EarthTones is a wearable chemical display in the form of cosmetic powders. It senses environmental pollution, and generates color change to display hazardous levels. We created three powder instantiations which detect carbon monoxide (CO), ultraviolet (UV), and ozone (O3). In the example of an UV sensing powder, a color change from yellow(a) to dark red(c) occurs when exposed to UV.


EarthTones: Chemical Sensing Powders to Detect and Display Environmental Hazards through Color Variation

We present EarthTones, cosmetic-inspired wearable chemical sensing powders to detect and display harmful environmental factors through color change. We seek to create an analog display experience through chemical reactions that overcome current constraints of rigid, battery-laden wearable displays. We designed three unique chemical changing powders to reflect elevated levels of carbon monoxide (CO), ultraviolet (UV) rays, and ozone (O3). The powders achieve color changes distinguishable to the human eye, while maintaining an aesthetic appeal to the wearer. Our technical evaluations confirmed the performance of the powders to detect and display elevated levels. An 18-person exploratory study provided insight to the perceptions, possibilities, and challenges of a powder form factor for wearable environmental visualization. Through this paper, we intend to enable the use of colorimetric chemical displays for HCI researchers and designers. More generally, we seek to encourage the research and use of chemical-based sensors and interdisciplinary research in HCI.

Kao, H.-L. C., Nguyen, B., Roseway, A., Dickey, M., “EarthTones: Chemical Sensing Powders to Detect and Display Environmental Hazards through Color Variation”, ACM alt.CHI 2017 [DOI] [PDF]

Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, Microsoft Research*, MIT Media Lab
Bichlien Nguyen, Microsoft Research
Asta Roseway, Microsoft Research
Michael Dickey, NC State Chemical Engineering
Microsoft Research, MIT Media Lab and NC State Chemical Engineering

*The project was conducted during my 2016 summer internship at Microsoft Research

Special thanks:
We thank Judith Amores for modeling prototypes and our study participants for their time and feedback.