Social media lets us keep in contact with way more people than ever before, but our interaction with most of our Facebook friends is probably limited to the odd "Like" now and then, and a generic happy birthday message once a year. It's easier than ever for long-distance couples to stay connected, but if Skype calls and texting aren't quite enough, the Flex-N-Feel glove, developed by researchers at Simon Fraser University, can help transmit the touch of a hand.
Long-distance canoodlers already have plenty of options, spanning the spectrum from G to NSFW. The HaptiHug hands out "telecuddles" from other players in the game Second Life, and the Like-A-Hug vest will translate those precious Facebook Likes into virtual hugs by inflating itself around you. The KissPhone is a bit creepier, asking you to make out with a pair of fake lips that measure the pressure, percussion speed, temperature and sucking force of your mouth, and recreates your kissing style for whoever's on the other end of the line. The field of "teledildonics," which is exactly what it sounds like, takes remote touch to its logical conclusion.
But the Flex-N-Feel glove has more wholesome goals in mind. The gloves are each fitted with sensors attached to microcontrollers, and a Wi-Fi module. When the fingers on one hand are flexed or bent, the signal is sent via Wi-Fi to the sensors in the other glove, which will vibrate to recreate the motion. Couples can hold or stroke each other's hands, or even give their partner a light massage, from basically anywhere.
"Users can make intimate gestures such as touching the face, holding hands, and giving a hug," says Carman Neustaedter, lead researcher on the project. "The act of bending or flexing one's finger is a gentle and subtle way to mimic touch."
Currently, the touch is a one-way system, so users need to take turns handing out the touch sensations. That said, the gloves are still in development, and the researchers are aiming for a pair that allows users to give and receive touch at the same time. And the Flex-N-Feels might be just one part of a larger system designed to help couples feel like they're in the same room.
A telepresence robot might not be the most romantic thing to cuddle up to, but it could help a long-distance partner have more of a sense of self in the real-world space near you. Not only does the robot stream video to and from your tele-paramour, they could control it remotely, recreating the shared experience of going for a walk or watching a movie. The Flex-N-Feel glove might just make it a bit more comforting.
"The focus here is providing that connection, and in this case, a kind of physical body," says Neustaedter. "Long-distance relationships are more common today, but distance doesn't have to mean missing out on having a physical presence and sharing space. If people can't physically be together, we're hoping to create the next best technological solutions."
The system, including the Flex-N-Feel gloves and the telepresence robot, can be seen in the video below.
Source: Simon Fraser University