Self Knowledge Through Textile-Based Sensing
Anne Prahl is a Ph.D. researcher at the University of Arts at London. Anne Prahl explores textile based sensing and how it has effected her with regard to self-knowledge. In this video, she talks about how she got into Quantified Self and how she used self-tracking to inspire her research project.
Fitbit | pen and paper
So first, a little bit of background of my research, smart enable textiles, you can see a couple of examples here and they are generally described as smart textiles that are able to send to and adapt to provide a range of stimuli’s that include pressure, emotion, chemicals and physiological impact on the environment.
So as part of my research, my understanding of textiles actually include soft skin worn materials that you can see there is in the third image there that has an electrochemical research there. So I’m looking at traditional types of textiles, but I am also going to investigate new types of material that can be worn like a textile.
So what do I want to sense? I’m very interested in the sense of smell, and this is because I’m really sensitive to various types of smell, substances, and electronic devices and for sensitivity, might be great for superheroes (unclear) who can actually recognise and track his targets by scent, but for me, I’m very much more likely person on the right in trying to get away from the things that are out there that are making me feel ill.
So why do I want to sense smells and substances? It’s not just a personal thing that’s affecting me, but to all its different types of pollution is and they are all listed here. Most of them are indivisible in our environment in our computers, out in the streets, in our homes. And according to my research. Many diseases can actually be caused by these environmental factors. So I think it’s about time we sort of did something about these.
So inspired by Quantify Self. I decided that the first steps of my research should be to utilize some of the existing tools to help me investigate my sensitivities to all these different types of pollution out there.
So the first phase, the analogue phase of my research, as well as keeping a personal diary, and a calendar and also taking photos to keep record of the offending items, so I won’t ever use them again. Or my friends would stop buying them for me for Christmas.
So the most negative impact that I noticed was really from the effects of mobile phones and laptop use. Odor and chemical related impacts from personal care or hygiene products, and these were self-inflicted, but mostly inflicted by others around me. And also the indoor air quality and pollution.
So from these observations and concerns, and this was to do with dirty or contaminated data because it was really difficult to isolate the data I was interested in, and how to visualize invisible data, how to include my perceptions or subject opinions, and how to quantify any effect on my health. All in all quantifying this was really frustrating, really boring and difficult. So that’s why I decided to move onto something a bit more scientific.
So the first step in mind, digital experience was to buy a Fitbit. So obviously with a Fitbit smells to one side because the Fitbit only measures activity, nutrition, and sleep. So I thought this would be a great opportunity to just get some feedback on how I interact on a daily basis with a device and also how to cope with data management.
So the initial test phase with my Fitbit highlighted there were certain data parameters, so the data was restricted to however the Fitbit decided was important. Data syncing I found really easy, but data management was a little bit more tricky because I actually ended up producing a 27 word page document to collate all my data and also to show that I’m not great with technology and I had to constantly generate and analyze data. And I notice the negative impact on my behaviour and getting obsessed, simply because it looked good in a graph or a nice picture.
So in terms of wear ability obviously I notice when I bought the Fitbit there was a lack of choice in customization opportunities, and I had to choose between black or burgundy and that was my only sort of personal choice I had. The device location on the body was somewhat restricted, especially during yoga and athletic sports; the Fitbit was always in the way. Once the restrictions where you could actually wear it on your garment, because the Fitbit can only be worn on your torso, which was generally on my pants or sports bra, which actually started causing damage and wear and tear to the garment always on the same location. And the really annoying thing was having to remember to wear the device all the time.
So, then I went on to Double Digital and I finally succumb to modern technology and purchased a smart phone. So now I have got most of the tools and devices that were associated in the smart phone. So I could check in parallel with the Fitbit and the smart phone together, and then using my laptop for the data management. So I had moved into a bit more of the science of it now.
So my original goal was to monitor and detect smell from pollution, and that wasn’t possible with the devices that I had, but what I started doing was I started looking at surrounding variables to do this. So I purchased some apps covering pollution, moods, energy, fitness and heart rate, so you can see the examples of what I used here.
