Playing with body sensors and real time data

Over the past month I have been thinking what will be my first experiment to get my teeth into. I explored a lot of different ideas but came back thinking that I just love data. When browsing, I came across a little italian company called Embrace. Not only do they specialise in wearables with emotion detecting sensors, but partner with MIT and Rosalind Picard, the mother of affective computing.

In short, the work of Rosalind Picard uses computers to understand our body’s physiological state so we can design better devices and better interactions. When studying my masters, I gravitated toward the world of affective computers with the lecturer Nadia Berthouze; focussing my thesis on trying to design for positive and productive interfaces by understanding the emotional state. So it was a no brainer to use this as my first experiment when coming across Embrace. With two products on the market, I was less interested in the daily wearable wrist band which tracks the usual activities. The embrace E4 was the professional, researchers device which could provide a real time feed of heart rate, galvanic skin response, temperature and movement. Not intended for general use, the device came in a little pricey but I was already thinking of amazing ways to use real time emotional feed.

I spent the 3 days with the device, constantly tracking my movements and inner state. The realtime output was visible through an app as well as a data dump on a dashboard however the amount of data available was unwieldy. Not only was I able to see when I was in a REM cycle, but I could see the effect of dreams on my heart rate and movement. During the day, the data was pretty constant and hard to identify whether I was in a meeting or at my desk when analysing the data. The tool was powerful and I dabbled in ways I could use the API to take the data and translate it in different, more creative forms. I toyed with abstracting the self and using colours and shapes to portray happiness, sadness or anger depending on the data.

My nights would end with me endlessly reading research papers to translate data into emotions or actions. It would need a data scientist to fully understand what the numbers truly meant. I had reached a wall. Speaking to a friend who is a magician with data, we came up with ways to do it but I realised I needed to go back to basics. Though I decided to return the device, I have not been deterred from experimenting with body sensors.

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