When family and friends connect over distance, they commonly use technologies like text messaging, phone calls, or video chat (e.g., Skype, FaceTime, Zoom). This allows family members and friends to talk to one another. They might even try to mimic more intimate acts like blowing a kiss over FaceTime or making a hug gesture in front of their iPad or phone. But this is obviously quite different than actually touching, kissing, or hugging a loved one who lives far away. As a result, many people still yearn to do more than simply see and talk to their loved ones with technology.
Given this challenge, my research group has explored different types of futuristic technology designs to try and re-create the sense of touch — or at least an approximation of it — for loved ones over distance. These technologies are research prototypes which means they are fully working systems such that people can try them out as part of studies where we explore their usage. Yet they are not robust systems in the sense that they could be commercially sold or deployed yet — they’d be too prone to bugs and crashing.
The first system is called Flex-N-Feel and was created by my graduate student, Samarth Singhal, along with myself and our collaborators. Flex-N-Feel includes two types of gloves: the Flex glove and the Feel glove. When a user bends their fingers in the Flex glove, these movements are detected and sent to the Feel glove over the Internet. The Feel glove then vibrates in the same areas of the fingers where the Flex user bent their fingers. Two distance-separated family members can wear the gloves and when one bends their fingers, the other can feel the movement through vibration on their own hand. You can watch a video of how Flex-N-Feel works here. The design can work between two people regardless of where they are, providing that they have an Internet connection.
We imagined that Flex-N-Feel could let family members or close friends share a sense…