On June 15, NRG Product Manager Brogan Morton joined the roster of speakers at UX Burlington to discuss the influence that customer user experience has on hardware development. Held in downtown Burlington, Vermont, UX Burlington is a one-day conference devoted to bringing professionals from a wide range of industries, including civic design, agriculture, and renewable energy, together to discuss a single unifying goal – building a greater user experience.
Morton kicked off his presentation by drawing attention to the key similarities and differences between hardware and software development. While the process tends to be slower for hardware and escaped bugs are more expensive to fix than when dealing with software, the shared ambition is to create sustainable businesses using high tech magic that provide an unbelievable experience to customers.
Morton discussed NRG’s own product development process, which is largely informed by the cornerstone concepts of design thinking – empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test. He walked the audience through the various phases of this process, using NRG’s forthcoming Bat and Avian Mortality Monitoring System (BAMM) as an example.
While conducting customer research for NRG’s Bat Deterrent System – a product designed to lessen a wind plant’s impact on bats by keeping them out of a turbine’s rotor-swept area – another problem became apparent. Because wind turbines cause mortality to bats and birds, developers quantify their impact on surrounding wildlife by reporting mortality rates. This is accomplished by conducting post-construction monitoring – a time consuming and resource-heavy process that involves having human “searchers” walk the grounds around turbines looking for bat and bird carcasses.
After learning more about this imperfect system, NRG set out to create a less cumbersome post-construction monitoring solution. The first phase in this process – customer research – involved Voice of Customer interviews as well as customer site visits to observe how post-construction monitoring is currently conducted. This allowed the NRG team to identify specific challenges within the existing method and ideate a better one. Then, the prototype for BAMM was born.
Featuring turbine mounted cameras and image processing algorithms, BAMM allows developers to monitor the area surrounding a turbine remotely. The hypothesis is that this approach to post-construction monitoring is more accurate than using human searchers and ultimately decreases uncertainty limits around fatality estimates. It is also likely that it will reduce the current cost of estimating bat and bird take at a wind site. In order to test these theories and refine the BAMM hardware, several rounds of installation simulation and prototyping are required.
NRG is currently in the prototyping phase of hardware development for BAMM. Morton said, “While great user experience is important, so is making sure that the appropriate technology is used, that it is fit for its purpose, and that we can deliver enough value to the customer that they will find it indispensable.”
If you have questions about our product development process or NRG’s wildlife technologies, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.