Silence Suit: sustainably integrating spirituality and technology

This spring I wrote this article together with designer Vera de Pont. It was presented at the “Searching for the New Luxury” conference by the Fashion Colloquium. Unfortunately it will not be published in their journal. But we had a nice time writing it and we hope the content is of use to others.

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Abstract

In this article the authors will explain the different, layered ways in which use of the wearable Silence Suit can be considered a new luxury. The main luxury is empowerment through giving awareness and control to the user supported by embodiment and transparency.

After explaining the system of which the wearable is part and the context from which the concept arose the life cycle of the wearable is used to explain how interacting with the suit offers many opportunities to experience a new sense of luxury.

Keywords: sustainability, meditation, open source, wearable technology, self-assembly, interaction design

Introduction

Experimenter kit

The wearable Silence Suit is part of Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit, a system which enables users to experiment with their meditation practice and improve it through insight and direct influence of the environment. With the wearable users can collect biometric and environmental data during the meditation session (Figure 1). The quality of the session is assessed using pre and post meditation questionnaires. Both data sets are fed into a learning system which determines which environmental variables have the most positive effect on the meditation quality. Through Internet of Things technology, the light in the environment is changed automatically depending on the meditation-quality predicted by the system.

This system is geared towards helping individual users improve their practice by giving them a toolset to conduct their own meditation experiments, get insight through exploring their data, and by actually optimising the environment for higher quality meditation.

Context

Danielle Roberts, artist/designer/innovator is the initiator and conceiver of the Kit. She has maintained an intensive meditation practice for over 20 years. She is also a self-tracking enthusiast and tracks health and lifestyle parameter on a daily basis. Both practices have shown her that increased awareness allows her to grow and flourish in a compassionate way. In her work she explores ways through which contemporary technologies can support this.

Roberts’s vision is to create the optimal home which will support a spiritual, productive, healthy and sustainable life: Hermitage 3.0. Being able to measure its’ inhabitant is the first step towards realising this holistic living environment.

Status and vision

Figure 1 Graphic overview of the current version of the suit and the sensors

Figure 1 Graphic overview of the current version of the suit and the sensors

In 2015 Roberts started building the wearable Silence Suit. In 2017 the opportunity arose to apply with this first prototype for the WEAR Sustain open call[8]. This was issued by the European Commission to promote collaboration between creatives and technically skilled people to work on ethical and sustainable wearables. Roberts was one of the winners. Together with a team she designed and produced 5 wearables in 3 sizes and custom software was developed that allows users to create and analyse their own meditation experiments.

Design for agency

In recent years digital fabrication and specifically 3D printing and laser cutting as both creative and manufacturing tool has received much more widespread adoption. As enabling technology this facilitated a whole new range of self-assembly designs generated from digital files that are often presented as Open Source files to be customised and controlled by the end user.

The Silence Suit is designed with the Open Source philosophy in mind. The open approach to the garment’s production ensures a garment design that is accessible, manufacturable and upgradable by whoever chooses to do so[1] and makes it producible with a limited amount of machines in local workspaces and fablabs. Users become aware of the process of production and the parts of the suit.
With regards to the production of the Silence Suit, the aim is to develop a system where the level of end-user assembly is chosen by the end user themselves. Ranging from the level of complete individual production in local production facilities, to the level of end user assembly with pre-produced parts.

The transparency of self-assembly and the embodiment during local production constitute a new luxury which empower the user.

Silence Suit life cycle

At every stage of the life cycle the design and use of the system create for the user to experience the system properties embodiment and transparency. Which may produce control and awareness for the user. These properties and mind-sets interact and result in empowerment of the user. In this section this will be highlighted for every phase of the life cycle.

