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.