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emerging technologies

exhale: (breath between bodies)

This research project is based on designing and fabricating "a-wearable" body networks for public spaces and uses breath as an interface for sharing our bodies' affective data. Through the networked breath of the participants, the system actuates the responses of small fans, vibrators, and speakers embedded in the lining of these sensually evocative skirts. The research integrates fashion and gestural interaction with wearable technologies.

Art and Science

This work embodies the confluence of artistic design and expression with software and hardware technology. The developers have backgrounds in fabric and garment design, choreography, and complex software systems, including both hardware and software architectures. The work was influenced by their experience with modeling studies, networked micro-controllers, and real-time systems. It applies tools from choreography, such as Laban Effort/Shape Analysis along with linguistic and statistical analysis, to investigate the physiological data that the work utilizes. The garments themselves are a fusion of art and science. The conductive fabric is shaped as much by the needs of the electronic elements as by the fashion aspects; the placement and organization of the sensors and transducers is guided by aesthetics as well as interface design. Movement analysis is used to select gestural interaction and to create playful and intimate connections between participants.


  • To make visible the invisible non-verbal communication that occurs within ourselves and that is shared through self-to-other and self-to-group interactions, by creating a system that responds to the physiological state of the participants in the space.
  • To design wearable systems that focus on "wearable" before "system": development of "wearables for the telephathicaly impaired," notions of "how we wear ourselves," and our own system state, both metaphorically and physically.
  • To explore gesture as a primary control mechanism in systems as a mechanism for non-verbal navigation and selection.
  • To identify physiological signals that provide good discrimination between affective states, with an emphasis on those that can be detected with robust sensors.
  • To apply experience modeling, particularly of first-person methodologies of performance practice to software and hardware designs.
  • To develop a model for interaction based on a vocabulary of shared affective signals.
  • To leverage the connectivity, semantics, and application of tangible and mobile computing.
  • To develop innovative research methodologies that utilize collaborative interdisciplinary knowledge creation among engineers, computer scientists, and artists.


The core technical innovation of exhale: (breath between bodies) is integration of non-verbal models of network communication in a playful multi-modal environment, using layers of directionally conductive fabric to provide both electronic pathways within the garment systems and a sensual tactile experience for participants. Connections between participants are realized through specialized electronics and embodied through acts of physical contact, such as touch. These physical contacts are designed using gestural models for interaction.

The fabric that forms the conductive layers within the garment has been in common use in the fashion industry for decades, for adornment rather than for its conductive properties; its electrical behavior is due to its construction as a combination of very fine silver or gold wire with traditional materials such as silk. This conductive fabric is used as a replacement for conventional wiring, which is much heavier and less flexible. It is also used to form simple touch or pressure sensors, via contact between layers, and identification patches, using isolated fabric regions that include devices that have unique electronic signatures. Touch zones on the garment (or another garment) can make contact with these isolated regions, and the signature can be "read" to establish self-to-self, self-to-other, and self-to-group connections.

Custom electronic systems read the signatures and the touch/pressure sensors, and the custom software interprets the physiological and contact data. The software runs on the wearable computers embedded within the garments, in co-ordination with the server set, providing gestural interpretation of the contacts and analysis of the physiological data. The fabric-layer architecture is designed for flexibility: each garment can have a different layout of sensors and patches, with the fabric being applied over other materials or incorporated into the garment structure directly, as translucent panels or highlights.


In this work, garments are a step in a progression to systems that transparently exchange and express mood and intentions via participant-mediated communication, mixing physiology-derived information with gestures and other non-verbal mechanisms. The garments provide an environment in which we can augment verbal and visual modes of communication, where a single gesture can replace many words, and words can be exchanged with their affects as well as their effects through out-of-band pathways.

exhale: (breath between bodies) can also become a space to explore aggregate affective states and self-to-other and self-to-group interactions. These aggregate states can be exchanged between spaces to extend the scope of group relationships. On a smaller scale, this concept can be used to explore non-verbal networking systems and architectures, and to identify communication modes and patterns.


Thecla Schiphorst
Simon Fraser University
thecla (at)


Camille Baker
Simon Fraser University

Diana Burgoyne
Simon Fraser University
Thought Technology Inc.

Calvin Chow
Simon Fraser University

Gretchen Elsner
Simon Fraser University

Jan Erkku
Simon Fraser University

Norm Jaffe
Aurel Systems Inc.

Susan Kozel
Simon Fraser University

Robb Lovell
Simon Fraser University

Sang Mah

Adam Marston
Simon Fraser University

Lars Wilke

Industry Contributor

Thought Technology
Tactex Inc.


Heritage Canada
Canada Council for the Arts
British Columbia Arts Council
Savage Media
Interactivity Lab, School of Interactive Arts and Technology, Simon Fraser University
Canadian Foundation for Innovation
British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund
Advanced Systems Institute of British Columbia