Ben Collins and AuraLab Co-Founder Patrick Alexander working on the development of the meditation app, Breathscape.

TinkerTechie of the Month: Ben Collins

Mindfulness, rest, sleep, and meditation probably do not bring technology to mind. Powering off seems like the first step to finding relaxation, but sometimes technology is just the tool you need to improve your mood and clear your mind.

Ben Collins is just the sort of guy to be tinkering with the connection between relaxation and technology. A University of Michigan School of Music graduate, Ben has experience as a programmer, app developer, sound engineer, and as a senior digital designer and developer at the University of Michigan School of Engineering. Currently, he is the CTO at AuraLab and is actively working on Breathscape https://welcome.breathscape.app/ - a mediation app that turns the rhythm of your breath into music that you can listen to in real-time. This app utilizes a technique called biofeedback, in which one receives feedback on the body’s current statue via instruments, like music. 

Ben has been utilizing time and resources at TinkerTech to explore additional modalities for biofeedback and relaxation. “Kind of out of curiosity I wanted to see if we could make breath detection communicate over Bluetooth, for a number of reasons. TinkerTech is right across the street and I figured it would be fun to connect it to light and hook up some of these RGB LED’s into a sleep mask.” 

Ben has been developing this sleep mask with color lights that deliver a customized light show based on your own breath. “My brain has been thinking in LED for the last year.” Ben explains that this might be in part because he’s been developing light shows to accompany music performances for his band, Minihorse https://www.instagram.com/minihorseband/ and other local performers.

Taking that visual experience and customizing it to a personal experience allows for sensory isolation that can be very beneficial to meditation. There’s already been MIT experimentation about how specific auditory and visual stimuli can have therapeutic effects, improve neurological activity, and may play a part in banishing Alzheimer's disease. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/an-hour-of-light-and-sound-a-day-might-keep-alzheimers-at-bay/

Ben is exploring how customized physio and biofeedback can be presented to multiple senses, in this case, both sound and sight, in a feedback loop. The tech-embedded sleep mask may become available as a novelty item for Breathscape’s kickstarter investors.

It sounds futuristic, but it’s happening right now in Ypsilanti.

“I love TinkerTech. I can't believe that a place like that is right here -- it feels like it was designed specifically for me."

“I had been ordering these ordering obscure parts to build these light shows and walked across the street to find this shop, the only shop you’ve ever seen that sells this kind of stuff right here in Ypsilanti...so that was cool!” 

"They do a bunch of good stuff, I love that they have classes. I love that they also have a musical component.” Ben has built guitar and other musical effect technology through exploration and classes at TinkerTech. He utilizes the makerspace to tweak his prototype LED sleep mask. TinkerTech is a great resource and much needed.” 

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