Meet tomorrow’s interactive games, gizmos and medical devices

Soldering, wiring and computer coding are uncharted territory for Annie Cheah, who in her final semester at Berkeley took “Theory and Practice of Tangible User Interfaces,” a hands-on course outside her academic comfort zone.

TUI students explain their prototype projects

But what to do for a final project demonstrating her newly acquired IT skills? The film and interdisciplinary-studies major was stumped until a nasty virus laid her flat. A yoga practitioner “big on controlled breathing,” Cheah decided to build a calming “buddy” that could coach sick kids (or adults, for that matter) to breathe more easily by sensing their respiration rate and providing feedback.

Her prototype — jerry-rigged from a computer chip, a sensor, a Chinese lantern and a plaster Buddha — was on display last week in South Hall, as the School of Information class, taught by Professor Kimiko Ryokai and known by the acronym “TUI,” held its fourth annual exhibition.

Cheah’s meditative Buddha, activated by the user’s breathing, was among several TUI projects this year that had healthcare applications. A trio of grad students built a “lifting monitor” to coach people with back injuries on their body mechanics. Computer-sciences student Alex Kantchelian modeled the device, a thick belt with a bent-metal “buckle” housing its brain. The monitor calibrates the wearer’s body position, he told visitors. “When you’re too far forward” it lights up and vibrates — all to say “’You’re in the wrong position!’”

I-School grad student Daniel Perry and undergrad Avery Gee hovered above their game “Oh Snap!: A Game of Focus,” moving buckets to color-coded targets. The catch is that the buckets get lighter or heavier depending on one’s heart rhythm, so the winner is the contestant best able to control his stress level. Gee, a cognitive-science major, said that the skill has been shown to help kids with ADD and ADHD.

The end-of-semester showcase typically includes assistive devices for everyday life in the modern world, as well as experiences more aesthetic than utilitarian. This year was no exception.

I-School grad students Jeff Zych, Rowyn McDonald and Lizzy Ha built “Get Cozy,” a wristband that warns its wearer when her beverage is getting cold. Undergrad Melissa Yu designed a “Closet Genius” to help the sartorially challenged choose the right clothes, in the right combination, for the day’s weather.

Cole Hartman

Cole Hartman troubleshoots a technical glitch plaguing his “Blowfish Baby Mobile.”

Nearby, graduate student Kyung Jin Han demonstrated a foam-and-fabric model of her “Social Actuator,” an elegant wall with segments that roll down to create a seat as an individual approaches. Han said she wanted to combine her background in industrial design with her current studies in architecture. Creating a personal space within a public one, her interactive invention ideally attracts people and encourages them to stay and interact with each other, she said.

Visitors also got to talk to “Whisper Cloud,” an artistic installation by Rami Taibah and two colleagues that displays one’s utterances, spoken into a microphone, as text. The words climb a wall, accumulate in a “cloud” near the ceiling and eventually rain down on the speaker.

Mechanical engineer Cole Hartman, whose sister is having a baby, said the extended family is excited but far-flung. His invention, “Interactive Blowfish Baby Mobile,” would allows grandparents and other doting relatives living at a distance to entertain an infant by remotely controlling a fish mobile. Though technical details remain to be worked out, the concept seemed so marketable that you wanted him to hurry up and get his patent.