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I'm looking to improve the notifications experience for a heavy duty smart watch that assists people working on maintenance activities in a factory environment (e.g. the room they are in might be getting too hot).

There's been some feedback from users that the notifications can be distracting at times, especially when working in groups as all the staff get the notified at the same time. There's also risks of it distracting the work when using equipment with the same hand as the wrist the watch is on.

What should I be considering when improving this experience? The elements that could possibly be used are sound, vibration and the screen itself.

Note: This solution it's not meant to replace any existing safety systems, but to complement them. The solution is compliant with safety standards and has been running on the customer's site for a few months now. This question is asking how to improve the existing experience as we get feedback from its users.

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    A smart watch is not the place for anything that is critical to safety. If the room needs temperature monitoring or air quality monitoring then it should have those monitors in the room and should sound a (LOUD) alarm if the room needs to be evacuated. This needs to be infrastructure. IoT tech is not the answer to industrial safety. Those can be supplemental but they absolutely cannot replace infrastructure safety systems. Consider consulting an engineering professional.
    – J...
    Dec 21, 2021 at 0:06
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    This solution it's not meant to replace any existing safety systems, but to compliment them. The solution is compliant with existing safety standards has been designed together with engineering professionals and safety experts. The question is geared towards improving the experience as we get feedback from its users.
    – Blue Ocean
    Dec 21, 2021 at 9:14
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    I agree with the comments/answers about a smart watch not being the place for a safety alarm. It may still have a use for pre-warning, to avoid crossing some danger threshold and setting off the real alarms. There would also be a workplace safety culture aspect, but such technology could be used to help a judgement of "will the room overheat if I do one more weld now, or should I work on something else while it cools down?" That would still be an aid to a skilled and trusted operator, and honestly could be done just as well with a large thermometer on the wall
    – Chris H
    Dec 21, 2021 at 9:36
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    It sounds like the whole concept is flawed. In essence, you're blaming your interface for doing what you designed it to do. You're not going to find a way to give a user a notification that they simultaneously notice and ignore.
    – Cronax
    Dec 21, 2021 at 12:55
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    Related :Apple Watch vibrates and shows you next upcoming turn while using maps app for driving and this is extremely dangerous and bad UX. Dec 22, 2021 at 15:53

4 Answers 4

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The problem with a smart watch (one of many, but a specific concern here) is that you have to look at it to see what is going on. In addition to heavy gloves covering it, in which case you have to stop what you are doing and use one hand to (carefully) move the glove on the hand, etc. to see the message, there may be tasks where wearing a watch at all is a problem, in which case you put the watch down (vibration useless, sound possibly muffled, watch forgotten when you walk away) or other problems.

The ideal notifications would be:

  • Infrequent enough (except of course if there really are a lot of things going wrong) to not be unnecessarily annoying. This means ruling out False Positives (which is always a goal) but also picking carefully what should really be worthy of an alarm.
  • Audibly and/or visually really obvious. A smart watch may not have the same audio output as a typical smart phone or tablet, which would make a "beep" enough for you to have to look to find out the rest, where a louder device might be able to have "BEEP BEEP BEEP" followed by "Warning, thermal overload!" (followed 3 minutes later by "Run for your life!"). Similarly, a smart watch's screen could be easily obscured but even when uncovered may be hard to distinguish more than "red alert" vs. "yellow alert" except if you are staring right at it.

If you have to do this via portable electronics (as opposed to systems installed physically in the room - fire alarms, etc. which are well established technology) then I'd think more like a ruggedized smart phone with, depending on personal preference and/or current tasks, mounting it in:

  • A belt holster - minimum risk of damage, keeps it totally out of the way, but an extra motion required to view the screen
  • An arm band - people use these routinely for running, biking and other exercise. Lets you see the device by moving your arm or your head but keeps it far away from your wrist (important if you are working with your hands on dangerous stuff).
  • A neck holder of some sort

And if used in a noisy environment, connect with a Bluetooth one ear headset/earpiece. Not a full headset on both ears - that isn't safe for driving or any dangerous work. But a single ear will let you hear the alert load and clear when you need it without blocking out the rest of the world.

