Thanks to an array of health and fitness-tracking devices, we now have the option of constant access to data about our body–on everything from step count to heart beat to stress level. Common wisdom is that this act of self-monitoring makes us more familiar with our bodies and better equipped become healthier or recognize when something is wrong. But what if this ceaseless stream of data is making us less intuitive about what our body actually wants and needs?
That was the question that interface designer Simone Schramm set out to explore in her masters thesis at University of Applied Sciences Potsdam in Germany. The project resulted in Stress Ball, an interactive plastic ball that becomes more or less tactile based on the stress level of the user. Instead of displaying stress as numbers or charts, the prototype appeals to our senses of sight and touch to portray information about the body–and, theoretically, reduce our stress.
“If you are not stressed [the ball is] completely smooth,” says Schramm. But when the ball senses stress, tiny neon yellow and cyan nodes rise out of the smooth white surface, making the ball look like an angry sea creature. The nodes are pushed out by an inflating rubber balloon located behind the ball’s 3-D printed plastic outer shell. So the more stressed you are, the more textured it becomes (and, presumably, the better it is at reducing your stress).
Right now, the prototype merely simulates stress when the user pushes a button that makes the nodes rise and lower, but the idea is for external sensors on the ball to detect stress through skin conductance response, the measure of anxiety through increased sweat levels (commonly used in lie detectors). Schramm says that while she has confidence in her Stress Ball to function like she has envisioned, she needs the help of a programmer to incorporate the skin conductance sensors into the design. Schramm finished her masters four months ago and now works as an interface designer, but she says she plans to complete the project and try to manufacture a smaller version of it (small enough to fit in a purse) at some point in the near future.
For now, the project is just conceptual–an effort to get people to think about the ways we interact with technology and the potential impact it can have. “Undisputed trust into technology has the potential to replace innate intuition,” the project description on Schramm’s website reads. “As an interface designer I try to find a ways to challenge this development.”
All Images: courtesy Simone Schramm