Sensos-e Vol: 0  ISSN 2183-1432

Using Sensors and the Geospatial Web to Map Bio-Data

Autor: Eduarda Ferreira Afiliação: e-GEO, FCSH, UNL
Autor: Maria João Silva Afiliação: ESE/IPP

Resumo: O presente artigo ilustra a utilidade e a relevância educativa do uso de sensores biométricos e da subsequente publicação dos dados obtidos na Web geo-espacial. Dado que a atenção e sensibilidade aos estados do corpo e às emoções relacionadas são especialmente significativas, nomeadamente no que se refere à agressividade e discriminação, neste artigo, as autoras apresentam um caso sobre orientação sexual e discriminação. O workshop Bio Mapping, cujo desenvolvimento integrou cinco experiências, exemplifica o uso de um sensor biométrico para monitorizar, assim como do Google Earth para visualizar, o ritmo cardíaco de um dos elementos de cada um dos cinco casais do mesmo sexo, durante um passeio de mãos dadas num contexto urbano. Durante o passeio, as vozes foram gravadas e, depois do passeio, todos os casais participaram em entrevistas semi-estruturadas. Embora não tenha sido possível identificar a influência das pessoas na rua no ritmo cardíaco das participantes, as relações entre os biodados (ritmo cardíaco) e as variáveis espaciais (atravessar ruas, por exemplo) foram observadas e analisadas. Tais relações revelam-se significativas, porque podem ser usadas no futuro para melhorar a atenção e sensibilidade ao corpo e ao ambiente.
Palavras-Chave: Sensors, Geospacial Web, Body awareness,

Abstract: This paper illustrates the educational relevance and utility of the use of biometric sensors and of the subsequent publication of the data in the geospacial web. Since the awareness for body states and related emotions is of special significance, namely in what concerns aggressiveness and discrimination, in this paper the authors present a case grounded on sexual orientation and discrimination. A Bio Mapping workshop, with five experiences, was developed and exemplifies the use of a biometric sensor to monitor, and of Google Earth to visualize, the heart rate of one of the elements of five same sex couples, walking hand in hand in an urban context. During the walk the voices were recorded, and after the walk semi-structured interviews were implemented with each couple. Even though it was not possible to identify the influence of reactions of people on the streets in participants’ heart rate, the relations between bio-data (heart rate) and spatial variables (crossing streets, for instance) were observed and analyzed. Those relations are significant because they can be used in future to enhance body and environment awareness.
Keywords: Sensors, Geospacial Web, Body awareness,

Using Sensors and the Geospatial Web to Map Bio-Data

Autor: Eduarda Ferreira Afiliação: e-GEO, FCSH, UNL
Autor: Maria João Silva Afiliação: ESE/IPP


Sensors can be used to efficiently monitor body states in different contexts (Nold, 2009), and the visualization of the resulting data in space is afforded by the geospatial web.  In this paper, the authors illustrate the educational relevance and utility of the participatory use of biometric sensors and of the subsequent publication of the data in the geospatial web.

Participatory approaches foster positive changes and empowerment in people’s lives (Goldman et al., 2009). In the same way, in this paper, the enhancement of people’s awareness for their own body states, in diverse contexts and spaces, is considered to contribute to positive changes and empowerment.

In sex education, the awareness for body states and related emotions is of special significance, namely in what concerns aggressiveness and discrimination. In Portugal, there still is a pervasive social discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, and homosexuality retains a marginal, unequal status, both in legislation and in society (FRA, 2009). Therefore, the case presented in this paper is grounded on sexual orientation and discrimination.

In the next section, a set of related work and background information are succinctly presented. Subsequently, a Bio Mapping workshop will exemplify the use of a biometric sensor to monitor, and of Google Earth to visualize, the heart rate of one of the elements of same sex couples, walking hand in hand in an urban context. At last, the conclusions are presented.


Background and Related Work

Electronic sensors are devices that detect or measure a physical quantity in the environment and transform it into an electrical signal (Gouveia, 2008). Nowadays, electronic sensors are becoming everyday devices in diverse contexts. For instance, heart rate sensors and GPS are frequently used in sports activities.

Geospatial web tools minimize geographical and temporal constraints and are becoming widely available (Elwood, 2008; Goodchild, 2007). Those tools have been used in diverse educational projects to georeference and visualize diverse information created with sensors (Silva et al., 2010).

