ROTC Navigation Tool

Duration: ​Aug-Dec 2015
My Role: UX Research & Design
Skills: User Interviews, Focus Group, Contextual Inquiries, Affinity Mapping, Need Assessment,  Product Conceptualization, Low & High-Level Prototyping, Heuristic & User Evaluation
Teammate: ​​​Amit Garg, Bryan Bennett, John Crisp, Rachel LeRoy


 This project was aimed at providing the ROTC cadets at Georgia Tech a reliable tool which would help them to navigate in low light situations while being comfortable and covert. 
My role included interviewing and gathering information from ROTC cadets, identifying the major needs from the collected data, building a working prototype of the solution, user testing and analyzing the performance of the prototype. 

Design Process

We followed a User Centered Design approach which included diverging and converging with various design ideas and eventually delivering the project deliverable.

Initial Research

  • Our research began by joining the ROTC cadets on a low-light ruck march up Kennesaw Mountain at 4 am one morning on an ethnographic field study. During the exercise, we were able to experience with cadets, what it is like to stumble up a mountain, through rocks and brush in almost complete darkness. Then, following the end of the march, we had the opportunity to speak freely with cadets in impromptu, unstructured interviews.  

  • Following the field study, 7 semi-structured interviews were conducted with cadets and training officers of the ROTC, to supplement our research and understanding of the challenges and procedures of low light training and navigation.

  • In parallel to user research, we began secondary research and a literature review to understand what the current landscape of research in the ROTC and Military community looked like.

Observations & Understandings


Analysis & Findings


After the field study and initial interviews, we organically flowed into the Define Phase, meeting as a team to debrief and share our experiences and findings from the field study, interviews and secondary research.

We used Affinity Mapping to collect thoughts and start exploring trends that were emerging. These sessions prompted more questions by our team that we used to direct further interviews with our population. This particular step helped in consolidating all the data gathered to find the most required features of the product and the motivation behind it


After the major requirements were identified, we conducted a focus group interview with our target users to understand what they thought of our findings and double check if we were on the same page with them. 

The results from the focus group gave us a clearer idea about their priorities of the major needs that we had identified about them and reiterated the validity of our findings.


Based on our research the following are potential implications for our design solution emerged:

Ideation & Brainstorming

The Ideation phase consisted of several brainstorming sessions, where we used a collaborative “Yes and…” culture to rapidly form dozens of ideas. Later, we would take time to flesh out the ideas a bit further, before evaluating them based on feasibility, and if they truly fit the constraints we had identified earlier.

Ultimately, we were left with three viable ideas and hammered these out completely into different concepts:
  • a bread crumb device much like the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale,
  • pressure sensitive sleeves worn by all cadets that communicated based on gestures,
  • an accelerometer glove that could read and translate hand and arm signals to a haptic vest worn by all cadets.  

We presented these designs to our peers, receiving third-party, unbiased feedback on our methods. Their criticism reassured us that our methods were truly user-centered as well as helped us identify other technologies that could help support our solutions. Because their feedback found good and bad aspects in each design, we held a participatory design session with them later to design a solution that had better buy-in and feasibility from all.

This design session led to our final design:

 A hat with vibration motors worn by all cadets that could receive directional commands and translate them into vibration cues.  

For example, the cue for moving forward was a vibration at the from of the head, while left and right commands resulted in vibration respectively on the left and right sides of the head.

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We prototyped the device using the Adafruit bluefruit microprocessor that has a baked in mobile app. By rewriting code intended for LED outputs we quickly hooked up vibration motor outputs and mapped those to directional arrows in the app.

Ultimately, our final solution was an entire communication system complete with transmitters and receivers. We chose to only prototype the receiver (vibration hat) though, because this aspect of the designed system would impact navigation time greatly and inform future iterations of the entire system.


It’s important to note that because the ROTC program falls under the Department of Defense, there are special government clearances we needed to get approved.
At the time of testing, we had not yet gathered that approval. In anticipation of this challenge, we submitted a second study that used generic college students as our intended population and pivoted the device towards one for a hiking-in-the-dark game-like scenario.


We performed a heuristic evaluation with four experts so that we could evaluate the usability of our prototyped hat. We reviewed established wearable device heuristics and realized that the published information was either overly general or too specific to a particular kind of wearable. So, we pieced together our own focusing on:

  • Detectability : How easily can the user detect the vibration signals?

  • Distinguishability : How easily can the user identify and distinguish each incoming vibration signal?

  • Learnability : How easy or hard is it to learn the meaning of the vibration signals?

  • Wearability : How comfortable is the prototype to wear?

  • Efficiency : Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?


Our experts found that the device wasn't uncomfortable and that you could indeed feel the vibration motors and interpret their correct directional meaning. However, a major challenge in the heuristic evaluation was helping our experts get in the mindset of our target group. Our experts didn’t know the nuances and learned behaviors of a highly trained ROTC group; they could only imagine them. This led to poor scores in wearability and efficiency.


We proceeded with a first pass user-test of the hat with 6 participants through an obstacle course followed by an exit survey for a SUS Score.

We used a within-subjects experiment, timing each participant through the course as they navigated under three different navigational cue conditions –

  • line-of-sight hand and arm signals,
  • voice directions using bone phones,
  • and haptic signals using our prototyped vibration hat.

In order to reduce bias from learning curves, the conditions were randomly assigned, meaning one participant might start with verbal directions while another would start with haptic signals.

From a quantitative perspective, haptic vibrations performed faster movement times than voice directions or hand and arm signals. This was expected - hand and arm signals performed the poorest at mean times of over 80 secs. Overall, completion times from start to finish suggest that the haptic signals resulted in faster completion times than voice cues, but again that conclusion is not firm due to the potential for human error in timing. 

However, from a qualitative perspective, the SUS Scores suggest that subjects found the vibration hat easier and more intuitive to understand than the verbal directions because the left and right directions were already mapped to the left and right sides of the head, eliminating the time needed to process the command. This feedback suggested that the research is on the right track and that further revisions of the evaluation method and using the intended population could provide stronger support for moving forward with the entire communication system.