Sensebar

About
Led the design and prototyping for an accessible game controller to enable players with handicaps to better play video games. For two months during my master's program, I worked together with a software developer.
Results
Awarded Best Graduate Research Project at Indiana University's Fall 2015 Research Symposium
Our Prototype
Introducing Sensebar
Sensebar is an accessible video game controller designed to empower players with physical handicaps to better play video games.
Pressure Based Sensors
Sensebar uses pressure sensors to allow players to apply any amount of pressure to trigger a button press.
Keybind Mapping Supported
Sensebar has a keybind mapping tool to allow players to map any button to any keyboard input.
Design Process
Exploring opportunity spaces
For class, we used CHI 2016's prompt for inspiration, it focused on "doing good" by creating assistive technologies. So naturally, our team chose to focus on video gamers since we were both gamers at heart.

Our team conducted secondary research and discovered:
  • 20% of the casual video game audience suffers from a physical disability
  • These users get creative when trying to play video games
  • There are very few accessible game controllers on the market
We then interviewed Hamid Ekbia (an expert in video game therapy) and learned:
  • Everyone's disability is unique, it's hard to standarize therapy
  • Gaming can help regain lost ability in hands and arms
CHI 2016 logo, the design challenge we were solving for
Idea Generation and Sketching
After realizing that we wanted to help disabled game players, we started brainstorming and realized there are many disabilities that impair gaming. We created a mind map to organize our ideas into form factor categories and then sketched a few of these ideas:
  • Stress ball controller - a ball that fits around a hand, detecting the squeezing of each finger for inputs
  • Sense rings - rings go around each finger, and movement of each finger is detected as an input
  • Sensebar - a flat square that fits in your lap, has spread out buttons, relies on pressure sensors for input
We pitched these ideas to our class and received feedback. We ultimately pursued the sensebar because it was the most feasible to prototype in our time frame and it also could a higher volume of disabled gamers compared to the other ideas.
Idea generation through sketching
Prototyping
In order to build something that used pressure sensors, we needed hardware. We scrounged up an Arduino Uno, 11 Flexiforce Pressure Sensors, a case, and basic electronic components.

Next, I started wiring up the sensors to the Arduino. Which let us to discover that there are actual limitations with using an Uno. We would need to write an interpretor for the key presses, which caused some issues:
  • Signals travels from Hardware (Uno) to USB. Software picks up the signal (Java/Python) and sends the signal back to the Hardware. Thus, causing a processing delay, which makes incredibly hard to use.
  • Due to this delay there will be clocking issue at the console/laptop when the user holds down the key for a long time.
To overcome this we opted to use the Arduino Leonardo because it had a built in library for accessing the keyboard from the controller. Next, to make the sensebar more accessible, we developed a keybind mapper and sensitivity software using python. This enabled the customization of keys and adjustment of sensitivity for buttons.
All of the various tools used to create the prototype
Test Demo
Upon successfully creating the physical prototype, we brought it to our research symposium for a demo. We invited people with physical disabilities to attend our symposium and to try out our new prototype.

This demo shows a player who has a disability with his left hand. The pressure sensors helped reduced the amount of stress on his left hand while he was playing a game.
Video of a physically disabled game player using Sensebar
Final Thoughts
This project allowed me to gain more trust in working directly with software developers. My partner Thanmai deserves a lot of credit, he did a marvelous job of ensuring our prototype was fully functional for the fair.

Not only did he do a great job, he exceeded my expectations! Trust is key when working in the design process. You must let go of your fears and allow your teammates to fully take on their responsibilities.
Thanmai and I holding the Sensebar