Ocean’s Heartbeat

Project description
Ocean’s heartbeat is an expressive wearable that displays human heartbeats on the blinking pattern in lights of the design of the coral reef on the T-shirt.
As a nature lover, I’ve always been drawn to the beauty of its inhabitants and feel deeply connected to them. Through the connection between the behavior of the lights on the coral reef and the wearer’s heartbeat, Ocean’s heartbeat intends to unite humans and nature as a whole. It sends a poetic message that humans should learn to coexist with nature and we are a part of nature. It also brings to attention through this piece that our actions will have a big impact on nature.
The light sensor on the Adafruit circuit playground express is used to function as a pulse sensor in this project. Through the absorption of green light emitted by one neopixel light on the board, the light sensor on it detects and gives a reading of the difference in the value of the light. Programmed to display the heartbeat pattern, other neopixel lights therefore blink at the same rate as the wearer’s heart rate, and the light will be transmitted to the ends of fiber optics. This intermingle between humankind and nature invites people to ponder the relationship between the two. Ocean’s heartbeat is not merely an aesthetic piece but also functions as a wake up call for humans to reflect on whether their behavior is causing harm to nature.

Final photos


img-1454 img-1418-1




Parts list
Adafruit Circuit Playground Express
Fiber Optics
Fabric for wedding party

Circuit diagram or schematic




Process photos and notes


When I first started using fiber optics, I realized it’s very hard to secure them in a certain position so all the fiber optics will capture light and have their ends light up. A glue gun was used to solve this problem by gluing the ends of fiber optics to ensure that the light will be captured, diffused and transmitted to all the strands. I also used threads to sew the fiber optic bundles to the clothes in an attempt to stop them from moving. However, it doesn’t have that much with the issue. A new method is needed for it.


Felt was cut in pieces of different lengths and widths and rolled up to represent the corals in a stylized way. Vibrant colors were chosen not only because I personally like bright colors but also coral reefs have bright colors.


I tested the pulse sensor separately to make sure it will detect my pulse and it worked. The graph shows a pretty good reading of my heartbeat. My original plan was to use the board as the pulse sensor and add external LEDs that react to the pulse sensor so the lights on the board won’t affect the readings of the light/pulse sensor. However, the sketch didn’t work so I had to compromise and used the neopixels on the board instead.

Fiber optics pulsing with my heartbeat.

Any supporting illustrations or diagrams


Concept for how to arrange the fiber optics


My initial idea to hide Adafruit CPX, LED and glued ends of fiber optics at the back of the T-shirt.

Lessons learned / next steps
I had a really hard time connecting an external LED to the circuit. The external LED would blink on its own while using the example code. However, when I migrate the example blinking sketch to the pulse detection sketch which I created, the external LED just wouldn’t light up at all. This has led me to wonder if there’s a conflict in the syntax between the standard Arduino library and the Circuit Playground library. It is something to investigate later. This caused me to stick to the rest of the neopixels on the board for displaying the heartbeat pattern.
However, this caused another problem. Since the light sensor is located on the board as well, if the neopixels are set too bright, it messes up the heartbeat detection. If it’s not as bright, the fiber optics will appear quite dim. The next step for me then is to play with the numbers on the brightness of the neopixels, or perhaps try a different way to use external lights for displaying the heartbeat. Ideally I want the board to only function as a heartbeat detector. Another thing to consider is where and how to hide the ends of fiber optics as right now they are exposed. Next step is to perhaps stitch something on top to cover them.

Project Context
My love for nature started when I was a kid. Growing up with the Disney animated film The Little Mermaid (1989) and Pocahontas (1995), nature, especially the underwater world has always been a place of magic for me. The disney films created this world where humans and animals live in peace and harmony and go on adventures together as friends in the beautiful natural world animators created. The idea that humans can communicate with wild animals and nature is fascinating to me. I always believe that there’s a certain connection between us and nature because we are in fact a part of it.

However, it seems that we live in a world where humans forget how to coexist with nature, with more and more news about climate change and environmental disasters happening on a more frequent basis. Global warming, plastic pollution, oil spills at sea and so on are the direct consequences of our careless and thoughtless actions which have had negative impacts on the environment. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts and fires happen more and more frequently. It pained many people to know the fire that happened at the Amazon forest last summer for example caused a great amount of deforestation. I believe these are signs that we need to reevaluate our relationship with nature.
This project gives me a good opportunity to do that. Doing a nature-inspired wearable project encourages me to explore this somewhat philosophical question as wearables are quite intimate items which we wear close to our skin. This proximity between the wearable with nature design elements and the human body represents the entangled and complex relationship between humans and nature.
Then it comes to the decision of visual design that represents nature. A lot of fashion designers have also taken inspiration from underwater creatures to their clothing design. The Dutch Fashion designer Iris van Herpen is one amongst the many fashion designers who are fascinated by the deep ocean. The folds and curves in the fabric mimics the organic form of not only the underwater plants but also the wave of water. The silky texture of the clothes also represents the free-flowing nature of the water.

I eventually decided to coral reefs to represent nature. The reason is two-folded. I used to love watching BBC documentaries about the underwater world and was drawn to the beauty of it. I always love the look of coral reefs because of their dynamic shapes. They are like underwater flowers! Clusters of corals give off a sense of vibrancy and vitality which is a great representation of the liveness in nature. Corals also give off fluorescence light which I used fiber optics to represent to add to the aesthetics of the design of the wearable.

Moreover, it also connects to the idea of environmental damages of nature as coral reefs are on the edge of disappearing because of multiple reasons including the warming of ocean, overfishing, pollution and etc.
On top of the visual representation, I used the pulse sensor on the Adafruit Circuit Playground Express to create connectivity between humans and nature. Heartbeats, which are closely associated with the idea of life and existence are detected and visually represented through neopixels in a blinking pattern. The light then is transmitted through the the fiber optics connected to the neopixels and displayed at the tips of the fiber optics which is a part of the coral design to represent the fluorescence of corals. It creates an interesting relationship between human actions (placing their fingers on the pulse sensor on the board) and nature reaction (lights in the coral design blink at the same rate as the heart rate of the person who’s touching the board), which provokes people to reflect on this relationship.


Acevedo, Sebastian. and Novta, Natalija. Climate Change Will Bring More Frequent Natural Disasters & Weigh on Economic Growth 2017. Web. March 2nd, 2020. https://blogs.imf.org/2017/11/16/climate-change-will-bring-more-frequent-natural-disasters-weigh-on-economic-growth/

BBC Earth. Fluorescent Coral Glows in the Depth of the Ocean | BBC Earth. 2018. YouTube. Web. March 2nd, 2020.

DisneyMusicVEVO. The Little Mermaid – Under the Sea (from The Little Mermaid) (Official Video). 2013. YouTube. Web. March 2nd, 2020.

Hughes, Roland.  Amazon fires: What’s the latest in Brazil? 2019. Web. March 2nd, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-49971563

Iris van Herpen. Iris van Herpen | Ludi Naturae. 2018. YouTube. Web. March 2nd, 2020.

jmmynewland. Paths-up-expeditions-in-computing-ret2018. 2018. Web. March 2nd, 2020. https://github.com/jimmynewland/paths-up-expeditions-in-computing-ret2018/blob/master/CircuitPlaygroundExpressPPG-starter.ino

Jahnke, Art. Inside the search for a coral killer. 2018. Web. March 2nd, 2020. https://www.bu.edu/articles/2018/why-coral-reefs-are-dying/



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