A new concept tool to 'unmask' emotions in China and Japan (via Simone Rebaudengo)

If you live in China or Japan, then you know what a pain it can be to have to wear a surgical mask  in public for environmental safety reasons. You can also imagine how odd and alienating it can be to see everyone else wearing masks which almost cover up their entire face. Two interesting fellows, Simone Rebaudengo and Paul Adams, decided to do something about this in a project named 'Unmask'.


The duo partnered up with xinchejian, a hackerspace in Shanghai, and created a little electronic device that 'unmasks' the emotions of users even when their faces are covered. The concept endeavors to bring more normality to human interactions by giving others an idea of the user’s facial expression. The current model has four facial expressions it can demonstrate: plain, smile, surprise, and kiss.


This concept piece hopes to make it easier to have a conversation with people wearing masks for pollution or illness reasons in Japan and China. Simone and Paul found that the need to wear masks when outside for any reason really changed their interactions with people because it creates a disconnect. Considering that the majority of meaning we interpret from human interaction comes from body language and facial expressions, it isn't hard to imagine how jarring this can be.


So, meet the 'Unmask' created by Simone and Paul. It has a very basic design and construction which was custom made and compatible with Arduino. The team hasn't released what exactly they did to create this device, but you can imagine that they have fastened a sensor to their board to recognize expressions and display a corresponding 'expression' via a little LED matrix board.


The result is a little LED smiley face for happiness, a circle for surprise, an oval for a kiss, and a line for expressionless. It's basic but it works within the parameters of a concept piece. I'm not sure it can really serve to replace actual human expression and interaction, but it is better than just eyes and a mask.


It would be interesting to see this concept of 'Unmasking' human emotion using technological tools expanded to include other things. For instance, perhaps there can be a heart monitor that lets others know the user's emotions based upon heartbeat rates. I can see how this can lead to some embarrassing stuff, but it would be entertaining for one night.


The artist Aramique created a similar device called a Heart Bot which created drawings on a circular graph that correspond to a user's heartbeat for one minute. Throughout the course of the night, the art product was an emotional litmus test for every user in the room. However, I can't tell what intrigues me more about this concept, the actual devices themselves, or the idea that humans are creating electronic devices to make communicating with other humans,well, less human.


It's definitely the latter, and I kind of hope that people re-learn how to communicate with other people again otherwise this world is going to get really weird and boring. Sometimes I look around at people communicating through screens (which is not unlike the 'unmask' project) and I think the Zombie Apocalypse is now.



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