Communicating Emotion in an Unconventional Way

NYUAD students Abdelrazak Al-Sharif and Mohammed Omar created Penspire, high-tech pens that can communicate emotion from anywhere in the globe.

"It started with a pen," said NYU Abu Dhabi student Abdelrazak Al-Sharif, NYUAD Class of 2014, who, along with classmate Mohammed Omar, has filed for a patent for a product they created in Design and Innovation, an engineering foundations course taught by NYUAD Associate Dean of Engineering Ramesh Jagannathan.

Putting into practice the modern principles of technology design and concepts of innovation covered in class, Omar and Al-Sharif — both engineering majors — partnered up to tackle a challenge put forth by a group of visiting engineers from the MIT Media Lab in Europe during an intensive week-long SuperLab: to come up with a product, as well as accompanying business and marketing plans, that would communicate emotion in an unconventional way without the use of typical visual communication tools like Skype.

The result was Penspire, a high-tech pen that works when connected wirelessly to another. When used by two individuals, each pen illuminates to communicate when the other is being used. And internal sensors respond to the pressure exerted on the pen to convey the stress level of the user: green for low levels and red for high. "We came up with the idea during our freshman year, when everything around us was new and we didn't have our friends or family nearby," Al-Sharif said. "This pen enables you to see when your friend is working, no matter where they are in the world, and motivates you to work, too."

A Pen with a Playlist

Mentored by Jagannathan — himself the owner of 42 patents — who worked with the students to "morph the idea into a more commercially realistic product application," the duo added an MP3 player to the pen, which, depending on the pressure exerted, plays music relating to the user's mood. "It uses axial pressure, which is correlated to the emotion or stress that you have," Omar explained. Playlists can be customized depending on user preference and songs are transmitted to wireless headphones via Bluetooth.

Omar and Al-Sharif have built a series of working prototypes; however, the next "more professional" model will be designed using SolidWorks CAD software and printed with a 3D printer. "The first two were made from other things, including parts from whiteboard markers," Al-Sharif said. "The new one will be made from a computer model so it can actually be produced."