Harnessing the power of optimism, empowering people to pour water by thinking positive thoughts.
tl;dr. An EEG headset measures brain activity to determine when the wearer has positive thoughts, which turns on a tap to pour water into a glass.
I’m fortunate enough to receive some very interesting briefs, but this has to rate as one of the most unusual to date. I was asked to build technology that measures people’s brain activity to detect when they are having positive thoughts, which should be rewarded by turning on a tap to fill a glass with water. My kind of challenge!
As with any great project, the most important ingredient for success isn’t actually the brief, or the technology, or even the budget — it’s smart, brave clients, excited to create something that wows people — and this project had no shortage of such wonderful people.
Life is Good are the perfect brand for this kind of forward thinking — a fashion label with a devotion to positivity — their CEO is actually Chief Executive Optimist. Working with their creative agency, The Garden Collective, who brought in experiential experts, Thinkingbox, as their production studio, the idea was born to truly measure positivity using medical imaging hardware.
Which is where I came in. I worked closely with the team at Thinking Box, and Trevor Smale from Nuform who built the cabinet and handled the plumbing, leaving me to handle the tech. We went with the EMOTIV Insight, a wireless EEG headset that monitors electrical activity in five locations in the brain, allowing us to measure levels of stress, relaxation, focus, interest, engagement, and excitement.
We used this data to determine when someone is experiencing positive thoughts, at which point we connect over Bluetooth to an Arduino inside the cabinet which sends power to a water pump, resulting in a pour of water into the waiting glass. We cut power to the pump if we detect the user’s thoughts become less positive.
The Arduino connects over Bluetooth.
As the water travels from the pump to the glass, it passes through a flow meter, which is monitored by the Arduino so that we can track how much water has been poured. Once enough water has poured, I send power to a solenoid, underneath a hidden hole in the bottom of the glass, that allows the water to drain from the glass back into the reservoir, ready to be pumped back up to the glass by the power of the next participant’s optimism!
A side effect of creating technology is that one doesn’t experience it in the same way as a civilian that doesn’t know how it was made. But this project is an exception. Even though I’d written the code, and soldered the electronics, I was still blown away by the ability to turn on and off a tap to pour water with my mind. And as you can see from the faces in the video, I’m not alone in feeling this way.
Life is Good’s Optimism Machine.
A measure of the success of this project is that, despite it being planned to run for one day, the client decided to keep it operational for the full week of their show, and I’ve been asked consider a plan to allow it to travel the US as an ongoing campaign.