New SFU technology helps long-distance couples ‘hold hands’

Simon Fraser University students create gloves to maintain touch for couples living apart

A new invention out of Simon Fraser University aims to help partners in long-distance relationships keep their grip on love.

Students studying in a lab at SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology have built a pair of interconnected gloves call 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.

The sensors are attached to a micro-controller to capture the flex actions and provide a value for each bend, transmitted to the ‘feel’ glove using WiFi.

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,” says associate professor Carman 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 enables one-way remote touch between partners, Neustaedter says a second set could allow both to share touches at the same time.

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

Other projects in the works at the lab include a virtual reality video conferencing system that lets one “see through the eyes” of a remote partner, and another invention, called Be With Me, that enables users to video-stream a remote partner’s activities to a long-distance partner at home.

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