in collaboration with Matthew O’Rourke:::

Touchbase is a prototype for investigating potential avenues for technological intervention of domestic violence and femicide in Mexico City.

A User Journey


Touchbase is a small, discrete finger scanning device for women, embedded in public spaces.


You register a sequence of one fingerprint on each hand to signal “all clear” to your network, and all others for “need help.”


It interprets your interaction and writes it to a cloud database to share data with your user network.


It’s helpful to women in abusive relationships and their families.


x keep loved ones in touch despite/because of unstable living conditions

x gives women in vulnerable situations access to help/protection/intervention


Perhaps the user:

a.) doesn’t have one.

b.) doesn’t have one capable of fingerprint ID.

c.) feels uncomfortable or unsafe using a cell phone in public, even to touch base.


Find it at sponsoring grocery store chains. Ideally each checkout counter has a device ready for discrete and immediate use, and each participating store has one or more registration kiosks.


a.) Coercion by an abusive partner to mislead connected family members with a faulty

right-handed check-in

b.) Does the device need to be concealed for privacy and/or secrecy?

c.) Are there any design features that might result in a backfire from the intent? Can they

be rectified?

d.) How can it be more protective? Should it notify authorities? If so, which authorities?

Materials Used:

  • ESP32

  • Python

  • MAKEiT Pro-L 3D printer

  • TinkerCAD

  • Adobe Illustrator

Project Brief

The Embedded Device project brings together creative technology concepts and technical skills from the last two terms in the design and making of a single device. It also explores issues around using technology in particular contexts, and more specifically, the benefits and problematics of Information and Communications for Development.

Create a completely self-contained smart device – Create an entire working project inside an enclosure of your own design, with no external wires. This means that it must have its own battery, communicate with the world wirelessly, and all sensors and actuators must be mounted to the device. In other words, you should be able to pick up the device in your hand while it works.

Explore designing technology for a context – Use this prototype as a way to understand the challenges of designing technology for different contexts, in particular designing for the so-called developing world. This involves understanding and engaging with the particular technological character of the site (infrastructure, economics, technical standards, common practices, etc.) as well as the social, cultural, political, natural and built environment. It also means confronting the assumptions and consequences of an outsider trying to change things. (Note that in some ways designers are always outsiders, and therefore these issues are relevant beyond so-called design for change situations).

Context - Using the context of Mexico City and its surrounding rural and agricultural areas, design and prototype a small device that would influence people and conditions in this area in an interesting way. Consider this an initial experiment that could serve as a vehicle for a longer term, participatory design process. The conditions you consider can be cultural, social-economic, social, political, or some other dimension. Mexico is especially interesting for this project because it breaks many of the stereotypes of a “developing” country, and forces us as designers to question our assumptions closely.

Technical Constraints - The device you design should be a low cost, cloud connected system that can be deployed in quantity. It should have the following characteristics:

  • Low power – i.e. runs on batteries or solar power

  • Low bandwidth connectivity – operates independently from the network in case the network goes down, and when connected assumes a slow data rate over cellular networks.

  • Self-contained – has everything it needs in a single box – battery, CPU, sensors, actuators

Technical Requirements -

  • Use the ESP32 board (and treat it as if it were connecting by cellular network)

  • 3D print the enclosure

  • Include a battery

  • There must be local behavior on the Photon that responds to local sensor input and creates an output

  • There must also be behavior that responds to data from or sends data to the network

  • Context Story - In addition to the device itself, you should create a story around the device that explains the situation it would be used in, how people would interact with it, and your point of view.