Breathing Pillows

A set of pillows that inflate and deflate based on breathing data; a new way for two people to intimately connect with one another.

Drawing inspiration from the experiences felt when lying your head on someone's chest, we bring the deeply personal experience of breathing into a shared space. We hope to bring about moments of synchronized breathing between partners and incite people’s exploration into their own breathing motions.
Time Frame —
Spring 2020
4 weeks
Skills —
Physical Computing
Interaction Design
Team —
Meijie Hu
Sabrina Zhai
A 2011 study shows that 3-month-old infants and their mothers can synchronize their heartbeats to mere milliseconds.

We are inspired by delicate moments like these, when the physical synchronization of your body with someone else's, creates a deeply personal and intimate experience.
We chose to explore breathing because it is an action that often goes noticed in day-to-day life. We asked several people to draw or visually explain the motions of breathing. The most common association was expansion and contraction, which we chose to further explore.
Systems Diagram
As shown in the diagram below, to simulate the motion of breathing we designed a closed air system with two air chambers to control the inflation mechanically.
Breath Detection
We designed a wearable made of a knit band with a short flex sensor attached along its length. The flex sensor tracks the changing curvature of the wearer’s waist as their diaphragm expands and contracts. This data is then read by an Arduino which instructs the inflation and deflation of the pillow.
Pillow Expansion
We placed an inflatable within an actual pillow so as to produce the gentlest of movements underneath people’s heads. Our closed air system, consisting of a bellows system, is made of two inflatables fashioned out of vinyl and connected by a tube. A linear actuator attached to a plank of wood drives direction force onto one inflatable, thereby expanding the other.
Box Enclosure
We designed a box to enclose the electronics, the linear actuator, the accompanied inflatable, and hide the deafening sound produced by the linear actuator. We modeled the box in Fusion 360, citing dimensions of the linear actuator and giving enough space for an inflatable to expand and contract.