A wearable for 1:1 communication

Overview

Vibe Check is a set of two wearable devices that will aid to achieve the process of interpersonal synchrony between two interacting users. The wearable devices will consist of measuring the user’s heart rate, body temperature, and skin conductivity, and use them as social cues to improve in communication by communicating them through visual lights and haptic feedback.

This aims to look into the possible uses and benefits of facilitating interpersonal synchrony and the future of in-person communication during social interactions. While Vibe check is a specular look into the future of wearables and communication, facilitating interpersonal synchrony has also been proven to be beneficial for individuals with Social Communication Disorders. This could be used in the future for things like a therapist and patient relationships, retaining user engagement, or other users that focus on two or more people interacting with each other wanting to create a better sense of trust and security.

Global Design Graduate Show 2020

For this thesis project, I was able to submit it to the Global Design Graduate Show 2020, an international contest for graduates to share their work and get judge by industry leaders. Vibe Check was shortlisted for the winning judges group and won the public vote for service design!

The Tech

The Vibe Check garments are embedded with a multitude of sensors to collect body measurements like pulse, body temperature, and skin conductivity. All this is then sent to a microcontroller to analyze and display it in the lighting, and communicate via Bluetooth with its matching garment. This allows the user to not only see the additional cues from their partner but also feel their heartbeat through the vibration motors in their own garment.

User Experience

Externalizing internal feelings

Vibe Check is a set of two wearable devices that will sync up to each other and express their wearer's internal feelings to their partners. The wearable consists of three main sensors, a pulse sensor, temperature, and galvanic skin response (GSR). The device will communicate an increase in engagement, excitement and arousal by interpreting the wearer's body temperature and GSR. This will be shown through the lighting in the garment, an increase in body temperature will increase the brightness of the lighting, while an increase in GSR will be shown as an increase in saturation of the lighting.

As the interaction develops and becomes more colorful the same will be represented as the garment becomes more colorful.

The three backing theories

While we interact and communicate with people face to face, our brains are able to pick up in a multitude of social and non-verbal cues, but what if you were able to feel the same way that the other person is feeling?

Vibe Check uses the concepts of Interpersonal Synchrony, the Social Presence theory and Computed Mediated Communication (CMC) in order to enhance and provide another level to face to face communication.

Interpersonal Synchrony

Is the tendency for humans to fall into a rhythm with one another, from gestures all the way to your heartrate and breathing. Research has proven that achieving this state f synchrony people are able to create stronger bonds, become more trustful of each other, easy the perception of pain, and to communicate better.

Social Presence

Social presence refers to our ability to gage people's presence and engagement in a conversation. This is seen in cues like facial expression and gestures, the more engaged a person is in the conversation, the more present they'll be and the more efficient the cues will be.

Computer Mediated Communication (CMC)

Social presence refers to our ability to gage people's presence and engagement in a conversation. This is seen in cues like facial expression and gestures, the more engaged a person is in the conversation, the more present they'll be and the more efficient the cues will be.

Where Vibe Check fits?

The Background Work

Circuitry

Development of this project is divided into two sections, the physical computing elements and the coding elements. The physical computing aspect consisted on sourcing and developing with sensors and ensuring that they would collect the right and accurate data required for the device.

In addition I also created custom PCBs in order to facilitated the use of the wearable and make it more compact. The code development aspect consisted on creating the proper communication between the two devices to transfer the data via Bluetooth. Secondly, there was the analysis and  interpretation of the data into the output devices (Neo Pixels and Haptic motors).

All the prototype's code is available in the GitHub repo

Construction

After all the circuit work was done it was time to embed it into the garment. The process started with getting found clothing that would align with the design language and modify them. After the initial sketches and final designs were done, it started with patterning the designs into the garments and to map out where all the electronics, sensors and the microcontroller would go.

Once the patterns were done, I moved into creating the lighting areas as it would affect the existing garment the most by taking cloth out. The lighting consisted of Flora LEDs that were embedded into a backing with a diffusion layer and plastic see-through top layer. Next the vibration motors were installed in their 3D printed housings and sewn into the garment. The final step was to embed and route all the sensors and wiring through the garment and into the main housing to connect to the microcontroller.

This was done for both garments with their corresponding designs and modified accordingly.

Outcome

Looking back this has been one of the most challenging, varied and interesting projects that I’ve worked on. From the very beginning in dealing with the topic of wearables and communication to major pivots,  and finalizing an idea, this has made me reach to the widest range of my skills and even learn some new ones in the process.

Throughout this entire thesis, I feel like I was able to apply the entirety of my design process and this made me refine it for future use. This allowed me to practice and tune my project management skills, research, and risk management. Including the major change of events with COVID-19 making it more difficult on every process of life, I was able to address my risks, asses the weight and relevance of certain features and decide on a path that would still yield me a final successful thesis that I would enjoy.