Reality Mediators’ sensors shock you back into reality if you get lazy

December 10, 2013

A designer has created a series of body sensors that emit
unpleasant shocks when the wearer stops actively interacting with
their environment.

Singapore-born, London-based Ling Tan created Reality
as a means of questioning the purpose of wearables in
enhancing or interrogating our relationship with the world. Will
these devices make us even more inclined to do little for
ourselves, or will they drive us to explore our environment more
fervently and in new ways. Alternatively, will they totally change
how we percieve and interact with the world, taking us over, in
ways we do not notice. One phase of the project, referred to as
Limits Of Bearability, is designed to help us understand “how the
artificially intelligent nature of active technological prosthesis
can alter the user’s consciousness, and how bearable such devices
are perceived by the user in the long run”. 

Project volunteers wear the Reality Mediators for between three
and four hours at a time, of which there are three different types:
muscle sensors, brainwave sensors and GPS. When activity is
disrupted and the wearer appears to be breaking from their active
routine, one of four actuators that run on Arduino microcontrollers
will turn on them to deliver either an electrical shock, an
unpleasant sound, heat or vibrations. “All the outputs create
inherently unpleasant effect on the user so as to measure the level
of obvious disruptiveness to user’s everyday activities,” says Tan
on her website. The wearer does not have to physically stop moving
to get a shock, they might let their mind aimlessly wander, thus
changing the brainwave patterns and leading to the electrical
stimulation that reminds them to keep active.

According to Tan, after a while, the wearer’s body starts to
change its routine according to the device’s demands. It adapts to
the wearable, rather than the other way around. “This then
questions the issue of who is in control; the user or the device?”
she tells Dezeen in an interview. She goes on to explain to the
magazine how the consumer-style packaging and branding she’s
created for the project is designed as a piece of commentary on how
the public can be led to adopt something that appears like any
other product, despite its potential underlying negative effects.
Squaring this argument at Google Glass, she tells Dezeen the
company is adept at using its marketing skills to bring a device to
the public that essentially shatters the concept of privacy, as we
are all encouraged to wear our personal data. 

Such intrusiveness can also be good for your health though,
according to Microsoft, which wants to bring us the comfort-eating combatting wearable bra. A series of sensors
would measure sweat and heart rate. When worn over time the sensors
can track behaviour and see if stress/boredom leads to habitual
eating. When the system picks up a repeat of these symptoms, a
connected app will signal a gentle warning telling the individual
not to go to the fridge, or to have an apple. Why Microsoft has
decided to target the female sex is unclear. Yes, historically, we
have been the fatter sex, more prone to obesity. But men have
caught up in the last decade according to UK public health records
on the morbidly obese, and one
study predicts
that by 2050 obesity will affect 60 percent of
men and 50 percent of women. So they better start on a man-bra.

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