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.

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Visualising converstation

During the Dutch Design Week Awareness Lab conducted an experiment which consisted of a virtual tour through the future Meditation Lab. Visitors viewed a slide show and got an explanation of what it will entail to use Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit (MLEK).

After the tour we asked them open-ended questions like: Can you imagine using MLEK? Do you think the use of the PC is disturbing or contributing to your mindset and attitude? Do you have experience in meditation?
We collected 10 forms and got responses from 14 participants. We were touched by their involvement and interesting and valuable remarks. Remarks turned out to fall into a few areas of interest. Some remarks were mentioned only once others up to six times by different people.

DDW17poster

DDW visualisation of comments during the Meditation Lab virtual tour

You may download this A3 sized PDF: DDW17Viz

I would like to thank: the participants, Creative Ring Eindhoven, Meike Kurella, Hans d’Achard.

Single person experiments with light

A romantic dinner by candle light, bright lights in an office building. Both give us a very different experience. We all know from experience how light can influence our mood and the way we perceive a space.
What I want to find out with Meditation Lab is if light conditions can also influence the quality of your meditation experience. I have a hunch that it does. This is also based on over 20 years of daily meditation practice. And I’ve found starting points on optimal lighting during meditation in scientific research.

Building a meditation lab in my attic

Building a meditation lab in my attic

Conditions for a good meditation session

Contrary to a commonly held belief meditation isn’t about being relaxed and a little sleepy. I practice in the Buddhist tradition of Vipassana (insight) meditation. This form of meditation is about being fully present in the moment without effort. This clear observation will give a person insight into the true nature of reality. This insight will help to overcome suffering and to become a wiser and more compassionate being. An important concept in this context is the Satipatthana.
So the ideal state for a good meditation session is being relaxed but at the same time alert. I had heard about changing light conditions in classrooms to support different activities and states of mind of students. I was also wondering if work had been done on the psychological aspects of light. I’ll summarize my findings and tell about how I will be translating that into one person experiments.

Working with a light expert

Before diving into the theory I would like to explain how I will go about changing the light conditions. I was very fortunate be introduced to Tom Bergman. He is Principal Scientist at Philips Lighting. He has been working on what he calls Light instruments: LED light systems that can be programmed and played like a musical instrument. With his instruments he wants to go beyond mere functionality and use light for expression and experience. Our goals and explorations were a perfect match. I will be using his 9 x 9 mosaic instrument. It can make all colours and make beautiful and unexpected colour transitions. Also interesting is that it has been tested as tool for relaxation by master student Nina Oosterhaven (1). Her study showed for example that looking at changing patterns of light showed a significant reduction in heart-rate. So there are interesting starting points to work with the instrument.
The light instruments are of course very specialized and not commercially available. So Tom kindly also supplied me with a Philips Hue Go. This will enable me to try out similar settings with a consumer device which is already Internet of Things ready.

The lab set up: Light instrument, meditation mat and data server

The lab set up: Light instrument, meditation mat and data server

Types of light

Psychological effects

In the various articles I read I was looking for settings in light colour and intensity that would either relax or activate people and make them alert. There hasn’t been much research on the psychological effects of lighting. Seuntiens and Vogels(2) have done research on atmosphere and light characteristic in living room settings with a group of light designers. They looked at four types of atmospheres of which activating and relaxing are relevant for Meditation Lab. Interesting were their findings on the influence of colour temperature, brightness and dynamics on these atmospheres. In general the findings were: warmer (+/- 2700 Kelvin), static and less bright light (180 lux) is perceived as relaxing. Cooler (+/- 3800 K) and brighter light (390 lux) is perceived as activating this light can have a slow dynamic.

School performance

Sleegers et al (3) looked at school performance in children and students under adjusted light conditions. Their studies used build in light systems which had different settings. Focus, calm and engery are the most interesting for my project. Energy is an interesting setting, it is used in the morning or after mealtime to overcome sluggishness. The settings correspond with the following light properties (measured at eye-hight):
Energy:650 lux and 12000 K colour temperature
Focus:1000 lux and 6500 K colour temperature
Calm:300 lux and 2900K

Staying awake

Jacques Taillard et al (4) studied the effects of blue light on staying awake whilst driving a car at night. They compared the effects of continuous blue light to drinking coffee. When compared to a placebo both coffee and the blue light condition reported significantly less inappropriate line crossings with coffee doing only slightly better then blue light. The light source was a Philips GOLite with a wavelength of 468 nm. Luminance level was around 20 lux measured at eye level.

