Wearable biometric technology is currently revolutionizing healthcare and consumer electronics. Internet-enabled pacemakers, smart watches with heart rate sensors and all manner of medical equipment now merge health with convenience. This is all a step in the right direction, but not quite the end goal. In fact, it seems that we’re past the point where technology can fix all the problems we’ve created. If this is the case then, at the very least, I think we can have a bit of fun while we’re still alive. Let us not mince words: We’re headed straight for a global environmental collapse, and I propose we go out in style.
For this reason, I’ve designed the Heart Rate Hat. This headwear is simultaneously a fashion statement, a demonstration of the capabilities of biometric sensors and the first step to the creation of a fully functioning cyborg. The Heart Rate Hat is exactly what I need to tie together my vision for a cyberpunk dystopia. Combined with other gear from the lab, such as our EEG headset and our electromyography equipment, we could raise some very interesting questions about what kinds of biometric data we actually want our technology to collect. We could also explore the consequences of being able to quantify human emotion and the use of such data to make predictions. What once was the realm of science fiction, we are now turning into reality.
The design of the device is relatively simple. I used the FLORA (a wearable, Arduino-compatible microcontroller) as the brain of the device, a Pulse Sensor to read heart rate data from the user’s ear lobe and several NeoPixel LED sequins for output. The speed at which the LEDs blink is determined by heart rate and the color is determined by heart rate variance. In the process of designing this, I learned how to work with conductive thread, how to program addressable LEDs and how to read and interpret heart rate and heart variance data from a sensor. As these are all important skills for wearable electronics prototyping, a similar project may be viable as an introduction to wearable product design. Going forward, I would like to explore other options for visualizing output from biometric sensors. I may work on outputting data from such a device to a computer via Bluetooth, incorporate additional sensors into the design and log the data to be used for analysis.
Written By: Eli Udler