In our daily lives, we are not usually aware of breathing, as it is invisible, ephemeral, and involuntarily-controlled. What if, however, breathing becomes visible? If so, can we be more aware of our breath? Will it lead us to intervene in the unconscious behavior? Can we make a new relationship between consciousness and unconsciousness?

'The visible breath' is the visual representation of breathing to explore the interaction between consciousness and unconsciousness. A physical wearable detects how deep and frequent breathing is, and an algorithm interprets the biometric data and draws a wave movement. The gentler you inhale and exhale, the milder the wave undulates while the stronger you breath, the rougher the wave undulates. Through the visualization, we can become aware of the unconscious behavior and may adjust inhaling and exhaling if it is not how we want to breathe.


variable installation

rubber, plexiglass, fabric, arduino, sensors, digital media


intervening unconsciousness

The Visible Breath is the experiment to uncover design potentials for our mentality, especially unconsciousness. Breathing is the notable body function, which straddles both voluntary and involuntary control - consciousness and unconsciousness - and which bridges between them to influence each other. Breath is a medium to be aware of mind's tendency in Buddism practice, and we may also notice that breath can somewhat represent your current mental state.


sensor exploration

This project started from designing a breath-detecting system by exploring several electric sensors as there is no specific breath-detecting sensor in Arduino platform. As thus intervention aims to visualize breath in daily life, my design should capture breath unintrusively. So, I looked at changes in a state of body exterior with respective sensors:

  • vibration(piezo) sensor for air flow
  • humidity & temperature sensor in the air flow
  • sound sensor (aka MIC) for the sound of breathing
  • flex & force sensitivity sensor for body motion

As a result of the experiments, the force sensitivity sensor detected breathing most accurately with minimum noise and time-lag. On the other hand, a sound sensor responded to other noises, humidity and temperature sensor showed time-lag, a piezo was not sensitive enough, and a flex sensor created unnecessary noise.

techniques | physical computing, programming
tools | arduino, sensors, electric circuit, processing

Candidates for breath sensor
Sensor candidates: vibration / humidity / temperature / sound / flex / force sensivitiy sensors
A flex sensor tested its sensibility and feasibility for a breath sensor

wearable design

The wearable naturally became a belt-like object as it needed to accommodate the force sensitivity sensor on the abdomen. Specifically, I focused on abdominal motion more than chest movement, as the motion on the abdomen is more significant than the motion in the chest.

So I started to make a rough prototype to check its feasibility and tried to expand the design to the chest with an extra sensor in the chest to increase accuracy. However, the final prototype became a waistband focusing on the up-and-down of the abdomen since it created more noises.

techniques | prototyping
tools | hand tools

Rough(1st) prototype to detect abdominal motion
The 1st(rough) prototype tried to detect abdominal motion
The 2nd prototype attempted to measure motions from the chest and abdomen at the same time
The final prototype focused on abdominal motions

visual representation

As I started to collect the biometric data from abdominal motion, the last puzzle was how to visualize. The goal of visual representation was to provide intuitive feedback of the state of breathing. The system measures current breathing and also mirrors the aggregate data for the past five minutes as the algorithm stores the data, which show a transition of breathing state.

At first, I tried to create a 3D form growing along with how we breathe, but I took a shift to a kind of wave flow since it was difficult to get a glimpse of breathing state from 3D forms. The representation of wave flow seems relevant in this context as the wave undulates different depending on wind conditions; the stronger the wind blows, the bigger the wave fluctuates whereas, the milder the wind, the softer the wave does. Likewise, the bigger breathes you take, the higher peaks of the wave you see.

techniques | programming
tools | processing

1st visualization intended to grow in a 3D form based on how we breath
The 1st visualization intended to grow in a 3D form based on how we breath
The 2nd visualization grew in a different 3D form
The 3rd visualization grew in a different 3D form
The 4th visualization shifted to wave movements