Research design

Sleepiness, tension and lack of focus are challenges you face when meditating. By experimenting with different types of light I want to find out if the findings in other areas can be used in a meditation setting. I will use warm white light for relaxation, cool white light for focus and blue light for alertness. I will be exposed to one light condition per 20 minute meditation session. Before and after every session I fill in the standardised questionnaires which I have designed. I have started single person experiments (n=1) and I have designed the following experiments.

Design single person experiments

Design single person experiments

There is no baseline measurement included in the single person meditation session. Instead I have conducted 54 baseline session under my usual meditation conditions. I did a 6 day solitary retreat at home. The sessions took place throughout the day, I didn’t manipulate anything, especially not the light conditions. So they varied widely as the day progressed.

Current findings

At the moment I’m conducting n=1 experiments using the Light instrument and the three main light states described above. I’ve set up a darkened lab to control the light conditions. I keep my eyes slightly open with my gaze turned down.
My first impressions are that there is a difference from what I normally experience during meditation. The white lights I find quite relaxing and somehow invigorating. The blue light I find less pleasant and a bit depressing. I suppose the light will interact with my overall state of focus, sleepiness and alertness as it fluctuates during the day. That is why I try to do the experiments at different times of the day while using the same light setting. I do worry a bit about my sleep when meditating in the evening in bright light. For that reason I have turned down the brightness (there a 5 settings) in an effort to not affect my sleep too much.

The single person experiments are my starting point. Later I will report on my design for group experiments. I’m always on the lookout for people who would like to join the experiments. So please leave a comment if you want to participate.

References
1) Oosterhaven, N. (2017). Fascinated by Dynamic Lighting. Thesis Master of Science In Human Technology Interaction
2) Seuntiens, P.J.H. & Vogels, Ingrid. (2008). Atmosphere creation: The relation between atmosphere and light characteristics. Proceedings from the 6th Conference on Design and Emotion 2008.PJC Sleegers, PhD, NM Moolenaar, PhD, M Galetzka, PhD, A Pruyn, PhD, BE 3) Sarroukh, PhD, B van der Zande, PhD (2013). Lighting affects students’ concentration positively: Findings from three Dutch studies. Lighting Research & Technology Vol 45, Issue 2, pp. 159 – 175
4) Taillard J, Capelli A, Sagaspe P, Anund A, Akerstedt T, Philip P (2012) In-Car Nocturnal Blue Light Exposure Improves Motorway Driving: A Randomized Controlled Trial. PLoS ONE 7(10): e46750.

How to test a meditation wearable?

I suppose the answer to that question is obvious but not so easy to realise: during a retreat. But still, that is what I did. Last week I spend 6 days meditating while at the same time putting my brand new wearable and software platform to the test.

It was snowing outside while I was doing my 6-day retreat

It was snowing outside while I was doing my 6-day retreat

What is it all about?

For those of you who missed it: the past 3 months I’ve been working on the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit. The focus on those first months has been to design and develop a new Silence Suit wearable, improve the electronics and create a software platform (the Data Server) to log and explore the data.
The whole team has been working really hard to get the prototype ready for single user testing. It was quite exciting to put all the different parts together which have been developed by different team members on separate locations. I managed only just in time to get everything to work for the start of my self conducted retreat.

Data science

The main goal was to gather as much baseline data as possible. At a later stage I will try to influence my meditation through manipulating the light. But to really see the effects I need insight into how my ordinary meditation data looks. So German, our AI and data science expert, advised me to get as many 20 minute sessions as possible. I managed to do 54!
Things I wanted to know:
Do all the sensors produce reliable data?
How stable is the software platform?
How easy is it to use the wearable and the platform?
Will I enjoy using both?

Do all the sensors produce reliable data?

MLEK HR

Getting good heart-rate data was the biggest challenge

Because I had been working with most of the sensors in my first prototype I had a pretty good idea of what the data should look like. Programmer Simon had swiftly put together a script that could plot data from all the sensors in graphs. That way I could easily grasp the main trends. It immediately became clear that the heart-rate sensor wasn’t doing what I’d hoped. A lot of beats were missed, once even only 2 data points were collected in 20 minutes (and no, I was not dead).
Oddly enough the rest of the data was fine. I tried recharging the batteries and changing the ear clip but nothing worked and whether or not I’d get good data seemed unpredictable. Until the final day.
While looking at the graphs after I’d finished a session I casually rubbed my earlobe and it felt cold. I looked at the data and saw that the signal deteriorated towards the end of the session. Eureka! The blood flow to my earlobe was the problem, not the electronics.
Cold is a major influence but I also want to experiment with the tightness of the clip. It might prevent the blood from circulating properly.
So most sensors performed well, better even than I’d hoped. Unfortunately no data comes from the cute little PCB one of the students at Design Lab has designed and soldered. Also the soft sensor for detecting sitting down (also the start button) is still unstable.

