Noura Howell

Buddy the HugBug
Myo DJ Effects Controller
Intel: Connect Anything
WaaZam!
Harmonograph Visualizer
Chladni Waves Visualizer
Smart Bamboo Blinds for Bali
Mobile Phones & Illiteracy in Morocco
Solar Cooker for the Himalayas
Biosignals Experiments
SiriusXM Radio Station Creator
Tools for Quality Assurance
About

Buddy the HugBug

We made a wearable companion designed to calm and comfort kids. When Buddy senses that the child is getting upset, it curls up and makes unhappy noises. This helps the child become more self-aware of their own mood, and redirects the child's attention toward comforting Buddy. By petting Buddy along his back, the child can calm themself down and make Buddy feel better too. Then he uncurls and makes happy noises.

This project began in Prof. Eric Paulos' class Critical Making.

Hackster project page

github

2015

Myo DJ Effects Controller

We made an audio effects controller for DJs using the Myo armband. Moving their arm instead of twisting a knob helps DJs multitask, be more performative, and have fun without sacrificing precise control--aspects of the experience which were important to our users. Through several iterations, we tested using Leap Motion or Myo for the best possible user experience.

Using C++, the application converts Myo input to MIDI output. The MIDI output goes to the GUI, written in Processing, and to whatever audio software the DJ prefers, such as Serato or Traktor.

github repo

2014

Intel: Connect Anything

The Intel Labs project ConnectAnyThing (release repo, development repo) makes it possible to use Intel's Galileo microcontroller without writing a line of code. It enables creative play and rapid prototyping. I worked on the client and server side code.

MakerNode (repo), a work in progress, will provide a simple workflow for node.js projects on Galileo.

2014

WaaZam!

WaaZam supports shared creative play at a distance. It was the doctoral research of Seth Hunter in the Fluid Interfaces Group at the MIT Media Lab. I helped conduct the user study, analyze those results, and adapt a few ofxUI components for our openFrameworks front end.

2013

Harmonograph Visualizer

An interactive Lissajous curves visualizer for exploration, pretty patterns, and random music generation. Lissajous curves represent stereo sound by plotting the left and right speaker positions on the horizontal and vertical axes, respectively. I made this with Matt Tytel.

demo

github

2013

Chladni Waves Visualizer

Another interactive curve visualizer, this time inspired by Meara O'Reilly's collaboration with Björk for the latter's Biophilia Tour. Chladni curves shows how waves propagate across a flat, finite surface. Each point's acceleration is inversely proportional to the relative position of its neighbors, so higher points get pulled down and vice versa. Waves reflect against the edges of the surface, and the constructive and destructive interference creates beautiful patterns. I made this with Matt Tytel.

demo

github

2013

Smart Bamboo Blinds for Bali

Traditional Balinese architecture often uses bamboo blinds instead of exterior walls to maximize air circulation for cooling. During nice weather, they are raised, and during hot or rainy weather, they are lowered. If it starts raining while no one is home, then all the furniture will get soaked and probably start to mildew.

I prototyped a system whereby the bamboo blinds lower automatically when it starts to rain. A moisture sensor sends an eletrical signal to the Galileo board, which triggers the motor.

I worked with Alam Santi, which blends traditional and modern technologies to create sustainable homes, and Intel Labs, which provided the ConnectAnyThing interface and Galileo used for this interconnected home system.

May 2014

Mobile Phones & Illiteracy in Morocco

Many illiterate Moroccans use a mobile phone personally and professionally. They rely on friends or strangers to help them make calls and navigate the text based Arabic or French interface. Our goal was to help these people use the phones they already own independently. As project manager on a team of Olin design and engineering students, Babson business students, and Moroccan École Nationale de L'Industrie Minérale engineering students, I led the design process through user research, problem definition, prototype iteration, and pilot testing.

We interviewed numerous illiterate working Moroccan adults to understand how mobile phones fit into their lifestyles, including bicycle mechanics, produce vendors, bakers, maids, taxi cab drivers, and construction workers. Most own at least one mobile phone which they use for work and calling family and friends. Third hand Nokia bar phones are most common. Contacts are recorded on paper notebooks or scraps of cardboard.

They struggle to unlock their phone, find the contact's number, dial the number, add contacts, and add minutes. We focused on finding and dialing contacts because these needs are most time sensitive. We prototyped and pilot tested a transitional solution which accommodated current usage patterns and price constraints while augmenting the memory and learning abilities of illiterate users.

