Echo is meant to be you tangible avatar, representing in real time your physiological signals (breathing, heart-rate, …) as well as higher-lever inner and mental states (cognitive load, attention level, emotions, …). This is somehow a tangible “out-of-body experience”, hence “Tobe”, the first name of the project back when it was a research project in the Potioc research team at Inria Bordeaux. Echo was not the first avatar we built, though. Before it was Teegi, which was specifically aimed at showing brain activity — a more focused projects, aimed at learning as much as introspection, that went on on its own.
Through Echo, users can observe and interact with what occurs within. In addition, part of the research consist in finding ways to let users shape their avatar, customizing it to increase identification. With the first version, which relied on spatial augmented reality (SAR, projector to display any graphics, external tracking system to project right onto the puppet), users could choose in which way they would represent their inner states. For example they could pick and draw on a dedicated device the color, size or form of their heart, and even animate their heart rate however they saw fit. Echo is conceived and 3D printed from scratch; tedious process for mass production but more flexibility when it comes to adjust shape and size to users’ liking. If it started as a cumbersome SAR setup, Echo ended up as a self-contained object with embedded display and computational unit, nowadays ready to shine with the flick of a switch.
We were able with Echo to investigate for the first time a shared biofeedback between pairs of users, back in 2014, with shared relaxation exercises. Among the other use cases we imagined for echo: a display that could re-enact how you felt along side the picture of a dear souvenir; an avatar representing a loved one remotely (scenario that since then we pushed through Breeze; or a proxy that could help people with sensory challenges to communicate with those around (e.g. autism spectrum disorder). This latter scenario is one of the applications we anticipate the most.
We are currently running a study, a two-users scenarios, where we want to formally assess up to which point an avatar such as Echo could alter the perception people have of one another. We hypothesize that communicating through physiological signals with such interface could create an additional layer of presence when to people meet and share a moment.
Even though Echo is still mostly a research project at the moment, several of them already lives outside of Ullo, up to Japan and Creact headquarters, where they are meant to be used in education context.
Additional resources: repository hosting the first version of Echo, the spatial augmented version based on visual programming language for both the rendering (with vvvv) and the processing (with OpenViBE): https://github.com/introspectibles. Personal page of Renaud Gervais, the other father of this first version.
Renaud Gervais, Jérémy Frey, Alexis Gay, Fabien Lotte, Martin Hachet. TOBE: Tangible Out-of-Body Experience. TEI’16 – ACM Conference on Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction, 2016. ⟨10.1145/2839462.2839486⟩. ⟨hal-01215499⟩. PDF