master project \ technology & society

Pixie is an envisioned intelligent coffee machine whose aim is to explore the transparency in engaging gaze-controlled interactions between humans and machines. Through machine learning, Pixie is designed to respond to the user’s emotional state, in order to enhance comfort and happiness in the specific context of hospitals’ waiting rooms. This project has been developed as a group project together with Mick Haegens, Tobias Hoffmann and Thomas van Hemert during the elective course of Embodying Intelligent Behavior in Social Context.


Gaze-coltrolled interactions are often obstructed by a lack of feedback and/or feedforward on the user’s actions. With a technology-oriented approach, we designed Pixie in a way that it could learn how to respond to the user’s emotional state, in order to enhance comfort and happiness in the context of hospital lounges. Using Linear Classification (SVM), Pixie can predict eyes-only expressions and alterate the shown emotional state accordingly to the user, with the specific goal to win a smile back.


pixie’s interface \ sleep mode


pixie’s interface \ ‘awake’ and listening


pixie’s interface \ happy

What I valued the most of this project was the hands-on exploration on how technology can interpret and mimic complex social skills that we consider to be limited to humans, such as emotional connection. This kind of speculative approach opens up infinite possibilities for interactive technologies to be fully embedded in our future everyday life, bringing people and technology closer to each other but also airising an enormous amount of questions on what impact it is going to have on human life as we know it. I personally valued the technological focus of this exploration, although I feel it lacked of more in depth considerations on these social aspects of persasively embedding technology in our everyday life environments. It is also probably true that advanced machine learning (a.k.a. artificial intelligence or, in short, AI) has the potential to have a positive impact in improving our everyday life in ways we cannot even fully imagine yet, but for that to happen we need to be extremely cautious. Furthermore, it is personally very interesting to explore how emotions can be visualizes with subtle and minimal graphic representation of ‘eyes’ using squared pixels (thus, the name of this project, Pixie). This surely served me as inspiration for the design choices taken further on, for instance, with my final master project.