Scientists are developing technology to allow people at distant locations to 'feel' each other's presence. The technology would allow couples to close the distance gap and share physical intimacy in such acts as sharing a walk, watching movies together or giving a each other a massage.
The research is underway at Neustaedters Connections Lab, Simon Fraser University, Canada where Carman Neustaedter and colleagues are working on the challenge of making people feel connected. Neustaedter and colleagues have devised a pair of interconnected gloves called Flex-N-Feel.
When a person flexes a finger in one glove, the actions are transmitted to the remote partner's glove. The tactile sensors in the glove allow the wearer to feel the movements.
The flex actions are captured by the sensors attached to a micro-controller, which provide a value for each bend. The values are transmitted to the feel glove using a WiFi module.
The sensors are also placed strategically on the palm side of the fingers to allow the touch to be felt better and thanks to a soft-switch on both gloves either partner can initiate the touch.
"Users can make intimate gestures such as touching the face, holding hands, and giving a hug. The act of bending or flexing ones finger is a gentle and subtle way to mimic touch," said Neustaedter.
"Basically any relationship that we can connect across distance, we try to make it easier for people to feel sense of social presence with those individuals.''
Students at the university see a lot of possible uses for the Flex and Feel, from simple things like people holding hands during video calls, to more intimate activities.
"Sexual intimacy came up and I think that's a potential use for it,'' said Neustaedter. ''We designed the gloves to be really flexible so you can almost do anything you want to with them. And some people might find that that is a use they have for it."