An iPhone App Knows How You Feel By Checking Your Pulse

The Morpholio Project's latest development uses an iPhone's camera and flash as an impromptu pulse monitor, measuring your visceral reaction to the things you're seeing. It's like a lie detector for your aesthetic taste, and Morpholio's Toru Hasegawa let me play with it.

The Morpholio Project is a collaboration of architects and academics focused on harnessing technology as a tool to unleash creativity. "Mobile technology has the closest relationship to the human body," Toru told me when we met at Gizmodo's New York office. "We want to make creative software, and mobile will be the creative platform to boost that."

An iPhone App Knows How You Feel By Checking Your Pulse

The heartbeat-detecting technique is an ingenious way to tap into your emotional response. When the app is open, it activates the iPhone's flash and camera. Placing your index finger over both allows the camera to detect your pulse by visualizing the changing flow of blood in your finger. It's the same technique (photoplethysmography, or PPG) used in the fingertip blood oxygen measuring device they slapped on you last time you were in the hospital, but used to monitor your emotional, rather than physical, state.

Slipping your finger into the 3D printed housing (which isn't necessary for the app to function, but helps make sure your fingertip is properly aligned), the app immediately begins measuring your heartbeat. It reads out in beats per minute, so it takes 60 seconds to get to the most accurate reading.

In the working prototype I played with, the heart rate was shown in the top third of the screen, while images moved across the bottom portion. The idea is to measure the user's biometric response to each image as it passes, quantifying the emotional impact of the imagery you're experiencing.

An iPhone App Knows How You Feel By Checking Your Pulse

"So it's un-fakeable?" I asked Toru.

"Yeah, unless you're some kind of highly-trained CIA operative and you can control your own heart rate," Toru joked.

Imagine a biofeedback-powered Netflix that would measure your physio-emotional response as you watch, then suggest the absolute perfect movie for whatever emotion you request. Or a concert where the performers are guided by the feedback response of the audience to hone in on that perfect moment of musical fulfillment. You're already holding your smartphone in front of you for the entire show anyway—why not harness it to actually do something?

This, of course, is a ways down the road. Toru and the rest of the folks at Morpholio hope to have this biofeedback-measuring app finalized by the end of this year. It's part of the group's broader focus to, as Toru puts it, "amplify design abilities."

"Creativity is not automatable," he said. "But 7 billion people have brains, and if we can tap into everyone's creativity, we can solve all kinds of problems. Amplification is our goal. It's human and machine, not human versus machine."

Images and video provided by Morpholio.