This Lab Is Creating Tech To Help You Reach Out And Touch Someone

Whether you're just visiting home for the holidays or permanently living half a world away, being in a long-distance relationship can be tough. Even with today's bounty of communication technology, you can never quite recreate the feeling of your loved one's presence beside you or their hand on your cheek.

Well, all you softies out there, we've got good news: the Connections Lab at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia is hard at work developing gadgets that can let you do just that.

Romance At A Distance

Long-distance relationships are much more common than most of us probably realize. In the 1980s, around 700,000 Americans were in long-distance marriages, but by 2005 that number had climbed to 3 million. Likewise, estimates say that up to half of college students are currently in a long-distance relationship, and 75 percent have been in one at some point. With all those lonely lovers out there, gadgets that make it easier to love at a distance could be huge.

That's where the Connections Lab is looking to shine. "If people can't physically be together, we're hoping to create the next best technological solutions," lab head Dr. Carman Neustaedter said in a press release.

Flex-N-Feel gloves are designed to simulate touch from someone a world away

I Miss Your Touch

So what have they come up with? Their biggest claim to fame has to be Flex-N-Feel gloves, which are designed to simulate touch. One glove "flexes," the other "feels," so that the movements of one glove are transmitted over the internet to activate tiny vibrating motors all over the other glove. In the real world, this could let one partner give the other the feeling of holding a hand, touching an arm, or, uh, doing something more intimate.

The lab is also using video-conferencing and virtual reality to give a sense of a loved one's presence. Remote employees are already using telepresence robots in offices, but one Connections Lab researcher found that using them in long-distance relationships helped couples maintain the kind of spontaneity and subtlety that texts and video chats simply can't.

Another engineer created a system called Be With Me that lets one partner accompany the other during their day-to-day, simply by wearing a VR headset that connects to a 360-degree camera on a phone. The world might be getting bigger, but technology keeps bringing us closer together.

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Written by Ashley Hamer February 25, 2017

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