Force sensor to measure pressure between fingers

How stable is the software platform?

The software runs on my old Dell laptop and Simon has installed the Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment (LXDE) on it. So it runs on Linux which was a new experience for me. But I like it, it is basic and simple and does what it should. To start the system I have to run the server for data storing and the adapter for communication with the hardware. I must say I am very impressed with the whole performance. There has been no data loss and the plots are great to get an impression of the session.

getSession

Data output from one meditation session

How easy is it to use the wearable and the platform?

I was pleasantly surprised by the comfortableness of the suit even after 10 sessions in one day. Putting it on with attention takes about 2 minutes and then you’re all set. You hardly notice that you are packed with 10 different sensors.
The pre and post qualitative forms are easy to use. At the moment I still have to use URLs to access certain functionality but everything works and that was such a relief. Plotting the data with around 5000 data points per sensor per 20 min session is hard work for my old Dell. But it gives me time to do a little walking meditation…

Maybe it is just me but I don’t mind filling in two forms for every session. I seriously consider every question and try to answer as honestly as I can.
Doing two or three session in a row is even easier. All I have to do is refresh the home page of the server and I can start another session.

Will I enjoy using both?

Well yes, using the system was a pleasant experience for me. I did learn that I should not look at the data before filling in the post meditation questionnaire because the data caused my mood to plummet. So it will be best to have the data summery after that has been done.

last Session

Session summary. The number of data points will be replaced by mean values.

I have a lot of confidence that the system will be useful and give a lot of insights. There is still a way to go until I can actually automate the light actuation intelligently. But the plots did show variations and now German can work his magic. I can’t wait to see what he will come up with.

Bring things together

Last week Danielle had her mid-term evaluation from WEAR Sustain. I found it interesting to hear about it because as a part of my internship I am also interested how the dependency on a grand feels. She had to show the progress of the project so that the financier can decide if there are enough steps made to further sponsor it. Danielle was very aware of the fact that the project cannot proceed if the jury does not see sufficient progress.

So the days before, the deadline influenced the workflow. We worked extra hard to bring things together so that Danielle could present the suit with all the sensors detecting data while presenting. Everyone invested extra much time and energy to reach the deadline. But as you can imagine we did not reach our goals in one step.

Vera de Pont came in the weekend to fit the suit and to adjust the last things. For example she had to fit the breathing sensor which has to sit very tight to detect the data correctly. Danielle and Vera had to add all the cabling and every sensor to the suit to make the suit a Silence Suit. They worked the whole day until late in the evening to bring it all together.

Danielle wearing the suit including the cabling and the sensors

Danielle wearing the suit including the cabling and the sensors

Silence Suit side view

Silence Suit side view

Silence Suit back

Silence Suit back

The next day Simon de Bakker from Proto Space came to install the software on Danielle’s laptop. So that she could start with the baseline measurements and present the whole suit in action to the jury of WEAR Sustain. But that seemed more difficult than expected. The software could not work be installed the laptop. Simon had to create a Windows installation so it could run on her laptop. It cost much time but after two days it was possible to create a profile, connect to a suit, to start a session and fill in the questionnaire. The only problem was still that the detected data were not right. Only the wind sensor and the breathing sensor worked acurately. The other sensors also send data to the server but they were incorrect.

Selecting a user and suit on the MLEK data server

Selecting a user and suit on the MLEK data server

Data coming in on the MLEK data server

Data coming in on the MLEK data server

Simon is still working hard to solve the problem. So Danielle could not present all the working sensors to the jury last week. But we are optimistic that she may continue her project because for the rest we do fulfil the milestones she formulated in the beginning. We will keep you up to date! :)

Reflecting intensively on the multidisciplinary collaboration

Last weeks we had a great time working hard on the paper we wrote about the collaboration in a multidisciplinary team. All team members worked hard on the next prototype of the Silence Suit and we made great steps to realize it.

