Morpholio Project's New App to Measure Human Response to Built Environment

Morpholio Project's New App to Measure Human Response to Built Environment

Smart phones are designed to collect a variety of personal data, from location and orientation to sight and sound. But what if these devices were capable of tracking our visceral response to the built environment? 

The architects and academics behind The Morpholio Project have been researching ways in which biometrics, such as EEG, EMG, face tracking and pulse measurement, could be used to quantify the physical impact of an image on the human body. By turning to the medical industry, Morpholio has studied the capabilities of photoplethysmography (PPG) and envisioned ways in which it could be integrated with the smart phone.

With a simple 3D printed fitting, the iphone can be transformed into a miniaturized blood pressure machine that records the heart rate fluctuations of a user while they photograph their surroundings. By tracking an individual’s unique emotional response to what they are seeing and experiencing, Morpholio believes they can unlock new potentials in which technology can evolve of the design process.

More information from the creators after the break...

Courtesy of The Morpholio Project

Worldwide mobile data traffic grew 81 percent in 2013, and it is predicted that the number of active cell phones will reach over 7 billion this year, placing us on the precipice of a tipping point – there will soon be more in-use cell phones than there are people on the planet.  There is no doubt that designers are communicating with the world via tablet or phone more than ever before. 

“We’re getting more networked, we have to be more productive and navigate an increasingly complex set of expectations.” says Mark Collins, Morpholio Co-creator. “On the other hand, creativity is so unique - it’s this fantastic thing that our brains do that we don’t completely understand. Creatives have to nurture their instincts, their tastes and their expertise, opening up a world of possibilities for mobile devices.”

Design Culture + Device Culture 

The Morpholio Project, which first re-introduced the portfolio as a design tool with the Morpholio app and then resurrected tracing paper for the masses with the Trace app, is largely interested in challenging the role of device culture in the design process. “The most critical area of The Morpholio Project is our research,” says Jeffrey Kenoff, Co-creator. “Advancements in medical, aerospace, and entertainment domains have all had some applicability to design. If it is crucial for other professions to appreciate the value of design, it is equally important to acknowledge that advancements in those fields can impact our process.” For Morpholio, the larger question is how the design field might re-formulate these technologies to augment what we already know about creativity and the analog tools that have supported it for hundreds of years.

Courtesy of The Morpholio Project

Biofeedback for Designers

The Morpholio team wanted to see if it could quantify the physical impact of an image on the human body. The responses our bodies make when engaging with the world can reflect our inner states and assessments. We’ve been finding ways to tap into these signals with research on biometrics, including EEG, EMG, face tracking and pulse measurement. “As an extension of our research we wanted to see if we could record the heartbeat in relation to what was being seen and experienced.” says Toru Hasegawa, Co-creator.

Morpholio turned to the medical profession to understand how it measures blood flow through a technique called photoplethysmography (PPG). PPG measures the pulse by periodically taking photos of an illuminated region of skin. The camera reads small fluctuations in color that result from actual blood flow through the skin.  Its possible to perform this technique on an iPhone given the placement of the camera and flash and cell phones have even been scientifically proven to capture an accurate heartbeat. In our app, unique images flash across the screen as the heart rate fluctuations of the user are recorded, thereby tracking their visceral response to the images.  After a few iterations, we developed a 3d printed fitting for the iPhone that indicates how to locate your finger properly on the device and blocks external light from entering the camera.

Today numerous medical apps are using the iPhone to monitor heart rate, and other industries are following suit with apps such as BioBeats’ Pulse, which uses the heart rate to generate and influence experiential music.  “Using the camera in this way is probably something even a company like Apple could not have anticipated, and demonstrates just how sophisticated the hardware of smart phones can be.” says Hasegawa.  Fitbit, the athletic field bands, represent merely the first wave of ideas about harnessing biometric data to track health. “We believe this area of research has tremendous potential for the future of the design profession and could be harnessed to track incredibly valuable feedback.” says Collins. 

Courtesy of The Morpholio Project

Feedback, Feed-forward 

Through their projects, Morpholio has been able to leverage interface metrics such as how much time you look at an image and where someone zooms into an image. Morpholio’s research first created “EyeTime” which measures the visual impact of an image through the amount of viewing time it receives. The tool has now been used to provide feedback to those active in the Morpholio App as well as to create public juries for a series of competitions on design, art and photography.

“The Morpholio Project is putting together human and machine intelligence in really interesting ways. We’re producing one of the largest databases on aesthetics, which is growing every day,” says Collins. Morpholio is continuing its exploration into how the analog tools of design make the transition into the always-on device culture. “All of our projects are a result of some research and problem solving,” says Anna Kenoff, Co-creator. “At Morpholio, we make tools to empower designers and creative minds. We’re trying to figure out what the tools of the future should be.”

Courtesy of The Morpholio Project

Morpholio currently offers four iPhone/iPad appsMorpholio, Board, Trace, and Exhibit – and has a new app called Frame on the way.

About this author
Cite: Karissa Rosenfield. "Morpholio Project's New App to Measure Human Response to Built Environment" 30 Apr 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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