This Mechanical Lung Blows

To help them better understand their own breathing patterns, third-year Interaction Design Students at the ArtEZ Academy of the Arts Amy Whittle and Willem Kempers created Lung, a strange machine that blows large bubbles to simulate breath.

Ethereal and invisible, breathing is something you rarely think about. But when you do, you can control it. And the benefits of doing so are great, allowing you to more effectively manage stress and anxiety.

To better understand their respiration even when they weren’t thinking about it, Whittle and Kempers started measuring their breathing. They placed temperature sensors in their noses (“It looked ridiculous, really! But it worked!” Kempers tells me), which let them record their rates of respiration while doing different activities: watching a movie, playing a game, listening to music, reading a book, smoking a joint, and so on.

Lung visualizes this data. A series of circular hoops, Lung blows a simple soap bubble to simulate exhalation, then allows it to deflate on the inhale. The bubbles are highlighted with integrated LEDs, while the machine itself is controlled by an Arduino processor running the Processing programming language.

Kempers tells me that getting Lung to work took major effort. “We had a clear vision of what we wanted to make, but it was only gradually realized by trial and error,” he says. He says, though, that the team is very satisfied with how Lung turned out. “We really believe that in some cases, data is better understood as an experience, not an infographic.”

As for what’s next for Lung? Kempers says they’ve sketched out a device to wear under the nose to visualize breathing data in real time.

That certainly sounds better than cramming thermometers up your nose.