HelioZZZ: a smart (material) sleep mask

Jack Forman

HelioZZZ is an opacity changing eye mask that wakes you up with natural sunlight when you want it. The mask warms your eyes to help you fall/stay asleep and is controllable via a web-app interface.

Before going to bed, the user sets the alarm on their phone, and the mask becomes opaque and slightly warm to help the user fall asleep. Fifteen minutes before wake up, the mask begins the transition from a clear to an opaque state, allowing sunlight to penetrate through the mask gently waking up the user. the user can further snooze this alarm by pressing the button on the side, which causes the hydrogel to reverse back to the opaque state for 5 minutes.

The mask enables an ambient telepresence. As the mask can be controlled from a web app, you partner, collaborator, or parent can wake up by turning the mask transparent.

In this section, I detail some of the considerations made in the design of this mask. 

Material: The material needs to be 1) color switchable 2) triggered at just above body temperature, so it is safe to wear but also not triggered by body heat alone 3) biocompatible 4) soft and flexible 5) Can switch between states in <20 minutes.

Electronics: The board needs to 1) be easily connected to/controlled 2) provide the necessary power to heat the PNIPAM at a safe temperature 3) be slim.

Form: The form needs to 1) be comfortable 2) include an adjustable strap 2) include a physical snooze button 3) encase enough hydrogel to become completely opaque.

A primary challenge in this work is achieving end-to-end integration between experimental materials and product design. The ability to do so depended on each aspect of the project (material, electronics, product design) to be developed holistically and simultaneously. I was constantly moving between the BL2 wet lab, electronics room, conversations with fellow designers, maker spaces, and literature reviews. Because of this, the many elements of this project blend together and inform each other. For example, the hydrogel layer was made thick enough that it was completely opaque when activated (material), but just thick enough where it could be heated and cooled quickly with safe power (electronics), to allow it to be as precise an alarm clock as possible (user experience). 

Beyond that, this project also represents a manifestation of our vision of Radical Atoms, where static everyday objects become dynamic reprogrammable interfaces. Unlike our common perception of computer interfaces which are fast, attention-demanding, and flat pieces of glass. HelioZZZ is a flexible and calm interface ‘disguised’ as a sleep mask. 

The future of computer interaction is not in having screens embedded everywhere, but in using embedded computational materials to augment everyday life.