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  • "An arm band" You mean like a Pip Boy from Fallout?
    – Nzall
    Dec 22, 2021 at 16:42
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It sounds like you need to validate whether a smart watch is the right device for most of these tasks. People who need to evacuate a facility in potential life-and-death situations probably need something less ignore-able, like flashing lights and blaring alarms in the workspace.

List all of the tasks that your app is doing now, and decide which ones are best integrated with a wearable device. Validate them with research and really hone in on the tasks that are likely to be used. If you're getting your research findings secondhand, see if you can perform a contextual inquiry with your research team and understand things like how often your users are being interrupted (and when they need to be interrupted).

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    I concur. A smart watch has too many points of failure for life-and-death situation (dead battery, poor wifi, thick gloves, screen glare, etc.). At the same time, isn't "too distracting" exactly what you want in an alarm system? Sounds like the root cause of the issue isn't the devices but false alarms and turning into noise. Dec 20, 2021 at 17:18
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I think you're doing things out of sequence.

A lot of novice developers see a gap in the market and design a product to fill it. Somewhere in between "taking orders at trade shows" and "shipping", they figure they'll tick the "safety certification" box.

And that goes terribly wrong.

You need to come at it from the opposite direction.

  • FIRST examine the safety / certification process and book of rules, so compliance with the safety apparatus is built into the product from its first conception on the back of the bar napkin.
  • SECOND look for a gap in the market that isn't explained by the safety regulations.

Of course people normally do the safety/compliance thing last, because it's harder. Do it first.

Yes, this will have the effect of killing a lot of stupid ideas.

A common, dime-a-dozen example is "home power monitors". If you look at products like Sense, Curb or Neurio, novices to the field think "why not mount the box outside the panel so it can be powered by a wall-wart, take an Ethernet connection and have an on-board display?" They mortgage their house and develop it, then show up at UL at the 11th hour and UL says "you can't do any of that!" So they sell it underground through shady dealers. There are a disturbing number of those.

Safety equipment needs to be safety rated.

The fatal flaw in your plan is using COTS (commercial, cheap, common off-the-shelf) consumer gear like smart phones and watches, as a substitute for specialized hardware. That seems clever enough to make money on. But it doesn't work, because safety equipment needs to comply with a fairly thick book of safety standards.

They don't use Windows XP for the flight controls on the Airbus 320 or for medical ventilators. And they don't use Android OS for fire alarms.

If the alarm is mandatory, a "watch OS" would not be suitable alone, and a hardwired, safety-rated alarm system would be required. Since it is required, the watch device would be redundant. It might be useful for administrative monitoring where the consequence for a mis-signal is nil... but not for safety-critical monitoring.

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  • I've been very underwhelmed by the non-safety situations where somebody decides "Android OS" is a good idea. (I use Android phones - they're great - it is misuse that is the problem). For example, some well known big name postage meters now have a fancy touch screen. But is actually a Chinese (really) cheap Android tablet. It doesn't (as far as I can tell) actually control the real postage (if it does, we're doomed) but it is the only user-accessible interface, and tablets sometimes have...problems. Then there were the coin-counting machines running Windows - again the real work was done Dec 21, 2021 at 2:41
  • by a true RTOS that ran well. But the next level software (which I had to interface with remotely) was running in Windows - and had a LOT of problems that took a long time to (mostly) resolve. Writing good embedded software (actually, good any kind of software) is a non-trivial task. Dec 21, 2021 at 2:43
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I think the answer is two fold:

  1. Ask the watch wearers what would be most helpful to them.
  2. Examine the root cause of past emergencies, injuries, or other errors, and how any of your features might prevent them or improve their outcomes.

Evaluate each of your notifications and other features in light of these two datasets.

Are you doing something that's hindering the wearers or is causing more issues? Eliminate it.

Is there something the wearers are asking for that would improve their productivity or safety? Implement it.

Is there a root cause of an issue that you could eliminate or warn about via the watch? Implement it.

For example, you mentioned temperature monitoring: If individual workers cause heat output, they may see the heat rise first. An extended rise for too long a time, or to too high a temperature (below the emergency threshold) could be warned about via a soft vibration. Enough to give information that it might be time to ease off, rather than to distract everyone with a loud simultaneous notification.

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