Monday, April 17, 2017

Arduino Challenge, Part 1: Haptic Feedback and OCD/Anxiety, or A Possibly-Okay Idea Never Realized

This is the first part of a two-part diary. The second entry is linked to at the end.

"Build yourself a buzzing bracelet for subtle haptic feedback as time passes! It's great for reminding yourself to get up and walk away from your desk for a few minutes each hour, or just as a way to have a new awareness of how the perception of passing time varies based on what you're doing."

I scrolled across the Buzzing Mindfulness Bracelet project on Adafruit earlier in the semester and felt a pang of identification with the concept. It wasn't because of the mindfulness aspect per se – I used to be part of a meditation group in college and have at different points of my life found a lot of value in mindfulness practices. But it actually zapped my attention to a slightly different region of my brain: the compulsive pattern-generator.

Ever since I was a little kid, I had the habit of creating little repetitive pattern games for myself. These ranged from blinking every time the car antenna lined up with a telephone pole to diving the same number by two again and again to repeating mental phrases to passersby in case any of them were capable of telepathy. As I got older, these repetitive patterns took on a new function in helping me get through stressful situations and grounding my brain by creating repetitive physical and geometric games - most often calculating fractions (car odometers and corners of rooms are ideal for this), doing miscellaneous math equations, etc. As you can probably guess, my brain has a lot of anxious energy that it doesn't know what to do with, and these games provide a reprieve that allows me to focus a more manageable portion of my attention on the situation at hand.

One especially faithful version of this, for me, is tapping patterns. I will create repetitive sequences to tap out with my hands, with the goal of creating "symmetrical" repeating patterns that, if written out, would look like a 
palindrome. So when I read about the mindfulness bracelet, this got me thinking: what if, instead of these games and patterns being something that I had to mentally track and calculate (and sometimes increasing the risk of disassociating from the situation/my body when used), they were instead being tracked and led to physical, ideally haptic feedback? This would allow me to explore greater degrees of  'gameplay' complexity (how long can I make the palindrome?) but also, more significantly, create a constant tether to the physical environment and my body, which I hypothesize would increase the efficacy of these games in keeping me focused through a stressful situation.

I decided that to accomplish this task, I'd need an Arduino, a motor with Arduino shield capable of giving good detailed haptic feedback, and some really nice buttons. I found all of these on Adafruit's site, and was especially intrigued by the Metal Ball Switches which seem to have an excellent tactile quality. I also had a rough idea of the type of pattern-recognition script I'd need to write to run on Arduino -- luckily, outside of figuring out how to interface with the input (switch) and output (haptic motor/shield) devices, the actual game logic to the "make a palindrome" game would be pretty straightforward! So with all of these ideas collected, I was ready to dive into making this project a reality.

Unfortunately, this is pretty much where the story ends. I received my equipment in the mail a week ago, expecting to dig into it over the last week, and the maKerZine project has proceeded to consume all my time. I'm still super intrigued by this project and hope to play around with it in the summer. But as of now, all I have to show for it is: a (very appealing!) unopened package from Adafruit Industries, this block of text, and my lingering questions about how to best grapple with my anxious brain in a way that leads to grounding and balance rather than dissociation. Who knows! For now, this is to be continued..

Link to part 2!

No comments:

Post a Comment