick good evaluation criteria and to judge impartially.
The Challenge - summary
Create a solution that has the following features:
- It should provide vital health information about player / competitor while they are out on the field of play.
- It should be an unobtrusive addition to a usual uniform.
- It should have the ability to communicate via wireless or Bluetooth to a phone app to inform coaches and other supervisory personnel about the health status of the players.
- It should issue alerts when necessary.
- It should be cheap and easily assembled
Assessment was originally to be on accuracy, convenience, cost and durability. After the project concluded these criteria morphed into ambition & sophistication, initial setup, installation, starting & operation, usability, validation of measurements, and cost.
Other requirements included weekly blogging, use of Analog Devices sensors and of course completion by the March deadline. The blogging requirements and deadline were changed a couple of months into the project, probably to encourage participation.
- Providing information while “on the field of play” is an order of magnitude harder than working in a lab. Typically a corporation development team will take a year to get a product working “in the field”. Products need to be built on custom PCBs rather than prototyping cards and enclosures need to be custom designed for the application and the environment. My devices were designed to be manufacturable with custom PCBs and enclosures. I believe my heart sensor and helmet sensor were the only devices in the competition to be demonstrated in real use cases “on the field of play” during the contest period, so definitely a major accomplishment.
- Additionally the sensors generated useful data. The helmet sensor was used in 4 hockey games before it had to be shipped off for independent evaluation, but the data collected in those 4 games was very interesting. I don't think any other contestant device was used to generate useful data from use ”on the field” during the contest. This is even a bigger accomplishment than simply being used in a real sports environment.
- Correlating head injury to helmet impact is a very difficult task – the more one learns about this topic, the more difficult it appears. My blog on the topic is a summary of years of research on head injuries by many people including me. My innovative method of addressing the issue has a lot of underlying science behind it and may be the key to making low-cost helmet-mounted injury sensors as opposed to helmet impact sensors. I feel it is a great accomplishment and one of the truly innovative results of the whole challenge.
- Unobtrusive instrumentation is important in many sports and this requires a significant mechanical design effort, and in the case of the helmet instrumentation, an ambitiously small form factor – I had to learn how to use a mechanical CAD system to achieve unobtrusive, ergonomic, aesthetic devices that still performed well. The ultimate test is will the athlete actually wear the device. This is why I was so ambitious with designing aesthetically attractive housings for both products. When using my device in real hockey games, I received interest from many of the players, even on the opposing teams. My helmet sensor could be mass-produced and mounted as-is on millions of hockey helmets and immediately provide useful information in every game, and would likely have pretty good acceptance by end users. This probably cannot be said of any other device in the contest. Again for me successful mechanical design was a major accomplishment.
- Convenience was also a judging criterion. My use of wireless charging was a unique technique amongst competitors that greatly simplified helmet sensor maintenance, but took significant design effort to integrate in a small form factor – a cool accomplishment that greatly improved ease of use.
- Durability was another assessment criterion and given the nature of contact sports it was an important aspect of mechanical design. My design was tested at relatively high g despite the danger of destroying the device before it could be evaluated by the independent judges. High shock loading is perhaps the most demanding of all product tests, so to have a prototype survive multiple impacts is quite an accomplishment.
- Wireless communications were a requirement, but they are common everywhere so the key for me was to make them low cost. Both the heart sensor and the helmet sensor could be used with any Bluetooth device, even without requiring the android app I developed – a pretty neat accomplishment.
- Cost was an assessment criterion and I kept costs to a minimum – the sophisticated Analog Devices sensors were by far the most expensive components in both the heart sensor and the helmet sensor, but utilizing these sensors was a primary objective. It was essential to plan ahead and work to a tight schedule to keep costs down, as components and PCBs had to be ordered from overseas with associated long delivery times. This concerted effort made the helmet sensor cost competitive with any commercial helmet sensor – a pretty significant accomplishment.
- Alerts were another requirement – my helmet sensor illuminates 4 LEDs upon significant impact, in addition to immediately displaying the impact data on its built-in LCD. My heart sensor and helmet sensors were the only entries in the contest to include a full alpha-numeric display on the device, making external instrumentation optional. And they still managed to be small enough to be wearable and to be very low power. This stand-alone operation is an important feature in real use cases, where cell phones are too fragile and to expensive to be on the field or even on the player bench. So a subtle but important accomplishment.
- Feature for feature my helmet sensor could well be better than the best commercial hockey helmet sensor, including performance. This is definitely a monumental accomplishment for a one-person, shoe-string, multi-disciplinary development.
- Low cost is always important and it was a judging criterion. My designs are optimized for easy assembly using PCBs and optimized for low cost. Even with low volume and expensive sensors these devices are cost competitive with commercial high-volume products. This is a worthwhile accomplishment for me as I had to have several circuit boards made and purchased quite a few components with my own money.
The original rules required a weekly blog. This is a difficult requirement, especially on long projects because it takes significant effort that could be spent on actual development. I had committed to a weekly blog when accepting the challenge and faithfully managed to produce at least one meaningful blog each week, despite the fact that the project deadline was extended, requiring even more blogs. I ended up with about 40 blogs – a pretty good accomplishment.
This requirement was dramatically relaxed after about 12 weeks, presumably because it would have disqualified everyone else from the competition. This rule change helped everyone else but actually hurt me, not only by allowing more qualified entries, but also I wasted time on generating blogs when I could have been developing more and better features.
Another rule that was changed quite late in the project was that the deadline got significantly extended. Again this rule change hurt me and helped all other entrants as I was the only one on track to complete on time. I actually had all aspects fully functional by the original deadline – which was a very major accomplishment.
I am proud of all the multi-disciplinary accomplishments I achieved in this project although of course I'm devastated they weren't scored higher. I aimed as high as I thought I could and still complete the project, but did not anticipate the deadline extension or morphing of assessment criteria. There was no opportunity to respond to the altered assessment criteria as this occurred after the final project submission.
I learned you can focus on and demonstrate great or possibly even superior performance in meeting all of the stated challenge requirements and still get trounced by projects that excel on other criteria that can be introduced after seeing the finished projects.
I am not trying to denounce the process – I appreciate that the judges are trying to do a good job and e14 is trying to make popular challenges – I am just trying to come to grips with how I failed to present a winning project and logically figure out what I might have done to score better. I put far more effort into this project than any school course I ever took, including learning a lot, creating a lot and accomplishing a lot, however the scores and final judging criteria have not been published yet, so it is not apparent if this effort received a passing grade and it is difficult to know how to improve in future projects.