2012

Solar Cooker for the Himalayas

Tibetan women spend hours each day collecting yak dung fuel to burn inside their winter homes or summer tents for heating and cooking. This delivers bacteria via their hands into their food, creates dangerously smoky homes, and incurs difficult manual labor.

With One Earth Designs, I helped develop their parabolic solar cooker prototype through field testing, immersive user research, materials research, and simulation.

2010

Biosignals Experiments

I am interested in exploring a myriad of possibilities for biosignals sharing. Heart beats, breathing, galvanic skin response, EEG, and other signals are becoming easier to collect and share. Applications in fitness, self-tracking, meditation, and closeness at a distance are emerging. By making a series of one-off prototypes, whether they are desirable, undesirable, or simply weird, I hope to broaden the design space for biosignal sharing.

listening to a song and feeling sad

Biosignals sharing is being used for emotional closeness and connection, such as with Apple Watch's heart beat sharing. Rather than seeking emotional closeness to build or maintain a relationship, in this experiment I try out using biosignal sharing as a way of expressing emotional distance after a breakup. In contrast to prevalent notions around sharing that favor easily understood expressions of happiness and connectivity, this piece shares a somewhat obscure expression of sadness and separation in the form of a distorted audio signal.

Galvanic skin response (GSR) recorded while listening to a personally significant song offers evidence of my emotional response. In lieu of an audio visualization, the time-synced GSR values are plotted on the left and used to distort the audio. Sometimes the GSR measurements rise and fall with the rising and falling tension or energy in the music, but most of the signal is idiosyncratic, creating a playback of the song that uniquely represents my emotion while listening.

Can biosignals augment our communication? Can they offer "proof" of feeling? How can they be used for self-expression?

SiriusXM Radio Station Creator

SiriusXM's MySXM personalized radio stations are created by SiriusXM's music programmers using this tool, made by The Echo Nest. I worked with one other web developer on the front end JavaScript application. Highlights included throttling AJAX requests to reliably load thousands of dynamically structured song objects, maintaining a responsive interface while loading, sorting, and filtering those objects, and automatically suggesting possible areas of concern to the music programmers to guide their design of these radio stations.

The thumbnail picture is an Echo Nest t-shirt design.

2012

Tools for Quality Assurance

As a software engineer for The Echo Nest, one of the projects I worked on was developing internal tools which were used for quality assurance. Data accuracy is of utmost importance to The Echo Nest because data is its primary product, and the continually growing database regularly rolls out to enterprise customers. The tools enabled anyone to view and edit dynamically structured data objects and helped create tasks, workflow, and performance tracking for quality assurance interns.

I. Quizzes Website
Workers review sets of data by completing quizzes, and administrators create those quizzes and track worker progress. I made interactive progress graphs and embedded the views and actions from (IV).
IV. Quality Assurance Website
Users find, view, and make add/remove actions on data objects. I made this, including views that dynamically match data structures and search queries.
II. Data Interface and Server
Serves web pages for (I) and stores data in (III). I implemented a new question type, logged worker actions, and calculated work and quiz progress statistics.
V. Web Data Interface
AJAX requests for add/remove actions and data structure descriptions.
VI. Server
Serves pages for (IV).
VII. Python Data Interface
Humans and bots can add/remove data objects, and programmers can define new data types. I did not work on this, but I worked closely with those who did to ensure that data type structures were correctly represented.
III. Quizzes to Review Music Data
This database stores quizzes and responses. I defined the collection to store worker actions and queried that collection to calculate progress statistics.
VII. Music Data
This database stores the music data whose accuracy must be ensured. I did not work on this, but I worked closely with those who did to define how humans could best contribute to data accuracy.

Thumbnail image from the Rickshaw demo here. I used this JavaScript library for interactive graphs of interns' progress.

2013

About

As a first year PhD student at the Berkeley School of Information, I am exploring emergent biosignal and textile technologies and their possible applications for creative expression, everyday aesthetic experiences, and learning.

Previously I worked on creative applications at Intel Labs and the MIT Media Lab, music-related front end software development for The Echo Nest, and sustainable development projects in Bali, Morocco, and China.

Contact: [firstname].[lastname]@gmail.com

resume

github