Overview

In the middle of March, hundreds of millions of Americans found themselves in a strange, unfamiliar situation. They were suddenly forbidden to go to work, to travel abroad, to visit their friends and family, or even to buy groceries. Thousands of companies were forced to convert their office spaces to virtual conference rooms. For many, the COVID-19 pandemic was their first real encounter with video conferencing and working remotely.

Most people found themselves in a crowded, noisy environment, having lost access to secluded office cubicles or quiet libraries. With these big changes in mind, our team focused on making the American employee’s remote work experience as efficient and focused as possible.

We wanted to create a product that helped those in the workforce stay on-task, and we also felt it was important to boost workers’ self-confidence. So, the BrightMic was our solution to the work-from-home dilemma – combining all of an employee’s needs into a sleek, portable, and low-cost device.

The Team

Steven Hiatt (Project Manager, Senior studying Marketing @ IUPUI) Steven scheduled and led the internal and external group meetings. He created and maintained the project agenda list which covered what tasks needed to be accomplished each week as well as who was responsible for each task. He also was responsible for creating a survey that was used for customer segmentation analysis.

Sinduja Thati (Data Analyst, Junior studying Data Science, Management Minor @ Purdue University) Sinduja was responsible for analyzing the survey to develop the business strategy and marketing for the product. She cleaned up and analyzed the survey data using Python and Jupyter Notebook and used her statistical models to help create value proposition models and customer personas.

Sophie Braun (Designer, Sophomore studying Visual Communication Design @ Purdue University) Sophie collaborated with the rest of the Go Team to put together the business model, and later designed and formatted the final presentation & documents in addition to developing the product’s branding.

Brett Ladewig (Hardware Development, Senior studying Computer Engineering @ Valparaiso University) Brett was responsible for the development of the physical product. Using Texas Instrument launchpads, C coding language, and graphical coding, he wrote the code for the three major functions of the BrightMic.

Customer Segment, Problem, and Solution

During the first week of the challenge, our team’s conversations kept coming back to the idea of directly, tangibly improving the average employee’s workday. According to a recent Comscore study, Americans spent six billion minutes video conferencing in May 2020 alone – conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams saw an 800%-1000% increase in use over the past year (May 2019 vs. May 2020). With all that time spent on video calls, visual and audio problems have only become more apparent and widespread.

We knew we wanted to create a physical product, something consumers could buy in-store or online without worrying about compatibility with their existing collaboration tools or having to deal with yet another plugin or complicated software. BrightMic is portable and easy to use, requiring only a USB connection and a few square inches of desktop space. These past few months, a lot has changed, but we’ve designed something that creates stability and fortitude. The BrightMic is the solution for anyone facing a strange new workplace – the apartment-turned-office, the bustling coffee shop, a last-minute video call, and anywhere or anytime you need it.

Once we confirmed that we wanted a hardware product to help facilitate a better video conferencing experience for work-from-home employees, we decided to create a survey to see if the product would meet an unsatisfied customer need. We created a Qualtrics survey and added questions that would help us define our customer segmentation in regards to demographics as well as video and audio quality ratings. We shared our survey with our peers through social media and asked our coaches to send the survey to their colleagues as well. With a wide diversity of people, ranging from students to full-time employees, we wanted to gain deeper insight into what people think about our idea and what their problems with working from home due to COVID-19 would be.

The Solution

During the design of the product, one of the biggest hurdles was the time frame. That being said, the team wanted to come up with a product that was realistic, useful, and valuable. This is where the idea for an improved professional video chat was conceived. In the development of the BrightMic the team utilized a Texas Instrument Microcontroller as well as a Digital Signal Processing board. Along these, there was two software that was utilized in development. These were Code Composer Studio and SigmaStudio. These programs were used to upload the code to the boards as well as run them for testing.

How We Built It

In order to implement the solution, two prototype boards were used - an Analog Devices DSP board and a Texas Instruments MSP430 Microcontroller. For implementation, all the audio is being processed by the DSP board and the light and timer are being controlled by the MSP430.

In regards to the development of the product, two approaches were used. The audio was adjusted using graphical coding. Through this, we implemented a series of filters that will isolate the desired voice.