I also found a really interesting mobile phone radiation detection app, which would be fantastic for my research. Unfortunately, it was banned from the Apple App Store, which says a lot to me and it’s available for android phones, and Google play, but I couldn’t use it for my research.
So during this Double Digital phase, again, I noticed some very interesting issues and in checking my compatibility I had to end up to juggle my running keeper, my iPhone and Fitbit so I could run and operate three devices at the same time. Also with running keeper I got really distracted by the little voice that came from my pocket constantly updating me on my progress.
I also got quite obsessed with wanting to be first on the leader board, which I was but it did mean having to run with my iPhone, and whenever I didn’t wear my iPhone I would soon be in second or third place, obviously it’s quite sad. I only had three friends on their at the moment.
All of my apps seem to agree that come 17 March was a pretty good day, but was it? I had been burning lots of calories in the less polluted air and it all looked fantastic, looking at the data. But my heart rate after a 30 K run was supposed to be in a resting mode. So that got me worried and is there something wrong with me. So I began to wonder what does this data mean in terms of my well-being, so maybe I do need a data coach.
So looking at wearability, the iPhone carrier that I bought for my sleeve it really does look very sleek and technique and it’s comfortable when it’s worn by itself. But as soon as the phone goes into the pocket and onto your arm. It was impossible to actually wear, so I had to go back to putting it in my pocket. And I found it really difficult to operate the iPhone, either in this sleeve or the pocket and you have to be really careful not to interrupt your tracking by accident when you are attaching it all in the pocket moving around.
I also felt very uncomfortable running around a south London park with a £500 computer visibly strapped to my arm. And obviously difficult weather conditions meant that my high-tech gadget had to be put into a low-tech sandwich bag to protect it from the rain, so that didn’t quite work.
So what did I learn and what does all this mean for my research?
So obviously this whole process generated lots of nice graphs and pretty data, but the most valuable data that I collected from my research was really how I reacted to the experience. So I put together all of my kind of feelings on this whole experience and key messages from my posts and textbook.
So with regards to wearability. There were some great potential therefore exploring the avenues in the wearables for the iPhones and to really make these tracking more accurate, intuitive, and not invasive but comfortable. And looking at data generation, and I’m a little bit concerned about some of the negative effects that I had and your well-being when you are trying to enhance your well-being.
So onto the next steps in my research so I could hack my Fitbit and I thought that would be a good idea and use my Fitbit for a sense of smell and there are already some really good examples out there with lots of geeks making their devices more personal and relevant to their life.
But I won’t be doing that, instead, I’ll be designing my own sensor for wearable textiles by the concept of an electronic nose. I’m really lucky to be working with a company that is helping me in the development of my design. And this image shows the initial and basic sample of the electronic nose, and this has the potential to monitor the well-being of the wearer by utilizing a material called QTC. And this material can detect specific VOCs that come from the wearer or are floating around the environment. So this is really where my design invention is and while I’m talking you today and what I would really like to do is integrate actual user needs in combination with technology.
So we are all familiar with the Quantified Self motto, self-knowledge through numbers, and I do feel very strongly about utilizing data and it is really great for self-tracking, motivation, and behavior changes. But for my project I’m wondering that there could be more to it than data.
In the QS community in the US there has been some great presentations recently on mindfulness and calming technologies, so people are beginning to look at how can we go beyond the data to improve our well-being. So looking specifically at textile-based sensing, here are some of the examples of what I mean when I’m talking about alternative opportunities for self-knowledge. So all of these textiles can select data to visual alert, and this changes the look of the textile which is going to be through color, patterns, light, and sometimes even shape.
So it’s important to mention that in my research I will explore this avenue of visual alert through the textile, but I’m also going to work on the concept of the textile communicating directly with the smart phone so that everyone can be alert within your clothing.
So to conclude, I would like to thank you for listening and to ask if sensors could really enable us self-knowledge based on what you’ve heard today and whether you would be interested in finding out more because I’m going to be running a little workshops, if anyone is interested.