Day 2: QS Guide, Conference Wiki, and Sensor Technology from Eric Boyd

May 29, 2011

Welcome to Day 2! Quick couple of notes to add from Day 1, then on to highlights from our keynote speaker, Eric Boyd.

A common problem for QS-ers is knowing which tools, products and methods to use in their self-tracking. Finding the answers would requires hours to months of online research and/or testing. Recognizing the need for good data on the review side, Quantified Self partnered with the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and Institute for the Future to create the Complete QS Guide to Self-Tracking.

The guide – now populated with over 400 tools – was announced during yesterday’s closing session. The guide will continue to grow with help from the review team and input from the community.  Do you have experience with a QS-relevant tool? Definitely check out the guide and add your thoughts!

A conference wiki has been set up by Beau Gunderson. All attendees can use it to record notes from their sessions


Gary kicked off Day 2 with a big thank you to QS Cofounder, Kevin Kelly, and Director, Alexandra Carmichael.

Kevin’s guiding question for Quantified Self for the last 3.5 years has been: What does it want to become? (big, scattered, concentrated,…?)

Whereas, Alex has asked: How can I help?

Their guidance and inspiration have resulted in a global, rapidly growing community of self-trackers, as well as this weekend’s conference. Thank you Kevin and Alex!

Starting today, Gary suggests we tax our brains and think about the following two questions:

What do you wonder? For example, does chicken soup work for colds? Add those questions to Dare to ask!

What tools do you use? Share with us on!

Now, for today’s keynote: Eric Boyd on New Sensors and the Frontiers of Self Tracking

Eric is a self-described hacker. He finds interesting technologies and does what he wants with them.

Sensors can change the way we look at ourselves and others. Take, for example, the Heart Spark – a heart-shaped circuitboard pendant, which receives feedback from a chest strap and blinks every time the wearer’s heart beats. What happens in an interaction when others see an external display of “you”? Or, the North Paw, a compass worn on the ankle that tells the user when they’re pointing north. It can change the wearer’s internal sense of direction.

Much is possible today with sensors because related technologies have been developed, such as low power wireless and high energy batteries. These things combine to allow for tic-tac sized, sticker-like, sensors, such as the ones we see from Green Goose, which are essentially accelerometers that can be used on anything from a pill bottle, to determine when medication was taken, to inhaler monitors, to measure how frequently asthmatics needed help breathing.

New Sensor Technology

EMG – electromyography (measurement of muscle activity). Sensors, like those used in Emotiv and Neurosky, detect when muscles are used (Neurosky also measures brain waves). These technologies are moving into clothing, helping to improve sports performance.

Galvanic Skin Response – measures sweat or skin resistance (how much electricity flows across the gap in skin). Measures exertion, but can also be a metric for excitement, nervousness, and arousal. It can be a mood thing.

Glucometer – tests blood sugar levels. Current models are too costly for too little data. Continuous monitors are better. The ultimate would be microneedles, which are minimally invasive and can be extremely small (again, tic-tac sized), applied to a fingertip like a sticker.

Cameras – Is a picture also worth 1,000 data points? Cameras are being used to capture live data points, like when you hit a deer or when you propose to your significant other (one guy snapped a live action shot after proposing and uploaded her reaction to the web). Mealsnap, a mobile app, analyzes photos of your meals but has humans on the backend analyzing the data.

Microphones – With a $2 microphone and analysis software, one man measured his sleeping patters and even heartrate after slipping a mic into his airbed and filtering through the data.

Quantified World – automobile, electricity, gas/pollution. Sensors that tell electricity usage, force of impact, substances in the air, both outside and inside.

Tricorder X Prize – New prize offered for the ultimate all-in-one self tracking device. Not likely that it will be a mobile (cell-phone like device); needs to be worn.

In closing, in the Quantified World, there is a lot of opportunity. Get out there and experiment! It’s worth emphasizing that Quantified Self is “DIY.” You‘ve got to do it.

Additions by Gary: Re: the Heart Spark and external displays of emotion – is it possible to synchronize feedback loops (“entrainment”)? Might there be entrainment for heartrate?

Recent article in Pediatrics, looking at TV, families and language acquisition, shows that kids learn language by their parents reacting to what they say. When the TV is on, parents don’t react. We can quantify what TV does to language.

Thomaz gave a great talk about sensing water pressure yesterday. A simple meter on a faucet can identify everything that happens in the system, whether you ate out that night or stayed home and did the dishes.

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