Device produces emotions through hand without contact

Chuck Bednar for – @BednarChuck

Television shows or computer games that could stimulate emotions in a person through mid-air haptic feedback? While they might sound far-fetched, they might not be so far off, thanks to new research from scientists at the University of Sussex School of Engineering and Informatics.

At the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’15) in Seoul, South Korea on Tuesday, Sussex scientist Dr. Marianna Obrist and her colleagues planned to reveal an innovative new technology capable of stimulating different areas of the hand, producing feelings of happiness, sadness, excitement or fear without actually making physical contact.

For instance, by sending short and sharp bursts of air to the area around the thumb, index finger and middle part of the hand, the technology can produce feeling of excitement, according to the researchers. Likewise, slow stimulation of the outer palm and pinky finger produces sadness.

Conveying messages over distances using UltraHaptics

Dr. Obrist explained that the research has “huge potential” when it comes to revolutionizing the way that humans communicate. The device, which is called the UltraHaptics system, would let a couple who had a fight before going their separate ways to reconcile from a distance, by letting a sensation conveyed through a bracelet let one partner know the other is no longer angry.

“A similar technology could be used between parent and baby, or to enrich audio-visual communication in long-distance relationships,” she added in a statement. “It also has huge potential for ‘one-to-many’ communication – for example, dancers at a club could raise their hands to receive haptic stimulation that enhances feelings of excitement and stability.”

The Ultrahaptics system, the developers explain, allows for sensations of touch to be created through the air to stimulate different parts of the hand. One group of individuals participating in a test of the device was asked to create patterns describing emotions associated by a series of images, including a white-water rafting expedition, a graveyard and a burning car.

The participants in that first group were able to manipulate the position, intensity, frequency and duration of those stimulations, while a second group selected the stimulations created by the first group that they felt best described the intended emotions. They chose the best two out of each of the images, coming up with a total of 10 images that were then experienced by a third set of men and women who rated how well the stimulation described each image’s emotions.

Expanding the research to include taste and smell

That third group rated stimulations presented together with the intended image significantly higher when they were presented together, indicating that the emotional meaning was passed along from the first group to the third group successfully. Dr. Obrist has now been awarded a nearly $1.5 million (£1 million) grant to expand her research into taste and smell.

“Relatively soon, we may be able to realise truly compelling and multi-faceted media experiences, such as 9-dimensional TV, or computer games that evoke emotions through taste,” she said. “Longer term, we will be exploring how multi-sensory experiences can benefit people with sensory impairments, including those that are widely neglected in Human-Computer Interaction research, such as a taste disorder.”


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