Kick-off in Twente

We are very happy we can work together with three students from Design Lab, a creative and cross-disciplinary ecosystem at the University of Twente.

Kick-off in Twente - two of the students of the DesignLab

Kick-off in Twente – two of the students of the DesignLab

This week Danielle went for two days to Twente to visit the students who will focus on the electronics and the embedded software. They will focus on the PCB’s and the 3D printing of the box for the PCB’s which will be included in the Silence Suit. After explaining the main idea of Hermitage 3.0 the intention of the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit became clearer to them and they know what has to be done to optimize the Silence Suit.

The second day they already had some refreshing ideas about the electronics. To make the system more stable they will look for new connectors. Among others the connection between the suit and the vest will be optimized. They will reduce the cables from all the analogue sensors to one cable. They will explore if you can connect the suit to the vest by connecting it at one point.

In two weeks we will meet again to discuss the progress of the project and to look how we can include the electronics in the Silence Suit.

Another highlight this week was the skype meeting with Vera de Pont. She is working on the design of the Silence Suit. We are working towards an image of a contemporary monk. Vera had great ideas about how we can make the suit more timeless, unisex and nevertheless stylish. She is working on a poncho-like idea of the suit which will make it lighter so you can meditate comfortably.

first design by Vera de Pont - poncho like suit

first design by Vera de Pont – poncho like suit

Maybe the bottom layer can have long sleeves so you won’t get too cold in the winter. To make it light enough for in the summer Vera will look at cutting out a pattern. Therefore she plans to use a laser cutter as well was for the cabling. She wants to include the cabling in the design of the suit by making it visible at the surface area.

hand weave pattern - noting down your personal progress

hand weave pattern

It could underline the modern innovative image of the Silence Suit. Vera wants to work with pockets for the sensors and box. She plans to work with graphic icons to show the user clearly the content of the pockets. A weave pattern at the front of the suit might give the user the chance to personalize it. By noting down the weekly meditation sessions in the hand woven agenda you can overview your personal progress.

Danielle really likes the idea of connecting the high-tech meditation session to a classy look of a contemporary monk with some analogue aspects like the hand woven agenda. In two weeks when we meet the students in Twente Vera will come too present a textile sketch of the suit. I am excited how it looks like.

As you can see, the project is going well. By now everybody knows his tasks and can start realizing it. I think it is a great relief for Danielle. Now, she can focus on her research regarding content because she knows everything is going well.



Working on the sitting sensor

The most important step Danielle made this week is the formulation of the costumer journey. We distinguish four different kinds of users: The Plug-and-float, De-kleine-onderzoeker, the Lab manager and the QS-wizard. The Plug-and-float is the individual user who wants to improve the quality of her own meditation session. She focuses on looking at the data and improving the meditation through actuation. De-kleine-onderzoeker wants to do research about the environment. She wants to know which actuation has the most positive effect. She organizes experiments for herself or for a bigger group. The Lab manager maintains the suits for a bigger group. She is able to work on the sensors and the actuation by adding or removing sensors or actuators. The QS-wizard wants to make new applications by herself. For every kind of user, Danielle described the way how they have to use the software. This costumer journey is the starting point for the software.

On Monday Danielle went to ProtoSpace in Utrecht to meet the software engineer and the system architect to discuss the data server. We learned that the micro controller has to be programmed in a more modular way to make it future proof. This makes it more complex than we thought first.

