We began this project by brainstorming ideas to on how to encompass our interests, address a problem in our lives, and connect people who may not necessarily be in the same space.

This led us to the conclusion that enhancing/augmenting the nature of webcam conversations was the direction we were aiming to go. Since a lot of us in the program aren’t from Toronto, Skype conversations with the significant other become routine.

The question, now formed, was how can we make Skype conversations more intimate? After researching online, we came across an academic paper entitled ‘Intimate Heartbeats: Opportunities for Affective Communication Technology’ by Joris Janssen et. al. The findings of this study concluded that “using self-report and behavioral tracking in an immersive virtual environment, that heartbeat perception influences social behavior in a similar manner as traditional intimate signals such as gaze and interpersonal distance”.

From this, we decided that effectively communicating heartbeat information to your Skype partner would be the ideal way to increase the feelings of intimacy when conversing with one’s significant other. We also found projects which we used as inspiration, and also as a benchmark for what avenues not to pursue (kissenger… a little creepy).

After picking up a Pulse Heart Sensor, we began working on some initial prototypes – a simple brooch that one would attach to their shirt, with an accompanying LED that would pulse to the beat of one’s heart.

However, as stated in the article we read and as common sense would have it, “the stimulus must be attributed to the conversational partner in order to have influence”, and as such, an LED blinking doesnt really do the job on its own.

So we moved on and attempted to work with multiple inputs/outputs including a vibe motor, heating pad, touch sensors, and RGB leds.

Due to the power requirements of the heating pad, vibe motor and rgb led, and the power constraints of the arduino, we had to limit ourselves to the input of the heart beat information supplied by the pulse sensor and a stretch sensor to control your mood, and a few outputs including an RGB LED and a vibe motor for a tactile sensation.

From our initial brooch prototype, we tossed around some ideas and came to the conclusion that a wearable solution would be ideal – it would hide all the electronics nicely and also allow for the pulse sensor to be within an ear’s distance.

For the aesthetic, we wanted the prototypes to feel comforting, and have an organic feel, so that it wouldn’t be cumbersome and feel like an extension of oneself “connecting” to their partner through technology.

And this required us (with some help from Borxu & Yushi) to learn how to use a sewing machine.



We used code from the Pulse website as well as Cosm to send heartbeat information over the internet and receive it in arduino, such that the vibe motor and led one was wearing would react to the heartbeat of their partner. (Arduino Code | Processing Sketch)

The final iteration was sewn onto a red velour sweater, for that touch of class, and was made using a Lilypad, some conductive thread, and was soldered onto a perf. board.

We also used a stretch sensor which would change the color of the heartbeat LED from blue to red, however that didnt make the final iteration due to a broken sensor (however can be seen in our sweet video).

After some debating, we decided that some sort of data visualization was needed in order to bring it all together, so with a basic processing sketch, we were able to map the two heartbeats, and as they became closer in unison, so to did the circles spatially.

Going forward, we would develop our second prototype into a similar sweater-sewn iteration and include more outputs, such as heat and sound.

Moreover, since there is a heavy dependence on Skype, we imagine developing an API to integrate the data visualization into the Skype window so that it is not competing with the conversation window for your attention. The processing sketch itself would also have to be developed extensively so that the aesthetic and efficacy of it are markedly improved.

For this particular project, we wanted to have the arduino wired so that the organic feel of connecting the usb which is protruding as the sweater’s umbilical cord was emphasized. However in a future rendition, a wireless version would be a good option to make the Heartstrings sweater more mobile.

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