Prepare for use

The suit is designed for assembly and there are four possible user scenarios when preparing the suit for use:

A. Hard-core makers: Start from scratch and completely assemble and / or modify every aspect of the suit including the electronic parts.
B. Maker apprentice: Has some knowledge of the techniques involved but needs guidance in for example a workshop.
C. Meditator: Start from a semi-finished product. No soldering is required but the parts must be placed at the proper positions and connections.
D. Use a finished suit: no assembly, the user only has to put on the wearable. The design isn’t aimed at this type of use but it is imaginable in scenarios like meditation workshops or rental.

The following describes option C. This is how the parts were delivered to Roberts on first use.

To prepare the garment for use, it’s produced modular parts will have to be assembled. This includes the hardware pieces that have to be located on specific locations on the suit, as well as weaving the cables and attaching them to their respective hardware pieces.

To ensure a relatively short assembly time and correct end user assembly, the garment is designed as a manual for use. The suit contains engraved symbols which showcase the positioning of the sensor pieces. This helps the user to assemble the parts correctly while leaving the user free to weave the cables to her liking through small openings in the fabric. This tangible interaction with the suit can be a mindful action which aims to create a bond with the garment and raise awareness of all the parts that the suit contains.

Ease of use and perfect fit

The main prerequisites of the garment are its ease of use and comfortable fit. Here some opposing forces are at play:

Many sensors vs Unobtrusiveness during meditation
Sensor placement vs Comfortable fit
Aesthetic style and cut vs Accurate and complete measurements
Putting on the garment correctly vs Mindfulness
Unobtrusive electronics vs  Recyclability
Data collection vs Privacy and ethics

The design process was aimed at solving these conflicting interests by carefully looking at the interaction between the user and the garment at various steps during use and stages of the life cycle.

The ‘perfect fit’ is relative to the way data can be optimally collected and the aesthetics of the garment is influenced by the way the garment will be used. For example the Galvanic Skin Response Sensor (Figure 2), which is positioned on the upper arm and needs direct contact with the skin for optimal data collection.

Figure 2 Integrated Galvanic Skin Response sensor. The design balances aesthetics and optimal data collection

Figure 2 Integrated Galvanic Skin Response sensor. The design balances aesthetics and optimal data collection

A conscious choice was made to develop the Silence Suit in 3 standardized unisex sizes (EU small/medium/large) to fit a multitude of people. Where tight fit is needed adjustable straps are provided for. These simple Velcro straps afford personalisation (Figure 3). The user can control the tightness for optimal balance between comfortableness and good measurements, as with the detachable neck piece carrying a posture sensor. The sensor is positioned within two layers of stretchable fabric, making sure that the placement is fixed and close to the skin without feeling stiff.

The tight fitting bottom layer feels soft to the skin, kindling awareness. It is complemented by a more loosely fitting top layer with a big hood that combines strength and flexibility to carry the hardware casings (Figure 4). The design choices give users control to personalise the fit of the suit.

Daily use

The main user group for Silence Suit is people who meditate regularly or daily. Using the suit daily should at a minimum be easy and as hassle free as possible. But in the design de Pont and Roberts looked for ways to go beyond that. Wearing the suit and interacting with the software should bring extra value and quality to the meditation practice and support awareness. The main focus areas for adding value and quality are:

  • Smooth user interaction with the garment and the electronics
  • Pleasing aesthetics and integration of special features which promote mindfulness and emotional bonding
  • Empowering features embedded in the kits’ software

These focus areas are explained in detail below.

Figure 3 Adjusting the straps

Figure 3 Adjusting the straps

Awareness-promoting interaction with the wearable

Ideally doing meditation experiments with Silence Suit should contribute to and enhance awareness and mindfulness. In designing the suit the designers wanted the putting on and taking off the wearable to become a rhythm of actions.

In total there are eleven sensors on the suit and one feedback LED. They have to be fasted correctly and stored safely after use. The design was tested extensively by Roberts during her daily meditation practice and a six day retreat. During group experiments almost 40 different users tested the design.

Feedback from users indicated that if all the sensors are fastened correctly the electronics have no negative influence on the meditation experience, people are not aware that they are being measured by 11 sensors.

