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NugiTex: An interactive, affective wearable that informs a plant’s “comfort" through haptic cues

Hye Jun Youn | Harvard GSD MDes Mediums

Sailin Zhong | MIT Media Lab Responsive Environment

Ali Shtarbanov | MIT Media Lab Responsive Environment

Patrick Chwalek | MIT Media Lab Responsive Environment

Figure 1. NugiTex is consists of arm warmers constructed of tubular soft materials that constrict when actuated, a neck warmer with embedde circular soft material and can be connected to FlowIO for controlling air flow with respect to the temperature and humidity levels measured by an environmental sensing smart glasses: AirSpecs.

Encouraging pro-environmental behaviors requires unique strategies, including reminding people that humans are connected to, and part of, nature. People tend to ignore or minimize environmental problems when they are not immediately observable, or when damaging effects are temporally removed from causes. Allowing users to personally experience a direct causal connection with other living beings in their immediate environment can reduce perceived temporal distance and engender more critical scrutiny of the effects of individual behaviors (Rajecki, 1982).

We hypothesize that increasing the salience of nature through a combination of visual and haptic experiences is a viable method of fostering pro-environmental behavior.Based on the precedents above, we developed two research questions: (1) Can haptic cues collected from nearby plants’ environmental data promote INS?, and (2) How can we increase the salience of nature through haptic experiences to foster pro-environmental behaviors (PEB)? We believe that by haptically representing sensory and physical-state information, NugiTex presents users with an embodied experience of their nearby plant, thereby enhancing information processing and positively influencing behavior. Instead of using VR goggles or other visual simulations, we developed wearable garments consisting of textile and elastomer layers to provide a sensorimotor experience of plant’s in the user’s nearby environment. To enable a rapid collection of environmental data and control of a haptic device, we connected FlowIO to AirSpec, allowing instantaneous data transmission via bluetooth.

Textile Design

A single-bed knitting machine is used to fabricate textile layers of two wearable garments: an arm warmer and a neck warmer. By transferring stitches to an adjacent needle using a single-eye transfer tool, six lace holes (eyelets) on a neck warmer are designed to simulate both gentle and hard haptic pushes from elastomers patterned with six 30 mm-diameter circles. Transferring the bottom purls to stitches creates a tubular-shaped space to insert an elastomer for shrinking behavior when actuated. The wearable garments are re-fitted with a series of holes and a gap to accommodate both tubular and circular-shaped inflatable silicone. The elasticity of the fabric allows it to change shape in response to the actuation behaviors of the inner silicone layer.

Technical Development

Actuation is controlled using FlowIO, a miniature pneumatic development platform with a software toolkit for control, actuation, and sensing of soft robots. Relative humidity and ambient temperature are collected using the SHT45 sensor on AirSpec, and live data is streamed via Bluetooth to a laptop. Both AirSpec and FlowIO are BLE peripherals while the laptop acted as a central interpreter to parse the environmental data, benchmark them according to the plant’s characteristics, and decide on the resulting actuation behaviors.

Using FlowIO, we have introduced and detailed the development of wearable garments with elastomer actuators for humidity and temperature-responsive transformable interfaces for increasing connectedness with nature. Increased attention on environmental issues has led researchers to explore several strategies for encouraging pro-environmental behaviors, such as recycling, energy-saving, and use of biodegradable products. We have concentrated on promoting pro-environmental behavior with methods aimed at engendering users’ feelings of interconnectedness with nature (INS). Advanced, responsive wearables that convey haptic and visual cues can help users more readily adopt the perspectives of other natural entities, thereby promoting helping intentions and behaviors.