Researchers from Inria in Talence and Ulo in La Rochelle, France, have released a paper describing "tangible, modular physiological devices" designed for everything from introspection to play: Physio-Stacks.
"Our physiological activity reflects our inner workings. However, we are not always aware of it in full detail," the researchers explain of the project. "Physiological devices allow us to monitor and create adaptive systems and support introspection. Given that these devices have access to sensitive data, it is vital that users have a clear understanding of the internal mechanisms (extrospection), yet the underlying processes are hard to understand and control, resulting in a loss of agency."
"In this work, we focus on bringing the agency back to the user, by using design guidelines based on principles of honest communication and driven by positive activities. To this end, we conceived a tangible, modular approach for the construction of physiological interfaces that can be used as a prototyping toolkit by designers and researchers, or as didactic tools by educators and pupils. We show the potential of such an approach with a set of examples, supporting introspection, dialog, music creation, and play."
The heart of the Physio-Stack system are "brick atoms," self-contained devices powered by an Arduino Pro Mini development board along with dedicated hardware to support a particular function. Headers on the top and bottom of each brick allow them to be stacked to combine functions including input, processing, storage, communication, output, and a power supply brick featuring an Adafruit PowerBoost 1000C linked to a 700mA lithium-polymer battery.
"The resulting modular bricks serve both as a prototyping toolkit for the construction of physiological devices," the team explains, "and a didactic tool to explain the underlying technology through problem-solving. By aggregation of simple functions, it is possible to build rich and complex behaviors. This was showcased by constructing and reproducing Physiological Computing devices that allow the creation of music, playing games, or the communication with others and ourselves. During the iterations, the technology was presented to diverse focus groups (from experts in physiology to pupils). In the future, we plan to create kits that allow users (including children) to create custom devices and learn simultaneously about electronics and their physiology."
More details on the project can be found in the paper, presented at the 22nd International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services (MobileHCI 2020); the researchers have pledged to release design files and software under an open-source license on GitHub, but had not yet done so at the time of writing.