We explore the themes of vulnerability and human connection by creating an immersive, headset-free VR experience using a geodesic dome and a 360 degree projection. Participants enter the space and are presented with a set of questions drawn from the New York Times “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love”. As they proceed in answering them to each other, their heartbeat will be monitored by a subtle wearable device, and its variations will be reflected on their surrounding projection. The aim of this project is to probe the tension of the virtual versus the real when it comes to human connection - be it with familiar faces or not - and to offer a harbor for that virtuality.

PRoject description


“Dome Is Where The Heart Is” is a physical virtual environment designed to foster intimacy between a pair or up to four people. The interaction utilizes the now well known New York Times “36 Questions That Lead to Love.” Whilst commonly attributed to the New York Times, the questions are derived from a study by psychologist, Arthur Aron. In 1997, he published a paper titled 'The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness". He theorized that a set of 36 questions could induce vulnerability and intimacy between any two people. Since his 1997 paper, these 36 questions have percolated into popular culture, and become synonymous with romance and love. We subvert the idea that vulnerability must be linked with romance, and aim for a more general experience that brings together communities. Our dome expounds on the theme of interpersonal closeness using metaphors of home, the heart and fantasy.

Design - The Dome

The Dome is has a base with diameter of 14 feet and a central height of 7 feet, built using struts and hubs. The inside of the Dome was layered with white sheets using wire to tie the sheets to the hubs of the dome. The white interior allowed for a clean internal aesthetic and as clear projection walls. The outside of the dome was covered in blankets and quilts. This aesthetic attribute was chosen to induce feelings of comfort and home. Contents within the dome included: three large size bean bags for sitting, lavender aroma scents, an old desktop computer, journals, heart rate sensor, a question box and decorative plants wrapped around the struts of the dome. A speaker system is installed to play an ambient soundscape and to play voiced pre-recorded questions.

Design - Projection System

To project around the dome, we used a hemispherical mirror and Epson Projector connected to a laptop that the Unity game was running on. The Mirror has a diameter of 18 inches could map the projection across the entire upper two thirds of the dome.

Design - The Heart Rate Pipeline

We used a PCV with a pulse heart rate sensor to continuously log heart beats. We used a Node server to log and convert raw rate beats into a binned heart rate, which we fed into the unity environment.

Design - The question box

The motivation behind designing and implementing the question box was that we needed an audio-based prompt to guide participants’ through the question without resorting to a screen. Some early sketches of interaction ideas are below, and explore modalities of simple tangible interaction that perform the action of progressing along the question queue. Some ideas where moving an object from one position to another, opening/closing a lid to listen to audio, button presses or pulling something out of a slot.

The act of “pulling” was simpler to implement in terms of microcontroller sensing. In addition, we thought that the element that is pulled can look like a card, as an allusion to the idiom “play the cards (one) is dealt with” which fits with the main motivation behind this project: to simulate conditions of human connection, vulnerability and serendipity.

The design positioned an ultrasonic sensor to on one end of the box. Each card that was pulled out of the slot added to the distance detected from the sensor. The Raspberry Pi that controlled the sensor would then advance (upon each sensed distance increment) along the queue of available questions, and play them using a pair of simple speakers.

Design - Unity Environment

We created a Unity environment to project into the dome. We created a space night sky environment to simulate the sensation of stargazing at home. The environment is made up of three components: two skyboxes and a star particle system. The two skyboxes were blended together into one material with an adjustable blend factor to smoothly transition between the two. The first skybox, darker in color and tone represented lower beats per minute whilst the second skybox, lighter in color, represented a higher beats per minute. The star particle system correlated with spikes in the raw heart rate value.

Design - The Experience

The experience from beginning to end is described below:

  1. 2-4 participants enter the dome through a self-selection process.

  2. Users are equipped with heart rate sensors inside the dome.

  3. Users are instructed to pull out a card from the question box and instructions are voiced through a speaker system.

  4. Questions are read to the users after each question card is pulled. They answer a random 10 of the 36 questions. Questions are pre-recorded and played through a speaker system.

  5. As users answer questions, the environment reacts to the variations in beats per minute and spikes in heart rate.

  6. After answering all ten questions, a final exit message is read to them.

  7. Users take the time to reflect back on their experience individually through journal entries to be left in the dome.


This was a group project out of the class: Imagination, Computation and Expression ran by Prof. Fox Harrell.

Group members: Arwa Mboya, Kallirroi Retzepi, Zivvy Epstein and Chenli Ye