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Responsive Facial Prosthesis

Aposema speculates on a near future where we rely on technology to replace our, once natural, instincts.

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In an age of emotion recognition algorithms and augmented realities, our overuse of personal devices and social media, has led to a society where people increasingly choose technological alternatives to meaningful in-person interaction. Our ability to read facial expressions is severely reduced, limiting our capacity to develop relationships and leaving us struggling to empathize.

 

Motivated by our current relationship with technology, which evidence shows is increasingly detrimental to our mental well-being, we explored an imagined oncoming crisis, and the increasingly extreme and absurd responses we might make to mitigate such futures.

 

Masks, built using soft robotics prosthetics, biometric sensors and an augmented reality digital layer, are proposed to exaggerate and translate facial expressions. The augmented reality and soft robotics elements create information ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’, respectively, enabling and enhancing interpersonal understanding.

 

The masks’ façade is made up of a layer of silicone with colored inflating pockets of fluid, which reacts when its wearer encounters another person, sending out ‘messages’ through patterns and shape change. Each color represents one of the six universal emotions: happiness, sadness, surprise, disgust, fear and anger, and the degree of shape change indicates the intensity of feeling.

Under the mask’s façade, an augmented reality system reads the soft robotic output of other masks, and feeds back translations to the user through a lens covering their eye, sharing its analysis and prescribing guidelines for interaction. Where it recognizes anger, it might suggest pacifying hand gestures, where is recognizes sadness, it might suggest comforting words. Through this two-way transfer of information the mask facilitates a new form of expressive communication.

 

Taking inspiration, and its name, from nature’s vivid aposematic visual warning system, traditions of mask-making, and the role of masks in storytelling, we imagined an almost grotesque accessory – a monstrous abstraction of today’s wearable technology - in order to throw spotlight on our growing and questionable relationship with the virtual, and our retreat from the real world.

 

We are more connected than ever, yet our connections are arguably worse than they have ever been. This development may have unpredictable and concerning consequences. As a piece of speculative design Aposema encourages a critique on the technology of today, from the newly released face-tracking applications and augmented reality interfaces of Apple’s iPhone, to the rapid growth of intelligent wearables, and the pivotal role social media plays in shaping, not only our relationships, but the way we present ourselves.