The way the sensors and fasteners are positioned facilitates the ritualization of the interaction with the garment. The attention needed to secure the sensors primes for attention during the session. Exclamations after the experiments like “Wow, this suit is so comfortable” were no exception.

Enrichment of meditation practice through special features

Users found the aesthetics pleasing this contributed to the enjoyment of the meditation experience.  The design also includes special features to further support awareness and control during meditation:

  • An oversized hood inspired on the cowl of a monks’ habit. It was used frequently by Roberts and the experiment participants. In a practical sense it shields from cold while sitting still. But it also creates intimacy which makes it easier to withdraw and block out distractions. Both Roberts and the participants have used the hood for these purposes.
  • On the top layer there is a vertical row of seven incisions. A small flap can be inserted into these slits creating an opening in the garment. This provides an analogue and transparent way to track daily sessions. Thus the practice is made visible and tangible which can be motivating. These interactions may also create an extra bond with the garment, making it more personal.
Figure 4 Top layer of Silence Suit carrying the casing. This picture shows the hood and the analogue logging elements on the left

Figure 4 Top layer of Silence Suit carrying the casing. This picture shows the hood and the analogue logging elements on the left

Introducing the Dataserver

With the wearable comes a custom software application, the Dataserver (Figure 5).

The functionality of the software is based on enabling users to experiment with their own meditation practice. The hypothesis underlying the functionality is that the environment in which one meditates has an impact on the quality of the meditation session. Changing the environment may impact the meditation quality in a positive way. The current version of the Dataserver supports experimenting with environmental light. Three light conditions are offered to experiment with. Research in other domains has shown that these conditions can respectively impact concentration[6], alertness[7] or relaxation[4].

Figure 5 Complete system overview

Figure 5 Complete system overview

With the system users can log, view and compare data, conduct single and group experiments using the three light settings. Meditation quality is determined by pre and post meditation questionnaires. The quality outcomes are used in a machine learning algorithm. Once the system is trained it will automatically change the environmental light based on predictions of meditation quality.

Software: empowering users by creating awareness and control

The software aims to quantify meditation in order to create awareness and insight. It gives the results back to the users in two ways:

  • In the form of graphs after a meditation session. In this sense the software is used as a quantified-self tool. Self-tracking has been shown not only to give trackers awareness of and insight into the workings of their body it also gives the sense of being able to transform their bodies[1]. The meditation kit creates awareness of the body through biometric data. Filling in pre and post meditation questionnaires makes the user aware of subjective mind states connected to meditation thus empowering users to also experience more control of and insights into the workings of their minds. This can motivate users to practice.
  • In the form of an embodied experience during meditation based on real-time data. In this case the software transforms the actual meditation experience by predicting the most optimal light conditions throughout the session. This may lead to improved relaxation, concentration and alertness during the sessions.

Quantification can bring with it the risk of loss of privacy and agency[9, 5]. The software tries to minimise these risks in the following ways:

  • Control over and ownership of personal data. This is ensured because the system is designed to work offline and function fully on the users’ own PC. No data is send over the internet, data is stored locally
  • Data literacy: Users get insight into their personal data through graphs and basic statistics
  • Science literacy: The software provides easy steps to design and conduct experiments

Maintenance and repair supported by transparency and control

In the above is explained how the design uses size, fit and style to enhance longevity through awareness and control. Care is one of the fundamental areas mentioned in the WRAP Design for Longevity report[2] in promoting the lifespan of a garment. Easy replacement and repair was one of the guiding principles to support the durability of the design. This has been approached in different ways which are outlined below.

