Responsive Environments
Augmenting and mediating human experience, interaction, and perception with sensor networks.
We explore how sensor networks augment and mediate human experience, interaction and perception, while developing new sensing modalities and enabling technologies that create new forms of interactive experience and expression. Our current research encompasses the development and application of various types of sensor networks, energy harvesting and power management, and the technical foundation of ubiquitous computing. Our work is highlighted in diverse application areas, which have included automotive systems, smart highways, medical instrumentation, RFID, wearable computing, and interactive media.

Research Projects

  • Chain API

    Joseph A. Paradiso, Gershon Dublon, Brian Mayton and Spencer Russell

    RESTful services and the Web provide a framework and structure for content delivery that is scalable not only in size but more importantly in use cases. As we in Responsive Environments build systems to collect, process, and deliver sensor data, this project serves as a research platform that can be shared between a variety of projects both inside and outside the group. By leveraging hyperlinks between sensor data clients can browse, explore and discover their relationships and interactions in ways that can grow over time.

  • Circuit Stickers

    Joseph A. Paradiso, Jie Qi, Nan-wei Gong and Leah Buechley

    Circuit Stickers is a toolkit for crafting electronics using flexible and sticky electronic pieces. These stickers are created by printing traces on flexible substrates and adding conductive adhesive. These lightweight, flexible, and sticky circuit boards allow us to begin sticking interactivity onto new spaces and interfaces such as clothing, instruments, buildings, and even our bodies.

  • Circuit Stickers Activity Book

    Leah Buechley and Jie Qi

    The Circuit Sticker Activity Book is a primer for using circuit stickers to create expressive electronics. Inside are explanations of the stickers, and circuits and templates for building functional electronics directly on the pages of the book. The book covers five topics, from simple LED circuits to crafting switches and sensors. As users complete the circuits, they are also prompted with craft and drawing activities to ensure an expressive and artistic approach to learning and building circuits. Once completed, the book serves as an encyclopedia of techniques to apply to future projects.

  • Customizable Sensate Surface for Music Control

    Joe Paradiso, Nan-Wei Gong, Pragun Goyal and Nan Zhao

    We developed a music control surface which enables integration between any musical instruments via a versatile, customizable, and inexpensive user interface. This sensate surface allows capacitive sensor electrodes and connections between electronics components to be printed onto a large roll of flexible substrate unrestricted in length. The high dynamic range capacitive sensing electrodes can not only infer touch, but near-range, non-contact gestural nuance in a music performance. With this sensate surface, users can “cut” out their desired shapes, “paste” the number of inputs, and customize their controller interfaces, which can then send signals wirelessly to effects or software synthesizers. We seek to find a solution for integrating the form factor of traditional music controllers seamlessly on top of one’s instrument while adding expressiveness to performance by sensing and incorporating movements and gestures to manipulate the musical output.

  • Data-Driven Elevator Music

    Joe Paradiso, Gershon Dublon, Brian Dean Mayton and Spencer Russell

    Our glass building lets us see across spaces–through the walls that enclose us and beyond. Yet invisibly, networks of sensors inside and out capture the often imperceivable dimensions of the built and natural environment. Our project uses multi-channel spatial sound to bring that data into the utilitarian experience of riding the glass elevator. In the past, we've mixed live sound from microphones throughout the building with sonification of sensor data, using a pressure sensor to provide fine-grained altitude for control. In its present form, the elevator is displaying data from the Living Observatory, a wetland restoration site 60 miles away. Each string pluck represents a new data point streaming in; its pitch corresponds to the temperature at the sensor and its timbre reflects the humidity. Live and recorded sound reflect the real ambience of the remote wetland.

