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Activity Support for Seniors Using Public Displays: A Proof of Concept



Seniors face many challenges in their daily activities regarding mobility and accessibility. We have designed and prototyped a system of networked public displays to support them, particularly regarding outdoor pedestrian navigation. This article describes the process and results of a qualitative evaluation of this prototype system, which was conducted with seven participants, a mixture of older adults and experts on geriatric care. Based on insights gained from these interviews, we provide guidance on the design of outdoor activity support systems for seniors.
Activity Support for Seniors Using Public Displays: A Proof of
Julian Fietkau
Laura Stojko
Universität der Bundeswehr München
Neubiberg, Germany
Seniors face many challenges in their daily activities regarding
mobility and accessibility. We have designed and prototyped a
system of networked public displays to support them, particularly
regarding outdoor pedestrian navigation. This article describes the
process and results of a qualitative evaluation of this prototype
system, which was conducted with seven participants, a mixture
of older adults and experts on geriatric care. Based on insights
gained from these interviews, we provide guidance on the design
of outdoor activity support systems for seniors.
Human-centered computing
Displays and imagers;Empiri-
cal studies in ubiquitous and mobile computing;
Social and pro-
fessional topics Seniors.
human-computer interaction, public displays, activity support, nav-
igation assistance, seniors
ACM Reference Format:
Julian Fietkau and Laura Stojko. 2021. Activity Support for Seniors Using
Public Displays: A Proof of Concept. In Mensch und Computer 2021 (MuC
’21), September 5–8, 2021, Ingolstadt, Germany. ACM, New York, NY, USA,
5 pages.
With sensory and mobility limitations becoming more frequent in
old age, many seniors face steadily increasing challenges when it
comes to navigating through the urban environment and conduct-
ing their daily activities. In a survey of over 2.000 people aged 65
and up that was conducted in the scope of this project [
], reasons
such as unsafe pedestrian paths (38%) or a lack of awareness about
senior-accessible activities (21%) are moderately often cited as fac-
tors that prevent older adults from participating in outside activities
]. Related research [
] substantiates unsafe pedestrian paths
as a factor for seniors’ reduced outdoor activity.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution International
4.0 License.
MuC ’21, September 5–8, 2021, Ingolstadt, Germany
©2021 Copyright held by the owner/author(s).
ACM ISBN 978-1-4503-8645-6/21/09.
To tackle the challenges of accessing information about avail-
able activities, selecting them, and navigating to and from those
activities, we have designed and prototyped an interactive system
consisting of large and small public displays and central backend
services to facilitate personalized assistance throughout the ex-
perience. The aim of the system is to motivate seniors to engage
in outdoor activities and support them during the execution by
increasing their subjective safety.
This paper describes the outcome of our qualitative evaluation
to answer the central research question: How must large and small
public displays be designed to support and increase the subjective
safety of seniors during outdoor activities?
Within the broader conceptual space of supporting seniors in their
everyday activities using interactive technology, a number of re-
search projects and ideas have been proposed. For example, Krieg et
al. [
] describe how personal mobility devices (such as wheelchairs)
could be augmented with digital navigation assistance. Similarly,
Ahmetovic et al. [
] and the m4guide project by Fraunhofer FOKUS
] use smartphone apps to provide personalized navigation assis-
tance to people with disabilities. The central dierence between
these approaches and ours is that we propose public devices with
xed installations in the urban space instead of personal devices.
Kempter et al. [
] and Richter et al. [
] propose systems based
around interactions with publically installed devices, but focus on
indoor navigation.
Moving away from the focus on older users, there exists a slightly
larger body of work on using public displays to support pedestrian
navigation in general. However, most of them combine interactions
with public and personal devices in some fashion. For example,
Rukzio et al. [
] combine a public directional display with vibra-
tion signals emitted by a personal device in the user’s pocket. Müller
et al. [
] center the navigation on the personal mobile device, but
augments it using sparse public displays. Kray et al. [
] avoid the
use of personal devices by eschewing personalization completely,
using public displays to provide non-personalized dynamic naviga-
tion assistance. Based on our literature review, we believe that our
approach of publically installed devices for activity support and
personalized navigation assistance for seniors is the rst of its kind.
