For the latest instalment of our Behind the Scenes blog series, we focus on how Charco has developed the CUE1, from its initial sketches to the device we have today. Tracing Charco’s progress from university project to burgeoning start-up, we take a look at the journey so far.
Learning from People with Parkinson’s
To begin, we travel back to November 2018 when Lucy first made a post on Facebook. Then, Lucy was still a student at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art, and was working on her final-year project. For this project, she was designing technology which could benefit people with Parkinson’s, and wanted to meet and talk to the people who she would be designing for. Among the people who saw the post was Brenda, who happened to be a member of Peterborough Parkinson’s UK. She contacted Lucy, kindly offering her assistance, and offered to introduce her to her support group. Lucy was delighted to have such a positive response! Brenda then introduced Lucy to Ruth, chair of Peterborough Parkinson’s UK, who invited Lucy to join one of their coffee mornings at Dobbies, a garden centre.
This invite was arguably Charco’s first big milestone, and Lucy was nervous to ask everyone for their help and involvement. However, everyone at the group very quickly made her feel welcome, and gave great responses when she shared her vision with them. She explained to them how, when chatting to a man with Parkinson’s in 2013, he told of how he could no longer show much facial expression, due to hypomimia caused by Parkinson’s. This meeting made a huge impact, and from this gentleman’s one comment grew Charco’s mission statement, which has remained unchanged since its inception: to bring back smiles for people with Parkinson’s. Lucy’s sincerity and commitment resonated deeply with the group, and they generously offered to donate their own time, and conduct testing for Lucy’s project.
From this original university project, Lucy made early prototypes which would eventually become the CUE1 as we know it today. Dr Floyd Pierres, Charco’s co-founder, also became heavily involved with the project at this time, giving valuable guidance during these initial stages. Together, Lucy and Floyd were determined to make their idea a reality by any means possible, and many of the early prototypes reflected this. Working from rough sketches, sculpting models out of clay, fiddling with Arduino boards: they used every resource at their disposal. Through this innovative spirit, these prototypes were eventually ready to be used for testing.
Floyd and Lucy met frequently with the eager volunteers at Peterborough Parkinson’s UK, and through this early testing we gradually learnt more and more about what people with Parkinson’s needed. We learnt what the suitable parameters of stimulation were, where the device was best placed on the body, and what form the device should eventually take. This all came through repeated testing, and the tireless involvement of people with and around Parkinson’s who wanted to aid us along the way.
Where We Currently Are
Today, the CUE1 has gone through many changes and refinements. People with and around Parkinson’s have been integral to our progress at every level: people have tried the device, said what they did or didn’t like, and what their needs, wants, and preferences are. This has been hugely impactful. So much of our decision-making is guided by these interactions, and we have made frequent changes to the design based upon the involvement of the Parkinson’s community.
For over a year now, we have been working alongside RPD International to produce prototypes, allowing us to create devices that look and function like our vision. Creating these prototypes requires a lot of collaboration, and we have worked closely with their engineering and electronics teams, to eventually bring the device to people’s hands. A key figure throughout these developments has been Alex, Charco’s Operations Manager. When thinking back over the past year, Alex reflected:
‘It’s been an amazing year at Charco for me, the best part of which has been the opportunity to work alongside some incredibly driven and passionate people within the Charco team, our partners and of course throughout the Parkinson’s community!’
It certainly has 🙂
As part of our development, we held a second round of testing of user-testing. Through this round, we received two major findings. Firstly, we discovered that we needed to add a bumpy texture to certain parts of our design, to make them easier for people with Parkinson’s to grip. This included the drawer, built into the docking station, which contains the adhesives used to attach the CUE1 to a person’s body. This was valuable information, and an important change to be made in terms of accessibility.
Our second finding was more surprising. Though our central aim for the CUE1 is to enable people to manage their symptoms, we also consider user-experience a high priority. With this in mind, we conducted a survey asking people which colour they liked the most for the CUE1. We displayed several colours, ranging from Snow White, to Ghost Grey, To Pacific Blue. When making the survey, we had assumed that Snow White would be the most popular colour, being the most neutral colour.
However, this couldn’t have been further from the truth! People most frequently chose Pacific Blue as their favourite, one of the colours we had thought least likely to prove popular. Indeed, we were so surprised by this outcome, that we decided to conduct the survey again! Yet, again we received the same answer: Pacific was the most popular colour. Though we were surprised that such a strong colour would be the best preferred, we were happy that our expectations had been challenged.
This outcome only served to further underline why conducting surveys, indeed conducting any form of testing, is vitally important. No matter how much the team works on their designs, we are ultimately making something to benefit people with and around Parkinson’s. Following on from this survey, we made the device Pacific Blue, and we are pleased to say that the survey participants could not have been more spot on! Pacific Blue has proven to be the perfect colour, and the CUE1 looks better than ever. As one participant shrewdly replied: ‘we told you so’! The survey also opened our eyes to the potential of having a range of colours for the CUE1, so that people can choose according to their own personal preferences. In the future, we hope to incorporate a variety of colours for people to decide for themselves. 🙂
The CUE1’s User-Centred Design
For many, one of the most impactful symptoms of Parkinson’s can be the impairment of fine motor skills, making it harder to make precise movements with the hands and fingers. This affects many tasks in daily life, from writing with a pen to removing cards from a wallet. Accessibility is our top consideration during our product development process, and we aimed to ensure that our designs accounted for these difficulties.
When placing the CUE1 on charge, for example, there is no need to fiddle with wires, or small switches. Rather, it is simply placed on top of the docking station. When resting on the station, the profile of the CUE1 is raised so that people may remove it more easily. As aforementioned, the adhesive drawer has been given texture and a matte finish for improved grip. The hinge of this drawer has also been tested, to make sure that it’s not too stiff for people to easily open and close. We have applied extra weight to the station as a whole, so it may not easily be knocked off a surface.
We have made all these considerations and many more, because we want the CUE1 to be for people with Parkinson’s, in every sense of the word. The CUE1 should be suitable for, used by, and beneficial to everyone whose lives could be improved by it. 🙂 The device incorporates comfort for people with Parkinson’s because we wanted to show that we cared, that we thought of you, and that you are valued by us 🙂
Continuing Product Development
Product development is an ongoing, never-ending process, and anything which we design needs constant reassessment. The CUE1 is no different, and we are excited to share that we are currently working on an optional wearable method for people with Parkinson’s. In case someone feels that adhesives are not for them, we are now working on giving people an option to wear the device through other means. In planning this, we asked people with Parkinson’s what their opinions were on different forms of wearable technology. This included the choice between magnetic and velcro fastenings, and which kind of straps they felt best suited their needs. As ever, we had some great responses from people kindly donating their time, and we can’t wait to show you more very soon!
Thank you for reading! Please also check out our previous blog in this series, looking at our journey developing the CUE APP. Please let us know what you think of the blogs, and if you ever want to chat or get to know the team better, you can always reach us on firstname.lastname@example.org. 🙂
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