Adapting research and development during COVID 19.

At the end of 2019 we had a prototype app and sensing technology we had developed with Leeds and York Council and their residents.

We found that people loved the idea of having control over their data and not having to send all of it to the cloud in order to get insights they could work with.

Our plan was to do more primary research with more users and create more refined prototypes, but then COVID 19 lock down happened. We could carry on with perfecting the algorithms and doing more research into the sensing electronics but we really needed to get users input. We knew our concepts were appealing and the application of it simple enough for anyone to take part and so we turned to friends, family, neighbours, colleagues, and business partners and explored a new world of online user research.

We wanted to see if we could get the results we needed, and make the research fun to ease lock down blues!

We took a baseline of data from our homes including thermostat settings and construction type. Unboxing got emoji responses of surprise, shame, and scepticism. Fear of being found out for having a bad office and having to invest in air conditioning (you know who you are!) was an interesting response and so we assured them that the sensors were just calibrated badly.

We ran a competition to see who could get all yellow bars with no damp or dry dots on their heat maps and played the ‘guess whose house’ game. This was a test to see how far people would follow nudges to change their behaviour if they knew other people were competing, whether the visualisation meant the same thing to everyone, and how vocal people would be in offering their advice on the best way to improve….some were a little more vocal than others! Getting people to change their thermostat settings, wear extra layers of clothes, open windows, put fans, humidifiers and dehumidifiers on, or change their automated heating programs to get a series of ticks in the app was fun to see. Some really got into the spirit of it wanting to be the first to get perfect heat and humidity maps on their phone, some people cheated by putting the sensor in the fridge for a while (the sensor could spot that but we didn’t tell them!),

We discovered that spending more time chatting about anything other than technology got us closer to understanding what issues we could help overcome. We were thrown off course a bit by an account of having a pre-pay electricity meter creating anxiety and it has changed some of our design thinking. We are talking to a charity about this topic and will be developing our technology to find simpler ways to help those in poor housing or worried about how best to use energy to heat their homes.