Modularity

The life-cycle of electronics is often much different than the usage patterns of fashion wearables. Therefore modular self-assembly is used in the design of the Silence Suit as enabling technology in the integration of on-body sensors in textiles. Where-as fashion items are worn and go out of use depending on fashion trends or personal aesthetics, the life cycles of electronic wearables depend on limitations like battery life and upgrade cycles of the technology. To elongate the lifespan of the Silence Suit and make electronic replacements simple, the design approached sustainability in two ways. One on the level of the suit’s infrastructure and one on the level of the electronic parts:

Level 1: By clearly separating the electronic parts from the garment, instead of integrating them, the design approaches sustainability through transparency. This “white box” approach makes the electronic infrastructure visible and easily accessible. This creates awareness.

Level 2: Instead of working towards miniaturisation and using unique custom parts, the design uses the ready made breakout boards and leaves them mostly intact. The entire board can be removed and replaced in one action. Most of the electronic parts and sensors are low cost, off-the-shelf Open Source components which can be bought from online electronics shop.

These two approaches on different levels aim to facilitate user control to increase the lifespan of the suit.

Customisation

Access and modification of the production files is a transparent approach which allows for custom modification during the lifecycle of the suit. Once the patterns become available users can control the outcome of the suit. They can make the suit locally to their own taste and even modify the files to make a personal, tailored version.

These customizations can be done by the user herself. Embodied actions may strengthen the bond with the wearable making it more and more personal over time.

The flexibility of the wearable is also reflected in the software approach. The system architecture is designed to be scalable: users, suits and actuators can be added to the system without breaking it.

Software flexibility is also expressed by providing an API. This allows users to control the output and to build custom applications using their own data and extend the use of the platform.

End of life

Material choices for the Silence Suit were made with recyclability and carbon neutrality in mind. The top layer is 100% wool, one of the most sustainable textiles[3]. When exposed to moisture, the fibre will gradually decompose.
The chosen material of the bottom layer is a mixed Modal fabric. Modal has been made from a renewable crop and is biodegradable.Laser cutting requires special properties of the textile. At this point in time no more sustainable fabric options were available therefor a mixed fabric was chosen which is not fully biodegradable. Up to date fabric recommendations will be accompanying the digital production files allowing users to choose the most sustainable options available.
3D printed casings and cable connectors were printed with a PLA filament. This carbon neutral filament is plant based and biodegradable. It can also be recycled with a plastic recycling machine which can even produce a new filament to start with.

The modularity and transparency of the suit design facilitate responsible actions at the end of the life cycle, this may be considered a new luxury in the realm of wearable fashion. Textiles and electronics are often merged in order to obscure the technology and render it unobtrusive. However, in this design, users can manually separate the fabric from the electronics without any special tools or equipment and recycle the parts locally.
The systems’ transparency and ease of disassembly removes barriers for users to dispose of the suit. The “intestines” of the suit are laid bare. This creates awareness of what the suit is and how it is put together.

Visions for the future

In the previous part it is explained how embodiment and transparency drive awareness and control in the present prototype. Future plans and applications are geared to further strengthen these qualities.

New paths to awareness

Future research will focus on stimulating more senses to enhance embodiment. Apart from light influence research will extend to other senses and actuators, for example room temperature and airflow. Roberts is designing immersive meditation experiences from live meditation data. She is working on tele-meditation and meditation performances which will provide novel paths to user awareness.

Multi-sense actuation and immersion will provide more ways to experience body awareness.

More control with an Open Source product

The five suits available now are not ready for market. The plan is to sell the design as a physical kit, reminiscent of the various experimenters’ kits available from open source online vendors. Ideally users can purchase the kit in different stages of completion corresponding to the scenarios outlined above.

Future developments will be aimed at making the digital blueprints accessible and transparent for specific user groups, so that users can enter the production of the Silence Suit at the level most suitable to them.

To improve assembly time and make production more efficient for all user types, further developments will also be aimed at implementing 3D printed connectors to eliminate any sewing activities. Parts can be upgraded, updated and reused and eventually more easily recycled when no longer needed.
Open source schematics and code allow for user-driven upgrades and customisations.

Once the API to the Dataserver is published programmers can start building their own applications on top of the system giving them ultimate control over its use and outcomes.

