Thursday, December 26, 2013

Microsoft's Stress Sensor Bra and Playful R&D

Personal Beasties started out as a student project at Red Burns' Interactive Telecommunications Program, part of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. Though Red Burns passed away this past September, the influence she has had on other graduate programs and corporate R&D facilities is quite evident.

Red established the ITP program fueled by her passionate desire to create a space where graduate students could PLAY with technology.

PLAY, is the operative word here.

Through the act of "playing" most Burns'ian inspired ITP students aim to unleash and tame technology through empowering and improving peoples lives. Red's playful ITP format was so successful, she influenced most technology focused graduate programs that sprang up after the initial dot com boom. But Red's playful spirit lives on, as well, in corporate research facilities like Microsoft Research.

Just a few short weeks ago there was a media tizzy over a bra stuffed with stress sensors that researchers at Microsoft were playing with. Playing with, in hopes of improving peoples lives. The bounty of challenging press the project generated will hopefully not discourage their efforts, but will ideally inform their optimization efforts...because in my mind, this stress reduction bra fits right into Red's playful ITP philosophy.

One way to illustrate this is to comment on the recent winter 2013 ITP Winter Show. My favorite project was Birdveillance, Jason Sigal's whimsical facial recognition and text-to-speach eavesdropping surveillance device, that posts content to an oh so appropriate @birdveillance twitter feed.

Like the Microsoft bra, Birdveillance may not be ready for prime time, but both are certainly thought provoking and playful research projects exploring and commenting on immediate societal concerns; too much stress in our lives and the ongoing privacy debate over our current surveillance state.

Thanks to Red Burns, we here at Personal Beasties, continue to play with both software and hardware to raise awareness regarding the impact taking a few deep breaths has on stress and anxiety. With Red Burns' legacy to inspire us, we encourage all like minded technologists to keep publishing your playful technology explorations no matter how much challenging feedback your projects may generate.