On May 12th I lead a breakout session at the second European quantified self conference in Amsterdam. The goal was to exchange experiences in breath and group tracking and to demo the new, wireless version of the breathing_time concept.
I started the breakout with an overview of the previous version. We soon got into a discussion on how hard it was to control your breathing rate. One participant used an Emwave device to try and slow down his breath rate. He could never quite make the target and therefore could never reach heart coherence which is frustrating. In my view the way to go is to become more and more aware of your breathing without intentionally wanting to change it. I went from chronic hyperventilation to an average breath rate of 4 times per minute without trying. Doing daily Zen meditation for lots of years has done it for me.
As usual people saw some interesting applications for the device I hadn’t thought of like working with patient groups. Another nice suggestion was to try out the placebo effect of just wearing the cone.
When it was time for the demo people could pick up one of the breathCatchers:
I’d managed to finish four wireless wearables. Working on 12 volt batteries with an Xbee module and an Arduino Fio for transmitting the data.
After some exploration we did two short breathing sessions so we could compare. The first was to just sit in a relaxed way and not really pay attention to the breathing (purple line). The second was to really focus on the breathing (grey line). The graph below shows the results:
Participants could look at the visual feedback but I noticed most closed their eyes to be able to concentrate better.
The last experiment was the unified visualisation of four participants. I asked them to pay close attention to the visualisation which represented the data as four concentric circles. A moving dot indicates breathing speed and moves depending on the breath flow.
It was fascinating to watch as the dots were moving simultaneously a lot of the time. However when asked how this session was experienced most participants saw the exercise as a game and were trying to overtake each other. They used “breath as a joystick”, to quote one of them. This was not my intention, the focus should be on the unifying aspect. I got some nice suggestions on how to achieve this: give more specific instructions and adapt the visuals to split the personal and communal data.
All in all we had a very good time exploring respiration and I’m grateful to all of the participants for their enthusiasm and valuable feedback.
The second performance at the TIK festival was very different from the first. The sound was on and everybody was present, according to the logs. But the animation wasn’t as nice. I realised later that this was due to poor data throughput. An installation was running that took up a lot of bandwidth at times. Not all the breath flows were visible. But it was still worthwhile I suppose judging from this nice picture by Annemie Maes:
I realised after both performances that this is only the start. I managed in a relatively short time to tackle all major hurdles but there’s a lot to be improved and added. I understood from the participants and the audience that they find it exciting to breath and create something together. So my idea of bringing people together through breath seems to work. I’d like to explore this further and I’m considering turning this into an open source project and develop a kit that people can work with so they can joint the community of breathers ;-)
The logs show even more differentiation then during the first performance:
Constructing the RBBB Arduino isn’t as easy as suggested. The manual says 30 minutes. If I don’t make any mistakes (to which I’m prone) I might be able to do it in an hour but no less. After I didn’t manage to get the first one to work I started out with a fresh one (I’ve got to build five.) I only made one mistake and when I plugged in the USB cable (be sure to chose Uno from the board list) and uploaded the blink sketch it worked!
I want to give the users of the device some direct feedback about their own breathing pattern. So I’m thinking about an LED that dims when you exhale and brightens when you inhale. I tried just putting an LED in the tube and the result was really nice:
Apart from the light I want to make the users more aware of their breathing getting input straight from their body. Tying the micro-controller to the chest (inside some kind of tubing) with an elastic band you become more aware of your breath in a subtle way:
And I did some research on flexible tubing. It looks nice and it is functional so I’ll probably go for this solution:
So things are shaping up. I’m eagerly awaiting the wind sensors from the states…
This is a sequence of fast breathing. It’s nice how you can spot the difference between the rates of breathing. I’m also very pleased with the planetary feel.
I’ve managed to program the first representation of breathing-time. This is
a sequence of the way the drop changes when I’m actually breathing while
wearing the stretch sensor. The dept of the breath determines the diameter
and alpha value of the ‘drop’. The breath rate determines the blurring and
horizontal position of the drop. Slow but deep breathing results in a soft
and blurry spot. I’ll post an example of fast breathing later.
I’ve upgraded my code for the stretch sensor graph in Processing. The sensor
outputs numbers. When I breath in or out the number gets lower. Detecting
breathing activity isn’t as easy as looking for a numbers below 200 for
example. Because over the time of wearing the sensor the whole range of
numbers starts to shift going either up or down. What remains is the sharp
decrease when breathing in. So now I’m comparing two averages of 5 rounds of
serial port activity each. When their difference is over 107% I know I’m
I’ve upgraded the first circuit with the potentiometers and the results look
promising. I used the Processing sketch that comes with the Arduino to make
a graphic of my breathing activity. I’ve tagged the different regions in the
graph so it’s easy to follow the movement of the breath. Btw the circuit is
constructed in such a way that the resistance decreases when the sensor is
stretched (breathing in.)
For this experiment I put the belt with the sensor rather tight around my
waist and I wasn’t talking. Talking makes the ‘not breathing’ part more
ragged but you can still clearly see when I’m breathing in and out.
Breathing with a straw above drops of ink.
Four stains made with four drops of ink for each breath taken over four minutes. (I’m a very slow breather.)