Luis Cielak

luis cielak


Empathy Totems

The purpose of the Empathy Totem system is to collect, track and display emotion data. The mission of the Empathy Totem system is to enable people to understand, share, and increase their level of empathy to one another.


This project investigates how people can gain a better understanding of human emotions by interacting with data systems as part of their environment. In everyday life we receive and emit information rooted to our internal emotional network. Often times our expression of these subconscious emotions is abstract, and has little or no value when trying to remediate heated relationship arguments.

It is only after we have a deep understanding of our own emotions that we can reach a certain level of empathy. Empathy is seeing the world through other people's eyes. This is an important step in the path of accomplishing long-lasting human relationships.

System feedback loop:

  1. Self-actualization of current emotional climate 
  2. Understanding and communication of our own emotional stream
  3. Recognition of external emotions experienced by others around us
  4. Relate ourselves to the feelings of others and provide compassion


The Empathy Totem systems consists of two parts: 

1) a mobile application for data entry 

2) a physical structure hosting a multi-color LED as the system's output

The data is entered through a web-based mobile application representing the nine different emotional zones based on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi research on 'flow.' This data is interpreted by a ratio correlating challenge degree to skill level. The system output consists of a mystical totem serving as a visual representation of a person's empathy rate.

The data received and interpreted by an Arduino micro-controller located inside the totem. The data is represented by an LED that constantly fluctuates through multiple color patters correlated to the user's historical and current emotion data. This enables people to increase their emotional awareness level while communicating it across. The totem's physical structure acts as an omnipresent reminder of a person's emotional climate.

Source Code →

Presentation Slides →