Kevin J. Melchiorri
Kevin J. Melchiorri
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Tribe® is a hand-held smart navigation device designed to keep adventurers connected on and off the grid


“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” –Seth Godin

Tribe® is a hand-held smart navigation device designed to keep adventurers connected on and off the grid. Users are able to share live locations, send and receive hazard/emergency alerts, and message friends without the use of cell towers, routers, or expensive satellite subscriptions.

I thought of the concept for Tribe while surfing with a friend one evening off Cape Cod during the final days of a passing hurricane in 2009. A dense fog rolled in and I lost sight of the shore and my friend for nearly an hour in dark, sharky waters. A surf session that had started out in excitement soon turned into a test of survival and the frightening reality of the situation hit me hard.

Though my friend and I eventually reconnected, I was able to gain new insights into an old passion of mine. I was determined to create a tool that would serve as an integral component to the action sports experience, providing both social and safety advantages to users. The name of the concept was named Tribe, paying homage to the vital and necessary human connections and social bonds formed during sports and outdoor adventures.

Throughout the duration of the project, my design and research have revolved around the following question: How can I recast technology to enhance and augment the action sports experience without mediating or distracting?



Tribe® enables live location tracking and instant communication between TribeNavigator® devices. This is possible without the need for smartphone tethering, a common drawback of many activity trackers and smartwatches currently on the market. The technology behind Tribe keeps users connected during activities in virtually any landscape and is capable of sending and receiving signals up to seven miles away.


The primary goal of Tribe® is to keep people together wherever they go

This ensures safety and well-being within the group, fosters mental and physical progression, and allows friends to relive and retell stories of their adventures with unmatched richness. Target users are action sports enthusiasts whose journeys are driven by comradery and exploration. Presently, there are no means of communication that exist for many sports and activities like surfing, where participants are unable (and often times unwilling) to bring expensive smartphones. This disconnection also applies to other water sports, including kayaking, standup paddleboarding, kite surfing, freediving, and boating.

There are many activity trackers on the market. Research indicates that users become numb to generalized performance data, and gamification breeds unnatural competition that become divisive, detracting from the experience. Tribe® is designed to enhance those elements of the activity that improve the experience in a positive way. For instance, the social aspect encourages users to perform more often, enabling them to stay together and focus on their current activity rather than virtual scoreboard rankings.

One of the clearest differentiators of Tribe® is its incorporation of location technology. Few products on the market, fitness or other, have this ability. This feature is especially important during action sports, as expensive smartphones are stored safely and left behind to avoid damage from hard impacts and harsh elements.



The Tribe® companion app was created to offer supplemental information in order to further enrich the Tribe® user experience. Though the TribeNavigator® can be used as a stand-alone product, the app gives users more control and detail over their adventures. Maps are provided with satellite and flat views with friends’ locations. Users are able to form tribes (or circles of friends) and invite other users to join. Phone calls and text messages can be made and sent from within the app. Additionally, the app gives users the same live tracking functionality that is used on the TribeNavigator®.



TribeNavigator® utilizes touch capacitive sensors in its tap-based user interface. Specific tap locations lead the user throughout the various menus, options, and functions of the device. An internal accelerometer is capable of recognizing and distinguishing between taps from a finger and impacts sustained from athletic endeavors. Tapping the sides of the device bring the user back or forward. A tap on the top will select the current menu item. When the face of the device is tapped, the selected menu item will be entered. The right side of the device is capable of slide scrolling. Small physical buttons were eliminated in the design process due to common problems with wet, numb, or cold fingers during activity in harsh conditions.

A magnetic charging platform with a USB port can be connected to any power source, including laptops, car lighters, computers, wall outlets, portable batteries, and solar chargers from companies like Goal Zero™ and Brunton™. This flexibility allows athletes and adventurers to stay connected, push their limits, and venture further off the grid without worrying about power constraints.


A functioning proof-of-concept prototype has been developed. This prototype was engineered to demonstrate two distinct and crucial features of the hardware-software ecosystem: activity notification and tribe member location. Activity notification allows users to send notifications of a specific activity from the device to the other members of the user’s tribe. The tribe member location feature provides members of a tribe the ability to communicate their locations to one another in real time on their devices.