Research Snapshot: Measuring vital signs from radio signals

Paper: Smart Homes that Monitor Breathing and Heart Rate [PDF]

Authors: Fadel Adib, Hongzi Mao, Zachary Kabelac, Dina Katabi, Robert C. Miller

Tags: New System, Smart Home, Sensors, Health & Wellness, Bio-sensing, Internet of Things,

Fadel Adib and his colleagues work in the Wireless Lab at MIT (under Dr. Robert Miller). Most of their research utilizes different radio waves and using their reflection to determine the presence of people in an indoor space. But this year, they produced a much higher resolution — Vital Radio — that records respiration rate and heart rate. This is a huge advance for the internet of things and smart homes. Look ma’ no wires!

"In this paper, we ask whether it’s possible for smart homes to monitor our vital signs remotely – i.e., without requiring any physical contact with our bodies.” People can just relax in their homes — note that the technology used here does require they sit or lie down — as they normally would and the system generates highly accurate respiration rate and heart rate data.

The system is highly accurate, with average accuracy rates over 98%. The researchers used consumer grade chest-strap heart rate monitors as their ‘ground truth’ measurements. And they can


Research Snapshot: Twitter's big data infovis

[Note: What you're reading is the first installment of a new series I'm writing at I'm frustrated that the cutting edge academic and industry research from technology domains isn't getting into the hands of product managers and front-line workers. That's because the conferences are expensive and the papers are hard to read. I'm going to boil down cutting edge research in user experience design, interaction design, infovis, and other fields and create short (500 word) posts to help make them relevant to other product designers and product owners. Should be fun, right?!]

Paper: Using Visualizations to Monitor Changes and Harvest Insights from a Global-Scale Logging Infrastructure at Twitter [ PDF ]

Authors: Krist Wongsuphasawat and Jimmy Lin

Tags: New System, Infovis, Big Data, Product Management

Web analytics is about getting the right data to make decisions about your product, your website, or your marketing program. Big data means that you have too much data. So what do we do? Learn from the experts — few companies have got bigger big data than Twitter. Just a note about the scale of the problem — Twitter has thousands of Hadoop clusters which ingest more than 100TB of log files daily (that's not to mention


'Design Thinking' defined

Defining 'design thinking' is difficult because it's full of hype and everyone claims to be doing it. Since it means everything-that-designers-do-today, it basically means nothing. It's generally agreed that it's an interventionist approach (i.e., generative and concerned with improving something) and systems driven. It's a way to move into and potentially through wicked problems.

Here's a definition: 'Design thinking is its own mode of analysis – one that focuses on forms, relationships, behavior and real human interactions and emotions.' - Idris Mootee

From Mootee's 2013 book (this excerpt is probably all you need), here's a list of answers design thinking can address:

  1. How a product, service, system or business currently lives in an ecosystem.
  2. How people interact with the above and the nature, frequency and attributes of that interaction
  3. How the different elements in the ecosystem relate to one another and if any systems-level impact exists.
  4. What other ecosystems exist adjacent to your ecosystem.
  5. How new insights may be gained by looking broadly at communicative events within these ecosystems and how they fit together from a systems perspective.
  6. What the key characteristics and patterns of behavior of new relationships are when viewed from a systems level.
  7. What the patterns

Decide on features carefully - it can save 10x on digital product development

Product teams are always working to weigh their design and development efforts against constraints. It's a fact, there will always be more features than time. So as you frame the features for a digital product or service, you balance the time you spend understanding against how many hours it takes to design and build. You have to have both in order to build a good product. But what's the 'exchange rate' for understanding? Joshua Porter (aka Bokardo) claims that it's about 10 to 1.

It’s not scientific at all but I’m now thinking that:

1 hour of research ~ 10 hours of development time.

Or, in longer terms if more people appreciated how one day of user research can save weeks of coding I think they would do it more. It is remarkable what you decide to not build after talking to a few people closely. And it is remarkable how much you can learn from just asking a few questions or showing a mockup to a couple users.

I feel like 10x is the right multiplier for small UI-centric features. Porter's blog post is about an 'infinite scrolling' UI. So when your decision is about views, controls, or


Gratuitous animations (vol. 648)

Obviously, as graphic design for web has gotten so 'flat' (mere microns of thickness at this point), designers are looking for some other way to use their responsive, flat, parallax, wordpress bootstrapped templates. And if a little animation is good, a lot of animation is even better.

Click over to Beagle to see a one page website morph into a product demo. There is so much stuff flying around the screen it's like an EF1 tornado in Alabama. Beagle is some kind of agency-focused tool for managing and writing proposals in the cloud. Which might not be a terrible idea. But the website is trying too hard by a factor of 10.


Creativity when you're fresh vs. when tired

Some recent studies have noted that people's ability to solve problems depends on the time of day. Of course you've heard that you should get up early and do your biggest, best, and most important things first thing in the morning (a habit I'm already in). But there's some research that runs exactly opposite -- some kinds of problem solving is better when you're fatigued. This is super interesting to me as it combines two trends I'm paying attention to: the science of productivity also the 'cadence' of life's interactions.

I'm really into the rhythms and routines of daily living, both as an observer of the lives we lead and also as a rich resource for design intervention. Daily rhythms can be a powerful place for brands to intersect with life, and for startups to disrupt or just plain eliminate routines that people don't find optimal.

So this research shows that tiredness actually helps creative problem solving (the researchers call this 'insight driven' problems). Tiredness had little to no effect on analytical problem-solving tasks.

Here's the Atlantic's suggested hypothesis to perhaps explain the phenomenon:

The reason might be that solving difficult puzzles often requires overcoming an impasse—which in turn


Is Apple the Next Hermes?

Unless you live under a gargantuan luddite rock, you already know Apple will launch the Apple Watch on Monday, March 9th. And everybody is handicapping how good it’ll be, how many Apple will sell (projections range from 10-30 million, but some are saying even up to 50 million). There was a rumor last week that I saw at that Apple would wind up consuming nearly one quarter of the world’s gold supply, in order to make the high end Apple Watch Edition, which of course will come in solid 18k gold.

All of this got me thinking… What if Apple is a lot more than a technology company?  Asked another way, if the ‘internet of things’ gets going, can Apple become much more than a computer and phone company and profitably produce watches, shirts, couches, desks, kitchen appliances, toys and who knows what else? 

What if Apple is the next Hermes?

Hermes was not always a scarf and tie and beautiful $20,000 ‘Birkin’ bag company. Hermes was founded in 1837 by Thierry Hermès. In the middle 1800s, they created high-quality wrought harnesses and bridles for the carriage trade and they ‘branched out’ into horse saddles