Education

Unicorn Wearable Uses Neuroscience to Help Kids

Ken Kaplan Executive Editor, iQ by Intel

Turning her attention to kids with ADHD, tech fashion designer Anouk Wipprecht teamed with researchers at Ars Electronica to create a playful, bio-sensing unicorn wearable headset that keeps a watchful eye on what peaks their interest.

Behind the badass Spider Dress and other techno-neuroscience fashion designs by Anouk Wipprecht frolics a tireless Alice-in-Wonderland-like tinkerer who prefers soldering electronics and software coding over outdoor tea parties.

Wipprecht is her own wearable technology Maker Faire, traveling the globe to team up with innovators ranging from Audi to Intel. She creates one-of-a-kind garments, many of which light up, move or video record without the wearer lifting a finger. She uses Arduino, Intel Curie or Intel Edison compute modules and sensors that combine to turn a person’s biometric data into automatic reactions.

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Her latest creation is a unicorn-horn shaped headgear that uses neurosensory technology connected to an Intel Edison compute module to tell a tiny video camera when to record a person’s most memorable moments.

When the wearer’s focus hits a certain height, the brain sensors signal the built-in computer system to turn the camera on and capture the wearer’s attention point, explained Wipprecht. Video gets uploaded to the internet via Bluetooth LE, so it can reviewed later on a screen.

“It’s the playful notion of ‘something on your head’ that might know more about your environment than you do,” said Wipprecht. “It’s a piece of technology that can help you supervise your world.”

Fit for curious people of all ages, the unicorn horn was specifically designed for young people diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It was created as part of her winter 2015-2016 Ars Electronica SPARKS H2020 residency, which gave Wipprecht access to an extensive lab, new technologies to test and experts who helped her create a prototype to advance ADHD therapy and research.

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“I play with it together with kids on the ADHD spectrum, to let them know when their attention spikes and what happened to cause it,” she said.

“For me it’s a way of quantifying behavioral aspects in a non-invasion way to help them getting a better grip on their world.”

She said kids get a kick out of wearing the headgear. In general, the kids who tried it were tech-savvy and curious to learn what causes spikes in their awareness.

They wanted see what those spikes look like.

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“It gives them a better understanding on how their brains work,” Wipprecht said.

Wearable Tech for Detecting Brainwaves

Her first foray into working with brainwaves was in 2014, when she created Synapse Dress in collaboration with Intel innovation engineer Karolina Cengija, who had an interest in computing wireless biosignals. That dress captured brainwave signals from sensors fitted in a stylish headband. Wipprecht wrote computer commands that immediately and accurately react to a person’s heightened awareness. If the wearer got excited or frightened, a camera imbedded in the dress recorded the scene.

“Through that collaboration, we learned a lot about electroencephalogram – electrical activity in the brain — and how to measure it accurately,” said Wipprecht.

To create the unicorn horn headset, Christopher Lindinger, head of innovation at Ars Electronica FutureLab, acquired cutting-edge EEG systems from Austrian company G.Tec. Their g.Sahara electrodes use golden alloy, which reduces the electrode-skin impedance, Wipprecht didn’t need to apply a greasy conductive gel on the wearer’s skin, which is often necessary for signals to transmit from the body and sensors.

“Having clinical style gel patches stuck to your hair is not all that fashionable,” she said with a smile.

“Instead, these electrodes have eight little pins that easily affix to a person’s hair. The system makes the camera record and behave as an extra set of eyes.”

From Extra Eye to Agent Unicorn

An LED light in the headpiece turns on when the brain sensors are trigger by the wearer’s heighten awareness. The light indicates to everyone the camera is recording.

The system captures eight seconds of video: three before and five after the triggered event. That eight second video file is sent through the Intel Edison module and shared wirelessly to a nearby computer or device, where it gets date and time stamped for later viewing.

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She also created a second prototype unicorn horn using an Intel RealSense depth camera connected to Intel Compute Stick, which is an full functioning wireless PC the size of a pack of gum.

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“I want to develop hand gesture tracing, facial recognition and emotion detection facets,” she said.

This second version will combine computer vision with machine learning to record moments and read the wearer’s intentions.

“People with ADHD or on the Autism spectrum often have problems reading other humans, which gives them stress,” she said. “This system would be able to monitor, compute and question a person’s communication with others. It will act as a learning system or agent for the wearer.”

New View of Tech

Wipprecht is inspired by seeing computing technology get smaller and by the increasing quality and types of sensors move into design and fabrics around us. She believes these trends will force many to change their perception of technology.

“As technology crawls closer to the skin, we need to redesign the bond we have towards technology,” she said.

She believes technology should be viewed as a medium rather than a tool.

Anouk Wipprecht
Anouk Wipprecht

“Technology came into our lives to help us, but it often ends up being a token of stress,” Wipprecht continued.

She relentlessly twists this notion into inspiration for creating technology that fit into our lives like a trusted friend.

“The Unicorn Horn is another example for how technology can live on the body and guide us through our world.”

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