Shad Gross

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3. design/pee timer


  • concepting

promotional material

a. concept

Austin Toombs and I concepted and generated the Pee Timer as a one-off project as part of our submission to the CHI 2014 Critical Making Hackathon workshop. Building off of the initial reactions to the personal tracking designs (Fractured View, Melody Bot, and Candy Camera), we focused on work as the context for tracking, imagining a world where the only reason to quit doing work is for bio breaks, and that these breaks would be carefully monitored by a device that simultaneously shames them and endangers their computer when they spend too much time away from their desk.

With the Pee Timer, we intended to highlight and encourage debate surrounding the experiences of blame, shame, guilt, and anxiety that can accompany the use of personal data tracking devices. By building these ideas into a design, we hope to aid people in recognizing and expressing their feelings about these ideas. By creating a device that is humorous and hyberbolic we hope to open up a space for conversation about the ways that work, breaks, and personal informatics and self-quantification intersect.

There are a number of recent applications that are intended to help their users manage how they spend their time closely, eg. Toggl, the pomodoro technique, Harvest. These devices, largely, use some method of keeping track of the amount of time that their users spend working. Following this logic, the Pee Timer tracks how long its user is away from her or his desk, and if this exceeds a certain point, begins to dispense its own pee into a vessel, which will overflow if not emptied. In addition, the device sends out increasingly embarrassing Tweets the longer the user is away.

the pee timer

b. technical

We decided to use an Intel Real Sense 3D Camera for the purposes of tracking. As long as the camera can see a face nothing happens, but as soon as there is no face in the frame, signifying that there is no one working at the computer, the design begins to “pee.” The “peeing” action of the design is controlled by and an Arduino UNO board, a water pump, tubing, a large jug, and a smaller vase. Once a certain amount of time has passed, the Arduino activates the pump and begins moving water from the jug to the vase that, due to its smaller size, will overflow if left unattended. For greater detail on the functioning of the design see the Instructables page.

components of the pee timer connected without vessels face detection with the pee timer

c. posting the design on instructables

As stated previously, we wanted this design to be an example of critical making - using the process of making things as a means of critically engaging difficult concepts. To expand this to a larger audience, we posted the instructions for the the creation of the Pee Timer to The posting on quickly gained a lot of attention, with over 32,000 views and 92 Favorites at the time of writing as well as becoming a featured entry on the site. It also started a number of conversations with members of the Instructables community regarding the issues of work, self-quantification, and anxiety. These included people relating stories of how they had personally experienced feelings of anxiety due to over-monitoring of work practices, even to the level of forbidding bathroom breaks. Others chimed in with their feelings on how such tactics, on the part of management, negatively affect the work environment.