For the light and the timer that is implemented, the MSP430 is used. This was coded in C, which makes this able to be expanded upon. While the timer utilized the onboard LCD, the timer is controlled by an external potentiometer

Tools, Libraries, & Frameworks

Hardware Elements

  • TI MSP430FR6968
  • Analog Devices Digital Signal Processing board

C Libraries for MSP430

  • myLCD Library - enables the use for the onboard LCD
  • Vector interrupts - enable the user to use the input buttons at any time without having to wait for the next clock cycle

Key Software

  • Code Composer Studio - How the C code was drafted, debugged and uploaded to the MSP430
  • SigmaStudio - A graphical coding software that allows users to create a simulated circuit for audio processing.

Key Product Features

5-Setting Strength Noise Canceling - have the choice to choose different strength noise cancellation based on your different work environments (1 Weak - 5 Strong).

Customizable LED Light - dedicated knob for determining brightness for the LED light.

Customizable Audio Input - dedicated knob for determining how loud you want to sound during video conferencing.

Timer - Easily adjustable alarm that can be set up to 120 hours

USB input - Plug the product into your computer

3.5mm AUX input - Plug in your current headphones that you may use for video conferencing, but still receive the benefits of the BrightMic’s noise cancellation.

Survey & Marketing Strategy

Analyzing the data helped us determine the actual need for our product and confirm a feasible marketing strategy. With a little over 50 responses from the survey, we were able to confirm that full-time employees who have been working from home for a longer period of time had a higher need for a product to better improve their video and audio quality during conferences than students who are currently interning or hold a part-time job. When comparing the mean for the overall results (3.66/10.0), versus the mean of full-time employees (4.15/10.0), there was around a 10 percent increase in the need for the product. There was also a coefficient of variation of 1.377, which indicates that there is high variation, and the data is quite spread out, meaning that people’s responses were not swayed too high in either direction. However, having the seventy-fifth percentile being 6.5, there is a noticeable right skew, meaning that there is more of a desire for the product amongst full-time employees who have been working-from-home for more than 3 months than not.

In the value proposition model and customer personas, we look deeper into the needs of our target audience and it becomes easier to validate our marketing strategy and success rate for our product. Our 3 customer personas represented the three main groups of people that filled out our survey: students, employees, and employers. We were able to take their feedback and portray that into each profile. By addressing problems such as external noises, bad lighting, and overall difficulty with the work-from-home transition due to COVID-19, we were able to show customers and employees how BrightMic can help resolve these issues. Including a “How We Help” portion inside each customer profile helps clarify our usage of BrightMic and displays our purpose for how this product can truly improve your work-from-home environment.

Once our customer segments were identified, it is valid to say a B2B marketing strategy will come in our favor for the success of our product. Having a company buy our products in bulk for their employees will establish quality video and audio standards and keep the work-from-home environment manageable. With only a little above 50 responses, we were able to create our market, but hopefully in the future, with more surveys and a higher number of people from our target audience taking the survey and physically using our product, we can further confirm the success rate.

What We'd Do Next

  1. Our goal for BrightMic was to make a device that optimizes the user's video conference experience. We would want to look into additional features that could be added to the device to further enhance the user experience such as a built-in wifi extender, an ethernet port, an HDMI port, and a microphone array.

  2. We would want to conduct follow up surveys on seeing the interest for our finalized BrightMic concept. It would be very valuable to hear as much feedback as possible on the concept.

  3. We would look further into the financial, sourcing, and supply chain aspects of producing the BrightMic. This would allow us to produce a more detailed and definitive business plan.

  4. We would look into creating a draft of the BrightMic website. This would be essential for the product and the business to have an online presence. This would help us build better relationships with our customers.

Our Biggest Hurdle

Each team in the challenge was designed to have several Go and Pro teammates in order to keep the workload balanced. Within the first week of the challenge, two of the team members dropped out, so our team had to make significant adjustments to each of our roles. We all took on more responsibilities, as we’d lost valuable people from both production teams. Brett worked independently on designing, building, and presenting the physical product, while the rest of the team often needed to step out of our areas of expertise to bring the project together.

Conclusion

Despite the ongoing pandemic and the loss of one-third of our original team, we worked together to create a marketable product, assemble customer profiles based on the results of a survey we produced and distributed, and began laying out the marketing & branding for a multifunctional, unique new product.

As we approach the end of the project, we are really proud of how the team saw the loss of two members not as a waving white flag, but as an opportunity for each of us to make the most out of the situation. We were successful in completing the project on time, and we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this without each team member holding themselves to a high level of accountability and commitment.

Click here to access a Google Drive folder with our slide deck, abstract, and all other files.

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