Today we worked on the sitting sensor. The data we got from the old one where to unstable. The sitting sensor is the on/off button for the system. As soon as you are sitting it will be logging your session. But that also means that the whole session is interrupted as soon as the sitting sensor does not work. We knew that the surface of the sitting sensor has to be bigger so that it is no problem if you move a little. But the one we had was too big, so it was pretty expensive and not comfortable.

sitting sensor - conductive foil 15x7 cm

sitting sensor – conductive foil 15×7 cm

As you can see in our notes below the conductive foil was 15×7 cm first. Before sitting the
value was about 880 or 860. While sitting it was about 140. That is a big range which makes it possible that you can move while meditating without interrupting the session. We cut the conductive foil in half to test if it would work if it was smaller. You see that the range of the value became much smaller and the sensor was actually too unstable again. This might have also been caused by lack of conductivity. We cut off the tape as you can see below.

sitting sensor - conductive foil

sitting sensor – conductive foil 15×3,5 cm

notes sitting sensor - conductive foil

notes sitting sensor – conductive foil

But we thought maybe the conductive cloth we have conducts better than the conductive foil, so that the small one of 15×3,5 cm would be enough to get a bigger range. We just tried and as you can see our experiment was successful. With the conductive cloth from 15×3,5 cm we got the best values with the biggest range ever. For now this one is our choice. Next week we have to work on how you can include it in the suit.

conductive cloth

sitting sensor – conductive cloth 15×3,5 cm

notes sitting sensor - conductive cloth

notes sitting sensor – conductive cloth

I see how difficult it is to be the team leader. Danielle has the vision.
She wants to reach her goal, but sees how ambitious it is. It seems very difficult to me to stay true to your own vision if there are still organizational problems you have to solve. We try to formulate a common vision so that every team member knows our plans. This vision has to be the base everyone is familiar with so that every team member goes for it. But I am optimistic: Together we will get there!






Neck sensor does his work

Last week we made great steps developing the sensors and the electronics.

We chose another sensor for in the neck. It detects movement to the extent we want it. We found a solution to include the sensor in the Silence Suit. We went further with the experiments we did last week. We chose another cloth for the turtleneck which is more flexible. It sits tight enough at the neck that the sensor can detect every move you make. Although there are still some small disturbances, three different angles can be detected very well. We can determine movement forward, to the right as well as to the left.

neck sensor - detecting every move you make

neck sensor – detecting every move you make

To make it more comfortable we cut it out at the front. So, the turtleneck will not influence your breathing. It is still sketchy but we are very happy we found a way that it works. Now it is up to our designer to optimize the look.

turtleneck - cut out at the front

turtleneck – cut out at the front

We have found a new sensor detecting the pressure between your fingers. We want detect light pressure. It is more sensitive than the one we used before. The amount of pressure between your fingers during meditation is a good indicator of your concentration level.

We changed the microcontroller we want to use. We included a battery so you can recharge it easily by connecting the microcontroller to your computer.

German has introduced us to a convenient platform to communicate with each other. We share our progress questions and discoveries among ourselves using Dropbox Paper. We are really happy that we can work together on one vision by sharing our thoughts that easily.

Dropbox Paper

Dropbox Paper

Danielle’s research about the influence of the light is difficult because there is not that much investigated about it. We are waiting for the thesis of an intern from Philips Research who has focused on the influence of light on relaxation. The experiments Danielle wants to do with the sketch of the Silence Suit cannot be thought out because she misses some academical input. So, if you maybe know some interesting literature about the influence of light either on psychological or on scientific level, please let us know by leaving a comment.

Today I picked up how important it is to go on. No matter how small the steps seem that you make, they are all crucial to reach your goal. As you can see, we are making crucial steps to realize the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit. And we can enjoy every small success we have, for instance the solution of the neck sensor today. But there is still much to do. I am excited what comes next.

Relief! The organisational problems reduce

Last week, I was busy with sewing the sketch of the Silence Suit. But I also was busy with the project in my head. I really was wondering how Danielle’s week would pass. Last time she seemed stressed and exhausted because of many organisational problems. So before I came this time I really hoped that many problems would have been solved. I was excited if the wearable would fit and if we could start looking for the sensors and the wiring.

So the question in the beginning “How are you? And how was your week?” had an extra meaning today. She seemed relieved: “I could eliminate many stress factors”, she says. That means she knows every team member can meet the milestones. Moreover, she does not have to solve the organisational problems all on her own anymore, but her mentor will take them on.

