In the over-medicated times we live in, it no longer comes as a surprise to learn that 70 percent of the US population is on prescription drugs, but statistics like this one make projects like this latest one from interaction designer Hilal Koyuncu all the more necessary. Inspired by designer Alice Wang’s “Peer Pressure” and artist Noam Toran’s “Desire Management,” Koyuncu's Liminoids project explores her fascination with the possibility for machines to bring attention to a medical condition--and provide relief. Rather than simply being the cause for more anxiety and stress to fuel our neuroses, Koyuncu believes that technology can also act as an alternative treatment.
Liminoids is a concept line of comfort machines that helps users manage their clinical nervousness. They are everyday items rigged to identify stress with a wireless biosensor that is worn like jewelry. The accessory adopts mechanisms often found in a lie detector. It combines a heart rate monitor, galvanic skin response (GSR) that reacts to the skin's electrical conductivity (i.e. sweatiness), and an accelerometer to help recognize and cancel out the noise caused by movement.
When the anxiety thresholds for the GSR and heart rate are met, and the wearer goes to employ a Liminoidally-altered machine, the machine does something magical. It ceases normal operations and begins to comfort the wearer. Koyuncu dubbed this as the “liminal moment” and modeled it on her observations of the way people subconsciously and perpetually look to technology for gratification outside its classical function--like when you check your phone to avoid making eye contact with strangers when in an elevator or another confined space.
Another example she uses is the refrigerator. It’s typically used to store food at cool and cold temperatures to prolong freshness. However, under stress, people start to unconsciously open the fridge even if they aren't hungry or thirsty. Instead they stare blankly expecting some change from their current state, which Koyuncu believes is relief from their anxiety.
Observing this human tendency, she modifies a mini-fridge and names it Liminoid frigus revealing her first passion, biology. To Koyuncu, the codependency humans are developing with machines recalls evolutionary biology and the way different organisms evolve various traits to benefit each other. Rejecting that cutting edge means everything looks white or aluminum, she makes the shell for her fridge out of wood and draws inspiration from cells to construct the form.
Now, when you open the fridge while feeling anxious, this kitchen appliance will lock the door and emit soothing pulses, visuals, and binaurial beats. It clues the oblivious user to acknowledge their stress level and take some deep breaths in synch with the rhythm of the sensory stimulation the refrigerator is releasing.
Another prototype is Liminoid temporis, a clock that maps time linearly with lights to give a sense of progress (rather than an endless cycle) to help reduce stress. Nonetheless, wearers can still become Chairman of the Bored or Captain Crunchtime, and when that happens, Liminoid temporis will require the wearer to take a visual chill pill. The LEDs that tell time turn off and the border becomes a mesmerizing light show.
Admittedly, turning your fridge into your therapist may be an unusual and uncomfortable relationship to have with your appliances. However, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been proven as a highly effective and lasting treatment to anxiety disorders. CBT is grounded in the self-awareness of one's feelings that Liminoids could potentially be a tool in developing.
Although Koyuncu would like to develop a Liminoid for cellphone addiction and is limited by the low-res biosensor, she attributes her greatest barrier to society's apprehension towards smarter technology. An interaction designer by day and a follower of Don Norman’s “user-centered design," Koyuncu believes we must see the co-evolution of humans and machines as inevitable and ask, “how can we make these machines more meaningful?”