isolation mission

On 23 and 24 October I took part in an isolation mission inside a spaceship simulation. This mission is part of the social design project Seeker by Belgian artist Angelo Vermeulen. A group of architecture master students from the TU/e worked on an exploration of living in space and build an experimental spaceship. The aim is to research how ecology, sociology and technology can merge and provide integrated living environments for the future. I’ve build a relaxation device for the astronauts.

Seeker picture by Rene Pare

Seeker picture by Rene Pare

Part of this project is an isolation mission where a crew enters the spaceship and is locked in for two days. During that time they are completely self-sufficient and no input from outside is allowed. I was one of the four crew members. My main motivation for joining was to learn more about self-sufficient living and to test my relaxation device.

Being locked in with three other people I hardly knew seemed quite daunting to me as I’m kind of a hermit and have experience with living alone for a month. The space was quite small. The public could look inside and there was no privacy what soever.

The first thing that became clear when we entered was that there was so much to do. This was going to be our home for the next few days so we had to make it tidy and cosy. But we started out with an introduction round, as we didn’t know each other. Amazingly enough that turned into a good conversation. It appeared we all were interested in spirituality and that became the theme for the mission. After the talk I seemed like we’d known each other for a long time. Angelo said that his team at the HI SEAS mission also immediately had a click. But maybe it is also the setting, being dependent on each other that creates a bond? Or maybe an experiment like this attacks like-minded people?

We were told to bring books and magazines but it turned out we had absolutely no time for reading. From the first moment it was if I’d entered a pressure cooker. All my senses were sharp and my brain was going full speed. Living in such an environment is difficult. Everything is cramped and living has a camping feel to it. Tasks take an awful lot of time to complete (cooking took 2 to 2.5 hours).

The whole experience took me back to my childhood. I used to like to make things but we didn’t have so much proper tools at home. So I just made do with what was there. It makes one very inventive. I suppose that is where my artistic roots lay. I really loved the feeling of being so challenged. And I love the solutions we all came up with.

The collaborative part was really inspiring. I loved the merging of the relaxation device with the workout / energy generation. The students came up with making the water usage visible using transparent water bottles. I extended that with making the waste bins transparent. It is such an easy way to become aware of your behaviour.

The meals were great, we even ate an original HI SEAS recipe. We also got some lovely bread from the bakery next door. And Angelo’s nano whine was a real mystery. (We had to put the wine in the microwave to get different tastes, it really worked!) I suppose I loved our conversations the best. From that we decided I’d give a little introduction to Zen meditation. So we enjoyed a couple of minutes silence between us. With people looking through the window, that was very special.

For me personally it was good to see that I have qualities as a hermit as well being a team player. Working, thinking and talking together really made this a rich experience. But I do see now why in monasteries they have a strict timetable. That makes it a lot easier to get things done. For me that would be the next step to explore and experiment with.


Just before the end of our isolation mission we were able to finish the @cocoon installation. Living inside a spaceship is very hectic and inefficient so we didn’t get round to finishing until the very last minute. Due to that I only have one poor picture:

As you can see we integrated the relaxation with working out (and human energy harvesting). So it has become a mind-body piece. But you can’t actually do the two things at the same time, as the paddler makes a lot of noise which overwhelms the subtle nature sounds.

Despite it’s basic nature it still is effective. Once you’re in the cocoon you do enter a different space. The reflected green colour is subtle enough. The nature sounds could have been a little louder but they’re very lifelike and immediately get you into a good mood.

In the morning I installed the piece in a different place. The rest of the crew didn’t find that suitable so we were going to look for a better place elsewhere. Somehow one of the speakers didn’t work any more so we had to fix that also.

I was really keen to get an exercise area. So while considering a new location we got the idea to combine the two and use the barstool to sit on for either relaxation or workout. Angelo and I are very happy with our collaborative work. That’s the power of working together. Together we also figured out what was wrong with the speaker. The plugs didn’t fit exactly (I had loosened them at one point to check something) and the contact was poor. With bits and pieces lying around I managed to get a stable connection. We decided to screw the sphere straight onto the ceiling with gives it a sculptural effect.