Because she didn’t have to focus on these things anymore, Danielle could concentrate on the corporation with Design Lab. Students from the University of Twente will work on the design, the developing and the production of the PCB’s for the microcontroller. Furthermore, they will optimise the suit and the cabling, as well as the interaction with the suit.

“So this is all very good news. But my highlight was the visit of Tom Bergman from Philips Research.” Last Friday he came to show the opportunities to influence the sphere of the environment by light. Danielle could try if the light has some influence on her mood by putting on the wearable. She could see that intensity and colour of the light can be detected by the sensors of the suit by sitting in front of the apparatus of Philips. The experiment was successful and we know that the apparatus is strong enough to influence the environment.

testing the influence of light - with Tom Bergman from Philips

testing the influence of light – with Tom Bergman from Philips

It is a well known phenomenon that you can recharge your energy by experiencing nature. It is called restoration and Danielle already worked with it in one of her projects Virtual View. But is seems that this phenomenon also works with light. Maybe light could work as influence as well as expression of the quality of the meditation session.

Besides that, we want to focus on the sensors and the cabling today. The sensor in the neck that detects movement has to be optimised. We make a first try by just sticking the sensor on the neck. We want to try where the sensor has to sit, so it detects the movement the best. We validate what Danielle already expected: The sensor has to sit as high as possible on your neck.

neck sensor - logging different positions

neck sensor – logging different positions

Moreover, we have to work on the sketch of the wearable I made. Because the sensor has to be included in the neck of the wearable. On the one hand, the sensor has to sit that tight that it detects every movement, but on the other hand it still has to sit comfortable. We try different options. We choose a turtleneck with some Velcro at the front to open, close and tighten the suit. But that is not enough. Also the other option we tried with some elastic does not work. It is still too slack and the sensor does not move enough to detect. So next week we have to look for another option. We already have some idea’s in our hearts but maybe you know a solution for our issue. So how would you solve that problem? Let us know by leaving a comment.

turtleneck - trying to include the neck sensor in the sketch of the vest

turtleneck – trying to include the neck sensor in the sketch of the vest

So you see by outsourcing tasks which stress you, you can focus on the things you like the most. It was really nice to see Danielle that happy and relieved today. I learned for myself how worthwhile it an be to ask one another for help. You see the value of a team. Maybe the things you are struggling with are for others much less complicated.



First visit to Léanne’s design studio

Since the last time we met, Danielle just went on with her project. She is still organising many things. The expectations of WEAR Sustain are still not fulfilled. But it takes shape and she is in contact with many people to solve the organisational problems. Phone calls and Skype meetings are on her daily agenda.

Moreover, she tries to develop the Meditation Lab by visualising a to-do list of what has to be adapted about the wearable, both for the design and the technology aspect.

Visual to-do list - design of the Silence Suit

visual to-do list – design of the Silence Suit

Meanwhile, the questionnaire is in development. The first version is finished and Danielle already logged two sessions. She still wants to add some other aspects which can influence the quality of the meditation session.

Danielle tries to organise her thoughts and plans by making a mind map. Data, relaxation, surroundings, habit, technology and insight are the most important points for her which led to other aspects she wants to explore. A great insight from creating the mind map is that the project brings together a lot of contrasts. The tradition of meditation is opposed to the technology she uses; There is a tension between not knowing and insight, between just feeling and influencing those feelings. It is the famous theme from Buddhism that there is no difference between form and emptiness. Danielle wants these contrasts to come back in the design of the Silence Suit because it is also a tension between a personal experience that you want to share with the community and a personal development that you want to express. So it also has to be a part of the design. That is why Danielle created a mood board after becoming aware of the contrasts.

mood board - organising thoughts about the design

mood board – organising thoughts about the design

The mind map and the mood board work very well to communicate her ideas to others. For me, many things become clearer now.

