Thanks to social media it is now easier than ever to keep in contact with people that live miles away from us. This is probably why now, more than ever, many couples are choosing to maintain long-distance relationships. Sometimes, however, communicating day-to-day via Skype or iMessage may not be enough. A new technology currently being developed at Simon Fraser University will allow couples to, quite literally, keep in touch.
In 2016, a staggering total of 14 million couples in the U.S considered themselves to be in a long-distance relationship which included 75% of engaged couples and 3.75 million married couples. So understandably, in recent years, there has been a huge trend for apps and technologies catered to long-distance couples. These include things like the HaptiHug that sends out the physical sensation of a hug via online virtual world Second Life and the very similar Like-A-Hug vest that translates Facebook likes to virtual hugs. These are tame compared to other, some may say, creepier tech such as the KissPhone that involves its users to kiss a pair of fake lips that will learn and then recreate your kissing style to whoever is at the other end. Tech starts to get a bit NSFW after that but those interested should look into the Vibease, the OhMiBod app and the LovePalz Twist.
The Flex-N-Feel has a much more wholesome approach to the long-distance barrier. The gloves are fitted with sensors that are attached to microcontrollers and controlled by Wi-Fi. Both gloves are connected, so when the fingers on one hand begin to bend, the glove fitted on the other hand will recreate the motion. This allows couples intimacy through hand holding and touching. “Users can make gestures such as touching the face, holding hands, and giving a hug”, explained lead researcher Carmen Neustaedter.
“Long-distance relationships are more common today, but distance doesn’t have to mean missing out on having a physical presence and sharing space. If people can’t physically be together, we’re hoping to create the next best technological solutions.”
For now, the telepresence gloves are only at prototype stage therefore only able to send sensations one way but the researchers working on this clever tech are, in time, hoping to develop an act of reciprocation. The same researchers are also spending time studying how next-generation telepresence robots can help couples to participate in activities together. Designed by Suitable Technologies, a number of these robots have been placed in homes in Vancouver where they are able to connect to countries around the world. Researchers are currently keeping track of how these robots are being used to gain a better understanding of how to improve.
Of course, none of these technologies will match up to actually having your partner there with you but they could help to recreate the feeling of shared experiences. Maybe in a few years technology will develop to the point where long-distance couples can feel as though they’re in the same room or maybe we’re quickly headed toward an A.I future akin to that of Spike Jonze’s Her.