The concept and the individual parts of our system have been
discussed in prior publications, specically about the requirements
analysis and the technical architecture [
], the persuasive design
aspect anchored in the gamication research landscape [
], and
more detailed guidance on the interaction design of small [
] and
MuC ’21, September 5–8, 2021, Ingolstadt, Germany Julian Fietkau and Laura Stojko
large public displays [
] as relevant to this kind of design. The
following section nonetheless gives a short design overview.
As briey introduced in Section 1, in terms of interactive hardware
our system consists of sparsely deployed large interactive screens
for activity selection, as well as a large number of small displays for
navigation and activity support. These displays are connected with
each other and with backend services for prole storage, activity
management, and routing. Primary design considerations were
that the system should be inclusive towards users with age-related
impairments and that all functionality should be accessible without
having to interact with a personal mobile device, since older users in
particular often have diculties with small touch screens regarding
both reading and pointing.
Our devices can recognize registered seniors via Bluetooth when
they approach. (Users who do not routinely carry a Bluetooth-
capable personal mobile device can take advantage of this function
by carrying a non-interactive BLE
beacon in their pockets.) This
enables personalized activity support. Users may instead also de-
cide to use the large displays anonymously to learn about possible
activities in their surroundings and forgo personalized activity sup-
Large interactive displays advertise possible activities. After
recognizing a nearby user they can display a “personal ac-
tivity board” where interesting activities can be added via
drag-and-drop (Fig. 1). This activates the activity support
during the execution. The personal activity board is designed
to mirror the kind of pinboard people might have at home,
where they would keep concert tickets, shopping lists, and
other reminders.
Our small public displays show helpful symbols (mainly ar-
rows and squares) in personalized colors. The devices have a
low-resolution display with a size of 3
3 cm (1.2
1.2 inches).
An example of an arrow is displayed in Fig. 2. They are
installed along footpaths and at intersections to provide real-
time personalized navigation assistance, taking the safety
and accessibility of specic pedestrian paths into account.
One of the main design decisions behind the presentation and
selection of activities at our large information screen was to model
them after the quest format commonly found in online games [
], in
which players receive rewards for completing specic challenges, in
order to increase motivation and lean into established patterns for
gamied experiences. For more details on this aspect of the system,
see Fietkau [
]. Among other details, this entailed specifying small
material rewards for each activity as an added incentive. In general
we would expect this to be a low-value extrinsic reward that ts
the activity in question. We surmised from anecdotal experience
that older participants may be particularly receptive to activities if
they receive a concrete advantage for taking part, and the literature
supports this to an extent [3].
Bluetooth Low Energy – a standard for low-bandwidth Bluetooth communication
allowing for very long battery life.
Figure 1: Large information screen at the Scooter-Park with
a display of the personal activity board.
Figure 2: Small public display showing an arrow at the
The initial plan for the activity support systems’ evaluation con-
sisted of a three-tiered long-term user study which had to be
scrapped due to safety concerns, especially for seniors, during the
COVID-19 pandemic. We decided to compress as much of our re-
search as possible into a single study with a smaller number of
participants, which happened in an enclosed area without random
passers-by to minimize the risk of infection.
Activity Support for Seniors Using Public Displays: A Proof of Concept MuC ’21, September 5–8, 2021, Ingolstadt, Germany
We conducted the evaluation at the beginning of September
2020 in Mönchengladbach, Germany. The “Senioren-Scooter-Park”
owned by our project partner Sozial-Holding Mönchengladbach
GmbH was our evaluation location. The park is a training area
intended for older adults to practice with various mobility aids
on simulated streets and pathways without any danger from real
Participants were recruited by and through Sozial-Holding GmbH,
our local connection to senior homes and assisted living programmes.
Our evaluation timeframe was limited to one week and we planned
for about 10–12 participants. For organizational reasons outside of
our control, we received 9 conrmations in total, but due to bad
weather during the week only 7 volunteers were able to participate
in the evaluation. Among them were two seniors (aged 75 and 77)
speaking from their own experience as older adults, and ve em-
ployees or associates of the Sozial-Holding (aged 26, 40, 51, 61 and
64) who were asked to judge the system based on their geriatric
care expertise and, depending on their age, also on their personal
experiences. Four out of seven participants were female and all
were from the area around Mönchengladbach. The two seniors live
independently, one of them mentioned severe limitations regarding
personal mobility. The experts reported that the senior home resi-
dents suer from many physical and cognitive limitations. The two
seniors reported doing outdoor activities more than twice a week
(going to church, concerts, shopping, etc.). In contrast, our experts
reported that the senior home residents rarely engage in outdoor
activities, mainly only grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments, or
other events. In terms of technology use, seniors indicated that they
use smartphones and computers frequently, but have no experience
with large public displays.