We visit Léanne, the designer. Danielle takes the mood board with her to show Léanne her plans. “The suit has to become less sporty and more classic. It is just another look, the base stays the same”, she explains. Léanne understands very well what Danielle wants, but it seems difficult to find the right cloth. It has to be classic, biological and preferably naturally. But it also has to be comfortable and not too thick, otherwise will get it too warm while meditating. We are going to make a sketch of the wearable, so the cloth is not so important now. But Léanne promises to look for other cloths which will fulfil Danielle’s criteria.

At the end of the day, we leave Léanne’s design studio with some dark gray biological cotton stretch, lilac linen and some black and silver network fabric. “I want to play with open and closed”, Danielle says, “maybe it can give the design a new layer, if you can see the first layer of the suit as well as the under vest.” Now I can start sewing a sketch of the suit, so we can work on the design of the cabling next week.




The start of realising the Meditation Lab

Hello, I am Meike Kurella. I am an art student finishing the final year of the art academy St.Joost, Breda. For the next half year I am doing my internship at Awareness Lab. I am going to help Danielle Roberts by blogging about the process and helping her with all kind of hands on tasks. For me, it will offer an insight in the daily life of an artist. I am really interested how a network of artists and scientists works and I would like to discover what technology could mean for my work.

I am really excited we can start realising the Meditation Lab together. I want to follow and to determine the whole process of the project. That is why I will give an overview in form of a weekly blog. This is how I experienced my first day at Awareness Lab.

In the morning, Danielle explains her plans and shows me the prototype of the Silence Suit. She gets the wearable on. “It has to become a ritual”, she says. It does not look very comfortable. So I ask her if she wants some help. “Oh no, just enjoy the moment, you are the public”, she says and goes on. She got it. Every sensor, every cable is connected to the microcontroller. To optimise the process of putting on the wearable Danielle has recorded an MP3 file so you can listen to her instructions by scanning a QR-code. Thus, putting on the wearable becomes a part of the whole experience. We start the system and it does not work. “You see, we have to work on it”, she says and laughs. She has no idea why it does not work. We have to test some options before it is fixed. She logs while we are sitting at the computer in her studio. But the session terminates every time she moves too much. We have to work on the sensor that detects sitting. The errors have to be eliminated. There are already some tests done to choose the right sensor. Danielle had three options for different sensors. By logging sessions with each of the three sensors she could make a choice. “You see, the blue one is the best.” That seems to be how it works: Trial and error.

meditation stool - testing the different sitting sensors

meditation stool – testing the different sitting sensors

sitting sensors - logging the three different options

sitting sensors – logging the three different options

Danielle already planned the project before she knew she could realise the Meditation Lab. She already knew who would be her mentor, who would help her realising the software system and who would design the wearable. She already had everything worked out before she knew the expectations of WEAR Sustain. After she won the call she learned about rules and limitations on spending the budget. That is why many plans have to be changed. It costs much time that she actually wanted to use to do some test en trials. These are organizational problems you have to deal with.

But as an artist Danielle wants to do research and create things. That is why she continues by doing research about the meaning of a habit. She wants to reform the design of the wearable. It has to become more classic so you get the association of a contemporary monk. Next week we will meet Léanne, the designer, to tell her about the new plans. Moreover, Danielle already spoke to Doshin, her meditation teacher. By connecting with inspiring people and talking to experts like Doshin she wants to increase the importance of the Silence Suit for your meditation session.

Doshin - trying on the silence suit

Doshin – trying on the Silence Suit

She plans to develop a questionnaire that you have to fill in before and after your meditation session. So you can quantify the quality of your experience. That is only one point of Danielle’s very long wish list for the Meditation Lab.

Introducing Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit

For over a year I’ve been working on a wearable which will track physiological and environmental parameters during meditation. The idea was to improve the quality of your meditation by changing aspects of your environment e.g. light, sounds or temperature.

