Tatchi is a gaming platform that allows individuals who are sighted and individuals who are visually impaired to play together, because it communicates information through texture and sound rather than imagery.
Tatchi was built for 2.009 (The Product Engineering Process), MIT's senior Mechanical Engineering Capstone. I had two roles on our team: leading user testing and designing how we presented our product to the rest of the class. Through this project I learned a lot about prototyping, human centered design, and public speaking, but above all I learned about the importance of good communication on a multidisciplinary team.
2.009 is a class about working on a team to develop a product. In the first week, we elect Project Managers who lead meetings and assign roles to each member as the course progresses.
The course has three major milestones in the second half of the course that are each three weeks apart:
Assembly Review: This is where you should demonstrate that the technology behind your device is viable.
Technical Review: This is where you should implement your technology into a working beta-prototype.
Final Review: This is where you present your polished product to a crowd of 1000+ people.
Our first product idea was a sight guide that allowed people who are blind to feel pictures. After some testing, we determined the types of pictures that were easiest to understand were bold, high contrast lines. We decided to allow people who are blind to “see” by creating a device that vibrates when over black ink. We developed simple prototypes with blue foam to test forms and eventually installed raspberry pis to test the concept.
Preliminary user testing taught us that this method made it difficult for people who are blind to interpret images and that this concept didn’t have meaningful applications in educational contexts. We also learned that people who are blind lack ways to socialize with sighted people. This led us to a new problem to solve.
I presented these findings to my team and advised that we pivot hard and find a new problem to solve. Reluctant to abandon the progress we’d made, my team decided to continue to pursue the same technology in a new context.
Concerned about the viability of this game for our target demographic, I scheduled interviews with the Perkins School for the Blind and a Rik Eberhardt, a designer at the MIT game lab. These two discussions revealed many findings which are outlined in this document, but among the most important were:
1. Abstraction is very difficult for people who are blind, especially people who are blind from birth. They understand objects via how they touch them they might interpret a car as a seat belt because they interpret meaning based on the part they feel; they wouldn’t describe a car as the shape of a car or something with four wheels because it’s outside their experience. Because drawing relies on abstraction, my team’s current game would be nearly impossible for our target audience to enjoy.
2. Each element of a game needs to be fun on its own. Successful social games are often toys with a game component. E.g. Beyblades, miniatures/figures, minigames in mario party, etc. If we want this to be a product they have long term engagement in, younger kids like simple mechanisms, and older kids like more social aspects to things. This means that if our vibrating sight guide wasn’t fun to use on its own, the game as a whole wouldn’t be fun either.
The results of these interviews were further corroborated in the feedback we received in our Technical Review. Our mentors found the device difficult and unpleasant to use. Needless to say, everyone was feeling quite discouraged. We only had three weeks to pull together our final product, and we apparently had to start from scratch.
Our team captains were especially discouraged. They had difficulty uniting our team towards one goal and even more difficulty figuring out what that goal should be. I created an outline and sent it to our captains explaining how I thought we should proceed to be successful. I told them I hoped it was helpful but ultimately the direction of the team was up to them. It said
1. We must identify our user group. Given the research we’ve done so far and the testing groups we have access to, I’d argue our user group should be both people who are sighted and people who are blind.
2. We need to figure out the problem we want to solve.I suggest that we create a game that is fun for people who are sighted but gives no advantage based on sight alone. This way we can test it with each other and market it as something that is friendly for those who are visually impaired as well.
3. We need to decide on a specific implementation. I suggest that we brainstorm in small groups and come up with fleshed out ideas that meet the two guidelines listed above.
Grateful for my help, they ended up using this agenda in the meeting that shaped the direction of our team going forward. I worked hard that meeting to make sure everyone on our team felt heard and was on board with the direction we were going. Without full support, there would be no way we could finish a full product in the three weeks we had left.
Tatchi is a gaming platform that can be played by both sighted and visually impaired individuals. A gaming platform is like cards or a video game console - it can support various games or rules but the devices are the same. Tatchi comes with a few games built in but allows users to install their own games to play as well. For the final review, I helped with UI/UX decisions, gameplay, and branding. I also wrote designed the slides and wrote the script for our final presentation.
Tatchi features three elements: the tiles, the centerpiece, and the shield.
The tiles feature laser etched patterns that allow the user to determine their orientation using touch rather than sight. They are each embedded with an RFID chip giving each one a unique identity that cannot be seen.
The centerpiece is able to read the RFID values of each chip and play them through a speaker. It also features embossed buttons that are easy to identify by touch and allow the user to navigate through the settings.
The shield is used to keep each player’s hand secret; it hides the orientation of tiles from other players to limit the advantage of sighted players.
You can access the final presentation slides here.
Collaborators: Pelkins Ajanoh, Jeremy Bogle, Greg Cartagena, Yasmin Chavez, Emily Damato, Andres Galindo, Liza Gaylord, JD Heyns, Ishan Meswani, Lucia Liu, Eric Ponce, Jana Saadi, Donovan Sienkiewicz, Mary Thielking, Josh Woodard, Anika Yasmin
All photos on this page taken by Lucia Liu