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QSEU14 Breakout: Emotive Wearables

Today’s post comes to us from Rain Ashford. Rain is a PhD student, researcher, and hardware tinkerer who is interested in how personal data can be conveyed in new and meaningful ways. She’s been exploring ideas around wearable data and the hardware that can support it. At the 2014 Quantified Self Europe Conference, Rain led a breakout session on Emotive Wearables during which she introduced her EEG Visualizing Pendant and engaged attendees in a discussion around wearing data and devices. 

Emotive Wearables
By Rain Ashford

It was great to visit Amsterdam again and see friends at the 3rd Quantified Self Europe Conference, previously I have spoken at the conference on Sensing Wearables, in 2011 and Visualising Physiological Data, in 2013.

There were two very prominent topics being discussed at Quantified Self Europe 2014, firstly around the quantifying of grief and secondly on privacy and surveillance. These are two very contrasting and provocative areas for attendees to contemplate, but also very important to all, for they’re very personal areas we can’t avoid having a viewpoint on. My contribution to the conference was to lead a Breakout Session on Emotive Wearables and demonstrated my EEG Visualising Pendant. Breakout Sessions are intended for audience participation and I wanted to use this one-hour session to get feedback on my pendant for its next iteration and also find out what people’s opinions were on emotive wearables generally.

I’ve been making wearable technology for six years and have been a PhD student investigating wearables for three years; during this time I’ve found wearable technology is such a massive field that I have needed to find my own terms to describe the areas I work in, and focus on in my research. Two subsets that I have defined terms for are, responsive wearables: which includes garments, jewellery and accessories that respond to the wearer’s environment, interactivity with technology or physiological signals taken from sensor data worn on or around the body, and emotive wearables: which describes garments, jewellery and accessories that amplify, broadcast and visualise physiological data that is associated with non-verbal communication, for example, the emotions and moods of the wearer. In my PhD research I am looking at whether such wearable devices can used to express non-verbal communication and I wanted to find out what Quantified Self Europe attendees opinions and attitudes would be about such technology, as many attendees are super-users of personal tracking technology and are also developing it.

Demo-ing EEG Visualising Pendant

My EEG Visualising Pendant is an example of my practice that I would describe as an emotive wearable, because it amplifies and broadcasts physiological data of the wearer and may provoke a response from those around the wearer. The pendant visualises the brainwave attention and meditation data of the wearer simultaneously (using data from a Bluetooth NeuroSky MindWave headset), via an LED (Light Emitting Diode) matrix, allowing others to make assumptions and interpretations from the visualizations. For example, whether the person wearing the pendant is paying attention or concentrating on what is going on around them, or is relaxed and not concentrating.

After I demonstrated the EEG Visualising Pendant, I invited attendees of my breakout session to participate in a discussion and paper survey about attitudes to emotive wearables and in particular feedback on the pendant. We had a mixed gender session of various ages and we had a great discussion, which covered areas such as, who would wear this device and other devices that also amplified one’s physiological data? We discussed the appropriateness of such personal technology and also thought in depth about privacy and the ramifications of devices that upload such data to cloud services for processing, plus the positive and the possible negative aspects of data collection. Other issues we discussed included design and aesthetics of prominent devices on the body and where we would be comfortable wearing them.

I am still transcribing the audio from the session and analysing the paper surveys that were completed, overall the feedback was very positive. The data I have gathered will feed into the next iteration of the EEG Visualising Pendantprototype and future devices. It will also feed into my PhD research. Since the Quantified Self Europe Conference, I have run the same focus group three more times with women interested in wearable technology, in London. I will update my blog with my findings from the focus groups and surveys in due course, plus of course information on the EEG Visualising Pendant’s next iteration as it progresses.

A version of this post first appeared on Rain’s personal blog. If you’re interested in discussing emotive wearable we invite you to follow up there, with Rain on Twitter, or here in the comments. 

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