In recent years, the combination of cheap modular open source hardware (for example, Arduino, JeeNode, Raspberry Pi), rapidly emerging data analytical techniques including Granular Computing(see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granular_computing), Rough and Fuzzy Set Analysis, machine learning and real-time data protocols for facilitating communication between hardware devices and web-enabled devices and applications has led to a range of new devices, techniques and applications. These include bio-sensors (for example, the OpenEEG project, http://openeeg.sourceforge.net/doc/), Virtual Reality (the Oculus Rift, http://oculusvr.com) and interface control (e.g. the Leap Motion controller, http://leapmotion.com) which produce rich data. Techniques like Granular computing can also be very powerful in identifying patterns (for example, the identification of patterns in the electrical signals in the visual cortex). In the case of a device like the Oculus Rift, whilst its visual impact may excite end-users, the richness of the data which captures every head movement in a controlled environment has far greater potential for exploitation. Similarly, simple bio-feedback devices are being used in a commercial setting to support mindfulness programmes (see for example Deepak Chopra’s Iom device: http://www.wilddivine.com/)
The Boundaries Observatory will experiment with these techniques investigating whether they can provide new forms of quantitative data about individual experiences. Such data may reveal new kinds of regularities which we would then need to explain within the project. For example, we will explore how the data emerging from use of the Oculus Rift might correlate with particular kinds of user experience. Or, to follow Deepak Chopra’s example, we can investigate the biological signals that can be picked up when individuals engage in mindful (or non-mindful) activities.
In the Boundaries Observatory, the exploitations of these technologies is itself an experiment, and in some cases the experiments will fail or be ethically proscribed. In cases of success and failure, our challenge is to ask “what is going on?”