Interconnected haptic devices to simulate physical touch
The importance of physical touch is widely documented. It has an impact on childhood development and brain chemistry. In 2020, many people across the world were forced to distance themselves from friends and family.
The negative effects of this prolonged deprivation are yet to be fully realised, but researchers at Oxford University are developing ways to minimise the impact. The system that has been developed allows two or more people at separate locations to interact via ‘touch’.
Each person has a device that allows both transmission and reception of haptic signals. The devices are paired such that when one person transmits a ‘touch’, the other person receives the same ‘touch’ signal in real-time, working to counteract the negative impact of prolonged separation.
Related kinaesthetic devices for providing haptic feedback are already in use in the gaming industry. However, these systems only allow the user to receive haptic feedback, and the feedback is dictated by the game being played. The system developed here allows for haptic signals to both be transmitted and received and each signal is entirely created by a person at the other end of the line.
The devices are moulded from a large array of movable parts. Each part is formed of a solid core, to provide stability, and a soft casing to mimic human tissue. Each part has a sensor to detect if it is being moved and a motor to drive movement. One person can press against one device and a second person will feel that pressure from their paired device and vice versa.
As the devices are paired and can respond in real-time, pressure or movement can be felt at the receiving end moments after they have been transmitted. This allows for ‘live’ tactile interactions between people – from a celebratory high five to comforting handhold.
While this technology has been developed in response to the global restrictions of the past year, the potential is more widespread – hospital patients in isolation, neurodiverse people who find actual physical contact difficult and families separated across the world may all benefit from the ability to convey ‘touch’ using this system.
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