For all of its promising ideas and potential, Google Glass can, at best, be summed up as a noble failure. In trying to appeal to as broad of an audience as possible, the resulting device offered little in the way of real world utility. But there were lessons to be learned, and those paying attention are iterating.
This was the starting point for the experience design firm Method when it set out to design the Vivi headset. Working with Bay Innovation, a startup launched by two anesthetists, the wearable is designed to instantly deliver info such as vitals to doctors as they operate. Method understood it couldn’t just shoehorn its functionality into a product built for general use, but rather had to build the product around the existing habits of its intended users.
The first thing you might notice about Vivi is its simplicity. Made of plastic and designed to clip onto a headband, it’s a far cry from many of the the slickly-designed wearables you see today. But that’s largely intentional. In conceiving Vivi, Method’s designers considered using Google Glass, but noticed that most surgeons already wore glasses and headbands in the operating room, and thus wanted to craft a solution that could stay out of the way. When you’re using it, the diminutive device pops over one eye; when you don’t need it, it swivels up and out of the way.
But the most important thing about Vivi is not what you see on the outside, but what you see when you look into it. With that in mind, the wearable is designed to clearly deliver the most crucial information at exactly the right moment, able to connect to medical equipment via Bluetooth to transmit the data. A small, 8-bit-esque display, which you can configure to your liking via a smartphone app, is able to display vitals for things like breathing and heart rate, and is designed to deliver nothing but the most crucial information.
“Showing them just the core data that they need to see and notifying them if something that has changed—if nothing’s changed that’s OK,” explains Method CTO David Rajan. “But if the blood pressure’s dropped, you need to know that and you need to know quickly. What the device does is tell you that you need to look at the monitor now. Something’s happening…go intervene. Which is different than just putting a big screen in front of someone.”
Method believes the simple, monochrome display will go a long way towards allowing people to quickly discern what’s going on when they peer into Vivi. Talking about the design process for Vivi, Vivi’s Lead Interaction Designr Neil Usher noted that the most challenging part was figuring out how to visually present this information.
“It was about figuring out how to convey a huge amount of info in such a small amount of space,” says Usher. “It can’t distract the wearer, and can’t add to the cognitive load, so the question was how do you use such a simple display to deliver the right information at exactly the right time without a prompt?”
But Vivi isn’t designed to replace the other visual instruments in an OR as much as it’s meant to streamline the process. It’s more of a companion. Surgeons can get the gist of things without having to constantly look away from the operating table, and if a critical situation arises, doctors can look to other screens for more detailed information.
“They already have the screen, but operating theaters can be quite busy and messy places with lots of screens and lots of people doing different jobs who aren’t necessarily stationary,” says Rajan. “So you have to keep the space clear for people to go to work on the patient, and often the screens aren’t in the right location to get a good line of sight…the problem in a sense was to manage this.”
Devices like this may also go a long way towards proving a point that products—especially ones which are a part of emerging categories—need not do it all. By restricting Vivi’s functionality to a few interactions catered around the medical field, doctors don’t need to awkwardly swipe or shout at it. And by starting with a narrow focus on what head mounted displays can do, it could allow people to become more familiarized with the technology before using it down at the corner café.
That said, Method sees more for Vivi than just a place in the medical field. While its main focus will be in the health care industry, the path to regulation will take a long time, and Rajan wouldn’t be surprised if Bay Innovations looked to launch the product in the sport or wellness industries, noting potential use cases for cyclists, runners, and rowers.
“Sport is possibly one of the first places where the product could achieve some market penetration and success,” says Rajan. “If you’re talking about cyclists, they often have Tom Tom and Garmin [GPS devices] and have to look down. Runners are also always looking at their watch to see if they’re making their performance target.”
And while the company says that it will be able to offer Vivi for considerably less than other head mounted displays, it still does not have a firm idea for the price range, or release date. Time will tell if this promising idea can rise up where previous wearables have stumbled.