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Wearable devices like smartwatches can alert you when a friend is calling, help you compose a text, and even measure your beating heart. But form a category of technology that’s supposed to count among your most personal possessions they’ve generally had all the personality of the metal and plastic that they’re made from – until now.

 A number of startups are using the technology of the movement, the vibrations and wiggles collectively known as haptic feedback, as a way to reinforce real-world bonds through wearable tech. Take Cuff. Founded by former Restoration Hardware Vice President Deepa Sood, Cuff is a low-energy Bluetooth device about the size of a small domino. Controlled by an app, the vibrations radiating from Cuff’s mini embedded motor act as a tactile stand-in for a real - life tap. The goal? To give the one or two key people in your orbit the power to physically convey affection or command your attention. Instead of a smartwatch’s nagging buzzes and chimes indiscriminately alerting you to anything and everything. Cuffs is a direct, exclusive link to a spouse, child , parent or friend. “We wanted people through touch and buzz to feel closer to the most important people in their lives” declares Deepa Sood Cuff founder.

 Unlike today’s smartwatches, which often look chunky or sporty, Cuff snaps into a limitless range of low-profile mounts, like a necklace pendant, leather band, or keychain – a lot like the Misfit Shine. Ranging in price from $ 50 to $ 150, these mounts are meant to be worn like fashion accessories and could one day include fine jewelry.

Although Sood plans to smarten up her social surrogate down the road (the module also has an SOS function and a programmable key), low-tech Cuff isn’t trying to compete with high-tech smartwatches. According to Sood people are hungry for tech to be warmer and less analytical. Target, Neiman Marcus and others have already approached her for distribution deals. Similarly, Bond, another haptic hopeful, envisions a smartwatch design that  vibrates and lights up your child’s or honey’s wrist when you tap a section of your own Bond watch. Unlike the unidirectional Cuff, though, Bond lets the other party buzz pack.

 Nowhere is the need to express physical emotions across space more important than you when the people you care about most live far away. Frebble made b Netherlands-based Holland Haptics, isn’t wearable yet, but it was created to add an element of psychical closeness to video chats. A straightforward system of sensors and actuators measures pressure when you grip the handheld Frebble, which curves up and over your thumb in a swoosh. Instead of buzzing, a lever on the back applies pressure to your palm soon after the other person gives their own hook-shaped device a squeeze.

 Founder, Frederic Petrignani originally built Frebble for kids whose parents travel for business. In his opinion the ability to reaffirm a parent’s love through touch brings comfort and safety.  Petrignani hopes the future Frebbles, which currently sell for $ 99 for a two- pack, will be built from malleable material and heating elements that can more realistically simulate the warmth and feel of real skin.  Buzzing is the most common form of haptic feedback today, but researchers and mechanical engineers are getting closer to make electronic touch more realistic (or at least better-feeling) through different combinations of friction, heat, suction, and pressure.

 University of Utah professor William Provancher has been working on a type of touch that re-creates the slight stretch you feel when someone drags a thumb along your skin, for instance. Provancher says this kind of touch feels more meaningful than a vibration and is less annoying. Plus, it’s harder to ignore. Heat and levers are logical steps forward in the field of haptic, but integrating them into tiny devices is tricky. Karon MacLean, a computer science professor and director of a haptics lab at the University of British Columbia, notes that even weak thermal elements would rapidly drain a small wireless device’s already limited power.

 Researchers also caution that the placement of a wearable device’s touch must be spot-in. Because touch sensitivity decreases as you move away the fingertip and palm, the haptic feedback you might feel from a necklace or a wristband could  easily go unnoticed as you move around throughout the day.  But when the touch of a wearable device becomes the psychical  bridge between distant loves ones, it begins to take on a far more personal, emotional role – a role that, according to MacLean could become very important and, despite its inanimateness, very real indeed.

 

Projekt POIG.01.04.00-30-196/12

Tytuł projektu: Zbudowanie prototypu innowacyjnego systemu rekomendacji zgodnych ze stylami użytkowników: FireStyle

Nr umowy: POIG.01.04.00-30-196/12-00

Wartość projektu: 14.949.474,00 zł

Udział Unii Europejskiej: 7.879.581,50 zł

Okres realizacji: 2013.01-2014.10

Fundusze Europejskie - dla rozwoju innowacyjnej gospodarki

 

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