Silence Suit

In the spring of this year the opportunity arose to apply for an open call organised by the EU. The aim of that call is to generate knowledge about and new applications that address important issues concerning wearable technology today: data ethics and sustainability. Teams consisting of artist/designers and technologists were invited to apply for the WEARsustain open call.

I’m happy to announce here that my project is one of the 23 winners. For the next 6 months I’ll work with a great team of experts to realize this project. There’s what we’ll do.

DIY Science

We will create the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit. This is a tool-set for studying, enhancing and sharing meditation experiences. The kit consists of a wearable and software. The main functionalities are:
1) Monitoring: A two piece garment, Silence Suit houses seven different biometric sensors and three environmental sensors.
2) Logging and analysing: A data server can store the data and allows the user to perform data analysis
3) Influencing: The wearable is part of an Internet of Things ecology allowing it to automatically optimise the environment for meditation
4) Sharing: Live or logged data can be used for to create custom output, in this case artistic visualizations for others to experience meditation.

The development will be staged around experiments. I will conduct 1-person meditation sessions in a controlled and customizable environment to explore the influence of light on meditation. Sensor data is combined with qualitative input about the session. The aim is to make 5 wearables. That way I can test the results in group experiments.

DIY Sustainability

I want to make sustainability as easy as possible for the user. The hardware consists of of-the-shelf, low cost and open source sensors. This makes replacement easy. The battery and micro-controller container will be 3D printed. This allows for easy adjustment and replacement. All schematics and patterns will become open-source. Users can keep working with the components and customize the suit.

Freeing Quantified Self

With regards to data ethics I believe that people have a right to own their data and that sharing should be opt-in only. That is why the software should function fully stand alone to protect the personal data. Basic statistical analyses let users explore their data. This makes it easy to independently make sense of the data. The kit democratizes doing scientific experiments and promotes data literacy.

Here’s a video I made together with Michel Gutlich about what we intend to do.


Don’t DI all Y

I realize that this is quite an ambitious plan for 6 months. That’s why I work with enthusiastic experts:
ProtoSpace will work on the dataserver.
Vera de Pont will design a new suit and sew the wearables in 3 different sizes.
Hans d’Achard will manage the system architecture and technology management of the software system.
Germán Bravo will provide expert knowledge and work on the machine learning.
Meike Kurella will be my intern for this period. She’ll be blogging about the process and help out with all kind of hands on tasks (sewing, soldering and help out with the experiments).

I’m very much looking forward to starting the project and learning how technology can support spirituality and health. Check this blog for the latest updates.









Maya cabin hackathon

Since this year my projects Meditation Lab and Silence Suit are part of Hack the Body program initiated by the art-science lab Baltan. They want to combine different programs so they suggested that Hack the Body should work together with people from the Age of Wonderland program.
That meant I could work with Branly again. I met him last year and that was a very impressive experience. Branly works with people using ancient Maya spirituality.
At the same time I could try out the Sensiks cabin. With this cabin you can create multi-sensory experiences. This is very similar to what I want to do in my Hermitage 3.0 project. (This will be a space where I can optimise meditation by changing the environment and influencing the senses.)
I brought my Silence Suit which already has a lot of working sensors. We could use the suit to log biometric and environmental data and see how they are influenced by the actuators in the Sensiks cabin.
The main aim of the hackathon was to explore if ancient Maya culture and rituals can be transferred to a high tech environment. The team members were David, Branly, Masha, later to be joined by Michel.

Day 1: exploring
The first afternoon Branly explained the Tuj/Temazcal. It is used in a purifying rebirth ritual. It is a small dome-like structure that is heated by hot stones and steam. The experience resembles a sauna. The rebirth ritual is multi-sensory too: touch (temperature, rubbing with twigs and salt), smell: different herbs and resins, taste: hot drinks (herbal infusions, cacao, honey). Sound: beating of a drum, like heartbeat. Vision is excluded mostly. The Tuj is dark except for red hot glowing stones. We decided to take this as a starting point for building our experience.