At the beginning, users were asked to choose their favorite color
which was then used for personalized information on the public
displays (personal activity board and navigation symbols). The ac-
tivity that was part of our scenario (a visit to the “bee hotel” at
the southern edge of the park) appeared as a recommendation on
the large public display screen. Participants were asked to interact
with the screen to gather information about the activity and drag
it onto their personal activity board to activate it. The small public
displays placed along the way showed arrows and squares as naviga-
tional support. Upon completing the activity, participants received
a ower as a quest reward to match the bee hotel theme. Fig. 3
displays an overview of the installation, including the positions of
all public displays and the goal.
Each user session was structured in ve parts:
A pre-interview for general questions about physical limi-
tations, technology anity and experience, and motivation
for outdoor activities.
A user test at the large screen to nd and activate the activity
for the example scenario.
A short post-interview to evaluate the interaction with the
large screen.
A walk through the Scooter-Park to the bee hotel following
small public displays and back to the large display.
A post-interview about the walk and usage of small public
In all, we recorded 3 hours and 46 minutes of audio. In accordance
with our participant privacy agreement, the audio recordings were
destroyed after the transcription was complete. Each interview
segment was semi-structured. We had a list of questions we wanted
to cover, but we also attempted to get our participants to talk freely
about their thoughts and impressions in order to gain insights we
might not have anticipated. The total duration of the experiment
varied between 21 and 45 minutes.
We evaluated the interview data following the qualitative data
analysis process described by Strauss & Corbin [
], which consists
of open coding,axial coding and selective coding. This approach was
chosen for its suitability for the analysis of interview transcripts,
particularly since it prevents experimenter biases and preconcep-
tions from clouding a clear view of the data. All interviews were
analyzed in-depth in this fashion and central results are summarized
This section describes ndings regarding activity selection at the
large public display and activity support using small public displays.
5.1 Activity Selection and Activation
Regarding the quest framework and material rewards, our partici-
pants were split in two groups: a few were immediately taken by the
idea, noting that extrinsic rewards would be a strong motivator for
them, others were more put o by the externalization of motivation,
preferring to decide by intrinsic factors and mentioning a prefer-
ence for symbolic rewards over incentives of material value. All
participants agreed, however, that the presentation format for ac-
tivities (title, short description, dates and locations, accompanying
photo) was very convenient and useful, especially for seniors.
Figure 3: Map of all public displays installed at the Scooter-
Park for the evaluation.
MuC ’21, September 5–8, 2021, Ingolstadt, Germany Julian Fietkau and Laura Stojko
The participants determined the quest format to be a good moti-
vator in the general sense. One of our design goals was to develop
a system that could increase the awareness and informedness in
the target user group regarding available activities. All participants
agreed that they, and other people they know, would likely be better
informed in this regard if our system were available in practice. In
a few cases, participants even stated that they could see how the
system could contribute to a societal shift towards more active and
interwoven urban neighborhoods.
Nevertheless, the participants also mentioned some ideas that
could have improved their experience during activity selection. One
idea was to include the expected duration for a specic activity,
which would help older adults to identify whether they are capable
of completing it. Adding this information in a way that is highly
useful for users with specic mobility needs would require consid-
eration of the user’s means of transportation (wheelchair, walker,
un-aided walking, etc.) as the required time may dier signicantly.
Ideally, the system may take prior knowledge about a user’s walk-
ing speed (from previous activities) into account. The background
services in our system are theoretically capable of handling a rich
user model that (provided the user consents to this) could use ex-
isting data on health and mobility to personalize the selection and
display of activites. However, these functions were not used in the
5.2 Navigation and Activity Support
The evaluation of the small public displays focussed on the overall
activity support experience and wether the symbols were helpful
and clear for navigating seniors during outdoor activities.