  • DoppelLab: Experiencing Multimodal Sensor Data

    Joe Paradiso, Gershon Dublon and Brian Dean Mayton
    Homes and offices are being filled with sensor networks to answer specific queries and solve pre-determined problems, but no comprehensive visualization tools exist for fusing these disparate data to examine relationships across spaces and sensing modalities. DoppelLab is a cross-reality virtual environment that represents the multimodal sensor data produced by a building and its inhabitants. Our system encompasses a set of tools for parsing, databasing, visualizing, and sonifying these data; by organizing data by the space from which they originate, DoppelLab provides a platform to make both broad and specific queries about the activities, systems, and relationships in a complex, sensor-rich environment.
  • Experiential Lighting: New User-Interfaces for Lighting Control

    Joseph A. Paradiso, Matthew Aldrich and Nan Zhao

    We are evaluating new methods of interacting and controlling solid-state lighting based on our findings of how participants experience and perceive architectural lighting in our new lighting laboratory (E14-548S). This work, aptly named "Experiential Lighting," reduces the complexity of modern lighting controls (intensity/color/space) into a simple mapping, aided by both human input and sensor measurement. We believe our approach extends beyond general lighting control and is applicable in situations where human-based rankings and preference are critical requirements for control and actuation. We expect our foundational studies to guide future camera-based systems that will inevitably incorporate context in their operation (e.g., Google Glass).

  • Feedback Controlled Solid State Lighting

    Joe Paradiso, Matthew Aldrich and Nan Zhao

    At present, luminous efficacy and cost remain the greatest barriers to broad adoption of LED lighting. However, it is anticipated that within several years, these challenges will be overcome. While we may think our basic lighting needs have been met, this technology offers many more opportunities than just energy efficiency: this research attempts to alter our expectations for lighting and cast aside our assumptions about control and performance. We will introduce new, low-cost sensing modalities that are attuned to human factors such as user context, circadian rhythms, or productivity, and integrate these data with atypical environmental factors to move beyond traditional lux measurements. To research and study these themes, we are focusing on the development of superior color-rendering systems, new power topologies for LED control, and low-cost multimodal sensor networks to monitor the lighting network as well as the environment.

  • FingerSynth: Wearable Transducers for Exploring the Environment through Sound

    Joseph A. Paradiso and Gershon Dublon

    The FingerSynth is a wearable musical instrument made up of a bracelet and set of rings that enable its player to produce sound by touching nearly any surface in their environment. Each ring contains a small, independently controlled audio exciter transducer. The rings sound loudly when they touch a hard object, and are silent otherwise. When a wearer touches their own (or someone else's) head, the contacted person hears sound through bone conduction, inaudible to others. A microcontroller generates a separate audio signal for each ring, and can take user input through an accelerometer in the form of taps, flicks, and other gestures. The player controls the envelope and timbre of the sound by varying the physical pressure and the angle of their finger on the surface, or by touching differently resonant surfaces. The FingerSynth encourages players to experiment with the materials around them and with one another.

  • Gestures Everywhere

    Joseph A. Paradiso and Nicholas Gillian

    Gestures Everywhere is a multimodal framework for supporting ubiquitous computing. Our framework aggregates the real-time data from a wide range of heterogeneous sensors, and provides an abstraction layer through which other ubiquitous applications can request information about an environment or a specific individual. The Gestures Everywhere framework supports both low-level spatio-temporal properties, such as presence, count, orientation, location, and identity; in addition to higher-level descriptors, including movement classification, social clustering, and gesture recognition.

  • Hacking the Sketchbook

    Joseph A. Paradiso and Jie Qi

    In this project we investigate how the process of building a circuit can be made more organic, like sketching in a sketchbook. We integrate a rechargeable power supply into the spine of a traditional sketchbook, so that each page of the sketchbook has power connections. This enables users to begin creating functioning circuits directly onto the pages of the book and to annotate as they would in a regular notebook. The sequential nature of the sketchbook allows creators to document their process for circuit design. The book also serves as a single physical archive of various hardware designs. Finally, the portable and rechargeable nature of the book allows users to take their electronic prototypes off of the lab bench and share their creations with people outside of the lab environment.