Creating connections

All of the future plans will, to a more or less extend contribute to the possibility to create a community around the project. While using the kit an individual user may experience awareness, control, transparency and embodiment. Interaction between these factors can result in new ways of connection between different users:

  • Experiment together: because of the research component embedded in the system users can connect by conducting experiments together. This feature is already provided.
  • Community platform: the plan is to create an online community platform were users and makers can exchange experiences, knowledge, ideas and parts or redundant suits. This can help to move towards circularity.
  • New ways of connection through technology: as explained above Roberts is working on novel ways of sharing meditation data and creating new, shareable content and experiences from it such as performances.
  • App creation: makers will be encouraged to share their new applications and code with others.

Discussion

The findings with regard to user experience are mostly from one source, Roberts. At this point she has used the system most frequently. On the one hand this provides a profound knowledge about the interaction with the suit on the other hand these insights are limited to only one user who is also the maker and therefore has prior knowledge of and perhaps a positive bias towards the wearable. The wearable was to some extend made to measure for Roberts which might also give her an advantage when it comes to judging the fit of the garment. However participants of the experiments did not contradict Roberts’s findings. More intensive individual experiment tracks are planned which will yield more insight into user satisfaction during frequent use.

New experiments also will give more insight into the effectiveness of the meditation actuation through light. Findings from one user are not enough to determine if environmental light has a positive effect on meditation quality.

Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit has from the start been conceived as a springboard for applications which will make use of the kit. This becomes apparent in for example the provided API and the digital blueprints. So even though the future plans may seem speculative they have been part of the design from the start. What the effects of the proposed new applications will be is part of the design and research process that will inform these new designs. The authors wanted to extend the findings of current design to the future perspective they foresee for the system precisely because user control and adjustability is an essential part of the new kind of luxury this design provides.

Conclusions

Throughout the lifecycle of the garment there are two empowering principles at play which constitute a new luxury: user control and user awareness. They are supported respectively by:

  • System transparency in the form of: System modularity and local production, self-assembly and customisation by the user and open source philosophy.
  • Elements of embodiment in using the system in the form of: ritualization of interaction, emotional bonding, embodied and tangible interaction, personalisation.

Emerging from interactions between these principles the system also allows for new kinds of connections, turning the individual act of meditation into something which can bring users together. This is true for the current prototype and will be build upon as the system ecology develops.

References

[1] Bergsland, R. (2017). The human/wearable technology engagement and its embodied effects on self-trackers. University of Gothenburg.

[2] Cooper, T. et al. (2013). Design for Longevity Final report, WRAP p. 16

[3] Ryan, R. (2016). The Fashion English Bible. Vaughan, p 265-266.

[4] Seuntiens, P.J.H. & Vogels, I. (2008). Atmosphere creation: The relation between atmosphere and light characteristics. Proceedings from the 6th Conference on Design and Emotion 2008.

[5] Sharon, T. (2017). Self-Tracking for Health and the Quantified Self: Re-Articulating Autonomy, Solidarity, and Authenticity in an Age of Personalized Healthcare. Philosophy & Technology Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 93–121.

[6] Sleegers, P.J.C., Moolenaar, N.M., Galetzka, M., Pruyn, A., Sarroukh, B.E., van der Zande, B. (2013). Lighting affects students’ concentration positively: Findings from three Dutch studies. Lighting Research & Technology Vol 45, Issue 2, pp. 159 – 175

[7] 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.

[8] WEARsustain. (2017). Open Call Themes for Project Proposals. Accessed 23-5-2018 https://wearsustain.eu/open-calls/open-call-themes/

[9] Zhou, Wei & Piramuthu, Selwyn. (2014). Security/privacy of wearable fitness tracking IoT devices. Iberian Conference on Information Systems and Technologies, CISTI. 1-5. 10.1109/CISTI.2014.6877073.

[1] The same counts for the software systems, which the user can control completely and also build upon. View also “Maintenance and repair supported by transparency and control”.

