Thesis Final Project

The Distraction of Anticipation. What is it? 

This was the title of my thesis project which was the culmination of completing a Masters in Interactive Media Arts at NYU. While this subject matter is difficult to talk about I felt it was important to do so. My own experience as a disabled person is that I am completely at the command of these issues. The project serves as an art piece to evoke emotions through discursive design and also the first of a potential set of tools for industry and companies that need to gain a deeper level of empathic understanding to help customers with disabilities, which will be all of us at various stages of our lives.

The objective of the project was to recreate the feelings of not being able to have the total lived experience due to the less talked about and more difficult parts of disability that create a constant feeling of a loss of control, in this case bladder control. I created a wearable device that has a timer which is activated randomly. At the end of a random countdown a mechanism bursts a balloon filled with water. The device is worn in a mild stress position, creating a constant reminder of its presence. 

Wearing the device creates a feeling of constant anxiety as a result of its random activation and potential for causing the person experiencing it to be subject to the water balloon bursting. This anxiety is a snapshot into how many people with disability live, in a constant state of Distraction due to Anticipation. A state that exists all the time.

The impact of understanding this and other parts of the lived disabled experience will help us as professionals whether that’s in education, in a company or as designers and innovators to dig deeper into how we create meaningful products, services and experiences. I see this project as the beginning of this deeper understanding, a way to get to a deeper level of empathy.

It was a difficult project to execute on from a personal perspective. It would not have been possible to do it without the support of @nyu in particular the IMA program and the Lecturers and Mentors on that program.

This is the link to the project if anyone would like to learn more.


Thesis Development 6 : Final Semester

With only a few weeks left on the course the culmination of the project is in sight. I will be travelling from Ireland to NYC for the final week of the program which means I am under a bit of pressure to get everything functioning before I leave. I also want to get some work done on presentation, video etc done in case I have any issues transporting the actual devices to NYC.

The past few weeks I have concentrated on trying to get the total space envelope of the components in a functioning form factor. This will inform the fabric component and weight distribution of the wearable device.

Even the though the device is designed to be an uncomfortable experience there are still ergonomic considerations to imposing the discomfort on the individual having the experience. Weight distribution is import in this. I am now under pressure to get the fabric component made.

In speaking to my Thesis advisor some new ideas came up. She had suggested that I do not include the water filled balloon in the device as the logistics of executing on this may be difficult. I will continue on the path until it is no longer feasible. I think that she may be correct on this assumption but the whole premise of the discursive element of the design is based around a consequence. That consequence to me is the balloon bursting.

However the consequence doesn’t necessarily have to be the balloon, it could be anything that we can imagine and could be changed to suit emotions and feelings that we desire to trigger. This makes the wearable a more versatile device than the original intent as it could be used to try to mimic the feelings and emotions of living with other difficult circumstances.

To complete the experience I now believe there needs to be several elements of what the person having the experience is given.

  1. A personal connection to the pieces reason for existence. For this I have written some poetry that will describe how I and how I believe others feel. The idea being that the person having the experience can then connect on a deeper level with people who live their lives with these emotions and feelings.
  2. A reference by way of a video describing the internal workings of the device and showing the sequence by which it works. This provides a primer as to what to expect from the experience and the lack of control the individual actually has over the experience.
  3. The physical device to be worn by the individual. This will be the most immersive part of the experience and subjects the individual in a small way to living with the emotions and feelings and how this creates the Distraction of Anticipation.

I have still got a lot of work to do in a very short amount of time. The pressure is really on!

Thesis Development 5 : Recode 

This week from a coding perspective I began to try to bring parts of the code for the Arduino together. I have spent some time watching youtube videos showing how to create basic devices and trying to get back into the groove off working on my limited coding capabilities! I started with my usual technique of creating Frankenstein pieces of code that were mashed together to try to achieve a result. Nothing seems to work so I will need to revisit some fundamentals to refresh my memory.

I did decide to change one of the components I had been using, I had originally decided to use an LED light bar for the countdown timer but I have since switched that to a 4 digit display. I have found some projects that take advantage of this output device and played around with them a little. My plan is to get some experience with each of the devices I am using before circling back to creating another Frankenstein.