Google Earth is a geospatial web tool, a virtual globe, well known for its usability. It has made it easier and motivating to manage, visualize and manipulate georeferenced information (Silva et al., 2010).

There is a need to take into consideration the specificity of the interrelation of gender, public spaces and sexualities (Massey, 1994; Valentine, 1996). Inequality can perpetuate itself through the ways space is organized, experienced, represented and created (Massey, 2005; Mitchell, 2000; Valentine, 2001). The spatial invisibility of lesbians and gays is simultaneously a cause and a consequence of inequalities in their everyday lives, and contributes to their disempowerment (FRA, 2009).

Geospatial practices can highlight how emotions, subjectivities, and spaces are mutually constitutive in particular places and at particular times (Kwan, 2007). One example of these practices is Christian Nold Bio Mapping project which investigates the implications of technologies that can record, visualize and share our intimate body-states. This project uses a Bio Mapping device that records data from a biometric sensor and from a Global Positioning System (GPS). The biometric sensor, based on a lie-detector, measures Galvanic Skin Response and it is assumed that biometric changes are an indication of ‘emotional’ intensity. The data can be visualized in geographical mapping software such as Google Earth, as a visual track that indicates the level of physiological arousal on specific locations. Individuals interpret their own bio-data combining ‘objective’ biometric data and geographical position, with ‘subjective’ interpretation of their emotions. These new data is available publicly and allows people who have never met each other to share their experiences and their opinions of specific locations. The combined results of a multiplicity of the personal sensations create an Emotional Cartography (Nold, 2009).

Damasio (1999, 2010) describes emotions as the collection of bodily responses, many of which publicly observable, that do not require consciousness. Emotions are complex, largely automated programs of actions concocted by evolution, carried out in our bodies, from facial expressions and postures to changes in viscera and internal milieu, which can be complemented by a cognitive program that includes certain ideas and modes of cognition (Damasio, 2010). Emotions are bodily changes, such as quickening heart-beat, tensing muscles, etc., that imply changes in the brain, and this changes are the physical implementation of the “feeling”. Damasio’s approach to emotions echoes William James (1890) thinking: “[c]ommon sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike … this order of sequence is incorrect … the more rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble” (James, 1890, p. 449, italics in the original). These theoretical approaches to emotions provide a comprehensive basis to explore embodied practices and emotions in terms of its socio-spatial mediation and articulation. How does the body react to the surrounding space and what meanings/interpretations are associated with these actions/reactions?

The Bio Mapping Workshop, which will be presented in the next section, will exemplify the use of a heart rate sensor to monitor the reactions of one of the elements of same sex couples, while walking hand in hand in an urban context.  Google Earth is used to visualize the results, allowing bio-data mapping.


Bio Mapping Workshop: Mapping bio-data in an urban context

In pairs and holding hands or embracing, women (lesbians or bisexuals) drifted around spaces near their residence. The objective was to explore how the reactions of people on the streets to same-sex public displays of affection would affect them. One pair at a time participated in the workshop. One of the women of each pair carried a heart rate sensor (ZEPHYR Heart Rate Monitor HxM™ Bluetooth™) connected to a mobile phone equipped with GPS (Mobile phone LG P500 with Android 2.2). During the walk, the mobile phone ran software that registered GPS tracking and heart rate data (Endomondo Sports Tracker – free real-time GPS tracking that integrates data from heart rate monitors with Bluetooth and export gpx files), and audio records of verbal comments (Tape-a-Talk – allows voice recording in the background while other applications are running). A semi-structured interview was conducted immediately after the walk focusing on the GPS track displayed on Google Earth and heart rate data. The participants interpreted the data displayed on Google Earth, adding personal significances and experiences. The interview was conducted with both women at the same time. The field work was carried out from April 16th to May 31st 2011.

Ten women (5 pairs) participated in the Bio mapping workshop (1 pair in Porto and 4 pairs in Lisbon). All the pairs of women were couples (on a relationship). Most of the women identify themselves as lesbians; only one identifies herself as bisexual. In what concerns their level of education almost all have at least a graduate degree, with the exception of one woman who has the secondary level of education. The women who participated in Lisbon’s workshops have some common characteristics: they are all under 30 years old, they usually have same-sex displays of affection on public spaces, and at least one of the women of the pair is a volunteer on a youth LGBT association. The women of the workshop in Porto have a distinct profile, they are over 30 years old, never have same-sex displays of affection in public spaces and do not participate in any LGBT association.

