Science meets couture to foster laughter

Detail of dress.| Photo courtesy of SFU SIAT MovingStories - Soma Embodied Wearable Group 2015

Detail of dress.| Photo courtesy of SFU SIAT MovingStories – Soma Embodied Wearable Group 2015

A group of three graduate students from the SFU School of Interactive Arts and Technology have created a dress that investigates how interactive wearable technology can support social interaction through LCD lights and the sound of laughter.

The design explores psychophysiological mirroring, which is the interrelation of mental and physical phenomena when people exhibit emotions.

Wynnie Chung, Emily Ip and Sun Min Lee were inspired to create the dress by a call for design proposals from the Museum of Vancouver (MOV), in partnership with the Vancouver Foundation. Dubbed ‘The Happy City Machine’, the call asked designers around the Lower Mainland to create projects which alleviate feelings of social disconnection.

“Through the dress, we as researchers wanted to gain insights on how the Laughing Dress could influence participant’s emotional state and behavioral response through their interactions with the dress,” says Lee.

The dress uses the sound of laughter and LED lights to spark conversations.

“The dress plays synthetic laughter to attract attention from passersby, aiming to break social barriers and initiate opportunities for conversations. It also has LED lights that illuminate from the wearer’s movement to highlight the wearer’s presence,” says Lee.

By using sensors, the dress is able to respond to the environment around it.

“The laughter and LED light patterns are triggered by two different sensors: an ultrasonic distance sensor and tri-axis accelerometer kinetic sensor to detect for the physical distance between the wearer and spectator, as well as the movement of the wearer; the closer we are together more and more laughter is displayed and projected,” says IP.

The experimental prototype was completed in three and a half months, but the work is a part of an ongoing research work on that is still being carried out.

In total, the dress cost about $1000 to prototype and manufacture, according to Chung.

“The base of the dress is constructed out of white silk organza that brings no connotation to the colour used in the work. Electronic components were sewn onto the dress to embed interactivity to the wearable interface. These hardware pieces are Lilypad Arduino Microcontroller, Lilypad MP3 shield, Ultrasonic proximity sensor, external speaker and lilypad LED pixels,” Chung says.

Overcoming isolation

When the design team first heard about the Happy City Machine challenge, they thought carefully about the most effective way to create happiness in the

“We identified the issues of social isolations based on several literature researches during the earliest phase of the design. We then brainstormed ways where we or computer interactions can make the city happier and spark connections between strangers,” says Chung.

According to Chung, the dress was able to initiate opportunities for cooperative behaviour, mutual trust and social bonding. The dress evoked smiles, laughter and a curiosity that brought people closer to find out more about the laughter and lights emanating from the dress.

“For the design team, the use of laughter for this dress can provide insight towards how the human body can be used as a control of physical and social relationship between the wearer and spectators in a collocated communicative space,” says Chung.

Wearing your heart on your dress

A design to break social barriers.| Photo courtesy of SFU SIAT MovingStories - Soma Embodied Wearable Group 2015

A design to break social barriers.| Photo courtesy of SFU SIAT MovingStories – Soma Embodied Wearable Group 2015

For some who tested the dress, the way it showcased emotions was a little disconcerting.

“One observation made when the dress was showcased at the exhibition expressed by spectators was their uncertainty and comfort level on showcasing how they feel in such an explicit manner,” says Ip.

However, this led to more interesting questions, making people think ‘Why is it not ok to truly show how I feel?’ and ‘How do we, through our current personal telecommunication devices, augment our natural feelings to others?’ says Ip.

While the group does not plan to mass produce the Laughing Dress, it will continue to be used as a research instrument and a conversation starter.

“We do want to note that this work serves as a critical design that triggers debate and conversation about the problems of social isolation in Vancouver,”
says Ip.

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