Tuj/Temazcal Wikipedia image

The Tuj is located on a beach or in the woods. A quiet, relaxing space. The ritual isn’t limited to experience in the dome. Preparations start days before. The space around the dome is also part of the ritual. For example the structure has a low door so you have to get on all fours to enter. This immediately takes you back to your childhood.

Sensiks control panel photo by Masha Ru

Sensiks control panel photo by Masha Ru

The Sensiks cabin has lots of different actuators: smell, airflow, light, sound, temperature and VR. Everybody had a test ride. We all felt the cabin was rather clinical. We wanted to connect it to the environment. Make it part of a bigger ritual like the Maya rebirth ritual.

Day 2: concept development
Next day we were joined by other Hack the Body participants and hackers. One of them was Michel with whom I collaborate on the Silence Suit.
The whole group had a very interesting discussion about what an experience actually is and where it is experienced. Is it meaningful to recreate an experience that can never match the real thing? The most interesting would be to create something that can’t be experienced in the real world. We wanted to work on changing our state of mind through bodily experiences.

Another level of conciousness... Photo by Masha Ru

Another level of conciousness… Photo by Masha Ru

Day 3: design and experiments
The Maya team was joined by technology wizard Michel. We decided that we did not want to mimic the actual sensory experiences but try to induce a state of mind, another level of consciousness. We used these keywords as our guideline: womb, unknown, subconscious, abstract and random, rhythm. The next step was to translate these abstract concepts into an experience in the cabin. Actuators that we could use: smoke, heat, sound, red and blue lights.

Michel at work Photo by Masha Ru

Michel at work Photo by Masha Ru

In the womb the developing child experiences the heartbeat and breathing of the mother. In the rebirth ritual they make use of a drum to simulate that heartbeat. We wanted to use our own heartbeat and breathing using life data from the Silence Suit. The Sensiks cabin would provide the feedback through sound and light and influence the user. We did little experiments to try out the effects of hearing your heartbeat and breathing, using smoke, scent, heating the cabin, using airflow, etc. It was promising.

Experimenting with sound Photo by Masha Ru

Experimenting with sound Photo by Masha Ru

Day 4: building and presentation
We wrote a scenario of the ritual which started and ended outside of the cabin. Our aim was to slow heart-rate by manipulating the feedback. Just like the peaceful heart-beat of the mother will quiet the unborn child. This is also a way to connect to the heartbeat of the cosmos.
From this came the idea to limit the experience to 260 heart-beats (there are 260 days in a Maya year). By slowing your heart-rate you can make the experience last longer. Four stages of 65 beats would offer different experiences aimed at first going inward and then returning to the outside again.

The ritual starts outside Photo by Masha Ru

The ritual starts outside Photo by Masha Ru

The main challenge was to get the Sensiks and Silent Suit systems working together and to time the events to the users’ heart-rate. We didn’t even have time to test the final scenario.
One of the jury members agreed to be the guinea-pig. And even though we didn’t manage to manipulate the heart-rate feedback we could hear her heart-beat slowing down as she progressed through the experience. Later she described that she could turn inwards and let go of the world outside the cabin. This was exactly what we were aiming for.

Presenting "260 beats womb reset" Photo by Stellarc

Presenting “260 beats womb reset” Photo by Stellarc

Some conclusions
For me the “260 beats womb reset” experience was a proof of concept. That you can actually change a state of mind through relatively simple means (light, sound, smell and airflow) using physiological data as input. An interesting insight is that it is important to make the experience bigger than the box. To create a larger ritual that is not isolated from the rest of the environment. The user must be lured and triggered to actually use the cabin, it must make sense in the context of life.

It was a great inspiration to work with Branly, David, Masha, Michel, Fred (the inventor of the Sensiks) and all the other participants. Michel did a great job of getting everything to work in time for the presentation and combining the systems. We’ve been able to create a spiritual experience using technology. It will be worthwhile exploring this further. I feel a step closer to realizing my Hermitage 3.0.

