Archive for Cross-pollination

Project intro: Arousal-sensing wearable

14 November 2008

The third of the three major projects I’m working on at the moment, the arousal-sensing wearable is exactly what it sounds like: a dress that senses when the wearer is aroused, and reacts to that biodata.

There are a few dimensions of the project that are particularly interesting to me about this topic. First of all, I think there is some very interesting stuff going on in the wearables space right now. (For examples, see this.) But there’s also a lot of overreliance on LED displays and pragmatic integration of everyday electronics into garments and accessories. Some of these efforts are well-intentioned but clunky; I’m thinking of some of those solar-charging backpacks and jackets that have iPod remotes in the sleeves. Workable, yes. But once I became aware of what we can do with very simple, open-source technology such as Arduino, I became intrigued by the possibilities of more fully integrating technology, clothing, and the body.

Skin is fascinating to me, and critical to the logic of the project. We conceptualize skin as a barrier, but skin is really more of a porous membrane. In many species, skin reflects the internal state of the organism, projecting it in color, pattern, or aroma as an important means of communication with other organisms. As the only species that covers our skin with clothes, it strikes me that we are missing out on a useful potential means of communication, particularly with potential mates.

In addition, there is another uniquely human factor that complicates the transmission of our internal states outward. The burden of consciousness is that it deprives us almost entirely of the ability to make unpremeditated gestures, particularly when it comes to romance. It’s impossible to unconsciously convey our interest in a potential mate. (Though body language experts say that we do, many an urban single has been misled in this way). But what if we could create a second skin that would bypass our consciousness and display our visceral reactions directly from our bodies?

To me, this represents a transformative possibility. People may not at the moment consider it desirable to be so transparent, but if urban singles continue to lead such busy lives with such few opportunities for romantic interaction, it may become a new shortcut, a more efficient way to meet. I also see possibilities for couples, offering subtle communication to a partner about the wearer’s mood and reaction to the partner’s behavior. Communication in couples or even friendships could become a wordless dialogue of sensation and physicality, bringing about a new kind of body consciousness and a better awareness of self.

Right now I’m in the process of wiring up the input circuits and developing the garment’s output mechanism. I’ll write more detail about the process shortly. To start, the image above is a mood board I created on my wall to inspire the design and texture of the garment. More photos to follow.