New Technology Can Aid Long-Distance Realtionships

Canadian researchers are using new technology to enhance relationship satisfaction when couples confront geographic barriers.

Devices being developed at Simon Fraser University (SFU) allow couples to remotely share a walk, watch movies together, and even give each other a massage.

It’s all about feeling connected, said Dr. Carman Neustaedter, an associate professor in SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT).

Technology is enhancing connectivity in distance relationships in a variety of ways.

Among them, 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 microcontroller. 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,” said Neustaedter. “The act of bending or flexing one’s finger is a gentle and subtle way to mimic touch.”

The gloves are currently a prototype and testing continues. While one set of gloves enables one-way remote touch between partners, Neustaedter says 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).

Meanwhile the researchers are also studying how next-generation telepresence robots can help unite couples and participate in activities together.

In this case, investigators have embedded a robot, designed by Suitable Technologies, into several Vancouver homes. There, it connects to countries around the world, including India and Singapore.

Researchers continue to monitor how the robot is used. One long-distance couple planned a Valentine’s Day “date” while one partner is in Vancouver, and the other, on Vancouver Island.

“The focus here is providing that connection, and in this case, a kind of physical body,” said Neustaedter, who has designed and built eight next-generation telepresence systems for families.

Neustaedter has spent more than a decade studying workplace collaborations over distance, including telepresence attendance at international conferences.

“Long-distance relationships are more common today, but distance don’t have to mean missing out on having a physical presence and sharing space,” he said. “If people can’t physically be together, we’re hoping to create the next best technological solutions.”

Source: Simon Fraser University