Putting it to the test

Experiment at Makersbase

Last week was very exciting. I put my system to the test during group experiments. I did 10 sessions in total at three different locations and gathered data from 23 different participants. People could register for beginner or advanced sessions with consisted of 20 or 60 minutes of meditation respectively.

New for me was working with Eventbrite. Through this system participants could register and select the appropriate suit size (only 5 suits were available in 3 sizes). I am very pleased at how this went. People could interact with me through the platform and it was easy to change orders. Some participants couldn’t make it but all graciously let me know in time.

Setting up experiments
experimenten2Simon from Protospace had worked very hard to get the system ready for conducting the group experiments. I can now register users. The system creates a unique random ID allowing users to take part anonymously. Suits can be added and named.
Every time I want to experiment I create meditation session (duration, actuation). To this session I add users, assign suits to users.
Create experiment (name, comment), add sessions to experiment and see completed and incomplete experiments.
The starting and stopping of a session goes through the server with a nice bell sounding at the beginning and end. This also automatically starts and stops the logging of data.
Each user can fill in their own form through a dedicated URL which is available as long as a session is active. Eventually we want all users to be able to use their own device to fill out the forms but at the moment the style sheet isn’t compatible with every device.

User experiences
suit Fitting
Suit
I was very happy to see that users love the look of the suits, many selfies were taken. It wasn’t a surprise that people found the suit comfortable to wear. Vera de Pont and I spend many hours optimising the fit of and interaction with the suit. The hood was used quite often for a feeling of privacy and safety. The hood also provides warmth which is nice when sitting still. People felt that the hood made it easier to turn inwards.
Some people did have a problem with the collar. It is made of soft, flexible fabric and designed to fit snugly around the neck. The close fit will ensure that even the tiniest movements are captured. But even when the collar is fastened less tightly the data is comparable to the tight fit.
Lose collar data

Meditation
Meditation with lightThe sessions could be conducted as normal meditation sessions. As an observer it struck me how peaceful they were. There wasn’t more movement or restlessness then in any other meditation session. The technology did not seem to interfere with the meditation.

Qualitative data
Filling in the formsFilling in the questionnaires was a bit of a hassle due to issues explained above. I have worked mostly with 2 laptops which could be used by the participants during walking meditation. But the filling out does take a lot of time, especially when the questions are new to people. Also some of the questions sometimes puzzled participants. Some questions are based on Buddhist theory, not all users are familiar with that.

Light influencing
Design group experimentsThe experiment design was that each 20 minute session would test one type of light. Although I explained this clearly on the ticket registration page people had different expectations. Some people expected a more dynamic light. These are interesting things to explore in the future but at this point the most important thing is to find a relation between the light and the meditation quality. The more I vary, the harder this will be, especially as my dataset still isn’t that big.
The blue light in particular was experienced very differently by people, while some found it relaxing others got a headache… One participant suggested to use indirect light. A very good idea. That way you are not watching a light source but are just experiencing the radiance. I have been testing it and have found it much more comfortable.

Data
Participants are much interested in the biometric data. At this point there is only limited possibility to view the data. It would take too much time to show every user. All participants will get plots and a summary of their data of the sessions they participated in. The people that did look at their data found it mostly confirmed their feeling about the experience. They could for example recognize their fidgeting during a session and the deepening of the breathing between sessions.
We are working towards an overview of all sensor data on one page, providing mean values and comparison of sessions. Making the experience of the data more meaningful and helpful is something I will be exploring in the near future. It is a study in and of itself.

Conclusion
The experiments were about testing the suits and the system. Working with so many people has been really worthwhile. I have much better insight into what works and things in the system and experimentation routine that can be improved. The data of different users will be fed to the smart algorithm to help improve it so it can create the most optimal light during meditation.

If you ever want to participate, keep an eye on my Eventbrite and Facebook page. Or contact me through this blog so I can put you on the list. Hope to meet you sometime!

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.

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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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.

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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…

Suit
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.