Danielle fitting the suit with Vera

Danielle fitting the suit with Vera

Collaboration Paper
But first, I want to tell you more about the paper we wrote. As a reaction to the call for papers from the Design Research Society, Danielle and me decided to reflect on the collaboration in this project. We decided that it goes very well and wanted to research if Danielle’s artistic vision of Hermitage 3.0 is stimulating the team member’s motivation in a positive way. We formulated a survey every team member answered to verify our hypothesis. These hypothesis were created by our reflection. While Danielle reflected on her own role and how she subjectively experience the collaboration, I took the role of an observer to reflect on it from a third angle as onlooker.

It was a really intensive time because it was very hard to formulate our hypothesis and our questions that clear, so we can compare it to the answers of the survey. First, it went very naturally. I did some research about the contemporary artist and compared it to Danielle’s art practice. Danielle read articles about the collaborations and how designers communicate within a collaboration. We saw some parallels with how our collaboration goes and talked about it. Later, it became more complex. We had some hypothesis and questions we still wanted to research. But what does our hypothesis mean in the bigger whole? While I found it easy to zoom in on the artistic practice, I found it more difficult to zoom out at the end to see the relations with the main question to formulate a conclusion.

It was noticeable that Danielle was the leader within this collaboration of writing the paper. I realized that she is experienced in reflecting and formulating her hypothesis in an academic way. Reflecting on how I worked on the paper, I noticed that the art school context is very different from the real world. Criteria for an artist as open minded and innovative seem obvious to me looking at my classmates. Danielle told me her experience with colleagues who finished art school but still work conservatively. I wonder if these people are artists in my eyes.

In the end I am really happy about the result of the paper. Even if there are some things we could further reflect on to get it more precisely, we made great discoveries. We concluded that there are objects needed to communicate with people from different disciplines. They are named boundary objects because they help the team members to cross boundaries. We also learned that the artistic vision of the project stimulates some team members to cross the boundaries of their own expertise. We believe that Danielle as person and as an artist stimulates also the dynamic of the project. But that is an aspect which is worthy of further research.

The writing of the paper was an extraordinary experience for me to work together on one text. I learned how difficult and important it is to understand each other thoughts in the way that you can think further on the thought of another. We have submitted the paper for review by the Design Research Society. We will know if it is accepted by the end of January. We’ll keep you posted.

Visit to Twente
Because we were so busy writing the paper I had no time yet to tell you about our last visit to Design Lab where three students from University Twente: Stephen, Klaas and Jelmer, are working hard to realize the electronics, 3D printed housing and the firmware for Silence Suit. Vera de Pont, the designer, went with us to look how the wiring and the sensors have to be included in the suit. The meeting itself seemed a bit chaotic to me because there was no main focus. Later, I realized that there cannot be a main focus because everyone is working on his own aspect from his own expertise. While Vera and Danielle tried on the suit, Stephen, Klaas and Jelmer worked on the PCBs and casing. And while Danielle spoke with Stephen, Klaas and Jelmer about technical details, Vera tried to effectuate the first adaptation. I noticed that Danielle took the cross over role between these two different work-fields, between design and technology she was the artist.

Stephen and Vera bringing things together on the Silence Suit Danielle is wearing

Stephen and Vera bringing things together on the Silence Suit Danielle is wearing

Generally, many things do not work from the beginning. So you have to make many trials before the result fulfils your expectations. That is something I really learned from my intern-ship and it is still something I have to work on. Personally, I want to do it right in one step. But obviously that is not possible with such a complex project. That is also why the meeting in Twente seemed that chaotic to me. In the end, I had the feeling that we did not reach our goals, because many things did not work. Now, some weeks later, I realize that these trials (I knowingly do not want to name it mistakes) were essential to come where we now are.

Danielle and Vera working on the Silence Suit

Danielle and Vera working on the Silence Suit

The first PCBs are ready, the badge for the environmental sensors and the box for the micro-controller are 3D printed and they look beautiful. The software and the suit itself will soon be ready. Then we have to bring together the suit with the wiring and the sensors. The next step will be to meditate as much as possible to get enough data to program the software intelligence which has to operate the light instrument. It is a exciting time because now, things really have come together.

3D print of the badge and the box

3D print of the badge and the box

Dutch Design Week 2017

Last week, we had an inspiring day at Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. We exhibited the latest prototype of the Silence Suit in the exhibition Do (not) feed the makers and asked the visitors to participate in a virtual tour through the Meditation Lab. We wanted to ask them for some feedback about the procedure of putting on the suit and logging the data of a meditation session.

