Tag Archives: Boston Marathon

Testing Wearables:  The Human Experience

I became interested in testing wearables in a rather unusual way.  I ran the Boston Marathon.  So, you ask, what does the Boston Marathon have to do with wearables and the testing of them?  Well, every runner was wearing at least one “wearable”.  Wearables are electronics that can be worn on the body as an accessory or a part of one’s clothing.  One of the major features of wearable technology is its ability to connect to the Internet, enabling data to be exchanged between a network and the device.  Often they contain monitoring and tracking functionality.

Wearables have become a part of most runners’ gear; they wear sports watches with GPS functionality and often carry smart phones.  Yet every runner in the 2011 Boston Marathon also had a wearable attached to their clothing, a bib with their name and registration number.  Today, the bib also contains an RFID chip.  The chip records the runner’s exact race time by connecting to a series of mats with RFID readers at the starting line, along the course and at the finish.   The first time it was tried there was only one glitch, not all of the RFID chips registered with the readers.

Although this failure did not create a life-threatening situation, it created a great deal of consternation and disappointment among those runners to whose race did not get recorded.  For runners who had run a qualifying time and/or a personal record, their elation and joy at the finish line turned to grief and anguish when they found out that their times did not register.  And yes, I was one of those runners.

As a tester, I began to question not only what had and had not been tested, but also I became keenly aware of the impact that the failure of this wearable had on the user.  I realized that what all wearables have in common is that they have a purpose or function, coupled with human interaction that provides value by enabling the user to achieve (is this correct?) a goal.  Unless the runner ran the course and stepped on the mats, the chip in the runners bib would have no way of providing any value.

This analysis led me to realize that the human user must be an integral part of the testing.  Furthermore, the closer a device becomes (integrates?) to a human, the more important the human’s role in testing becomes.   When a networked device is physically attached to us and works with us and through us, the more important the results of the collaboration becomes to us physically and emotionally.  From this experience, I devised a framework for testing this collaboration which I call Human Experience testing.