Loop is a directional haptic feedback accessory designed by Kathryn McElroy and Joseph Weissgold for their Product, Brand & Experience course. The device and system emerged out of a challenging brief to design a "branded consumer product" that would help in the context of a protest.
The opportunity that Joseph and Kathryn identified was that demonstrators often go into a protest with the presumption that it will be peaceful and non-violent, but given the provocative nature that defines demonstrations, violence can often ensue. In addition, Kathryn and Joseph argue that "one of the strategies for public protesting is that strength is evidenced by the participants' ability to 'stay in formation'—a kind of 'you can't take us all' mentality." And inspired by the motions of schools of fish and bird flocking patterns, the designers saw a parallel in the animal kingdom—a kind of "you can't catch us all." Here was an opportunity to use technology to address the challenge of protesters staying together when a demonstration gets disturbed; where forces try to "break up" the event.
Since humans don’t have the kind of subtle instinct that allows them to move in spontaneous unison, Kathryn and Joseph designed a product-service pairing that that would provide just such a capability: a soft, close-fitting armband that provides haptic feedback to the user, plus a smartphone app that geo-locates the user and affiliated users immediately around around them.
The app uses the bluetooth and GPS on the protesters’ smartphones to keep them all within a certain flexible range from one another—allowing mass demonstrations to have enough flexibility to move nimbly and avoid conflicts with the authorities without relying on a cellular signal or wifi. The paired armband has vibration points evenly spaced around the circumference of the band, guiding the user "right" or "left" through a choreographed "pulsing" in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. Loop thus allows its users to be more focused "in the environment," and eliminates the need to look at a phone screen for directions. The designers beautifully sum up the offering: "With Loop, the software, together with the hardware, provide directionality through rotational vibration."
In other applications, Loop can work with GoogleMaps to provide turn-by-turn directions, but also has an open API that allows the developer community to create new uses for it. From intuitively directing jogging routes, to helping tourists visit hot spots while still looking up at the sights, there are countless applications where a directional, haptic prompt outweighs the nuisance of having to pull out and look at a smartphone.
And since the app helps users stay within range of their chosen group, the device could serve to keep families together on vacation, for example, or friends together at a festival.
The core of the product packaging doubles as an induction charger for the device, and the designers imagine that the product would be sold in stores such as Best Buy and Radio Shack.
"Loop," at its brand essence, offers users a kind of "directional animal instinct" through the use of technology, while allowing the engagement with that technology to happen without the use of screens. Comment the designers, "Loop leverages technology to allows users to be fully present where they are." Perhaps that's the best technology of all.