In anticipation of going to NYC at the end of the Summer term I have had to adjust my timeline for execution on elements of the project. This means I am probably going to be under a little more pressure than I first anticipated but I believe I will be ok. Famous last words!

This week also seen the end of the Spring term, most of my time outside of my efforts with Arduino was taken up working on my presentation for the end of term presentation based on feedback received 2 weeks previously. I got some valuable feedback from the presentation session which has altered some ideas I have on how I tell the story bout the object I am building. I will be building 3 devices but I think I need to build a 4th that isn’t a wearable but the internal components of the device laid out with a description of what is happening. This 4th device will also carry out the functions in the exact same way as the wearable but will serve as a way for people interested in experiencing the wearable to understand what they are getting themselves into by engaging. It will also be useful for creating video content to explain in presentations for those who might not be able to experience the actual piece.

We have a few days before the Summer session that I will spend working on and getting fully immersed in the code side of things. The grove kit will really help with this as it is pretty much plug and play from the electronics perspective and is pretty robust. Busy few weeks ahead!

Thesis Development 4 : Recode

This week I received the last of the components for the piece. I began to try programming the Arduino Nanos but immediately ran into problems. I had decided to use Seeed studio grove sensors and output components because they are easy to assemble and use, I don’t have to figure out how to do everything via breadboard and can quickly assemble prototypes. The Grove kits use a shield which will be mounted to the Arduino and then all interfaces are plugged into the shield. I tried the Nano with the shield designed for it but couldn’t get it to work!

I still had an Arduino Uno from previous projects and the Grove shield for it so I thought I would try it instead. Hooked up each output I am using including a servo, vibration motor, LED bar and everything worked!

The reason I originally thought the Nano would be the right direction is its small form factor. Taking into account the breadboard, wiring etc that would be needed to make it work meant it would not be as compact as I thought at first. There was also the power requirement. The Nano would require a power bank for my particular application. By the time I have put all the elements together for the Nano version, it was no longer so Nano.

I decided I will use the Uno as its not that much bigger and when using a 9 volt battery to power it, its not a big difference between that setup and the Nano setup with a power bank. All the sensors and outputs I am using with the Nano setup will work with the Grove shield on the Uno version.

I am also hoping to go to New York for the end of the Summer session to present the piece so carrying power banks etc around on flights etc is minimized and 9 volt batteries are readily available everywhere. One of the things I would like this project to do is be easily deployable. So this direction helps that.

I started to figure out the layout and positions of the electronics. Next step will be to create some basic shells from foamcore that will house the parts to help define space envelopes in CAD.

Thesis Development 3 : Recode

This week I have been primarily preparing for the Show a Thing feedback sessions. This meant I needed to amend my presentation and iterate on my messaging about the project to clarify more what it is about. I also spent some time creating a better more concise description of the interaction with the object for me to be able to better describe how it works. This involved the creation of the step by step experience manual working backwards from the final outcome.

  1. The person reads the poem they received and can reflect on the experience they had.
  2. The person receives a small token by way of a poem after returning the device to the exhibit stand/area
  3. The person has managed to get the device to a bathroom sink and the balloon has burst OR the person has not managed to get the device to a bathroom sink and they are now wet OR the person has one of 2 dummy units and has had the full experience.
  4. The person carries the device for 15 to 20 minutes anticipating a set of actions to occur which include the following:

A vibration alerting the person to the countdown beginning.

The countdown starting.

The servo motor actuating.

The balloon being pierced.

5. The person picks up and puts on the device.

6. The person reads the brief of what the piece is about and how the device functions.

7. The person approaches the exhibit stand and encounters a set of graphics and description of the piece.

This experience manual is written in reverse as we look at the final outcome first but it informs the steps that the experience takes and I can divulge from this the set of tasks I have to do to achieve this.

This week also seen the arrival of the majority of the electronic components I will use to build the device. I splurged on seeed studios kit as it is very easy to connect parts together and build out the physical part of the project. This will save me time which will be allocated to the actual coding of the device.

