We started by thinking about the next new app we could create to facilitate stronger communication in our communities. However, why create an app when there are thousands being created these days? We decided to engineer a physical product, believing that tangible items will produce more connections amongst people. This led to us brainstorming more fun ideas, and what better fun is there a friendship/love finder? Since we also started building this on Valentine’s day, we thought it would be a good idea to pursue it. Thus the birth of our DownToFrnd device.
What it does
The DownToFrnd device comes with its app and together is a product that will lead you to your next new friend or love partner. How does it work? After you log in and answer our carefully chosen questions on our site, your responses will be calculated with our algorithm that will find other users that are most compatible with you. By wearing this device, when you are outside and are physically close to someone who is very compatible with you, the device will start to vibrate in the direction of that person. Once you are within 2 feet of that unique person, the device will start to vibrate all around and signal that you are extremely close to your person. The user can also change their settings on their account, whether they are seeking for a friend or for love.
How I built it
For the neck device, we laser cut an acrylic piece to what we wanted our form to be, and then used a hot air guns to curve this band. Then we attached small vibration motors onto the neckband in 4 directions to signal to the users where to navigate. To connect the vibration motors, we soldered wires into them to make them longer. The motors could now be easily connected using alligator clips connected to an Arduino. The two Arduinos would communicate when they got in close enough range and lead the two people closer together using the haptics in the neckband.
Challenges I ran into
Before using Arduino, we were using Adafruit Circuit Playground Express and we successfully got two of them to communicate with each other through infrared signals. However, we later realized that the current from the Adafruit was insufficient to power the vibration motors (we needed 9mA but we only got 1mA). As such, we had to quickly migrate what we had over to Arduino.
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
We are a very diverse team, with half of us being freshman and half of us being sophomores. We had a design major, an Information Systems Major and 2 Electrical and Computer Engineering Majors. Prior to this, none of us knew each other, and we all had to learn arduino and rapid prototyping together. We are very proud of our ideation process. We made sure that we really focused on people centered problems, and tried to figure out a novel way to connect people, without creating a system that makes us less present in the day. We were able to iterate through 4 different neckband designs, as well as deeply diving into 2 different hardware platforms including the the ESP-8266, the Adafruit Circuit Playground Express, before finally using the Arduino Uno. We were able to learn about web-hooks, infrared communications, as well utilizing sensors that we have never used before.
What I learned
We advanced our knowledge of Adafruit Circuit Playground's uses and communication methods. In addition, we gained experience using Arduinos to communicate and detect direction such as learning about XBees, Magnetometers, and ESP8266s. Some members of the group also learned to solder, crimp wires, and use a laser engraver for the first time. It was a great journey even though our outcomes was not exactly as planned.
What's next for Down to Friend
There are various things that we would love to improve on. For example, connect our device to an actual GPS that would be able to track people in farther distances. We could also improve on the exterior of our product and make the hardware components less visible and more comfortable to wear. Interesting future ideas for our project would be to create functions for people to find others with a specific interest or for career building in addition to making new friends or love partners.