Sound Design project - 9 days project

Umeå Institute of Design - Work in Progress

Team members:
Nikolaj Roadley-Battin
- Interaction Design
Jens Rehammar
- Advanced Product Design



We were asked to identify a product where the sound interface and characteristics are lacking or of a poor quality. Working with both the physical form and the audio form, we focused on current fire alarm systems. After analysing the sounds these alarms produce today we are currently discussing how these could be improved and how the form can relate to the new sound design.

In collaboration with master students form the Advanced Product Design programme at UID, we are developing a full-size form prototype that features light and sound effects.



We identified that current implementations of fire alarms lack useful information and instructions in the advent of a fire. It sets people in distress without actually allowing constructive guidance. That is why we envision a networked fire alarm system targeting the use in public buildings. It consists of several units that are installed at the ceiling. When smoke is detected, they serve as a directional trail: The closest unit to the fire source lights up red and emits an iconic sound representing the fire. The other units indicate the shortest path to the safe exit door. They do so with an orchestrated interplay of light and sound.


Exploration and User Testing

We prepared an interactive floorplan representing a library. By placing microprocessor controlled LEDs, we were able to prototype the networking behaviour of the alarm units, discussing the lights' behaviour - both individual (hue, fading) and as part of the system (rhythm, pattern). Furthermore, we used the floorplan for user testing to inquire how people would interpret our design.

This project's core lies in sound development for products. In the case of the fire alarm, we have three diferent sounds. 1) Icon sound representing the fire, 2) icon sound guiding the path away from the fire source (this sound is emitted directionally), 3) icon sound representing emergency exits, 4) an ambient fire alarm sound. Which of the sounds is being triggered, depends on the unit's position in the building. After beat boxing our first sound ideas, we moved to GarageBand and Adobe Audition for defining and optimising the sounds.

To get feedback on our sound designs, we staged the implementation of the networked alarm units in a Wizard-of-Oz manner: Users were placed in the middle of a room. With directional speakers we produced the sounds coming from different sides of the room. Turns out, the directionality to guide users to the emergency doors was well perceived. Some of the sound qualities need further improvement.



To define the form of the alarm unit, we used hard foam to get the expression and proportions right. The next steps from here involve vacuum forming the outer shell of the product. The electronics will be housed by the shell, some milled elements will provide structure. Currently, I am working on the hardware setup built around Arduino as the platform. I will use neopixel LED strips and the Rogue audio shield. The latter will allow us to play the different sounds from the onboard SD-card, triggered by a remote control. The prototype will be mounted on the ceiling for presentation to allow a live demonstration of its features. A story video will explain the usage scenario.