Thesis Development 2 : Recode

This week for the development of my thesis project I spent a day with a group of people from a company called Hollister. This company makes products for people who have to live with issues around continence care.


The research and innovation team from Hollister were carrying out a workshop to try to understand how to improve products. The group was made up of engineering and production management capabilities. There were few people with much human factors experience.

I brought the experiential experiment prototypes I had created with me. Randomly I selected people from the group and asked them to wear one of the following.

1: A hip bag with water balloons and a Xiaomi band watch component.

2: A Samsung smartwatch with the screen covered which is cable tied to the persons arm.

Out of a group of approximately 40 people I was able to carry out the experiential experiments with 10 and then ask them to give feedback to the group and give me written feedback at the end.

The objective of the experience experiments was to test my assumptions of what I felt were the feelings of living with the issue and whether the individual parts of the experience were replicating them.

There were a lot of useful insights from these experiments.

The pouch with the balloons and Xiaomi band watch component.

Nearly always conscious of the device.

Kept wanting to touch and feel for security.

Concerned at it bursting.

Never not aware of it.

Sitting differently.

Found it irritating and constantly wanted to remove it.

The Samsung smartwatch with covered screen cable tied to the arm.

The random vibrations always caught me off guard.

Hard to focus or refocus when the band vibrated. 

No way to control it which meant having to wait for it to stop.

The more the band vibrated the more i anticipated the next vibration.

Confusion due to not knowing why the band was vibrating.

Other feedback.

I also had the opportunity to ask this group of people had they considered this set of emotional experiences in relation to the products they created. There was very little understanding of these experiences and no way for them to fully understand them.

They found the experiments valuable as insights for their own work.

The other feedback for improvements was looking at how the device would be used.

Look at a device that can be held on the arm.

Look at a shoulder bag form factor.

Consider using only vibration as a indicator of the countdown timer.

Consider not using water balloons but perhaps some other type of interaction.

The feedback for this session was very important for the development of the physical artefact and I felt fortunate to get the opportunity to do it. It reinforced what some of my assumptions were and gave me some further ideas for the development of the product.

Takeaways :

1. The experiments were successful in triggering feelings relating to loss of control, concern, fear in many instances.

2. There are improvements that can be made to how someone will interact with the object.

3. The object aesthetic needs to be less intrusive or obvious. It’s a very individual or personal experience.

4. While a person is having the experience others may not be aware of it.

5. There is a need to consider how someone begins to interact with the experience.

What’s next?

With a clearer understanding that the project appears to be going in the right direction I can now do some work to create the visual identity of the device and an instruction manual of how it will work. I will also be able to order the components required to build the device.

Action items for this week :

1. Order parts for making the device.

2. Create some mood boards around interaction with the device and aesthetics.

3. Write the first draft of the instruction manual on use of the device.

Thesis development : Recode

My thesis project is a physical wearable device. The objective of the device is to trigger feelings and sensations that are associated with the hidden difficulties that many people with paralysis have to live with. I am trying to recreate the emotional burden that comes with the below the surface complications that are not immediately visible or spoken about.

In particular I am looking at the issues around the basic human function of using a bathroom. The object I am building will give the individual using it an insight into the problem/problems people with paralysis endure and I hope this discursive design direction will give them the following feelings/emotions:

Loss of control





The device will have the following functions to create an experience that induces these feelings.

1. A signalling device or component that will alert the person having the experience to a

2. Countdown timer beginning, which will have a predetermined time set into it. The allotted time length will enable the person having the experience to react to a consequence which is

3. A servo motor or similar which activates when the countdown timer reaches zero which

4. When activated uses an implement to destroy a container/balloon filled with water/liquid.

How the person experiencing the piece will interact with it.

The interaction or lack of control of interaction with the device is the point of the experience. The individual will have to bend to the rules of the device due to this lack of control or else face consequences.

The wearer will not be able to remove the device and will need to react to the devices prompts. Not reacting to, ignoring or not getting to a bathroom on time with the device will have an adverse negative effect on the person who has chosen to have the experience.

The wearer will never know when the countdown timer will begin, they will only be alerted randomly when it does.