Danielle - explaining the prototype of the Silence Suit to the visitors

Danielle – explaining the prototype of the Silence Suit to the visitors

We were well prepared. We created a setting with meditation mats and some tea to welcome the visitors. Beforehand, we made a slide show with icons to show all steps belonging to the preparations before meditating, such as putting on the suit and checking every sensor, starting the computer to fill in de questionnaire about which experiment you are going to do and activating the light instrument. In the course of the virtual tour we explained what is happening while meditating: the detected data drive the light instrument to optimize your meditation session. For example, if your heartbeat is too high, you need some warm white light to relax or if you nearly fall asleep, you need some blue light to focus.

Danielle - arranging the setting

Danielle – arranging the setting

The feedback was very positive. Experienced meditators as well as beginners and inexperienced were enthusiastic to think along with our vision. The experienced found it an interesting tool to deepen their meditation experiences. And the inexperienced found it a great tool to facilitate the start of meditating. ‘If there is a light instrument helping you to focus, meditation cannot be that difficult.’, someone said.

Danielle was mostly in dialogue with the visitors and I was taking notes to later look it up to check if we can realize some of the visitor’s wishes. The consensus of the day is in my opinion that the data base as well as the questionnaire have to be as flexible as possible, so that the user can customize it easily. The desires about the outcome of the data were very individual.

In the course of the day, we also heard some critical voices. Some of the visitors criticized the use of technology in combination with meditation. Their motivation to meditate would be to free from the media. Some people also criticized the judgement of a good or a bad meditation session. Meditation has to free you from the pressure you experience in your everyday life. For those people it would be great to profit from the light instrument without reflecting on the outcome.

Danielle - in dialogue with the visitors

Danielle – in dialogue with the visitors

I learned, that the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit is not for everyone. It was never Danielle’s intention to make something everyone is waiting for. It makes her an artist that she realizes a project which seems paradoxical first, but can be really stimulating if you are willing. Staying open for the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit means to be interested in meditation, technology and self-development. You must not be scared about the combination of spirituality and technology which can be very interesting as the Silence Suit shows.

We were very happy about the outcome of this exhibition. I found it very interesting to see how exhibiting, researching and networking can go together. It was inspiring to hear enthusiastic as well as critical voices and it was a great exercise to get in contact with some potential users. We got a list of people who want to know more about the project and maybe want to participate in some Meditation Lab Experiments.

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Enjoying the multidisciplinary collaboration

I am really enjoying my internship at Awareness Lab. Even if I only speak Danielle regularly, and other team members from time to time, I get the impression that I can mean something to the whole. I like to hear how Danielle is reflecting on her own person every morning I visit her. And I enjoy contributing my part to the paper as well as to the representation of the Silence Suit on Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, as you can read in the following.

Reflecting on the multidisciplinary collaboration

As I told you last time we are working hard on our paper about the multidisciplinary collaboration and Danielles’ role as a multidisciplinary person. We want to define her role as an artist and differentiate her from a designer. We want to answer questions as: What makes her an artist, even if her mentality sometimes seems more a designer’s mentality? Does every multidisciplinary project needs at least one multidisciplinary person to make it efficient?

Design Research Society call for papers

Design Research Society call for papers

We are doing research by reading academic articles about the designer’s approach, an artists mentality and multidisciplinary teams. We also want to speak out of our own experiences. I am preparing a questionnaire for all team members. I want to know how they see the collaboration. I want them to reflect on their own role as well as on Danielle’s role and their communication. I am excited about the outcome of the questionnaire and how we can integrate the other’s point of view in our paper.

Dutch Design Week

We got the possibility to present the Silence Suit in the exhibition Do (not) feed the makers which is part of Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. Danielle asked the question what we could present so that we can use this presentation as a research method. The idea is that you can get some input and some feedback by presenting your ideas to the visitors of Dutch Design Week. But what shall we present? The suit itself and the data server are not ready yet. We got to think: We do have the questionnaire and the costumer journeys. We could share the procedure of a logged meditation and actuated session virtually on screen. In this way, we can ask visitors for feedback on the procedure and outcomes.

Danielle trying out the visual demonstration of the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit

Danielle trying out the visual demonstration of the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit

We went further on that idea by thinking of the setting. We want the visitors to get an impression of how a Meditation Lab session could feel. So we think of a simple setting that still breaths a Zen feel: meditation mats, incense, tea and oriental snacks. A room divider could create a safe space where you dare to get into the vision of the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit. The prototype of the Silence Suit will be presented on a mannequin. By projecting the questionnaire and some icons describing the procedure, the visitor will get an idea of a logged meditation session.

