Empathy and the space between: investigating the role of digitally enhanced apparel in promoting remote empathetic connection

Heiss, L 2006, Empathy and the space between: investigating the role of digitally enhanced apparel in promoting remote empathetic connection, Masters by Research, Architecture and Design, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Empathy and the space between: investigating the role of digitally enhanced apparel in promoting remote empathetic connection
Author(s) Heiss, L
Year 2006
Abstract This body of work is the culmination of a two year investigation into the role of electronically enhanced apparel and artefacts in providing empathetic linkage between people who do not share physical space. The research draws from the diverse fields of philosophy, communications theory, neuropsychology, presence technologies and technologically advanced textiles, and proposes that a nexus of these disciplines may provide significant opportunities for enhancing the user interactivity of garments and artefacts. Remote emotional connection is investigated through the creation of sensor embedded garments and artefacts that have been developed in collaboration with a fashion designer and an electronics engineer. The prototypes encourage remote empathetic connection through the real-time transference of heartbeat.

The exegesis is structured into five chapters which consider remote presence, flexible consciousness, the architecture of empathy, plasticity in sense perception and the development of prototypes. The project chapter focuses in the development of and testing of a rnage of garments and artefacts thatt conduct presence information between remotely located people. The garments sense, process, transmit and receive the heartbeat signal (ECG). They are enabled with ECG sensors, signal processing equipment, small vibration motors and radio transceivers which allow users to 'feel' the heartbeat of a remote friend/lover/relative as vibration through their garment. The prototypes aim to enrich the remote communications experience through reintroducing an embodied, tactile dimension that is present in face-to-face communication. A range of user testing trials are discussed in the thesis which have been undertaken to assess the impact of the garments at a conscious and a non-conscious level. Conscious experiences were gauged through qualitative testing by way of interviews and unsolicited written reactions. Non-conscious physiological ractions were assessed by recording ECG throughout user-testing periods. This data has been processed by using HRV (heart rate variability) analysis software, running on MatLab.

The development of biosignal sensing garments has raised a range of issues including: innovative potentials for embedded peripheral awareness media; the expansion of the classical body to incorporate remotely sensed information; the issue iof data semantics and the development of intensely personal non-verbal languages; and the issue of corporeal privacy when one's biological information is exposed for potential download. They also bring into question how our bodily experiences might change when we incorporate remote sensory systems.
Degree Masters by Research
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Architecture and Design
Keyword(s) Wearable technology
Remote presence
HRV analysis
Extended conciousness
Sensory plasticity
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