HDDG 32: Stimulating Communication Through Titillating Wearables

Sarah Petkus takes the stage to discuss her ongoing project, which measures and indicates human arousal using stylish wearables

Hardware Developers Didactic Galactic presentations are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. If there’s one thing you can always count on, though, it’s kick-ass presentations from some incredible engineers.

HDDG 32 was no different. Sarah Petkus discussed using wearable augments to measure the intimate and unseen. Let’s dive in and find out what she’s working on.

Creating a Dialogue Using Technology and Wearables

Sarah’s talk entitled SHE BON: Using Body-data to communicate the intimate and the unseen, discusses her work on a unique new project aimed at encouraging communication around human sexuality. Sarah is a kinetic artist, roboticist, and was recently called a transhumanist, which fits really well once you’ve seen her presentation.

The term refers to an intellectual movement that seeks to elevate the human condition both mentally and physically through the use of technology. Sarah’s talk begins with her origins, which were rooted in feelings of powerlessness.

So, she did what any maker would do: she built a robot army. With the help of her colleague, she built an army of 100 delta robots that you control with physical gestures.

Sarah’s original army of robots

Sarah later felt the need to have a child of some sort, but she didn’t want anyone else involved. The result is an ongoing project of hers called Noodlefeet. This project represents the obstacles that Sarah herself had to overcome.

As she describes it, this robot represents all the best parts of her. Her latest project is SHE BON. It’s a wearable platform that seeks to sense and indicate human arousal. Yes, you read that right.

The goal here is communication. Sarah wishes to normalize a general dialogue among humans about sex, which is something many humans struggle to have healthy conversations about as a result of stigmas and taboos.

The SHE BON concept art, including both devices Sarah is currently working on

She’s hoping that this project can help people in the future feel less ashamed or alienated by their sexual nature. She started out by thinking about indicators that could be measured to indicate arousal in the human body. These include things like body temperature, sweat, heart rate, muscle tension, and so on.

Wearables That Reveal The Unseen

Sarah’s plan is to create a series of connected augments that focus on specific parts of the body. Each one will utilize sensors to receive and input about the human body, while also providing some sort of output to the world.

Sarah also emphasizes that these augments are not meant to stimulate the user specifically, but if they do and it creates a feedback loop, she calls this “extra credit.”

During her presentation, Sarah is also wearing the “Pulse Pack,” which is the primary platform for tracking and interpreting the data from the other augments.

While Sarah hasn’t completely developed the mechanics of this concept, the goal is for the Pulse Pack to understand the difference between arousal and other emotions like fear or activities like exercise.

In its current state, the Pulse Pack is a wearable breakout board. The circuit board within is connected to Cat-5 ports that will run power and data to other parts of the body from the main platform.

The current breakout board used in the Pulse Pack

Sarah has two augments thus far which are entitled “Propeller Pasties,” and “Beat Box.” The current breakout board is shaped like a heart. It currently acts similar to an Arduino Mega and breaks out the pins to the edges.

A strong focus of this project is creating something that looks good on the outside as well. Sarah decided to make the enclosure a heart-shaped backpack.

She used three pieces of transparent vinyl, and 3D-printed parts to build the enclosure. Nothing is sewn together. Sarah explains that you can print the pieces yourself and assemble it with your soldering iron.

The 3D-printed pieces and vinyl used to create the “Pulse Pack”

To do so, you simply need to follow the unique process Sarah used. By printing the pieces with holes for what she calls “plastic rivets.” To make these rivets, she used pieces of raw filament from the printer spool and threaded them through the vinyl and frame.

Once assembled, she used the soldering iron to create caps on either end which hold everything together. In the second half of her presentation, Sarah went on to discuss the augments she’s currently working on.

The Beat Box

The Beat Box

The first augment she discusses is “The Beat Box.” The concept for this came to Sarah one night when the term “pussy whisperer” entered her mind. This quickly led to a late-night session where she started sketching an enclosure that would fit in front of her pelvic bone.

The enclosure includes a mono speaker and pulse sensor that aims towards the user. As the heart rate increases, so does the volume of the speaker. This creates an external output in the form of the audio, while also creating a feedback loop from the vibration the speaker causes.

The PCB that makes all of this happen was inspired by the shape of the enclosure, which Sarah and her friends thought looked like a piece of salmon. This led her to create a circuit board that is shaped like a cross-section of salmon.

The Fillet-O PCB

The Fillet-O PCB includes an op-amp, SD card reader, and speaker, along with three slots for LEDs.

Sarah’s second augment that is currently in development are the “Propeller Pasties.” This device attaches to the female breast and incorporates a combination of IR sensors to measure distance and a DC motor to power the propeller portion.

This wearable portion of the project is still fairly early in its design, but Sarah was able to 3D-print the parts and create a working demo. In the demo, an earplug is used to represent a human nipple.

The current demo build of the “Propeller Pasties”

While all of this may sound a lot different than you were expecting, Sarah wraps up her presentation by reiterating her goals. She believes that technology can add a more personable layer to human interactions, thus making them more memorable and meaningful.

Ultimately, she encourages makers to create things that express a part of themselves which would otherwise go unnoticed. Sarah’s goal is to help encourage people to talk more openly about things like sexuality, instead of treating them like taboos.

As she puts it in her presentation: “Less taboos, more awesome.”