We want to know if they can imagine using the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit. Maybe they have some ideas about how they would like to prepare before meditating. What do they expect from the outcome? I am curious if the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit can change the way they think about meditating.

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So if you want to participate on our visual demonstration of the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit, come visit us the 28th of October on Dutch Design Week – Do (not) feed the makers in Eindhoven. I hope to see you there! :-)

 

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Getting deeper

We have some great news: You can participate in a visual demonstration of the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit the 28th of October on Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven.

At the moment the project really satisfies me. We still get deeper into many aspects of the Silence Suit as you can read in the following.

Reflecting on the collaboration

As you can read in our last two blog posts, Danielle and me are both reflecting on our collaboration with technician, software engineers and designers. By chance, we got a call for a paper this week by DRS Special Interest Groups on Experiential Knowledge. They want to collect papers about experiential knowledge in collaborative interdisciplinary design research. By reflecting further on our personal experience we could contribute a paper to that interesting collection. We choose to work together on one paper and I am really excited about it. Personally, I hope to get clearer what the role of an artist means to me, by reflecting further on the collaboration I am observing in the case of this project.

Deepening of the content

I see that Danielle is working hard to get more knowledge about the influence of light on meditation. She reads many academic articles about how light can influence the relaxing and the activating atmosphere of a room. She mainly wants to focus on first calming the one who is going to meditate and later facilitate his focus while meditating. I find it impressive how she appropriates the knowledge to formulate her own criteria for her own scenarios as you can read here. By still acquiring more knowledge, Danielle retains the deepening of the content of her vision.

NoSQL database

The complexity of the project, I described to you last time, is also noticeable in the setup of the database. Simon de Bakker from ProtoSpace is working hard on the NoSQL database. I learned that this database consists of many different tables. Every table describes one aspect of the whole, such as sensor, session or user. Every table is connected to other tables. That is the point where it gets so complex that I find it difficult to explain. But I understood that it connects for example the user with the suit he is working with. The table about the sensor is first in general about all sensors. When it comes to the suit, as you can see in the following picture, it describes among other things the id of the suit and which specific sensor sits in that suit. When it detects a wrong value the data base learns that one of the sensors does not work. The user first has to know in which suit the specific sensor sits. So that he can later see which sensor it is and how he has to work on it. This is only one example of the correlations which have to be programmed in the NoSQL database, which makes it that complex.

NoSQL data base design

NoSQL data base design

Wire frames

Anne (Protospace intern) is working on the wire frames. I brainstormed with Danielle about the design of the screens. By formulating the criteria, it gets clearer to me what the message should be when the user opens the platform. The atmosphere of a zen meditation and the feeling of calming down do not have to be present in the design. That is something you experience while meditating. Via the platform Danielle wants to transfer the idea of an experimenter kit, tools and functionality. The wire frames have to work as a manual for the kit.

example of the wire frames

example of the visual design

Button ring

To optimise the comfort and the functionality of the Silence Suit we worked further on the button ring to mark a moment in the timeline of your meditation session. I think now we got the most optimal version of the ring. We succeeded in making a ring from conductive fabric functioning as a button sensor. So that the position of your hands do not matter.

button ring from conductive cloth

button ring from conductive fabric

Anyway, you can push the button without much effort while meditating. In the following picture you see the data of our experiment. When you push the button the value minimises. Even if the sensor is a little unstable, you can see clearly the marked moments in your timeline. I am satisfied seeing the success of developing the ring over many weeks in data.

marker button data

marker button data

Generally, I enjoy the moments when our experiments yield insights which bring the Silence Suit to the next level, so that it takes more and more form. Especially, the inspiring conversations with Danielle help me to understand the context and the correlations of the project and the project itself. Personally, it brings me further in my positioning as an artist by comparing my practice to hers.

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Things come together in Twente

Last week we went to University Twente to meet Vera de Pont, our designer, and Klaas and Stephen, two of the students of DesignLab, working on the electronics and the software of the Silence Suit. It was a very exciting day to me. Before, I did not really know what to expect from the meeting. But I planned to take the role of an observer reflecting on how a meeting with people from different kind of disciplines proceeds. I have obtained interesting observations I want to share with you in the following.