  • Human Factors and Lighting

    Joseph A. Paradiso, Matthew Aldrich, Nan Zhao, Eun Young Lim (Visiting Researcher, Samsung)

    In a series of psychometric experiments, we tested subjects' perception of lighting in a virtual environment to assess the possibility of describing and subsequently controlling lighting in a dimension other than brightness. Our findings suggest that human perception of lighting is also explained by variables other than brightness. These data are used to design a lighting control system that simultaneously maps the spatial and visual characteristics of the room into a more natural and intuitive form of control.

  • ListenTree: Audio-Haptic Display in the Natural Environment

    V. Michael Bove, Joseph A. Paradiso, Gershon Dublon and Edwina Portocarrero

    ListenTree is an audio-haptic display embedded in the natural environment. Visitors to our installation notice a faint sound appearing to emerge from a tree. By resting their heads against the tree, they are able to hear sound through bone conduction. To create this effect, an audio exciter transducer is weatherproofed and attached to the tree's roots, transforming it into a living speaker that channels audio through its branches, and provides vibrotactile feedback. In one deployment, we used ListenTree to display live sound from an outdoor ecological monitoring sensor network, bringing a faraway wetland into the urban landscape. Our intervention is motivated by a need for forms of display that fade into the background, inviting attention rather than requiring it. We consume most digital information through devices that alienate us from our surroundings; ListenTree points to a future where digital information might become enmeshed in material.

  • Living Observatory: Sensor Networks for Documenting and Experiencing Ecology

    Glorianna Davenport, Joe Paradiso, Gershon Dublon, Pragun Goyal and Brian Dean Mayton

    Living Observatory is an initiative for documenting and interpreting ecological change that will allow people, individually and collectively, to better understand relationships between ecological processes, human lifestyle choices, and climate change adaptation. As part of this initiative, we are developing sensor networks that document ecological processes and allow people to experience the data at different spatial and temporal scales. Low-power sensor nodes capture climate and other data at a high spatiotemporal resolution, while others stream audio. Sensors on trees measure transpiration and other cycles, while fiber-optic cables in streams capture high-resolution temperature data. At the same time, we are developing tools that allow people to explore this data, both remotely and onsite. The remote interface allows for immersive 3D exploration of the terrain, while visitors to the site will be able to access data from the network around them directly from wearable devices.

  • Mobile, Wearable Sensor Data Visualization

    Joseph A. Paradiso, Gershon Dublon, Donald Haddad, Brian Mayton and Spencer Russell

    As part of the Living Observatory ecological sensing initiative, we've been developing new approaches to mobile, wearable sensor data visualization. The Tidmarsh app for Google Glass visualizes real-time sensor network data based on the wearer's location and gaze. A user can approach a sensor node to see 2D plots of its real-time data stream, and look across an expanse to see 3D plots encompassing multiple devices. On the back-end, the app showcases our Chain API, crawling linked data resources to build a dynamic picture of the sensor network. Besides development of new visualizations, we are building in support for voice queries, and exploring ways to encourage distributed data collection by users.

  • Prosthetic Sensor Networks: Factoring Attention, Proprioception, and Sensory Coding

    Gershon Dublon

    Sensor networks permeate our built and natural environments, but our means for interfacing to the resultant data streams have not evolved much beyond HCI and information visualization. Researchers have long experimented with wearable sensors and actuators on the body as assistive devices. A user’s neuroplasticity can, under certain conditions, transcend sensory substitution to enable perceptual-level cognition of “extrasensory” stimuli delivered through existing sensory channels. But there remains a huge gap between data and human sensory experience. We are exploring the space between sensor networks and human augmentation, in which distributed sensors become sensory prostheses. In contrast, user interfaces are substantially unincorporated by the body—our relationship to them never fully pre-attentive. Attention and proprioception are key, not only to moderate and direct stimuli, but also to enable users to move through the world naturally, attending to the sensory modalities relevant to their specific contexts.

