First launched in 2013, the purpose of the Tactilu connected wristband is to enable physical contact between two people who are separated by distance.

Connected objects now able to transmit touch over distance

The key to the success of technologies such as Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and Snapchat lies in their ability to make things happen simultaneously, thus providing the sensation of closing the distance between the people involved.  Meanwhile over the past few years a number of ground-breaking innovations have appeared, mostly involving connected objects, which have set out to go one step further and bring two people close together even though they are actually physically quite far apart. One of these inventions is the Tactilu connected wristband. It has been developed by Polish interdisciplinary new media art group panGenerator in partnership with the Warsaw arm of global marketing company Cheil. The idea of the device is to transmit the sensation of touch using sensors.

How the system works is that each person wears a bracelet on their wrist. The upper part is covered with a strip of cloth which is connected to the sensors. The user moves his/her finger over the cloth as if caressing the arm of his/her partner. The sensors record the movement and its intensity and the partner’s wristband will then start to reproduce the original touch sensation as a tactile movement. The movement data is transmitted via the Tactilu wearers’ smartphone Internet connection and Bluetooth is used to connect the smartphone and the bracelet.

So far so good. The panGenerator design team are now working on integrating the sense of touch into communication technologies across the board, thus providing people with a new way to interact that does not involve either sound or vision.

This initiative calls to mind the promising findings made by researchers at the University of Sussex in the UK who have managed to establish a link between emotions and the different areas of the hand. Dr Marianna Obrist, Lecturer at the Department of Informatics who is leading the research, is delighted that this field can now be opened up to innovations which will enable the transmission of emotions by touch between people who are geographically separated from each other.  

Moreover, this area of technological progress could eventually have a much wider impact. Explains Dr Obrist: “Relatively soon, we may be able realise truly compelling and multi-faceted media experiences such as 9-dimensional TV, or computer games that evoke emotions through taste.”

In addition, interactive experiences which draw on all our five senses could be used to help people suffering from certain types of disability. “Longer term, we will be exploring how multi-sensory experiences can benefit people with sensory impairments [...] such as a taste disorder,” underlined Dr Obrist. Her team has just been received a grant worth £1 million from the European Research Council to finance a five-year project to expand the sensor-based research beyond touch into taste and smell.

By Pauline Canteneur