Further Research and Inspirations

I had a discussion with my advisor, Jinsil Hwaryoung Seo, today about my research direction and a potential project for the USA Science & Engineering Festival in April. After little success with my pulse sensor experimentation, I had been struggling with what kind of biosensor to utilize in my handheld device, as well as what kind of feedback I would be giving the user. Hwaryoung suggested to look into a GSR (Galvanic Skin Response) sensor, so that will be my next exploration on the hardware side.

As for feedback for the user, we talked about potentially having haptic and visual feedback. My device could potentially connected to a computer or mobile device to provide additional visual feedback.

So tonight, I have been reflecting on visualizations for relaxation.

I did a quick literature search (will definitely dive deeper when I have the time) for studies tying together visual imagery with relaxation.

However, most of what I found either did not directly address this connection. There appears to be many studies with an audio/visual feedback component. But the few papers that I grazed over did not explicitly go over what the visual component consisted of. There were a few that did, but these visuals fell into a more video narrative of nature and life.

I am curious about generative art and relaxation. I find mathematical systems to be beautifully intriguing.

I contemplated what I personally found visually relaxing. One of the first thing that came to mind was Casey Reas’ Process works. If you are unfamiliar this video gives an excellent overview of the system’s evolution:

Here is an sample of one piece in the series:

Here are some more pieces I came across:

John Whitney, “Arabesque”

Subliminal Phoenix, “Lucid Surrender”

Glenn Marshall, “The Jewel in the Heart of the Lotus”

Physical Computing Project 1: Sensors and LEDs

Although I’m in the very beginnings of my thesis research, my interests are currently centralized around interactive technology, meditation, and breath. Last spring, I started these biofeedback meditation training sessions offered on campus by Student Counseling Services to help learn how to better manage my stress. These sessions guided me through various breathing exercises to help reach a relaxed state of awareness.

For my first project for Physical Computing, I envisioned a large lighting sculpture of a lotus flower, which symbolizes enlightenment, divinity, fertility, wealth, and knowledge. The lights would help guide the breath during meditation.


I imagine the lights starting from the center and extending outwards during an inhalation, and contracting inwards during an exhalation.

To help guide the breath, there would be pre-determined lighting (dictating the blue channel of the LED). The user’s breath would influence the lighting sculpture as well (dictating the red channel of the LED).  When the user’s breath matches the pre-determined timing, the resulting LED color would be purple.

I imagine the lotus frame to be made out of wood and the petals out of rice paper. The petals would be backlit by the RGB LEDs.

To measure the breath, I used an stretch sensor band wrapped around the abdomen. When the user inhales, the abdomen would rise, causing the band would stretch, increasing the resistance. Exhaling would cause the abdomen (and the band) to contract, decreasing the resistance. I inserted the output voltage of a voltage divider circuit incorporating the sensor to one of the analog inputs of my Arduino’s. This value was used to map the user’s breathing to the the lighting animation of the red LED channels.

Here are some pictures of my prototype…. I didn’t get a chance to make a video of it in action. But the circuit is pretty simple to recreate, so I might just have to go back and do that later.

20140204_160925 20140204_160241

Initial Thesis Research: Meditation, Breath, and Technology

Image from freedigitalphotos.net
Image from freedigitalphotos.net

My primary motivation for exploring meditation, breath, and technology is my interest in stress and anxiety. Stress is something everyone experiences in varying degrees throughout their lifetime. Personally, I have a difficult time dealing with stress and anxiety. In order to learn how to manage these issues, I came across some biofeedback meditation training sessions offered on my campus by Student Counseling Services. I also have been practicing yoga on and off for the past few years. I am committed to making both of these practices more regular in my life.

Benefits of Meditation

I came across an excellent TED talk about meditation:

Here are some of the notable benefits of meditation:

  • Improved attention span
  • Sharpened focus
  • Improved memory
  • Reduced stress, pain, depression, and anxiety

Current Relevant Technologies

Transforming Pain Research Group (SFU)

AIST: Paro Therapeutic Robot

  • Motivation: to allow the benefits of animal therapy for patients in environments where live animals present difficulties
    Video Demo

Yohanan and McLean: The Haptic Creature

  • Motivation: to investigate the display, recognition, and emotional influence of affective touch
    Video Demo

Initial Thesis Brainstorming

So here are my current ideas for my thesis topic!

Create a portable object to guide breath in meditation.

  • Size: currently playing with the idea of a small handheld object, a larger huggable object, or a pendant
  • Material: silicone material Insert that could be warmed up (reminiscent of therapeutic spa masks)
  • Incorporate use of biofeedback sensors

Until Next Time…

My main goals for the upcoming month:

  • Reading scientific papers about benefits of meditation
  • Researching more projects/studies dealing with breath, touch, and therapeutic technologies
  • Experimenting with Arduino and biofeedback sensors
  • Developing a more thorough thesis idea