Redesigning the Alarm Clock
It was my 4th tardy in Psychology and my seat was right in the middle classroom. Red faced from climbing over several people, I sat there and pondered any solution that would make me get up on time. Why is it so hard to get up in the morning? Getting enough sleep is important, but some days my indulgence over-rules my intentions. Alarm clock solutions are quite frequent on kickstarter and indiegogo, but they almost never have a solution for keeping you out of bed. Whether it is a game you have to play, an item you have to retrieve, or an alarm that you have to turn off from a different room, it seems like all of these solutions add something to the process instead of making you do the one thing an alarm clock is intended to do.
Looking at the purpose
So much of what we do is centered around habit. Every morning we are conditioned by our routines. For many people, this routine is hitting "snooze" more times than necessary. Often, the best solution for a design is found close to the purpose. If an alarm clock's purpose is to get you up then it should only turn off when you actually get up. I played around with a few design ideas but I didnt seem to have the right resources to create it. A few years later I learned about the Arduino platform then added load cells from a bathroom scale for sensing the weight of the bed. The alarm would stay active for 1 hour so if I tried to get back into bed, the alarm would start beeping again. Within a month or so I had hacked together a working prototype.
My first version was pretty rough. It looked cool, but the functionality was terrible. I would have to twist the front knob, count each click as a half hour and then push the button to set the alarm. Once activated it could not be changed. I was able to calibrate the sensors to know the difference between my wife and I. A couple years later, the particle photon was launched and I made a second version with the following features
Web app for setting and storing the alarm time
Wifi connected for remote programming
Battery backup (i started pulling the plug on the other one when I was having a rough morning)
Automatically turn on lights to 10% 5 minutes before the alarm went off
Auto start coffee maker
Find the triggers
Getting in and out of bed are important triggers for several things. Morning and evening routines are foundational parts of most keystone habits. I am experimenting with my routines and using the alarm clock as a hub for other things like habit tracking, home automation, and sleep monitoring. An example of this is the new app prototype shown below. The settings allows the user to deploy a snooze timer as an incentive.
Keep Asking Why
Does something annoy you or take up too much time? Ask why. We've known this since we were toddlers, but unfortunately as we get older, we tend to stop questioning things. Our dynamic curiosity turns into static understanding which makes finding creative solutions difficult. Whether improving upon the alarm clock or rethinking a problem at work, the creative process will always be easier when you ask why and pay close attention to the purpose.