  • Sambaza Watts

    Joe Paradiso, Ethan Zuckerman, Rahul Bhargava, Pragun Goyal, Alexis Hope and Nathan Matias

    We want to help people in nations where electric power is scarce to sell power to their neighbors. We’re designing a piece of prototype hardware that plugs into a diesel generator or other power source, distributes the power to multiple outlets, monitors how much power is used, and uses mobile payments to charge the customer for the power consumed.

  • SEAT-E: Solar Power for People, Big Data for Cities

    Kent Larson, Joseph A. Paradiso, Sandra Richter, Nan Zhao and Ines Gaisset

    SEAT-E provides free access to renewable energy to charge smart phones and small electronic devices in cities, bringing cities one step closer to fulfilling a key UN goal: sustainable energy access for all. The seats are off-grid and entirely autonomous. Fully integrated solar panels store energy in Li-ion batteries and can be accessed through weatherproof USB ports. The batteries also power lighting and sensing. Each seat has an ID and forms part of the SEAT-E network. The seats gather location-based data on air quality; cities typically measure air quality only at one or two locations, but levels vary significantly depending on traffic and other factors. As a result, policymakers and citizens are often uninformed. Public engagement with this sensor data has the potential to create a platform for real dialogue between cities and their citizens about the air we share.

  • Sensor Fusion for Gesture Analyses of Baseball Pitching

    Joseph A. Paradiso, Carolina Brum Medeiros and Michael Lapinski

    Current sports-medicine practices for understanding the motion of athletes while engaged in their sport of choice are limited to camera-based marker tracking systems that generally lack the fidelity and sampling rates necessary to make medically usable measurements; they also typically require a structured, stable "studio" environment, and need considerable time to set up and calibrate. The data from our system provides the ability to understand the forces and torques that an athlete's joints and body segments undergo during activity. It also allows for precise biomechanical modeling of an athlete's motion. The application of sensor fusion techniques is essential for optimal extraction of kinetic and kinematic information. Also, it provides an alternative measurement method that can be used in out-of-lab scenarios.

  • techNailogy

    Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, Artem Dementyev, Chris Schmandt

    techNailogy is a nail-mounted gestural input surface. Using capacitive sensing on printed electrodes, the interface can distinguish on-nail finger swipe gestures with high accuracy. techNailogy works in real-time: we miniaturized the system to fit on the fingernail, while wirelessly transmitting the sensor data to a mobile phone or PC. techNailogy allows one-handed and always-available input, while being unobtrusive and discreet. Inspired by commercial nail stickers, the device blends into the user’s body, is customizable, fashionable, and even removable. We show example applications of using the device as a remote controller when hands are busy and using the system to increase the input space of mobile phones.

  • Ubiquitous Sonic Overlay

    Joseph A. Paradiso and Spencer Russell

    With our Ubiquitous Sonic Overlay, we are working to place virtual sounds in the user's environment, fixing them in space even as the user moves. We are working toward creating a seamless auditory display indistinguishable from the user's actual surroundings. Between bone-conduction headphones, small and cheap orientation sensors, and ubiquitous GPS, a confluence of fundamental technologies is in place. However, existing head-tracking systems either limit the motion space to a small area (e.g., Occulus Rift), or sacrifice precision for scale using technologies like GPS. We are seeking to bridge the gap to create large outdoor spaces of sonic objects.

  • Virtual Messenger

    Joe Paradiso and Nick Gillian

    The virtual messenger system acts as a portal to subtly communicate messages and pass information between the digital, virtual, and physical worlds, using the Media Lab’s Glass Infrastructure system. Users who opt into the system are tracked throughout the Media Lab by a multimodal sensor network. If a participating user approaches any of the Lab’s Glass Infrastructure displays they are met by their virtual personal assistant (VPA), who exists in DoppelLab’s virtual representation of the current physical space. Each VPA acts as a mediator to pass on any messages or important information from the digital world to the user in the physical world. Participating users can interact with their VPA through a small subset of hand gestures, allowing the user to read any pending messages or notices, or inform their virtual avatar not to bother them until later.