I got a message that on Saturday the installation short circuited so it had to be removed. Again proof that extensive testing is paramount.

hard and software done

I’ve spend two days working on the @cocoon application. I got a lot of help from Rob, Eric and also from Wim. Despite all our hard work we didn’t manage to get the integrated piece to work.

It’s interesting how I had to scale down the functionality as development progressed. From the interactive prototype that measured noise level and heart-rate and adjusted its’ behaviour accordingly, I’ve now landed at a green pulsating cocoon that plays nature sounds. No measuring, no interactivity. And I still have to upload the final code for it to work… The isolation mission starts in an hour and I hope I have time to finish the piece so we can at least experience something.

The main hurdle was the unpredictability of the hardware. Especially the noise sensor is crap or perhaps it’s broken but it behaved completely unpredictable from the start. Outputting a lot of zero’s and just plain noise with very little relation to the actual sound level. Only peak noises stand out but not when there’re several in succession… Rob says it is oscillating heavily and that it would take two weeks to sort it out and really have a reliable sensor.

I bought a new version of the pulse sensor, the amped version. On it’s own it worked quite well after some initial calibration. But it had to be integrated with the pulsating green light. Rob wrote a special buffer library so I could use the internal clock that was already in place for the heart-beat sensing. We got that to work together. But if we added the sound sensing the whole code became unstable.

After that we tried the solution using a switch to activate the two parts of the system: relaxation and blue light (just because it was so nice). During that process we discovered a problem with the relay used to switch on the stereo sound playing on a separate MP3 player. We had a major meltdown on Monday during which the IC was destroyed. Last night at eleven we discovered that also the relay was dead. It will only switch on.
Probably because it was so late we didn’t even get the fading to run, but I think I solved that on the train going home. So in isolation I’ll try to get the most basic mode running. Which is probably where we should have started…

Trying to build this system in a couple of days has been a very educative experience for me. I’ve learned a lot for Rob and Eric who are real pro’s. According to Rob testing time is three times the time spend on development… I’m beginning to see he’s right.

A couple of hours later I was able to get the cocoon working. Now I just have to put in up in the Seeker.


Last week I joined the Seeker project, a co-creation project by Angelo Vermeulen exploring life in space(ships). It’s been really inspiring so far as living in space combines knowledge from the fields of architecture, sustainability, farming, water and power supply and Quantified Self. The latter being my addition, of course :)

Together with architecture master students from the TU/e I’m looking into the interior of the ship which will be based on two caravans. As life in a spaceship is crowded and noisy my aim is to make a quick and dirty prototype that will:

  • detect the noise level
  • detect the users’ heart-rate
  • promote relaxation by pulsating light and sounds from nature

Noise level, heart-rate and soundtrack will (hopefully) be send to the base-station so people have a life indication of the status of the ship and the people living in it.

This is the sketch:

Today I’ll have a talk with the technicians for MAD to see what is possible. I’m thinking of using the following sensors:


Noise level:

Playing sound:

The cocoon itself will be the good old paper lamp:

science hack day

Last weekend I took part in the first Dutch Science Hack Day in Eindhoven. I had posted my idea on the forum and was hoping for a nice group of experts to work with. The idea was to create a mood enhancer. When you’re sad it could help you be become happy again. When your happy you could help others who are sad to improve their mood or support them. It will consist of a) mood detection, b) mood changing, c) mood sharing.

On the forum one participant, Siddhesh (PhD student TU/e), had already expressed his interest. After I’d introduced my idea I was joined by Leonid and Huang-Ming both students at industrial design at the TU/e and Ketan also a PhD student at the TU/e. We were later joined by Iwan an interior architect. So we had a nice mixed group from different countries.

