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Escape Room Part 1: Pulse Sensor

This post is part of a series I am writing about my senior thesis project. Please check out the other parts of the series to learn even more about my project: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

I am in the process of starting a relatively large-scale project for my senior thesis at school. I will be creating an escape room for which I will be transforming the lighting studio at my school into an abandoned hospital lab. I will be putting players through a scenario in which they must retrieve blood samples from the hospital to help scientists create a cure for a mass contagion that is wiping out humanity. My escape room will contain a variety of puzzles and challenges and will make extensive use of Arduinos and Particle Photons. One of the main components of my escape room will be vests that players wear that will essentially monitor their health as they are exposed to the contagion. You can find more information about my thesis on my website.

The first component of my escape room that I will be working on are the health monitoring vests. They will monitor both the players' exposure to the contagion and pulse. The pulse will be important because if the players' exposure level becomes too high they will have to get their pulse up in order to circulate a temporary antibiotic through their body. In order to monitor the players' pulse, I will be using the Pulse Sensor Amped. The Pulse Sensor Amped is an open-source product that we developed by a company called World Famous Electronics, LLC. The Pulse Sensor Amped can work with any Arduino and can be used to display heart rate data using Processing.

For the vest in my escape room, I will be connecting the Pulse Sensor Amped to a Particle Photon so that I can transmit the pulse data over WiFi and display the data using p5.js in a web app. However, for today I will be using a SparkFun RedBoard just so I can experiment with the Pulse Sensor Amped and learn how it works. The RedBoard is one of my favorite physical computing tools. It functions exactly like an Arduino Uno but costs a fraction of the price. You can also get it as part of a Tinker Kit that gives you everything you need to create basic physical computing projects. The RedBoard will be perfect to allow me to get data from the Pulse Sensor Amped and display an EKG using Processing. The Pulse Sensor Amped comes with several components: there's the Pulse Sensor itself, clear stickers to protect the Pulse Sensor from water, Velcro and a strap to attach the Pulse Sensor to your finger, and a clip on earring to attach the Pulse Sensor to your earlobe.

To setup the Pulse Sensor Amped you can follow the Getting Started Guide on World Famous Electronics website. They have two versions of the guide there: a new one that links to a GitHub project and an old one that they say is there for archival purposes. I will mostly be following the new version of the guide, however there is a section of the old guide that talks about sealing the back of the Pulse Sensor Amped with hot glue to protect the electronic components from moisture and skin oils. This seems important to me so I will be doing that. So, the basic setup process is to cover the front of the Pulse Sensor Amped with one of the clear stickers that came with it and to seal the back of it with hot glue as mentioned in the old guide. After doing so your Pulse Sensor Amped should look like this:

From here you can stick one of the Velcros on it if you want to use the finger strap or you can attach it to the earring using a small dab of hot glue. For my project I will be using to finger strap so I put one of the Velcros on it. There are two main tutorials on World Famous Electronic's website: one that lets you blink/fade an LED in time with your heart rate and display pulse data using a serial plotter in the Arduino IDE, and another that lets you display pulse data in Processing. These tutorials include all the code you will need to get up and running with the Pulse Sensor Amped. It's important to note that before doing the Processing tutorial, you must first setup your Pulse Sensor Amped with the Arduino code from the first tutorial. You should connect your Pulse Sensor Ampled to the Arduino board of your choice as follows: red to 5v, black to ground, and purple to A0.

After hooking up the Pulse Sensor Amped to your Arduino board you can grab the code from GitHub and you should be good to go. You will know everything's working if, once you upload the code to your Arduino board and attach the pulse sensor to your finger/earlobe, the built-in LED next to pin 13 starts blinking. This blinking corresponds to your live heart rate. Then after setting up the Processing sketch (don't forget to change the outputType variable in the Arduino code from SERIAL_PLOTTER to PROCESSING_VISUALIZER) you should get a nice visual representation of your heart rate.

Overall, I was very impressed by the Pulse Sensor Amped. The setup was super simple and I was able to get up and running quickly using the tutorials provided by World Famous Electronics. The next step in my project will be adapting the demo code to make it work using a Particle Photon and p5.js instead of an Arduino and Processing. I will also have to use a shield to make the Photon wearable and integrate it with the other system that the vest will be monitoring which is the level of exposure to the contagion. However, as of now I am pretty confident going forward that I should be able to get everything working!

Jack Frey
Jack Frey