Collective Idea saw this project as a chance to be creative and as a way to develop a solution workers didn’t know they needed.
– Timothy D. Swieter, New Business Innovation, Steelcase
Prototyping for IoT
The Marriage of Prototype and Mobile App
Collective Idea worked closely with Steelcases’ New Business Innovation department to create a mobile application to interface with a new prototype chair. The purpose of the iOS app was to control the personal heating and cooling built inside the Brody WorkLounge.
Mobile app design and prototyping, integration with IoT platform
Every year, dozens of IoT startups are reviewed and only a few are asked to apply for a three-month incubator program called the Seamless Accelerator in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The accelerator pairs key Consortium Partners and local resources to assist startups, free of charge, in prototyping and possibly commercializing their ideas.
One such startup accepted in the spring of 2016 was Promethient. The company developed a technology that can harness the power of graphene to evenly and efficiently heat and cool an object. Steelcase®, the global leader in office furniture, interior architecture and space solutions and a founding Seamless Consortium Member, took the lead in working with Promethient throughout the three-month time period. Together, the two worked to integrate Promethient’s flexible heating and cooling technology into a Steelcase products, the Brody WorkLounge®.
The Steelcase logo, Steelcase, and Brody are trademarks of Steelcase Inc.
Steelcase and Promethient knew they wanted the prototype chair to incorporate heating and cooling, but they also wanted something more than a physical knob for the user settings. To achieve a more integrated and virtual user experience, they decided to pair the prototype with a mobile app. That’s where Collective Idea stepped in as one of the Seamless Accelerator’s resource partners.
As with most work on prototypes, there was a very rough concept of what the app needed to do. First and foremost, the app needed to communicate with the chair. Steelcase took care of building the circuit board and integrating Promethient’s technology inside, but it was our responsibility to take what they built and connect that to an iOS device.
With communication between the device and the chair established through multiple cloud-based services, a Particle Photon board and an Arduino, the prototype app needed to perform three functions:
- Know an individual’s personal heating/cooling settings via a profile
- Cycle between heating and cooling settings
- Have a chair reservation system for larger office settings
With loose guidelines and permission to be creative, two team members worked on the app prototype full-time for six weeks. In addition to deciding and creating the look and feel of the app, we were also responsible for the entire user interface and connecting to the IoT APIs Steelcase exposed for the Brody WorkLounge.
Collective Idea understands the proper scope for prototypes which is important for both time and money purposes. When there’s not a lot of definition to something, like prototypes, you need to be able to do a lot of back and forth and quickly exchange ideas. Collective Idea was a great partner in this.
At the end of the three-month incubator program, the prototype chair and mobile app were revealed to the public at the Seamless Accelerator Demo Day. The project was well received in that the chair, outfitted with Promethient’s technology, could oscillate between hot and cold via the physical user interface and extended virtual user interface commands.
Even though the mobile app we developed for Steelcase wasn’t the main focus of the project, it still helped to showcase Promethient’s capabilities and validate the possibility of a real product in the future.
Because of the quality of the app, it really added to the integrity of the story we were trying to tell. If the app would have been of lesser quality, or just wireframes, it wouldn’t have worked. The app really helped to tie together the entire project in exploring the possibility of a connected office experience.
Skills & Technologies used
iOS, Swift, Particle.io, Particle Photon Board, Arduino