Self- is a project I worked on with a few friends from USC and UT Austin that was for a senior year final project for a class in the Iovine and Young Academy. We had all met through a non-profit organization that I was volunteering for at the time, AI LA. I met Monique in December of 2018 and met Trent and Tara quickly after. Monique, Trent, and Tara have an incredible and diverse skill set that breeds creativity and innovation. Monique is well-versed in the fashion and design industry, and she has a huge interest in mental wellness, wearables, and the integration of tech and mental wellness. Trent is a wonderful builder, can create everything out of nothing, and has such an intelligent mind when it comes to hardware. Tara is extremely talented at materials and textiles, her knowledge around the latest inventions and creations is absolutely invaluable. With all three of these incredibly smart and driven people, I joined their team because of all of our shared interest: we all had a strong desire to create a brand new product that would integrate mental wellness, wearable technology, sustainability, and fashion into one.
We recognized this new inevitable side effect of the technology boom, technological fatigue. People were spending more and more time on their phones and devices, they were required to worry more about charging, protection, security, and more. With so many new things coming out, people were constantly being bombarded with notifications and pings that it started to feel overwhelming just to get through the day. Our ultimate goal was to start a conversation on how to re-train our minds to interact with technology in a mindful and more positive way. We wanted technology to not only be something that alerts you to notify you of a text or email, but to be something that could gently remind you to return to the present and be mindful of your surroundings. We wanted to utilize a combination of known physiological phenomena, sustainable and effective materials, useful and encouraging design, a robust and strong build, and efficient software to tackle this problem we identified.
From the many incredible talks of mental health and physical sensation, we created Self-.
The purpose of Self- was to build something that would provide an internal mental escape through technology for its user. It was meant to be reactive and personable, but not intrusive in the way that our devices are nowadays. As a product, it was a tag that you could put into clothing, on the inside. It had haptic motors in it, a flexible battery, a heart rate sensor, and on the board our builder Trent built, it had a bluetooth transmitter as well. We used a PulseSensor sensor and an Arduino Uno board to gather the heart rate data, and used the out-of-the-box C++ code to pull data. The tag was chargeable from a distance, so it didn't need to be hooked up directly to a charger every night.
We wanted to use physiological metrics like heart rate variability to measure stress levels in an individuals day to day actions. The haptic motors were included to provide physical responses that would illicit mindfulness by gently buzzing the wearer to bring their attention back to the present. The bluetooth addition was so that the tag could be mobile and connect to an individuals phone while they were on the move during the day. Beyond just the tag though, which was an amazing device largely built by Trent, our goal was to create an entire label that promoted sustainability in our environment and in our emotions, as well as to be a communal space for individuals to feel truly reconnected through technology. We really wanted (and still do want) technology to be a tool that doesn't only disrupt attention or flow, but can contribute to focus and presence. So, for the final project, we created a garment as well to show how we want the tag incorporated into clothing, but to also provide a better understanding of what our creation was all about.
The finished product and project were a culmination of months of hard work and late nights and long talks. Although we never completely finished what we set out to do, this entire experience of creating something from start to finish with some of my closest friends was invaluable and wonderful, and one of my biggest learning experiences at USC. Our love for addressing mental wellness issues, for sustainable design and materials, and for human-centered hardware and software brought us to this project and I have no doubt we'll all work on something similar again in the future. At the end of the day, we're all extremely happy and proud with how this project turned out. We poured our hearts and souls into it, extended our skills as far as we could take them in a short amount of time, and whhile we know that wearable technology in fashion isn't the current, it's very much the future.