Can technology allow friends, family members, and lovers feel close despite the distances that separate them?
That's the question being addressed in the Connections Lab at Simon Fraser University's School of Interactive Arts and Technology.Student researchers under the supervision of lab director Carman Neustaedter are exploring technology solutions for erasing the distances that separate us.
One team has created the Flex-N-Feel, a pair of interconnected high-tech gloves.Sensors and tiny motors in the WiFi-ready gloves allow motions made by one partner to be felt remotely by the other.Researchers say the gloves allow remote users to share a massage, a gentle touch on the face, a hug, or holding hands.
The current prototype allows one-way remote touch between partners, but Neustaedter says reciprocal touching should be a simple matter of adding a second pair, so each partner is wearing a send glove and a receive glove.
Other student teams are similarly focused on sharing experiences.
One group is working on a virtual reality-based videoconferencing system that allows a user to "see through the eyes" of another participant.
The Be With Me project lets users video-stream their activities to long-distance partners who are at home.
The lab is also studying revolutionary telepresence robots that allow couples to participate in activities together even though they are separated by distance.
For example, they have embedded a Suitable Technologies robot into several homes in Vancouver, British Columbia.The robots connect to other robots on the other side of the world.Researchers study data streams to monitor how the robots are used.For example, one couple plans a virtual date for Valentine's Day despite the fact they won't be together physically.
"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."