The solution was somewhat in my head already; use an Arduino to tackle the problem. Although I didn't know how exactly to detect presence nor how to inform a user. To avoid violating our goal of privacy, we didn't want anything that would track you personally or be something disturbing to see like a temperature sensor on the toilet seat. As time went on, we noticed the door was always open between use; a constant we could detect for status. The thought of how airplanes handle this problem came to mind, a red or green indicator of whether it's in use or not serves as their user interface.
Some say by putting the digital sign up above everyones cubicle it allowed even more people to use the bathroom. Even more frustrating is when you see the sign flip from open to closed as you're approaching the room. Another user said he didn't care for it due to his previous advantage of having a clear line of sight to the door; allowing him quick status information. We wanted to learn from this new information, recheck our goals, and create the next iteration.
We found many users couldn't actually see the UI from their desks (perhaps sitting the opposite way), so we needed to solve the problem in another way. The additional user interface was added as a responsive web app that people bookmarked to their phones and browsers. Shortly after launching, we saw countless people leaving the tab open all day. This brought new ideas for features such as having the favicon update instantly if you had it open in another tab. People had a great laugh and enjoyed the new convenience.
A lot of great feedback from putting an unofficial app into the hands of employees. With little of the day to day being optimized for mobile, I believe it gave a huge boost in morale by inspiring others to keep the workplace fun and entertaining. People were tweeting about it to reinforce the weirdness of working at The Nerdery. Overall it shed new light on what it means to have a workplace that cares about the little things.
With the addition of having the door tell the internet when it's open or closed, it allowed me to feed that data into a spreadsheet on Google Sheets. We didn't tell people that data was being harvest since it's completely anonymous and would throw off any normal readings on usage. Since the digital sign was put up before the tracking, we can't compare the usage from before to the new solutions. We can however observe and calculate the average amount of time spent in the bathroom; about 5 hours per day this bathroom has someone in it. This brought up a thought about "wasted" time at a billable agency; although little can be done to stop employees from using a bathroom. What other rooms are wasteful yet could be optimized?
The app served as a hub for 4 different locations with up to 40 conference rooms in one location. A user could load this web app on their phone and quickly see which conference rooms are currently open. Not the ones that will be open soon or the ones that are busy, only the ones that can be accessed right now. The app provides critical data on each of the themed rooms: where it is on a map, hardware available, and any other unique characteristics such as the lack of a computer or phone.
Adafruit caught wind of our project at The Nerdery and asked if I'd write up a tutorial/blog post for them about our experience with the internet of things. I partnered up with Chris Cheney to write the post and feature his code for the web app. Luckily we gathered heaps of assets from documenting the project as it has been going on through photos and videos.
In March of 2015 I gave a presentation of the project at The University of Minnesota along side others who have created IoT products. I had a great time telling this same story to a crowded room of people hacking things onto the internet. Below is the recording from the presentation with the slides included.