SFU researchers bring simulated 'touch' technology to long-distance relationships

Feb 11 2017, 3:30 am

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, researchers at Simon Fraser University have announced they are developing a new technology aimed at bringing the “touch” factor to long-distance relationships.

Going beyond traditional tools such as texting, video-messaging, and a good old-fashioned phone call, the technology makes it possible to share a walk, watch movies together, and even give each other a massage.

“It’s all about feeling connected,” said Carman Neustaedter, an associate professor in SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT).

And students in his Connections Lab at the Surrey campus are working on more and better ways to create that feeling.

Among them are a pair of interconnected gloves called Flex-N-Feel. When fingers ‘flex’ in one glove, the actions are transmitted to a remote partner wearing the other. The glove’s tactile sensors allow the wearer to ‘feel’ the movements.

How ‘Flex-N-Feel’ works

To capture the flex actions, the sensors are attached to a micro-controller. The sensors provide a value for each bend, and are transmitted to the ‘feel’ glove using a WiFi module.

The sensors are also placed on the palm side of the fingers in order to better feel the touch. A soft-switch on both gloves also allows either partner to initiate the touch.

“Users can make intimate gestures such as touching the face, holding hands, and giving a hug,” said Neustaedter. “The act of bending or flexing one’s finger is a gentle and subtle way to mimic touch.”

The gloves are currently a prototype and testing continues.

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