Breathing is body activity that can occur unconsciously or consciously. Without thought, we breathe automatically, but with practice, we can learn to breathe more effectively. By breathing properly, we can better manage stress and stress-related conditions that are not advantageous to modern life.
My final project proposal for Rest of You is a light sculpture that aims to curb stress by encouraging deeper, controlled breathing by providing the user with visual feedback. Here's the initial sketch:
The light sculpture is controlled by a breathing sensor, comprised of a piece of stretchy conductive material attached to a strap of non-stretchy material that is worn around the ribcage. As the user inhales, their ribcage expands, stretching the sensor and increasing its resistance. The increase in resistance causes the LEDs on the sculpture to turn on, one by one, from the bottom to the top of the sculpture. As the user exhales, the LEDs turn off, one by one, from top to bottom. As the user continues to breathe, the sculpture reflects their breaths. If the user fails to breathe deeply, the sculpture won't fully turn on. It is my hope that the user will want the sculpture to fully light up, and therefore breathe deeply to make this happen.
Research indicates that curbing the stress response has the following positive effects:
- Reduces stress hormone production
- Balances O2 and CO2 in the blood
- Lowers blood pressure and heart rate
- Increases physical energy
- Promotes calm and wellbeing
- Reduces lactic acid build-up in muscle tissue
- Improves immune system functionality
My goal for the final is to get the breathing sensor and light sculpture up and running. Once these parts are complete, the next step will be to make it wireless. I plan to do this with XBees.
I've been dabbling around with a bunch of biofeedback sensors recently in an effort to figure out what to do with them. What personal data do I want to collect, and what data would actually be interesting to work with? I've played with heartrate, GSR, light, temperature and now I want to collect data on my posture and breathing. I'm thinking that I'll just make the sensors wearable, add a datalogger, wear them as much as possible for a few days while recording my mood and what I'm doing, and maybe my location, look at the data and cross my fingers to find some idiosyncrasies that I wasn't previously aware of.
Below is a sketch of my basic idea and schematic. I plan to build it this week.
This week, I plugged myself into my Arduino and monitored a number of readings to see how my body reacted to events over a period of one hour.
I turned off the air conditioner and monitored readings from the following three sensors while sitting with my laptop:
- Galvanic Skin Response Sensor, consisting of two pieces of copper soldered to wires, that I held my left index and middle fingers on to measure how much I sweat. I was pretty surprised and amused to see how the readings changed over time.
- Temperature Sensor, to record temperature in my environment. These readings increased while the A/C was turned off.
- Photocell, to record ambient light. Unsurprisingly, this didn't change much. I didn't move, it was dark outside, and the indoor lights provided a stably-lit environment.
The info was all fed into Processing to create a graph, and all the readings were recorded into a text file over the course of the hour. It wasn't the most exciting experiment in the world, but it was good to get back into the swing of using an Arduino.
Next, I'd like to play around a bit with a heart rate monitor to see what gets me (or someone else) going. Or maybe I should get myself to the gym...
There's a certain feeling of discomfort that I get when I stare at something, or in some cases, even think about something, for too long. I spent some time looking through optical illusions the other day and found myself feeling rather queasy by the end of it. At first, I viewed the illusions with a clear mind, seeing the illusions as they were intended to be viewed, allowing them to play with my perception.
Knowing that I was looking at illusions and allowing my mind to play tricks on me made me determined to see things as they truly are, and not as intended. I began to push myself to see the images as they were, to see past the illusion.
After spending a few minutes trying desperately to see past the illusions, I had to take a break from looking at the screen, because illusions felt like the kind of things that could drive me a bit bonkers. How can our brains slip up this easily on optical illusions? I suppose I was a little frustrated - but after looking at several optical illusions, I wondered how we might use such illusions for good, rather than using them to play with people's minds. For many reasons, it's uncomfortable to sense that you are being controlled by an external source.
As much as illusions might put me on the edge of my seat, I hope to find some interesting uses for them over the coming weeks.
Dan Ariely's TED talk suggested that we might want to look a little further into how our minds are wired. It also made me consider how we, as interaction designers, can frame things to assure individuals of their autonomy and free will while they have, in fact, just a couple of choices. Or, maybe, no choice at all?