Touchy-feely goes remote

May 7/14, 2003

How do you communicate gesture and touch from thousands of miles away?

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have put together a scheme that uses an array of individual actuators, or cilia, that people can push to remotely convey physical sensations.

The scheme involves a pair of devices that look like a row of side-by-side hairbrushes. The devices' felt-tipped bristles are mounted on a rubber sheet, and each bristle is capable of moving independently. A combination of magnets and electricity actuate the bristles. When a person moves the bristles on one device the remote device communicates the gesture by mirroring the movements.

The recipient can both see and feel the bristles moving. Behavioral research shows that the combination of visual and tactile feedback engages both sides of the brain and helps ensure that learned information will be retained in long-term memory.

The device could be used to draw pictures, beat musical rhythms, or send subtle physical gestures, according to the researchers.

The researchers are working on a prototype. The idea was inspired by grass blowing in the wind, according to the researchers.

They presented the work at the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) conference April 5-10, 2003.

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