Toronto: Long-distance couples may soon share a walk, watch movies together and even give each other a massage, thanks to a next-generation technology being developed by scientists.
Carman Neustaedter from Simon Fraser University in Canada and colleagues are working on myriad solutions to make people feel connected.
In Neustaedter's Connections Lab, researchers have designed 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.
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 strategically 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. The act of bending or flexing one's finger is a gentle and subtle way to mimic touch," said Neustaedter.
The gloves are currently a prototype and testing continues. While one set of gloves enables one-way remote touch between partners, Neustaedter said a second set could allow both to share touches at the same time.
Other projects also focus on shared experiences, including a virtual reality video conferencing system that lets one 'see through the eyes' of a remote partner, and another that enables users to video-stream a remote partner's activities to a long-distance partner at home (called Be With Me).
The researchers are also studying how next-generation telepresence robots can help unite couples and participate in activities together.
They have embedded a robot, designed by Suitable Technologies, into several homes in Canada, which connects to countries around the world.
"Long-distance relationships are more common today, but distance don't have to mean missing out on having a physical presence and sharing space," said Neustaedter.
"If people cannot physically be together, we're hoping to create the next best technological solutions," he added.