In the experiences conducted in Lisbon, the women were equipped with the heart rate monitor, and all the pairs of women held hands and embraced during the walk. The experience in Porto was quite different, women did not hold hands nor had any other physical display of affection, and they walked in a geographical area away from their residence or work. The experiences in Lisbon are more in line with the initial workshop design.

During the experiences, the information retrieved (georeferenced information on pace, heart rate and altitude) is made available on the Endomondo website. The following video exemplifies the visualization of such information. One can follow the path of the participants and have information on the pace (min/km), heart rate (bpm – beats per minute) and altitude (m) at each point (Video 1).

Video 1 – Endomondo view of the georeferenced information on pace, heart rate and altitude


It is also possible to zoom in any point of the map and visualize with more detail the exact place where the bio-data was registered (Video 2).

Video 2 – Detailed view of the georeferenced information in Endomondo 

All the information of the five experiences is available at

At the end of the walk, the data retrieved by the Endomondo software was exported to a gpx file to allow the visualization of the information (GPS track, pace, altitude and heart rate data) on Google Earth. GPX (the GPS Exchange Format) is a light-weight XML data format for the interchange of GPS data (waypoints, routes, and tracks) between applications and Web services on the Internet. The visualization of the information on Google Earth facilitates the identification of specific locations where changes occur on the heart rate values, as exemplified on Image 1 and Video 3 (while crossing the street there is a rise of the heart rate values). To observe such information, Google Earth should be started in DirectX mode and select ‘Show elevation profile’ form the ‘Edit’ menu.

Image 1 – Display of GPS track, pace, altitude and heart rate data on Google Earth

image 1



Video 3 – Visualization on Google Earth of a rise of the heart rate values while crossing the street

It is also possible to follow the track of the participants on Google Earth with a realistic view of the places.

Video 4 – Following the path on Google Earth

Another source of information was the analysis of the voice recording during the walk and of the semi-structured interviews after the walk. Furthermore, the semi-structured interviews, developed after the walk, lasted between a half an hour and one hour. While visualizing the information on Google Earth the participants interpreted the data and added personal experiences and significances.

The results of the Bio Mapping workshop indicate that the methods used can highlight the relations between bio-data and spatial variables, such as: increased heart rate while crossing the streets; and correlations on altitude, pace and heart rate. However, there was no evidence of a relation between bio data (heart rate) and participants’ reactions to specific occurrences during the walk that support exploring how the reactions of people on the streets affect them. There were some events of people staring at them that made them uncomfortable, but there was no visible correlation with the heart rate. For instance, on experience 3 the girl with the heart rate monitor said: They are looking at us … keep walking … look she was carrying the bags and stood there looking at us” but there was no heart rate change during this occurrence.

On the other hand, another girl in experience 4 said “If we were in Chelas [a suburban area of Lisbon known to be a dangerous neighborhood], just being there, my heart would speed up”.

It is important to underline that the residential areas where the workshop occurred were not near their parents or family houses. If this was the case none of them would have accepted to participate in the workshop:

“My mother has asked me to constrain myself from having certain behaviors where they live and we respect that request.” Lesbian, 22 years old (semi-structured interview in experience 3);

“Near my parents’ house we are more cautious; we do not want them to feel uncomfortable.” Lesbian, 26 years old (semi-structured interview in experience 2).

The work place was identified as one of the most restrictive contexts on disclosing their sexual orientation:

“I used to work as a kindergarten teacher and I think that people would not react well if I disclosed my sexual orientation, because of the children.” Lesbian, 26 years old (semi-structured interview in experience 2).



The five experiences of the Bio Mapping workshop illustrated the use of a biometric sensor, a mobile phone and Google Earth to monitor, visualize and interpret heart rate, during an urban walk of same-sex couples. It was possible to observe and analyze the relations between bio data (heart rate) and spatial variables (crossing streets, for instance). This is especially significant in educational contexts, namely in sex education, since it enhances body and environment awareness and mobilize technological literacy to improve well-being.

Although the gaze of others was noticed by some participants, it was not possible to identify the influence of reactions of people on the streets in participants’ heart rate. This can be explained by the fact that participants didn’t experience any aggressive situation while using the biometric sensor.



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