Ready Player One but for the Elderly

Each Team Member’s Name and Role(s):

  • Tuan: Product Design.
  • Sulaiman: Problem and Solution Developer.
  • Ahmed: User Research and Design.
  • Umair: Design Research Results and Themes.

Problem and Solution Overview:

Based on our early research, we found that many elderly people suffer from loss of sense of self, the inability to socialize with other people and depression. These issues stem from many different factors such as ageism, health-related setbacks, and the fact that many elderly people spend their old age living in nursing homes. The pandemic has intensified these factors as many of the activities which they were participating in prior to the pandemic have now been deemed unsafe. Our goal for this project is to design a technology that can help the elderly experience and benefit from real life social interactions from the comfort of their homes. They can connect with people worldwide and engage in entertaining but fruitful conversations.

Design Research Goals, Stakeholders and Participants:

Given that we wanted to allow the Elderly to socialize and pursue hobbies effortlessly, we decided to create a survey to best reach our target audience. The survey had two subsets of questions, one aimed towards the elderly and the other towards the non-elderly. The idea in mind was to find out what each subset thinks of the other and how they wanted to socialize and what they are truly trying to get out of socializing with others. This key piece of information proved vital in shaping and narrowing down our design.

We had originally aimed to conduct in-person or virtual interviews with some elderly people, but due to the current pandemic, we aren’t able to do that. Instead, we sent out surveys to elderly homes and asked them to fill the surveys out. We also looked at online forums and pages where the elderly or people who are around the elderly might be. This online route proved useful as we were able to collect responses from people, Elderly and otherwise, from around the world, which helped us take many opinions and perspectives into consideration.

Design Research Results and Themes:

There were a few themes that emerged when doing our design research. For example, we sent out a survey to both elderly and non-elderly people asking them about their hobbies, how they spend their time, how tech savvy they are, and other information pertaining to how useful they would think the idea of technology would be for them. In that survey, we observed that the majority of the elderly people were not big fans of games, but preferred activities such as staying in, reading, or going out to the park. The average familiarity with technology was around intermediate, but this could possibly be due to a sampling error. Since the survey was done online, it is possible that only those people responded that were already familiar with technology.

We also collected responses from younger people, prompting them to think about how technology could be a potential solution to the problems that elderly people have. Most young people responded stating that the elderly people that they know are not very well-versed with technology. However, a common issue observed was that most young people said that boredom was a big issue for the elderly people that they knew, and that most of them want to socialize with their families and new people more. Essentially, elderly people feel slightly disconnected from the rest of society, through which they also lack a sense of challenge and mental stimulation. However, we found through our research that young people think that technology could be used to tackle all of these issues, given that the technology is easy enough to use.

Proposed Design:

From what we learned in our user research study, it is clear that the two main components we should try to tackle in our design is:

1) Providing a way for the elderly to enjoy leisurely activities they wish to do but currently could not.

2) Make sure that whichever technology we end up using will be easy to pick up and master.

With those constraints in mind, here is our proposed design. We will be designing a virtual social gathering space that exists in virtual reality (VR), with a port to PC.

Sketch of VR UI for how users can decorate their room, with contacts and furniture selections

Within this social gathering space, each user will have their own living quarters that they can freely customize, invite friends and family over to interact with as well as the ability to make it public so anyone can join.

The image on the left shows simple U.I mock-ups for ways users can decorate their room and look up other users in their contact.

The top image represents what the users can do in VR and the bottom represents what it would translate to on a personal computer.

Our hope is that VR will have controls that can mimic real life interaction well enough so that it will be easy to pick up. Allowing the program to run on a PC will enable users who cannot use PC to also try our product.

In addition to the customizable living quarters, each users’ quarters will have an elevator that will automatically connect users to a larger gathering hub. This decorated hub will serve mainly as a place for users to interact with one another, imagine a place like a mall or a stadium. In addition, this hub will also have exit doors that will lead users to different activities. Say that a user wants to take a stroll through the streets of Paris, they can easily follow a guided path, picture a yellow-brick road from Wizard of Oz, towards their destination.

This image shows how users could interact with this social hub. First the user hops into VR. They could then interact with their friends, figuring out which activities they want to try. Once that is determined, users can follow a guided arrow to whichever door that activity dictates. Then they can simply enjoy that activity in the comfort of their own home.

Storyboard of users meeting up with their family in VR with options such as tennis, going to the park, golf, and bingo along a hallway

For the future of this technology, we hope to enable third-party developer support which will enable other users to create their own renditions of exciting places to visit and explore. Perhaps one day, we all could actually bring Ready Player One into reality.

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CSE 440 Staff

University of Washington Computer Science, Intro to Human Computer Interaction