Breathing pillows

Physicalizing breathing data to foster an intimate reflection of our own breathing motions

Using autographic visualization practices, we hoped to uncover how people physically and mentally relate to the act of breathing. 

Spring 2020, 4 weeks

Physical Computing
3D Prototyping

Meijie Hu
Sabrina Zhai


In order to stimulate people's reflection of their breathing, we magnified the motion of their breathing by mapping it to the inflation and deflation of a pillow. Drawing inspiration from the experiences felt by a person when lying their head on another person’s chest, we bring this normally isolated experience into a collaborative space. We hope to bring about moments of synchronized breathing between partners and incite people’s exploration into their breathing motions. Click here for more on our process.

Testing the pillow's expansive movements tied to breathing rate

01/ Breath Detection

Our wearable made of a knit band with a short flex sensor attached.

We designed a wearable made of a knit band with a short flex sensor attached along its length. The band would be worn on a person’s waist with the flex sensor following along one of the wearer’s sides. The flex sensor would track the changing curvature of the wearer’s waist as their diaphragm expanded and contracted. This data could then be used to infer when a person was breathing in or out in real-time.This data would then be read an Arduino which would instruct the inflation and deflation of the pillow.

02/ Pillow Expansion

Our closed air system, consisting of a bellows that would push air into the inflatable when crushed and pull air in when released.

We placing an inflatable within an actual pillow so as to produce the gentlest of movements underneath people’s heads. We designed a closed air system, consisting of a bellows system made with two inflatables fashioned out of vinyl and connected by a tube. When one inflatable was acted upon, the other inflatable would expand due the forced entering of air from the first inflatable. We then decided we needed a linear actuator to drive the directional force we wanted and a wall behind the inflatable to provide the appropriate resistance in order to crush the inflatable between the two parts.

03/ 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. We wished to ensure that there would be a visible change from its connected inflatable.