Team: Xian Wu, Rebecca Thomas, Emma Drobina, Tracy Mitzner, Dr. Jenay Beer

Abstract: Mobility is a key component for older adults to maintain wellness and health while aging-in-place independently. [1] However, older adults with mobility impairments may experience challenges in remaining socially connected. Telepresence systems hold much potential to help older adults with mobility impairments. However, telepresence systems are not specifically designed with this population’s capabilities and limitations in mind – creating many potential usability barriers. We conducted a heuristic evaluation of three telepresence systems. The results of the evaluation indicated a range of design issues. Issues related to the base height, un-adjustable screen height, camera resolution, microphone/speaker quality, and sensor sensitivity were categorized as hardware problems. Usability issues caused by poor network connectivity, lack of privacy settings, lack of notifications of the system status, and control of the system were identified as software problems. It is critical that designers consider and address these findings to ensure that telepresence systems are usable by individuals with a wide range of abilities.

I was one of three researchers who conducted a usability study of the BeamPro telepresence system. In collaboration with the other two researchers, I created a list of heuristics by which to evaluate the telepresence system. We also created a task list enumerating potential problems the Beam might face in a typical house. We then brought the Beam to a house, where I piloted it through a series of challenges based off of our task list, including piloting over rugs, thresholds, and wet surfaces. All three of us recorded the Beam’s performance during these tasks, and then met to compile a list of the heuristic violations we found.

Through this research experience, I learned to evaluate qualitative data with respect to heuristics. I learned how to effectively design tests to fully evaluate all parts of a system. By proofreading our paper, I learned how to synthesize findings with those of a larger group.  Additionally, I became more familiar with telepresence systems as a whole.

[1] Wu, X., Thomas, R., Drobina, E., Mitzner, T., & Beer, J. (Accepted). Telepresence heuristic evaluation for adults aging with mobility impairment. Proceedings of the HFES 2017 International Annual Meeting.