Carnegie Mellon University

Deeplocal graphic

May 29, 2020

DIY Escapism

Alumnus Nathan Martin encourages off-the-wall creativity for Cabin Fever Innovations that help lift spirits during self-isolation

By Deborah Taylor

Creative ideas have the power to surprise and uplift. When they’re also quirky, humorous and useful, they’re actually Cabin Fever Innovations, a series of engrossing maker projects that makes self-isolation less tedious and tense.

These clever designs are the brainchildren of the 60-person team at Deeplocal, an award-winning Pittsburgh firm specializing in creative technology and experience design. When the COVID-19 shutdown halted Deeplocal’s projects, Nathan Martin (A 1999), co-founder and CEO, and Heather Martin, chief marketing officer, devised an outlet for the self-isolating engineers and innovators to remain engaged and collaborative.

“All good ideas, we believe, are driven by insight into human behavior or culture. We had a lot of smart folks with a lot of available time and an eagerness to help others in some way,” Nathan explains.

From dozens of submitted concepts, Deeplocal chose Scrubber as its first innovation in mid-March, posting the instructions on its website and various global platforms. Scrubber provides a 20-second handwashing soundtrack of Spotify music that plays when an individual pumps soap from a dispenser that’s been modified with some simple electronic parts.

“The directive to wash your hands for 20 seconds is novel and annoying to a lot of people who haven’t turned it into a fun experience,” says Caroline Fisher, creative marketing director. “We received many very positive emails. The number-one piece of feedback is ‘Thank God I don’t have to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ anymore.’”

Because of interest in ultraviolet irradiation for disinfection, YouVee was selected as Scrubber’s follow-up. It’s a DIY UV irradiation cabinet that can be constructed in one hour with commonplace materials costing $50. YouVee is especially ingenious for its safety interlock that keeps the ultraviolet light turned off until the lid is closed, preventing eye and skin damage to the user.

“I’ve been most impressed by the response to YouVee. We regularly hear from people, groups, offices and organizations that are building the device. That makes me feel good,” Nathan says.

FACEOFF, Cabin Fever Innovation #3, is a hygiene game that adds fun to virtual meetings. This Google Chrome extension discourages face-touching, which spreads the novel coronavirus, by emitting a laser sound and docking a point on the leaderboard from any player that commits the offense.

Deeplocal is now resuming some client-based work, but Nathan says he expects the Cabin Fever Innovations will continue.

“These types of projects are still needed. Scrubber and FACEOFF made us laugh, and YouVee provided a real tool for helping others,” he says. “We love being a part of culture and putting things out into the world. We’ll always be doing that.”