Edit >> In addition to this report there is an interview with me by Olga Mink from Baltan Laboratories all about the hackathon. Included there is a very nice video impression of the whole week.




Introducing Silence Suit

first sensors

Meditation stool with soft sensor and heart-rate sensor

For over a year I’ve been working on a meditation wearable. It measures biometric and environmental input. Its goals is to use the measurements to improve your meditation and use the data to generate artistic visualisations. The wearable is part of a bigger project Hermitage 3.0, a high-tech living environment for 21st century hermits (like me). Now that the wearable project is taking shape I’d like to tell a little about to process of creating it.

The sensors
I started with a simple but surprisingly accurate heart-rate sensor. It works with the Arduino platform. It uses an ear-clip and sends out inter beat intervals and beats per minute at every beat. With some additional code in Processing I can calculate heart-rate variability. These are already two important measures that can tell a lot about my state while meditating. Then I added galvanic skin response to measure the sweatiness of my skin, a nice indicator of stress or excitement. I added an analogue temperature sensor that I put on my skin to measure its temperature. Low skin temperature also indicates a state of relaxation. I also made a switch sensor that is attached to my meditation stool. Sitting on it indicates the start a session, getting up marks the end.
All sensors were connected with a wire to my computer but the aim was, of course, to make it wireless so I’d be free to move. But I could already see day to day changes in my measurements.

A little help from my friends
As things were becoming more complex I posted a request for help in a Facebook group. A colleague, Michel offered to help. We first looked at different ways to connect wirelessly. Bluetooth was a problem because it has very short range. Xbee also wasn’t ideal because you need a separate connector. We also made a version where we could write to an SD card on the device. But this of course doesn’t offer live data which was crucial for my plans. We finally settled for WiFi using the Sparkfun Thing Dev ESP8266. We were going to need a lot of analogue pins which the thing dev doesn’t offer. So we used the MCP3008 chip to supply 8 analogue i/o pins.

Overview of all the sensors

Overview of all the sensors

More is more
We could then increase the amount of sensors. We’ve added an accelerometer for neck position, replaced the analogue skin temperature sensor with a nice and accurate digital one. Around that time a wearable from another project was finished. It is a vest with resistive rubber bands that measures expansion of the chest and belly region. Using the incoming analogue values I can accurately calculate breath-rate and upper and lower respiration. Then it was time to add some environmental sensors. They give more context to for example GSR and skin temp readings. We’ve added room temperature and humidity, light intensity and RGB colour and air flow.

Vest with sensors

Vest with sensors

Environmental sensors

Environmental sensors

Seeing is believing
From the start I’ve made simple plots to get a quick insight into the session data. For now they don’t have an artistic purpose but are purely practical. At this point it is still essential to see if all sensors work well together. It’s also nice to get some general insight into how the body behaves during a meditation session.
Data is also stored in a structured text file. It contains minute by minute averages as well as means for the whole session.

Session data plot with legend

Session data plot with legend

I’ve also made a Google form to track my subjective experience of each session. I rate my focus, relaxation and perceived silence on a 7 point likert scale and there is a text field for a remark about my session.

Results from Google form: very relaxed but not so focussed...

Results from Google form: very relaxed but not so focussed…

I used the vest from the other project to attach the sensors to. But last week costume designer Léanne van Deurzen has made a first sample of the wearable. It was quite a puzzle for her and her interns to figure out the wiring and positioning of every sensor. I really like the look of this first design. It’s fits with the target group: high-tech hermits and it also is very comfortable to wear.