The wearer does have time to do something about their scenario but the time will be limited.

I already have begun experimenting with parts of this experience separated into smaller experiences/experiments in which I can test my assumptions and will be carrying these experiments out with a larger group on Friday 1st April.

For this week I have been researching Arduino sketches that have different elements of this experience.

This is a countdown timer sketch with servo activation


This device do something similar but in a different context to what I am proposing. It’s an alarm clock that shreds money if you do not deactivate it.

My challenge over the next 2 weeks is to try to recreate a similar sketch or bring other Arduino sketches such as alarm, timer and servo sketches together as a single sketch and deploy them to an Arduino Nano with the electronic components beginning to function. This will be a challenge for me!


Thesis Ideas

What I want to do!

For my thesis I want to focus on the area of disability in particular for those with mobility issues. We will all face mobility issues of some form during our lives and we will all reach a point in our lives where we are disabled if we live long enough. I myself am a wheelchair user and every day is filled with challenges and considerations which do not exist for many others. I believe that there is an opportunity to create work that changes perceptions of disability, heightens awareness of the issues endured by disabled people or serves as a constant reminder that we all end up disabled in some way for parts of our lives. I hope that through one of these ideas I can create a lasting impactful impression that alters their view of disability.

Design idea 1

If I focus further on the area of changing perceptions of disability I would like to perhaps create an experience that looks at how to recreate elements of wheelchair use outside of what people may perceive when they think about wheelchair users issues. There are many problems and issues that are not spoken about or visible for others who do not have to use a wheelchair. This could be in the form of a game, a wearable or something that people have to physically interact/encounter.

Design Idea 2

Focusing on heightening awareness I am thinking about how to create an experience that is only usable or for people who are wheelchair users or mobility impaired. This in a way will disable everyone outside of that group. The idea would be to reverse the norm or status quo for just this one occasion or experience. Almost all of us will have felt left out at some point in our lives, by having to call on the emotional trigger of how we endured being left out I would like to attach an enduring value to the experience of not being able to have an experience. This could be done by way of an installation or by use of a device that is not familiar to the person taking part in the experience.

Design Idea 3

By creating a connection between a person experiencing a part of what it is like to have a disability today and their own inevitable future fallibility I would like to create an enduring representation of that persons future. I would like to create an experience where people will create their own piece of physical art that is a result of what they experience having a disability. I would like to look at data collection and how to translate that data into other representations of that data. This could be a P5 sketch, a soundscape, a set of physical feedback by way of Arduino or a 3d printed physical object.

Connections Lab : Project 2

For my second project I chose to continue the development of an idea I had for helping us develop empathy in order to be able to consider the development of new products and experiences. The idea was to create experiments which people could do remotely that replicate a small part of what it might be like to live with a disability. I have several experiment ideas but for this webpage I chose to concentrate on manual dexterity as it is something that will affect all of us in our older age.

I used the following experiment to achieve this. 

For the coding of this webpage I used the original page I made but changed some of the CSS to reflect more empathic coloring. I also changed the flow of the page as you move through it. It starts with an explanation of the experiment, follows with everyday items required for the experiment and then features a video and instructions on how to carry out the experiment. The page concludes with a chat box that is a call to action to discuss learnings.

Seems straight forward, right? For my limited capabilities and understanding of coding it was a bit of a challenge. I was able to change things like the CSS and HTML with a little bit of effort but where I struggled was implementing the chat box.

First I started by duplicating the chat box page I had already made. Then I tried to include the ability to load photos to the chat box. Unfortunately I found myself unable to do this. It was becoming a stretch and in order to bring the original page together with the chat box I knew I had to abandon this effort as I knew completing the page was already going to be a big task for me.

I then tried to copy the files I had amended from the original webpage which was now had amended CSS and HTML to the chat pic code in VScode. I also copied all the images and link to the video into this folder. When I tried to get the code to function none of the CSS or any data about style worked and the images would not show up on the webpage.

After lots of copy and pasting and control z-ing I found myself several hours later no further along. I decided to try switching things around a bit.

