Rather than biodegrading, plastic just gets smaller into microplastics. It is impossible to clean 51 trillion particles, and because of how tiny it is, marine animals often mistake them as food. Now, 100,000 marine creatures die due to microplastic pollution every year. To study the micro-plastic pollution, marine scientists and researchers require large quantity of reliable deep sea samples from varying columns underwater – largely inaccessible for land-based scientists.
To solve this problem, we designed a novel wearable gear that scuba divers could use to collect underwater samples with a companion mobile app that syncs these activities and data to researchers seamlessly.
The Galene Project is completed as part of a graduate course in User Centered Design, in Autumn 2019 over the course of 9 weeks.
01. The Problem
Microplastics—tiny plastic pieces less than five millimeters in size—have largely been studied on the ocean surface because of its accessibility. As more research is done on microplastics, the need for global standardization of sampling methods has been recognized. Land-based scientists have also, in fact, little resources and abilities to access to water and sediment samples off-shore. Many researchers depend on volunteers to gather and collect samples, often a manual and time-consuming process to organize and administer.
To help solve the problem of inaccessible and insufficient sediment samples for micro-plastic pollution research, we adopted a citizen science approach to this problem.
02. Expert Interview
We conducted an interview with Dr Julie Masura in Geoscience department at UW Tacoma. Her fieldwork has expanded to determining the concentrations of microplastics in the waters of the Pacific Northwest. Interviewing a subject matter expert allows us to gain fast access to an unfamiliar research fields. Our questions include: What data is needed for the microplastic research? What is a valid water sample size? What are some of the challenges encountered in current microplastic research?
We discovered that
From these insights, we realigned on the right target users (or ‘citizens’) who possess the right skills, interest and capacity to access underwater, deep sea samples – scuba divers.
03. Contextual Inquiry
We conducted contextual inquiry at the Diver Institute of Technology with Mike Hemion, who is an instructor/dive supervisor that trains professional divers. Visiting a dive center gave us a better understanding of the ‘day of a scuba diver’ and what to look out for when designing a device underwater. We learnt what goes around diving in Washington, including the water condition, pollution, protection in the area.
We learnt that
04. Surveys & User Interviews
We distributed a survey with the goal to find out typical diver’s experience, criteria for choosing scuba gear, their priorities and willingness to contribute to any scientific research in the future. We further conducted 8 interviews with scuba divers from diverse backgrounds. We learnt qualitatively the scuba divers’ motivations to environmental programmes, potential concerns about the sampling device and the sample collection process in detail.
What stood out
04. Iterated Design Question
After distilling the research insights, we refined our design question to focus and scope down on engaging scuba divers. Also, to employ collecting deep sea samples as a means to contribute to microplastic research.
Given a refined design question and the insights gleaned from our user research, user personas were created to represent the motivation and frustrations of our primary stakeholders.
06. Synthesising Findings
We synthesized our insights from the user research, and concluded with the following 3 design principles:
Based on the research insights and principles, here are some of the core design requirements that informed our design.
07. Ideation Sketching
Based on the above design principles, we explored a variety of form and material through 24 sketches. The sketches were created to explore the breadth of our ideas that prioritises on two main components of our solution:
• Underwater data logging device that captures aquatic data linked to the sample collected
• Sediment and water sample collection device that divers use while scuba diving in the deep sea.
3 necessary components
Then we narrowed down to three concept from all 24 sketches. We evaluated based on the design principles and eventually down-selected to one concept that combine S-biner with Foldable Bottle to suit all the requirements.
08. Start Prototyping
Our first hardware prototypes, including the s-biner carabiner, and a sampling device (known as Galene Capsule), were based on our finalized sketches. The physical prototypes are modelled by Rhino and materialized with 3D printing. After that, we assembled the printed prototype with a collapsible cup that was purchased in the market.
Our prototypes consist of a Galene Kit i.e. a S-biner and the Galene capsule, and the Galene mobile application.
The S-biner is a multi-functional carabiner with a screen that sensors and collects aquatic data such as geolocation, time of dive, depth, etc.. The s-biner could be used separately as a simplified dive computer, for divers who do not own one.
The Galene capsule, the sampler, consists of a shovel opening for the easy collection of sediments, with a foldable mechanism to ensure usability underwater. The capsule also has a data tracker and LCD display, which shows the depth and volume level during the sampling process.
09. User Flow & Wireframing
To facilitate the process of sample collection, the Galene App is connect to the Galene devices to find projects nearby, record sample collection and data, and submit them.
10. Usability Testing
The usability of the Galene toolkit and mobile application was tested with 3 participants total. Our selection of participants covered a range of scuba diving experience to ensure that we cover all grounds. Two participants are proficient regular divers one of them has an Advanced Open Water Diver certificate and lifesaver license, and the other participant is a professional diver who has been teaching scuba diving for more than 20 years. One participant is a novice Open Water diver.
Focused on the understandability of the mobile app and the usability of the hardware, 3 main tasks were conducted by the users during the test:
through Affinity Diagramming
Here are several important insights established during the affinity diagramming session after the usability test.