PLUME (a wearable dating app)

Techniques used:

  • Arduino microcontroller
  • Gadgetry (servos, potentiometer, LEDs)
  • Iterative prototyping 
  • Laser cutting
  • Sewing

Independent project. Duration: 3 months.

Finding Precedents in Biomimicry and Tinder 

PLUME takes a biomimetic design approach to reimagining the interactions of a dating app. I noticed that the phenomena of dating between humans and birds share some qualities, so I decided to bring them closer together and build a wearable for humans that could emulate the colorful mating displays of birds. 

I also noticed that new online dating apps give an increasing amount of control to users – think of all the power inherent in a Tinder left swipe. It also automates much of the performative aspects of dating. Creating a wearable that would encourage users to express their feelings in a public and performative setting, rather than a social media platform, was also an area of interaction that I wanted to explore. 

Building the Wearable

I knew from the start that I wanted two designs so that I could enable a call-and-response interaction between two users. My idea was that a user could wear the "dating app" out to a club or bar and if they saw someone they liked they could signal to them. The other party could then interact with the user as they might choose, or, if they were also a PLUME user, they could use their own wearable to signal back their interest. 

To create the wearables I built two backpacks to hold servos that the user can control via a potentiometer attached to the straps on the front and wired around to the back. I laser-cut acrylic extensions that I attached to the servo arms to extend the servo movement and extensions past the wearer's head, similar to how a bird's feathers might stick out. 

When a PLUME user wants to send a signal to a potential mate, all they have to do is turn the knob of the potentiometer. In the Bird of Paradise model this simply maps the potentiometer's value to the servo, so that the arm's movement will wave back and forth in accordance to the potentiometer's movement. In the Peacock model the potentiometer's values are mapped to two separate servos, which move the arms away from each other and back in in accordance to the potentiometer's state. 

Key Takeaways: 

  • User Feedback: I showed this piece at a community art exhibit and invited visitors to try the models on and communicate with each other. Many seemed delighted by the design and it incited many conversations around the current state of online dating. 
  • Moving Forward: If I were to build another iteration of this design I would work to automate the responses to either proximity to another user or biological feedback such as a wearer's heart rate.