I opened the file for the chat app we created in class and then brought all the files from my web page across to it. This still did not work! It occurred to me that maybe these files where in the wrong place and I began to put them into the public folder within the chat app code.

Success! All the CSS and styling was now showing on the page. The images and video were there too. Next I had to check the chat box. Opening 2 browsers on chrome through localhost:3000 I got this to function.

I successfully uploaded the code to GitHub and it can be seen here.


I also tried to deploy the GitHub Repo to Glitch but was unsuccessful in this. This I will address next.

Creative Coding Final Project

For my final project in Creative Coding I am using my hard learned, very limited skills combined with my efforts in Arduino to create a game that is impossible to win! This project may be seen as a metaphor for my efforts at coding a game that is impossible for me to win!

The past couple of weeks we learned a massive amount about the power of P5.js and it really opened my eyes to an incredible amount of possibilities once I have developed my skill set further. There are so many things to learn and the versatility of using P5.js with Arduino really excites me.

I felt that I wanted to create something that was whimsical and fun by combining the 2 pieces of software and the ability to use hardware as an interface. The code I put together for the P5 sketch is relatively straight forward. I brought together some ideas taught to us by Ellen and combined that with some code from David that allows the Arduino to communicate with the P5.js sketch.

The main part of the sketch for the game is simple in its premise. It is pretty much pong in reverse where the objective is to move a ball across the x axis on the screen into an end zone while avoiding a paddle which moves up and down the y axis on the screen. The ball can also be moved along the y axis too if required.

The paddle part uses a conditional statement to move across the screen. So I wouldn’t confuse myself and get into trouble I created a sketch which was only the paddle moving. I also used windowWidth and windowHeight properties for the canvas but will probably revert to a particular size for the game. I would then use this sketch later in the Frankenstein method to make the version of the sketch that would be used for the game. This is the sketch for the paddle.


I then transplanted this sketch into the sketch that allows Arduino to communicate with P5.js. This is where the fun really began!

I had spent a lot of time trying the various sensor inputs on Arduino and my objective was to create an unexpected interaction, a dislocation of expectation in military parlance. I wanted there to be an enemy stopping you from completing the task at hand of getting the ball across the line but it wasn’t going to be where you thought it would be. When you are distracted with your efforts to get the ball into the goal on the screen my intent was to have a physical intervention prevent you from achieving this.

I selected an FSR to be the input for the ball to move on the x axis. The FSR works by force or pressure being applied to the sensor which changes the resistance in the sensor, the measurement of this resistance equates to the distance the ball is moved. So more pressure applied the further the ball moves. The reason for this was that when the force was released from the FSR the ball would immediately go back to its default position, ready to be moved again by the player. The FSR was the control for the x axis and there is a rotary potentiometer for the y axis. In reality the control of y axis via the potentiometer is completely useless and just gives the user the illusion of control. The FSR is where the real action happens!

So there is a physical interaction by way of an FSR and a rotary potentiometer controlling the ball on the screen and there is a paddle that is trying to prevent you from scoring by getting the ball into the end zone. The next stage was to create the physical interaction to prevent you from reaching the end zone. I used a servo motor to create this interaction.

What I found a little bit confusing was switching between P5 and Arduino I would often forget to put in different things like commas and then nothing would work! it was doubly confusing when I would put in something and there was no error thrown because it was doing something just not the correct thing! This I am sure will get better with practice though.

I started to work on mapping the FSR to the servo motor which would also correspond to the position of the ball on the screen. Basically I mapped the servo to activate before the ball reached the paddles. Then I placed the servo beside the FSR so that when you apply force to the FSR the servo is activated. when the servo is activated its arm pushes your finger off the FSR. This physical interaction occurs while you are concentrating on the screen and is completely unexpected if you ignore the hum of the servo!

Here is the complete code for the game so far. It incorporates the code required to get Arduino to connect to P5.js which is work David Rios produced.


I still have some work to do on this project such as noise reduction on the sensors and some experiments with the ball on the software side. I also have to finish building the controller which will be used for the game. This will be ready over the next day or so for the Show A Thing Show on Saturday.