The Empathy Machine

Step into a stranger's body through wearable devices that sense, exchange and mimic biosignals data over a network

Similar projects worth following
Our project, impulsed by Curt White from Child Mind, lays at the crossroads between art, science and technology and aims at creating the conditions for literally stepping into strangers’ bodies at a physiological level - and hypothetically generating a sense of empathy. Our wearable devices are capable of sensing biosignals such as heartbeats and respiration, exchanging this data between participants over a network, and providing biofeedback which mimic these biosignals. Through this system, each participant should be able to feel a deep connection with one another as they experience each other's vital signs.

The devices provide a wide breadth of usability, which ranges from psychological therapy, scientific experiments to performing arts. They notably serve as assets in the VR experiment "Machine to be Another' created by BeAnotherLab. This embodiement system has been designed to address the relation between identity and empathy.

Why does this project exist ?

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from the other person's position. It is a fundamental part of the social fabric of emotion, providing a bridge between the feelings of one person and those of another. Lack of empathy and difficulties to establish emotional connections with others are common among people suffering from mental disorders - and not only. Such issues may result in ill social interactions and isolation, which are aggravating factors in the evolution of the disorders, and eventually will affect their wellbeing.

There is no straightforward remedy when it comes to mental health and its impact on social interactions, especially with regards to enhancing one’s empathy capabilities. Then, how we can find a way to step into another person’s shoes ? And how can such an experience have a positive impact on the way we perceive and interact with the others?  

Why did we come up with this solution

There are many definitions for empathy that encompass a broad range of emotional states. Types of empathy include cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, and somatic empathy.

Emotional states are usually reflected by changes in physiological manifestations. This is why scientific literature on empathy assumes a parallelism between psychological and physiological domains, and therefore measures physiological changes to assess the empathetic experience.

This is why we hope that creating the conditions for a shared physiological experience through technology will enable the participants to feel deeply connected to each other at the most visceral and unconscious level- and perhaps generate a state of empathy.

What the project currently is

For now, given the time constraints of the CRI Summer School 2017, our devices only allow one-to-one interactions. Each device senses viscerally experienced bio-signals such as heartbeat and respiration in each participants. These devices, who provide biofeedback which mimic bio-signals help participants exchange data from bio-signals, then feel each other’s vital signs as if they had stepped into each other’s body.

Our set of devices comprises 2 chest mount harnesses on which we fix heartbeat and respiration biofeedback devices:

- The heartbeat biofeedback device is made of parts of a stethoscope that detects heartbeats. The analog signal is amplified through a microphone and transmitted through bone transducers.

- The respiration biofeedback device has two parts:

*Participant A wears a device made of an arduino nano, two accelerometers (one on the chest, one on the neck). The difference of the values between the two accelerometers allow us to gather data about the rhythm and the intensity of the breath.

*Participant B wears the 2nd part of the device, which consists in two straps attached to the front of the vest and to the servo motor localised at the back of the vest. This system is able to translate data from the participant A's device into motion on Participant B's device, as the servo motor tightens and loosens the straps according to the breathing rhythm.

The two chest mount harnesses are made of neoprene, a fabric that is both flexible and rigid.

What we want it to be

- We would like the wearable devices to augment the VR experiment “Machine to Be Another” created by BeAnotherLab. This embodiment system has been designed to address the relation between identity and empathy by offering users an immersive experience that consists in seeing themselves in the body of another person. In addition to the visual experience, the wearable devices could offer a more visceral and immersive empathetic experience.

- We would like to measure each person’s changes in vital signs as the participants are synchronising their vital signs. Is there a correlation with the levels of (emotional, cognitive) empathy between them ?

- We would like to create a group experience using an infrared system, which would allow the...

Read more »


Breathing device technical drawing

JPEG Image - 1.78 MB - 08/09/2017 at 14:53



Heartbeat device technical drawing

JPEG Image - 148.88 kB - 08/09/2017 at 14:53


Adobe Portable Document Format - 6.46 MB - 08/03/2017 at 18:13


ino - 8.04 kB - 08/03/2017 at 09:05


ds_store - 6.00 kB - 08/03/2017 at 09:05


  • 2 × Amplifier PAM8403 Audio ICs / Audio Amplifiers
  • 2 × Stethoscope (heartbeat device)
  • 4 × bone transducers (heartbeat device)
  • 2 × microphone amplifiers MAX9814 Audio ICs / Audio Amplifiers
  • 2 × Arduino nano (breathing device)

View all 12 components

  • Pros and Cons regarding the devices

    Soglz08/09/2017 at 15:52 0 comments

    Heartbeat device

    Description: A stethoscope is modified so it detects the heartbeat, amplifies the analog signal through a microphone and transmits the sounds through bones transducers

    Pros: The analog signal reproduces the sound of heartbeats, hence generates a better quality of experiment.

    Cons: Lots of sound interferences which hinder sound precision (and eventually data precision) + movement interferences will hinder the biofeedback process since the participants are both senders and receivers of the biosignals.

    Breathing device

    Description: A wearable device with two accelerometers. One in the front of the chest and one in the back of the neck. The difference of the values between the two accelerometers allow us to gather data about the rhythm and the intensity of the breath. A system then is able to translate these data into motion of the vest.

    Pros: An easy way to detect breath without having to measure air flows

    Concern: What would be the best way to provide biofeedback ? We chose a system of two stripes attached to the front of the vest and to a servo motor localised at the back of the vest. According to the respiration rhythm, the servo motor will tighten and loosen the stripes, exerting pressure on the chest of the participant.

    Overall concerns:

    We need to think about a system that does not create confusion between senders’ and receivers’ biosignals, especially when there are group interactions

  • Trials and errors: what is to be improved ?

    Soglz08/09/2017 at 12:33 0 comments

    Making user-friendly wearable devices

    The chest mount harness we made was not very user-friendly. Indeed, it is tedious to install on the participants (the devices comprise many wires, the harness needs to be adjusted to the participant's chest, etc.). We even broke the ethernet wire that was linking various parts of our breathing biofeedback feedback during our showcase at the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie in Paris since many people tried it !


    - using boards instead of protoboards/breadboards so that the electronic components stay in place

    - Install a wireless system (with bluetooth) to simplify the whole set of devices (and the way they communicate between the participants)

  • CRI_Empathy_Machine

    yenlunpeng08/03/2017 at 09:19 0 comments

    Week1 - BrainStorm & Concept Formation

    Week2 - Assembling Arduino sensor 

    Week3 - Making Wearable Chest Mount 

View all 3 project logs

  • 1
    Project 1 - HeartBeat Sensing

    Step1 - Setup Arduino and Pam8403 on the breadboard

    Step2 - Install stethoscope into the microphone 

    Step3 - Connect bone conduction transducers with Pam8403

    Step4 - Using the transmitter and receiver to work remotely

    Step5 - Install HeartBeat Sensing Device into the wearable textile prototype

  • 2
    Project 1 - Breath Synchronizing Device

    Step1 -  Install two accelerator sensor with Arduino

    Step2 - Install motion motor with Arduino

    Step3 - Calculate the difference of two accelerator to  trigger motion motor

    Step4 - Install the Breath Synchronizing Device into the wearable textile prototype

View all instructions

Enjoy this project?



Similar Projects

Does this project spark your interest?

Become a member to follow this project and never miss any updates