Meeting in Twente - Vera, Danielle, Klaas, Stephen

Meeting in Twente – Vera, Danielle, Klaas, Stephen

Network
When we arrived, Danielle introduced Vera and me to Frank Kresin, the managing director of DesignLab. He warmly welcomed us. He asked us: ‘What is your background?’ I explained where I am from: ‘I am studying fine arts at the art academy St.Joost in Breda. I am finishing my final year and among other things I am doing my internship at Danielle’s Awareness Lab.’ He smiled warmly and said something like it was nice to meet. Vera’s answer was much more professional. She really explained what her work is about and which techniques she is familiar with: ‘At the moment, I am focussing on 3D printing’, she said, ‘so I am especially engaged in the graphical side of design.’ Frank seemed interested and wished us a productive meeting.

After we walked away, I wondered what his question was about. It was all about networking. Danielle explained later that he is into connecting people with each other. I guess that Vera is now saved in his memory and he associates her with the words she dropped within this short encounter. When somebody asks him the next time for a designer engaged in 3D print he will think about her. When it comes to my person, he only associates the intern of Danielle. That is neither good or bad, but the next time somebody asks me such a question I will know what this question is about. I need to name the core concept of my artistic practice in a few words.

I think it is good to be aware of such behavioural codes in the art world as well as in your daily life. As a child you have to learn what the answer should be if somebody asks you ‘How are you?’ We should say: ‘Good. How are you?’ At a certain point those behavioural codes go unknowingly. At the moment I am still the growing child. I am really thankful that I am learning from this internship about the behavioural codes in the art world.

In the course of the meeting I found it really interesting how an interdisciplinary collaboration proceeds. The Silence Suit has to meet many requirements such as beautiful look, stable data and convenient fit. In the following I will reflect on the different kinds of roles of the designer, the technician and the artist.

The role of the designer
Vera de Pont arrived with a big suitcase. ‘I thought it would be better to take some swatches with me, so that we can try different things. The suit itself is not that big.’, she says and laughs. She was well prepared. When we entered the meeting room she immediately unpacked her suitcase and presented the different parts of the suit on a table. I really loved to see how attentive she treated the suit she has made.

Preparing the suit for fitting - by Vera de Pont

Preparing the suit for fitting – by Vera de Pont

The first half of the meeting was about the progress of the electronics. She had many practical questions for the technicians about the look of the badge and the microcontroller container, so that she could include it in the following sketch of the suit. She properly wrote down every information she got about the electronics. In that first half of the meeting, the role of the designer was to understand as much as possible of the electronics to optimise the design of the suit.

Danielle fits the bottom layer - looking for solutions with Vera de Pont

Danielle fits the bottom layer – looking for solutions with Vera de Pont

The second half of the meeting was really about the fit of the suit. Vera seemed very excited when Danielle fit the suit. ‘It is so nice to see it on you.’ She said with a great smile on her face. It fits very well and she seems pleased that Danielle likes it. We have to think of each sensor, where it should be placed and how the cable connects to the microcontroller. Vera came up with new ideas how we could bring the electronics and the design together until everyone agreed. Her arguments were mainly about the look and that it should be as comfortable as possible for the user to maintain the suit. I was really impressed how focused she stayed during the whole meeting. In the second half of the meeting the role of the designer really seemed to be a living source of inspiration. She really thought in options instead of problems.

Danielle fits the suit - by Vera de Pont

Danielle fits the suit – by Vera de Pont

The role of the technician
Stephen and Klaas are both master students of University Twente participating in the DesignLab working on the software and the electronics of the Silence Suit. The DesignLab seemed to feel like home to them and I experienced how deep they are into the subject. They even worked through their lunch break. Before we met, they have worked many hours to optimise the construction of the badge and the microcontroller PCBs. They were able to minimise the number of plugs. Stephen and Klaas seemed happy about the outcome of their research.

Sketch of the electronics - by Klaas

Sketch of the electronics – by Klaas

Finally, they got a nice sketch of the electronics. But still, Vera and Danielle had some questions about optimising the electronics. For example, a screw connection of the plugs would be better than a clicking one. The argumentation of the technicians was mainly based on what the market offers. If there are no screw connections for that kind of plugs, they cannot do anything about it. But they were also trying to understand Danielle’s vision of the suit to bring it to a higher level on the field of electronics. They came up with the idea to change the light sensor with the wind sensor on the badge, so that the shadow of the plug will not influence the data. I enjoyed to see how they tried to think in the artist’s shoes.

