We were looking for ways to increase the positive impact of technology on senior citizen communities and motivate them to pursue healthier lifestyles. We thought long and hard about how to build an integrated system for seniors that would empower them better than existing digital health solutions, recognizing their ability to improve their own health. After calling our own grandparents for their perspectives, empathizing with the experiences of the senior constituency, and iteratively refining our concept based on what we learned, we determined that focusing on hydration within the context of a communal living situation offered the largest opportunity for impact. The health effects of dehydration are serious, but they are easy to avoid by simply drinking water more frequently. We used an experience design-led approach to develop an integrated community system that would work within existing facilities and amplify positive human factors to improve health. Introducing: Aqualink.
What it does
Aqualink is a smart water fountain paired with personal water bottles. It recognizes users and provides them individual positive feedback to encourage healthy water intake. It is an iteration towards a more human, more connected future in which technology aids society in subtle ways to improve health.
The fountain recognizes when a bottle is placed for fillup, greets the user by name, and provides individualized feedback on water use. Currently these values are hardcoded, but the design calls for expansion to recognize individually tagged water bottles by RFID codes, which the Android phone sensor has the capability to do. Eventually a community progress display will be implemented, leveraging a mechanism by which the healthy habits of the community as a whole can be tracked and tied to real-life rewards, for example, an additional community party or dessert.
How we built it
The team split up into hardware, software and design. Design led the development of the aesthetic and user experience, hardware built the custom water fountain according to iterative feedback, and software implemented the sensor system and Bluetooth communication between the components. A Microsoft Surface is used to power a screen that plays the animations the design team developed for this product.
Challenges we ran into
The primary challenge was building the Bluetooth connection between the mobile device and the computer. We were unfamiliar with Android Studio outside of interacting with it at hackathons, and ran out of time to develop a full Bluetooth protocol for communication. So we went with a minimum viable solution, toggling the Bluetooth transmitter in the phone on and off to signal bottle placement. This provided a simple and effective solution for the proof of concept.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We came together as a team in a big way and had a great time building this solution. We are proud of creating a scalable, design-led solution to what we feel is a significant challenge. On the technical side, iterating to the minimum viable product and getting the wireless and sensing technology to work is something else we're proud of.
What we learned
We learned that there is an acute need to empower elderly people to seek healthier lifestyles. We originally pivoted from building a wearable device designed to remind seniors to do their physical therapy and take medicine to a friendlier, more user-focused product that unobtrusively improves health without limiting itself to the obvious problems and solutions.
What's next for Aqualink
We would love to engage with discussions with retirement communities to see if this product is something they'd be interested in piloting.