The Biosocial Methods Collaborative (BSMC), the group I spent two years doing research for during my undergraduate studies, is one group of many in the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. Our work is primarily in product research, product design research, geriatric research, and exercise behavior research. Overall, however, the BSMC conducts research at the intersection of behavioral science, physiology, and statistics. The HomeLab is a culmination of our interdisciplinary efforts and is aimed at addressing a holistic and comprehensive research approach to home-based experiments. The HomeLab is a completely reconstructed, ADA-compliant apartment unit in the basement of the Institute for Social Research building on UofM's campus. It has a fully working kitchen, laundry room, and bathroom, and is completely furnished. In each room, there are cameras set up in the ceilings and windows for monitoring, as well as a full suite of microphones to capture dialogue and deliver instructions. The lights are configured to display certain times of the day (sunset, sunrise, nighttime, etc.) depending on what's needed for an experiment. The space also allows for us to track physiological and psychological signals using qualitative and quantitative data collection methods. These methods include using software/hardware like Biopac to collect physiological data, Observer XT to allow for real-time behavioral coding, and more. Essentially, the HomeLab allows researchers to study a participant's interactions in ways never allowed before and all in real-time. It's a unique opportunity for researchers to get a realistic glimpse into the way people conduct certain activities in their home, and it offers helpful insight into some pitfalls of how home products are designed for specific populations. With the construction of the HomeLab, product designers and companies can now focus their efforts on improving home products or home design for a better quality of life for people of all ages and disabilities.
The HomeLab was constructed during my last year at BSMC, and was presented to the public right before I left. In order to set up the HomeLab, a lot of testing and configuration had to be done, and I helped out with both that aspect of the setup, but also the presentation part of it. The technology implemented in the HomeLab are all tools that I've had experience working with. This includes collection methods like skin conductance response, respiration rate collection, heart rate and blood pressure monitoring, facial tagging, eye tracking, movement (gait) tracking, and behavioral coding. I was also one of the individuals tasked with presenting aspects of the HomeLab to the public and rest of the university, during our open house series.
Although the HomeLab was only one part of what I worked on while I was at BSMC, it was a really unique, one-of-a-kind project that I had the benefit of being involved in. I learned about how to set up a space like this, with the need to consider the interactions of different technologies, I learned about experimental design setup in real-world environments, and I learned about how to communicate our goals and research plans to teams inside and outside of the university. This space is really meant to tackle the tough questions of home interaction and home life, and to help populations that traditionally struggle home interactions. To be a part of building this experimental environment was really special to me. If you want some more info on BSMC or HomeLab, feel free to check it out here!