The Mandragora plant is a set of artificial flowers located in a common area of a house. Those flowers represent each family member living in the same household and are aimed to help families enhance their emotional communication skills, ultimately resulting in stronger family relationships. It is achieved by allowing individual family members to input their current emotion into the flower via coloured pebbles, and the flower will display that emotion through coloured lights in order for the rest of the family household to be aware of each other's affective states. In addition to coloured pebbles and lights, users will be able to further communicate how they feel to their loved ones based on the shape of the stem, as well as the flower opening and closure. As a result, the plant helps to increase and improve conversations between family members about their emotions and feelings. Its overall objective is to enhance family relationships by focusing on increasing and improving emotional communication within family households as those relationships are centred around emotion, ultimately supporting emotional intimacy and reducing negative emotions between family members.
Household members will use coloured pebbles as a metaphor of emotion based upon the corresponding colour as an input. They will also have the ability to change their flower’s physical form based upon the emotion type. They can modify the shape of the stem, and open or close their flower in an interactive manner to let others around them know if they are ready to be reached out and talk about their feelings. Other household members can now view the colour and shape of that individual’s flower and become aware of their family member’s emotion. This then prompts that viewer to engage with the family member who is represented by that particular flower, or to leave them alone for a while to give them some space. That viewer now has the option to help achieve emotional improvement by discussing with the affected family member, or at least make sure to avoid bringing more stress on them. Thus, the plant helps improve or understand that user’s mood. Finally, the flower will then reset after 12 hours, enabling the input of a new emotion. By having a set duration, it conveys that emotions disappear over time. During those 12 hours, users will still be able to change how they are feeling if they want to. A user’s emotional history is also displayed for them to see, which showcases day-to-day changes throughout the week.
As for the technical aspects of our prototype, we are using an Arduino Uno, allowing us to bring our flowers to life via colour sensors, NeoPixel LED rings, NeoPixel LED strips, ultrasonic sensors, and servo motors. Firstly, the colour sensors are employed to detect the colour of the pebble inputted by the user. Depending on the pebble’s colour, the NeoPixel LED rings and strips light up the same colour with each LED turning on one by one from the bottom to the top of the flowers. Those lights stay on for a certain amount of time and turn off one by one the opposite way from the top to the bottom of the flowers. In addition to those LEDs, users are able to open and close the flowers through hand gestures. The way it works is that depending on the distance of their hands from the ultrasonic sensors placed on the plants, the flowers open when their hands are closer to the sensors and close when their hands are further away from them. However, those sensors aren’t responsible for the flower opening and closure as they are only what triggers it. Those sensors are connected to servo motors, which make the flower opening and closure possible. By attaching the flowers to wires, which in turn are attached to the servo motors, we were able to create three different states for our prototype: open, close, and normal. After the user decides to open or close their individual flower using their hands, the current state of the flower lasts for a certain amount of time, similar to the lights. Then, the flower goes back to normal.
As for the building aspects of our prototype, we used aluminium wires to create the frames of the flowers, allowing us to build a unique structure that is personalised to our needs. After creating the petals, we connected those frames to flexible goosenecks as one of our main interactions is for users to better convey how they feel via the shape of the stem by having the goosenecks straight or bent depending on the emotion inputted. Furthermore, since we placed a NeoPixel LED strip on the stem of the flowers, we had to cover the goosenecks with a plastic tube to protect the LEDs and make it easier for users to bend them. In addition to the flowers, we chose to utilise bamboo and fake grass for the plant pot.
The Mandragora plant, as part of the UQ Interaction Design Exhibit 2021, received a plentiful amount of attraction from the visitors. During the exhibition we were able to show the consistency and the viability of all our implementation with success. While there were few minor issues on the day of the exhibit, working together as a team, we were able to fix them and we successfully demonstrated all the intended interaction of our prototype. Majority of the people who were attracted to our project were able to understand the concept with ease. Some of the audience members did ask the purpose of the Mandragora Plant. Although, the variety of colours, hand gestures and movement of the flower were well acknowledged by the people once they understood our problem space.
Over the day of the exhibit, the feedback we received for our concept was impressively positive as they were able to relate to it on a personal level and thought about how it could be useful in their own household. Few of the members from the audience mentioned about actually buying the product if it ever showed up on the market as they believed it would help them understand what other members of their family are going through. Few audience members even pointed out that, our prototype can be helpful in an office environment, or even a classroom. Many of the audience members thought that idea was very meaning and thoughtful. The concept to show someone’s emotion as well as read emotion without actually talking, was very well received by the audience.
The next step for our prototype would be to make the shape of the flowers more consistent. The mechanism for opening/closing the flower has to be more delicate and smooth. The next step would be to calibrate and improve the colour recognition system, so that if the Mandragora Plant is placed in a bright location, it would recognise the colours accurately. After that we would have to work on the pebbles in order to make them more appealing. Lastly, we would like to add an interaction where the users would come back to the plant once they have talked and expressed themselves to someone else about their emotion. The users act as if they are watering the plant. Once they “water” the plant, a screen on the background would show a tree which would grow in size. This feature would show the improved emotional communication as well as improve relationship within a household.