I was pleasantly surprised at how swiftly we decided on the use case and technologies to be used. Everybody was very eager to start to work and do so in their field of expertise. We decide to use two hardware sensors (heart-rate and skin conductance) to provide the level of arousal and one on-line software sensor,, that uses portraits to classify moods. The heart-rate sensor was already finished because we could reuse it from another project by Leonid and Huang-Ming but there was still a lot of work to be done.

For output we wanted to do something with light and sound as they are the least obtrusive when you’re working. We wanted to work with a physical object to display the mood and also enhance it and to use Twitter to share moods. We had difficulty to decide if the visualisation should just be personal feedback or should also display a friends’ status. As time was limited we decided on just feedback. The application moved from enhancement to awareness of moods which was enough for just one weekend.

I took on the task of implementing the valance through the API. It would all have to be done in 24 hours so that was pretty challenging. Registering at was easy. The API was pretty straight forward and only later I discovered the it could not just detect smiling or not smiling but a whole set of moods: happy/sad/angry/surprised/neutral value and confidence, based on the expression of the person in the the photo. There’s was also a lot of other info to be gotten from the image using the faces.detect method, the accuracy of the results was surprising, even under less favourable light circumstances. The main hurdle was uploading an image for and keeping it in sync with the rest of the application. In the end we used the local Dropbox folder to store the web cam captures and letting Dropbox sync with the web version, the URL and file name are used in the request.

The others worked on building the Galvanic Skin Response sensor, the lamp object and the integration of the heart-rate sensor and software for the new purpose.

We used Processing as the main language to read the values from the sensors, connect to the web and drive the output. The sensors write their current values to a file separate and one script reads all the sensor input to generate a visual output, change the colour and position of the lamp and change the sound.

The main application shows a changing, interactive landscape of lines and circles. The   amount of arousal the corresponding valence determine:

  • The position and colour of the circle. When you click on a circle the web cam image and heart-rate value is shown, allowing you to trace back how you felt during the day.
  • The position of and colour of the light object
  • The sound being played

Iwan made a nice presentation and we were finished just in time. The presentation went well and the jury picked our design as the best in Overall happy living category! That was just the icing on the cake of great and inspiring weekend.

Science Hack Day Eindhoven 2012 winners compilation from M.A.D. ART on Vimeo.

Being one of the winners we also presented at the Internet of Things event at the High Tech campus in Eindhoven.

MADlab kindly supplied me with an artist residency to cover expenses.

solar sound

At last weekends’ TIK festival I did the solarsoundmodule workshop. One of the most inspiring things in years for me. The little ‘creatures‘ create a minimal sound through a simple circuit using only solar power.  It combines a couple of things that I’m very interested in at the moment:

  • Low energy use: a little solar panel powers the circuit. The light variability influences the sound it makes
  • Soft sounds: I’ve been thinking for some time about a way to create whispering sounds to reinforce silence. The piezo speakers give off a very pure, crisp sound.
  • A workshop format: doing workshops is a way I would like to earn some money. The easy technical way they set up this workshop is very inspiring.

This is my sound creature with the circuit drawing:


sharpening the senses

Another inspiring workshop at the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. Today we
sharpened all of our senses except the eyes. We took a walk whilst being
blindfolded trying to stimulate the other senses. It was quite an
experience. The sounds, the sun and wind and the smells become an aid to
navigation. I was pleasantly surprised at how calming it was not to see and
at the richness that is hidden in everything that surrounds us when we have
room to pay attention to it.
Later we combined all our experiences in an imaginary walk over a bridge. I also joined the talks later that evening.


exploring smell

Today I joined a very inspiring and hands-on workshop, all about smell. We
searched the city looking for typical city smells. As it’s autumn I wanted
to catch the smells. I was lucky as the were doing maintenance and were
cutting river banks and trees etc. After chopping up the materials (fresh
cut wild flowers and oak leaves in my case) I respectively ground and heated
them both in vodka. You put the substance through a sieve and voila! you
have captured the smells. It’s so easy and smells is something I’ve wanted
to work with for a long time. We made an aromascape of Eindhoven and a nice
quiz to let the visitors discover what they’re smelling.