In face-to-face interactions, shared physical presence makes conversations more personal. Nearness allows us to sense gestures, moods, and other cues. With long distance conversation something is lost. How can we bring intimacy back? Lub Dub tries to heaten the experience of telecommunication by providing an ambient sense of partners' heartbeats through a connected pillow.
Sound and vision play important roles when chatting in-person, but I wondered about touch. I got stuck on the idea that maybe we could sense a friend's heartbeat too—that the vibrations in his or her body transfer to the shoes, traverses its way across the floor, and eventually travels up our legs to our own senses. Perhaps, our bodies detect and respond to this even though we're unaware.
Lub Dub attempts to provide a sense of physical presence and support the social functions we have as humans. While the beating imbues the pillow with a human quality, it also provides real data. It hopes to enhance communication by adding an indirect and subtle layer of communicated information. Accelerating rates might suggest nervousness, anxiousness, or recent physical activity. Slower beats connote tranquility or tiredness.
Of course, a display could simply flash numbers reflecting the heartrate, but I wanted to find a way to transmit this information in a more implicit and peripheral way. I tested a few prototypes with classmates, starting with a basic pulsing wall. As touch became increasingly interesting, I built a cardboard box prototype to thump at the rate of a partner's heartbeat. This would eventually lead to Lub Dub's final format. With the form of a pillow, the user may hold it in front (as though hugging) or rest on it (as though being hugged). This form also shifted Lub Dub into the home environment and away from workplace telecommunication.
Lub Dub is built in Processing using Dan Julio's Heart Rate Monitor Interface (HRMI). The heart rate is taken from a chest strap monitor and transmitted wirelessly to a USB HRMI. Processing recreates the heart rate in audio form and outputs it to a low-frequency speaker embedded in a pillow. Future iterations could explore the technology used in heart rate sensing applications for smartphones. This would allow for a more streamlined product requiring only a phone and pillow.