The participants emphasized the lightweight interaction with the
small public displays as they were recognized via Bluetooth without
any additional required steps. In order to ensure assistance during
the whole activity it is necessary to evaluate the respective area
and identify critical path points. Especially on these, displays are
required. We had a few intersections where no screen was placed
or it was not at the best location for an intersection (a few meters
sideways). The participants criticized the positioning and lack of
clear information for navigation at those areas. If older adults rely
on guidance by small public displays, it is important to ensure a
seamless coverage during the activity.
Overall, the participants experienced a higher degree of orien-
tation and subjective safety by looking for the displays and conse-
quently, higher awareness of their surroundings. Furthermore, the
experience had a fun factor as it was like a treasure hunt: “What
will be the next symbol?” “What could this symbol mean?”
Regarding the design, interpretation, and color we summarize
the following insights: We used arrows and squares as navigation
symbols on the path. Halfway, we positioned a screen that displayed
a check mark and the goal “bee hotel” was represented by yellow
stripes. All symbols started blinking as soon as they detected an
approaching participant and stopped after they had moved out of
the detection radius. Overall, the participants identied the dierent
symbols and the greatest added value was provided by arrows, due
to easy interpretation and understanding as they are commonly
used in public. One issue was using arrows at intersections or for
displaying a turn. The feedback regarding the check mark was
overall positive as it was armative, some example reactions: “Well
done!” “It’s done!” In comparison to squares, which were criticized
as unclear, the check mark was understood much better.
The outcome regarding the symbol’s size was not clear, some
criticized that they were too small. Nevertheless, their visibility
was rated as good, especially due to their dynamic display (blink-
ing). The public displays showed symbols in the previously selected
personal color. This was used to personalize the information and
get people to recognize the symbols. Most participants were able
to identify the color and meaning: “This is my route.” “If it is yel-
low, it is for me.” Solely participants with green and red symbols
rstly identied them as signal colors (green = good, well done
and red = caution, danger, stop) rather than their personal color.
Consequently, colors with a specic cultural meaning (e.g. signal
color) should not be naively used for personalized navigation. In
general, personalizing visual cues (by color or otherwise) becomes
much more relevant when the system is used by multiple seniors
simultaneously, which was not part of this evaluation, but was an
important use case in the design process.
As a result of our qualitative evaluation, we identied that our
participants felt motivated and safer with personalized activity
support at the selection and while conducting the outdoor activity.
The evaluation, even though it was conducted outside, has aspects
of a laboratory experiment and not just a true eld test. As such, any
practical conclusions drawn by our participants are self-reported
extrapolations based on the hypothetical scenario. To gain more
clarity about the system’s potential impact, “true” eld tests in
actual public contexts would be advantageous. Our evaluation was
additionally curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of
writing, it is extremely dicult to conduct practical evaluations with
older users, especially eld tests. We were externally limited not
only in our study approach, but also in the number of participants.
Nonetheless, we were able to gather and summarize some valuable
qualitative insights into the design of public displays to increase
seniors’ sense of safety through navigation and activity support.
Apart from the obvious extrapolation to a larger evaluation with
more participants, the multi-user and social aspects of our system
cover important research questions (e.g. Do seniors feel exposed
when using activity support? How to support activities of multi-
users?) that could be investigated in the future. Another remaining
topic is the navigation support at intersections. We identied issues
by using simple arrows, further research needs to be done to identify
better signals for a turn.
This work has been supported by the Federal Ministry of Education
and Research, Germany, under grant 16SV7443. We thank all project
partners for their commitment. We particularly oer our thanks to
Sozial-Holding Mönchengladbach GmbH, especially Helmut and
Susanne Wallrafen as well as Jana Volk, for facilitating the location,
recruiting participants, and working with us on a pandemic safety
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During outside activities, elderly people encounter different challenges than young people. Those difficulties impede their motivation to pursue outside activities. To counter this problem from a human-computer interaction perspective, we propose a support system for seniors to improve their motivation and subjective safety while undertaking outside activities by coordinating smart urban objects. Drawing from an extensive empirical requirements analysis, we identify typical barriers experienced by seniors for which networked smart urban objects may provide assistance. We discuss a conceptual description of an activity support system: the system aggregates user profile data with information about the urban space to suggest possible activities, the elderly user chooses an activity and receives navigational assistance to increase their motivation and feeling of safety while undertaking the chosen activity. Finally, we discuss our approach regarding challenges such as user autonomy, privacy and real-world deployments, which need to be considered in future implementation and evaluation phases of the system.
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