Upper and lower part of the suit

Upper and lower part of the suit

Back with extension where soft sensors to detect sitting will be placed

Back with extension where soft sensors to detect sitting will be placed

The future
The next step will be adding sensors for measuring hand position and pressure and a sound-level sensor.
Then we will have to make the processing board a bit smaller so it can fit in the suit. We can then start integrating the wiring and replacing it by even more flexible ones.
When all the sensors are integrated I can really start looking at the data and look for interesting ways to explore and understand it.
I’m also looking for ways to fund the making of 15 suits. That way I can start experiments with groups and find ways to optimise meditation by changing the environment.

Pitch for The Big Date Hackathon

I was invited to pitch at a hackathon hosted by the GGD. The topic was: Data citizens: using quantified self to improve health? I got a lot of positive feedback on my pitch so I want to share it here.

I have a dream…
But then I wake up.
I’m lying in my bed, my Emfit QS sleep sensor has logged my sleep phases, heartrate and movements. Todays’ sleep score is 86 points. But how did I sleep according to me? For one I already feel quite stressed because of some issues at work.
I take my morning blood pressure reading and sure enough the blood pressure has risen.
I hope some meditation will help. I put on my meditation monitoring gear and meditate for 30 minutes. Later I can see from my log that my heart rate came down. And I’m glad the whirlwind of thoughts has dropped.
Every morning I’m curious about my current weight. So I step on my Aria Wi-Fi scale, hmm. Yesterday I had a beer and some peanuts and it shows: weight has gone op by 0.4 kg and fat percentage by 0.1. But I can make a new start every day.
So let’s continue with a healthy breakfast: banana 83 gr, 74 kcal, orange 140 gr, 69 kcal, kiwi fruit, 75 gr, 46 kcal. After that a nice, warm oatmeal with extra fibre, apricots, flax seeds and soy milk: a total of 360 kcal.
Now I’m ready for work! My project timer logs the minutes I spend on different projects and the Workpace software makes sure it take my breaks on time.
After lunch (498 kcal) it is time for my walk in the afternoon sun. 4731 steps. Still more then 5000 to go.
In the evening, after a workout and a nice diner I check my energy balance, 1966 calories in and 1856 calories out. I try and burn a little bit more and take an evening stroll.

After some stretch exercise I head of to bed. And then I have a dream:
I’m travelling on a train. A nice and professional looking lady takes the seat next to me. She says: “I’ve been watching you. I see you very often, almost every time I take the train. I’ve got a feeling I know you pretty well. I know you have a very conscious lifestyle: your diet is healthy, you take enough exercise and your BMI is perfect. I estimate your biological age to be around 12.5 years younger than your chronological age. But still, you sleep poorly from time to time and your fat percentage as well as your concentration during meditation fluctuate. Please let me tell you what you can do to further optimise your health.” She bends over and starts whispering in my ear. I can’t make out everything she says but a sense of insight, purpose and control fills me. I lean back in my chair and a feel happy and relieved.

As we’re entering a tunnel she gets up and sits down opposite an elderly, overweight woman with a walking stick by her side. Slowly the young professional transforms into a kind granny as she takes out some knitting from her bag. She starts a conversation with the other woman, about arthritis if I’m not mistaken. Then I wake up.

I had a dream. In this dream all the fragmented pieces of data that I collect about my body and behaviour were translated into actionable information, explained to me in a language I can understand. I had insight into what my next steps should be and what path to follow to keep on track and to further improve my health. I received some true health wisdom.
Now I’m a media artist, I work with data, I program, make visualisations and use statistics. But even for me it is not clear what actionable conclusions I can draw from my data. A visualisation doesn’t necessarily lead to insight let alone advice on how to improve my lifestyle.

And look at the elderly lady. She got her information in a way that was appropriate for her. The oracle answered questions and gave advice fitting to this individual based on a deep understanding of all the data available.

But… it was a dream.
I challenge you to come up with solutions on how to combine data sets, generate knowledge from it and translate it into plans and advice people can really work with. Solutions that are transparent and respect the choices and privacy of the users.
I challenge you to make my dreams come true this weekend.

The big date

The big date hackathon, picture by MAD