Digital Dreams


Digital Dreams —

Digital Dreams is an exploration in how immersive technology can be used as a catalyst for introspection. Inspired by the work of psychologist Jane Gackenbach, Digital Dreams observes the unintended correlation between virtual reality and lucid dreaming. Through a journey of mental conditioning,  my senior thesis takes a look at how virtual reality could be used to train one's subconscious to have control and awareness in their dreams.



Dreaming is Universal —

Everybody dreams. Humans, mammals and most birds share a propensity towards a wandering subconscious while sleeping. Most people spend their lifetime dreaming and fully accept it as a passive experience. In contrast however, full awareness and control in what is called a lucid dream is possible, opening up the door to endless possibilities. Many psychologists agree that the sleeping brain is the bodies own built in virtual reality generator, experimenting with different models of the world in order to better equip the dreamer in their waking life. While VR users enter a technically constructed alternate reality, dreamers enter a biological one.


Can a technically constructed alternate reality help enable a biological one?


Jane Gackenbach —

Psychologist Jayne Gackenbach has spent the last 30 years researching the effects of gaming, and more recently virtual reality, on people’s dreams.  Her research has found a number of correlations between VR usage and its users ability to lucid dream. Not only do frequent game and VR users have better control over their dreams, but an increased awareness that they are dreaming as well. She has suggested that spending time in a fictional, controllable world may help people to approach dream worlds in a similar way. 

 “One of the strategies to increase lucid dreaming frequency is to engage more in dream-related thinking. So it’s indeed plausible that engagement in dream-like environments—like many virtual-reality programs are—increases lucid dreaming frequency.”

Patrick McNamara —

Neuroscientist Patrick McNamara has found that regular use of VR increased its users memory of their dreams.

 “A virtual-reality device is a simulation machine, just as the brain is. By using VR, you are putting yourself into a brain state that is remarkably like the REM brain state… So it’s easy to recall similar brain states or simulations under those conditions.”



Using dry electrodes placed across the forehead, Electroencephalogram (EEG) is able to measure brain waves. EEG is a biofeedback that can collect sleep data, measure emotion, and show trends in how experiences affect the body. Advancements in EEG have reduced the number of required electrodes compared to the traditional 10-20 system. EEG can also be used to create a Brain-Computer interface allowing users to control digital interactions using their mind.

Perturbational Complexity Index —

In early 2018, researchers at the university of Milan created a scale in which to measure “consciousness”. Using the EEG electrodes, a magnetic stimulation is applied to the forehead and the EEG records the results. This test was performed on over 200 individuals in different states of consciousness in order to create a scale to measure how “conscious” someone is. Early false positives occurred while certain individuals were asleep, though it was later concluded that they were experiencing vivid dreams.


The Hardware —


Submersed Reality —

Through the eyes of a '60's scuba diver, Digital Dreams draws inspiration from classic submersing equipment. Chromed visors and hardware accents craft a feeling of uncertainty while eliciting curious eyes to look below the surface. Soft form language invokes familiarity and invites its users to take a dive into their own subconscious. 


Ideation | Prototyping —

Throughout the design process, sketching, 3D, and CNC mockups were used to ideate proportion and ergonomics. While earlier concepts mimicked the scale of ski goggles, the form language evolved with each mock up. A three axis CNC was used to create scale models of both the general form and gasket to test the ergonomic requirements for fitting to the face. This process drastically reduced the overall volume of the headset while refining surfacing. Rapid prototyping was done in both pink and 20lb foam. 


The Headset —

For use in dream training, the headset combines a series of technologies to help its users approach dream worlds. Combing EEG brainwave monitors, Leap Motion hand tracking, and stereoscopic cameras, the headset helps its users recognize and interact with immersive environments. Kopin micro-oled displays drastically reduce the headset size compared to currents offerings.


Stereoscopic Cameras —

Two cameras placed at pupillary distance allow virtual environments to be rendered on the users surroundings. Transitioning from AR to VR helps slow down the immersion process, bringing the user into a deeper state of absorption.  Housed being 3D glass, the two stereoscopic cameras live beneath the surface, while the back-painted NCVM finish highlights the technology in the light.


The Headband —

In order to better monitor the training, the headset is warn while the user sleeps. Four electrodes are encased in a soft foam core in order to collect sleep and consciousness data from its users.