Danielle consults about the electronics with Klaas and Stephen

Danielle consults about the electronics with Klaas and Stephen

The role of the technician stayed the furthest away from me. I was really impressed how much they know about their subject, but I only understood some of it. Still, I see the role of technician as a really practical one. In contrast to a designer or an artist who create things, the technician’s choice is more depending on existing things.

The role of the artist
I think the role of the artist is a really personal choice. Every artist has to formulate his own criteria. In the following I will try to characterise the role of the artist as I observed it in the case of Danielle during the meeting with Vera, Stephen and Klaas. Danielle herself told me once that she sees her own artistic practice in bringing things together. Her personal fascination leads to the vision of a project. In this case her vision is about Hermitage 3.0. The role of the artist here is to plan smaller steps to realise that vision. One of these steps is the Silence Suit as a part of Hermitage 3.0. Within that project the artist has to look for experts and people she wants to collaborate with. That is why we are sitting in Twente around a table with Vera, Klaas and Stephen.

During that meeting, Danielle kept on task all the time. But for me it seems very difficult to find the balance between practical choices and visual choices without losing your vision. For example, when Klaas told her that there is no screw connection for that kind of plug, she did not want to believe it and asked him to research once more. She asked it in a very respectful way, but I witnessed that an artist does not want to depend on existing things. Maybe Danielle’s role as an artist is comparable to a tinkerer.

Danielle presents the bottom layer of the suit by Vera de Pont

Danielle presents the bottom layer of the suit by Vera de Pont

Generally speaking, I think that an artist has to offer alternatives to existing structures. In my opinion, Danielle contributes valuable aspects by collaborating with different kind of disciplines. She creates her own universe by utilising different kind of research as a source of inspiration. The collaborations and the diversity of sources of inspiration make that she comes to a vision which could not have been thought out by one person.

To conclude this eventful day, it can be said that I acquired an in-depth view on how a collaboration in that professional environment looks like. I have especially learned a lot about the role of an artist by seeing how Danielle defines her artistic practice. That helps me to think about my future position in the art world.

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Design Lab nirvana

Ready, set, go!

After a difficult start things are really starting to move. Since a couple of weeks all the team members are working on their individual tasks: the database design, the interaction design, suit design, PCB design and experiment design. The project feels like a sort of organism that grows organically in different directions. I keep track of what everybody is up to via Skype or phone but nothing beats a face to face meeting. Last week we had such a meeting at the Design Lab Twente.

Teamwork, photo Meike Kurella

Teamwork, photo Meike Kurella

From 12 o’ clock onwards the Lab had kindly reserved a room for our team to collaborate. Present were Klaas and Stephen students from the TU Twente, designer Vera and my intern, art student Meike.

Klaas and Stephen have been working hard on the PCB design. Their main task is to simplify the design and make it more robust. Vera had been working on the first silhouette of the suit. Our goal for the afternoon was to check if things were still matching up.

Paper sensor, photo Vera de Pont

Paper sensor, photo Vera de Pont

Match maker

The boys walked me through their designs. We were able to clarify things for each other and we spend quite some time on the plug layout and the interaction with them.
I’m learning more and more to think like a designer by assuming the role of the user and by quick prototyping of problems and interaction hiccups. I really loved the way Vera and I found solutions by taking a different angle, using paper, key-cards and even a jojo to make future usage tangible.

Key-card as batch, photo Vera de Pont

Key-card as batch, photo Vera de Pont

Vera and I also discussed the fit and aesthetics. Wearing the suit has to be a pleasant experience that has to be put to the test. At the end of the afternoon Stephen said: You must like the way it fits, you’ve been wearing the suit all afternoon. And he is right, it does feel good to wear it.

Storing wires, photo Vera de Pont

Storing wires, photo Vera de Pont

I also loved the way in which we all are working towards something which still isn’t completely clear to any of us. I use intuition, faith and persistence to keep trying to bring the different worlds together. I’m discovering that this is what comes natural to me. Merging these worlds, looking for solutions to make the most of a problem and connecting different ways of thinking to come up with something that surprises myself.

Hardware and design, photo Vera de Pont

Hardware and design, photo Vera de Pont

Calling

I started this project with the aspiration to become a modern hermit. But more and more I’m beginning to see that I am made for teamwork, that I love to inspire and be inspired. Nothing beats creating something new together. I suppose I’ll be the first part-time hermit.