Red Bull Media House and Sensum team up to measure emotions in the wild…

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From the birth of Sensum, we have always been passionate about measuring emotions everywhere you live and breathe. Whether you are watching an advert or jumping out of an aeroplane, we understand that the emotions you feel can ultimately tell a story. So due to our innovation streak and aligning values, we were asked by Red Bull Media House to measure, analyse and visualise the emotional stories of extreme sports adventurers.

Well what’s the challenge?

We have measured emotions at every level - from product testing to volcano diving - but that doesn’t mean it can always be easy. For us, the bigger the challenge the better. Measuring emotions in extreme sports environments comes with certain difficulties - when the adventurer would already have an elevated heart rate and breathing, and with all the added ‘noise’ of exertion and movement, would we be able to find the signal of emotion?

Stage 1: Experimentation in the Sensum Labs

Before we set out into the wild, we internally tested a range of our biometric devices in challenging conditions to see where and when they would fail to give us meaningful data. This allowed us to fish out the perfect technology equipment that could handle the extremely dangerous and noisy territories we were about to experience!

Stage 2: Testing the athletic body

We now knew our emotional response technology could handle the ‘noise’, but we needed to see how it would be affected by exertion and body movement. With the help from Ulster University, we took our devices into the sports lab and got five athletes dressed for battle in biometric sensor gear. Putting them to the challenge of 3 physically exhausting tasks each, with a wide range of motions required, it allowed us to test exactly what we needed to. Go big or go home, right?

Stage 3: General public take to the field

Our work at this stage was to gather biometric & emotional data of regular people in extreme sports environments, and generalise this data to a wider population. Taking 32 members of the general public, we made our way to Todds Leap outdoor activity centre where each participant was strapped up to sensors, as we wanted to ensure emotional data can rise above the noise of the situation and be detected behind the messy signals of exertion and movement. After experience thrilling activities such as off-road racing and ziplining nearly 200ft above ground level, we had to admit it to ourselves - we have the coolest jobs in the world!

Stage 4: Taking it to the ultimate wild level

It was now time to shine. After we had our equipment battle-tested and the baseline set for measuring emotions, Red Bull were ready to give wings to 4 local adventurers (and by adventurers we mean the bravest Sensumites). So what heart-racing conditions could we put them in? Ziplining?..Pfft try skydiving and aerobatic flying.

From a research perspective, it was the perfect set up; a total amateur and an experienced veteran under identical conditions at the same time, to measure the difference in their emotional responses to the experience. What do you expect?

The results

We found that:

- exertion creates noise but major emotional moments are still clearly distinguishable in the biometric data

- different stages of the emotional experience were measurable, from the anxious build-up, through the terrifying climax, to the relieving aftermath

- signals from actions like exertion and arousal quickly returned to normal levels so further events could be detected soon after

- the physiology changes of the elite athletes were very similar to the amateurs, however their emotional and mental control was a lot more stable most likely because they perform in these extreme conditions regularly


The storytelling of the data was just as we hoped. With our models tested and successful results, we are finally on the way to measure the emotions of Red Bull Heroes! And to make it even more exciting, their emotions will be translated into entertainment. Imagine a world where the audience could experience and feel the emotions of their sports heroes? This is the future of the entertainment world...and we are right at the forefront of it.