Living Pictures



A project by Cem Ergin, Satyan Chawla & Seema Bansal

Main role in team: Software Development & 3D Prototyping

Keywords: Internet of Things, Enchanted Objects, Concept Development, Interaction Design

“Living Pictures” helps people "stay in touch" with their loved ones who are living at a distance from each other. By subtly augmenting an everyday object; the picture frame, within its natural surroundings, we aim to create opportunities to magically convey the message of being missed from one end to the other.

The final prototype is consisted a pair of pictures frames that are equipped with capacitive touch sensors and LEDs on four sides. When a sensor is activated on one side, the LED on the corresponding side is activated on both of the frames. An outgoing touch signal is represented with Blue on the transmitting site, whereas an incoming signal is represented Red.

When users touch and hold the same sides on their respective picture frames the two colors fuse resulting in a purple glow. The interactions are kept fairly simple and open to interpretation to enable users to come up with their own playful gestures.


In interest of education, jobs or personal project, many people live away from their loved ones. Often when caught up with life, we tend to get so busy that it seems impossible to make time to stay in touch. Moreover, we always think twice before making a phone call so as to not disturb or intrude our loved ones, assuming that everyone is always busy in this modern age.

Fortunately, it’s not only physical proximity that connects people with each other. Most of the time, even if there’s nothing to talk about, a small gesture of letting someone know that they are being missed is more than enough to communicate the love and affection for them.

As three international students trying to design an enchanted object using Internet of Things technology, we shared a similar emotional requirement to express nostalgic feelings. We chose to augment a photo frame because it has always been an object that stimulates emotions and is associated with memories and nostalgia. It also felt like a suitable tangible medium to connect people with their loved ones whose pictures are already placed in a traditional photo frame.



We tried to understand the nuances of social interactions that we have with the people that are closest to us. Even without explicitly verbalizing our feelings and saying out loud that we love them, it is the simplest of gestures and shared moments that convey the feelings.

"Staying in touch" and "sharing a moment" became keywords for our interaction and we wanted to create something that would instigate such feelings by interacting with the objects in the immediate environment.

Sharing a moment together imitates that magical feeling of being in the other person's presence without having any urgency and need to say something, the feeling of knowing that they are there, the feeling of living in the moment together, of being alone together.



Connecting with your loved ones should not be a task that you accomplish only after dodging obstacles and working through interfaces. It should be simple and feel natural, something that we would do anyway, as simple as holding a picture frame in hour hand when you miss someone.

We used capacitive touch sensors and installed them around the frame, so when a user lifts the frame, it can detect the touch  and connect them without making the users go through layers of interfaces.

The interaction with the picture frame is simple yet meaningful. The user can simply touch a part of the photo frame on their desk or make a streak of touch and the same touch would be visible on the photo frame that their loved ones have bu a series of led lights that light up in the same area as the original touch.

These lights then slowly fade away indicating the trail that a touch leaves behind it. To the user on the other side, the photo frame which is glanceable in their peripheral vision lights up as if someone is touching it from the other side, and they can choose to retrace the path or create their own gesture which is communicated back indicating that they are missing them and thinking about them too.

Final Components List:

1x Particle Argon

1x Adafruit Standalone 5-pad Capacitive Touch Sensor Breakout

4x Adafruit RGB Smart Neopixel



"It's profound and clever to use a picture frame to convey emotion because it is cheap and accessible. The decaying of light and allowing the other user to catch the moment in time to respond adds a layer of intimate connection and provokes a desire to interact at the same time without explicitly stating it." - Eddy, School of Architecture, Director of Computational Design at CMU.

"What if the other person is sleeping and miss out on your message, was that intentional to not send push notifications? " - Robert, iDeaTe Lab at CMU

"Allowing users to set preferences of delays, gestures and responses was an important piece in your interaction. " - Professor Daragh, Designing for IoT


Next Steps

  1. We think about why would someone want to use it for a prolonged period, would they outgrow it? Therefore, we propose to add a level of abstraction to our interaction design leaving it to the users to define their own way of expression. 

  2. Maybe they might want to send a code using the frames, BRB (Blue Red Blue = Be Right Back) 

  3. Another expression like - holding to the frame for longer : Making the LED flash for 5 second could relay that "5 seconds not being with you feel like 5 hours".

  4. We also thought about the moment in time when the recipient is away and not getting informed about the interaction at all. Right now we are debating how to relay that information, or may be not relay at all.