Technologies that connect computers often also connect people -- from smilies to SnapChat, we have plenty of ways to communicate online, even nonverbally. But no digital technology can ever replace the subtle, unspoken signals we use to communicate in person, and that’s especially true for displays of affection. How can a tender touch, a warm hug, or a kiss be reduced to ones and zeros?
That’s the challenge Israeli design students Daniel Sher and Ben Hagin took on with their final project at Holon Institute of Technology. Saying Things That Can’t Be Said is a collection of networked objects that don’t recreate physical sensations -- “Trying to imitate that will always feel fake,” Sher says -- but instead capture the emotional content of human gestures in a playful, interactive way.
Among the objects are a pair of origami globes that, when held, pulsate in time with the heartbeat of the user on the other end; a paper butterfly that flutters when someone blows on a sensor-equipped flower; and a pinwheel that can be spun to make a paired device release a spray of soap bubbles.
Other devices for connecting long-distance loved ones take a rather straightforward approach to telepresence, attempting to make it feel like someone far away is really there with you. The list includes tame concepts like vibrating bracelets that transmit touch and pillows that glow when a partner goes to bed, as well as risque options like remote-controlled sex toys (possibly NSFW). Saying Things That Can’t Be Said, while unlikely to be mass-produced, demonstrates the possibilities for relationships to be maintained through more subtle interactions.
See a demonstration in the video below.
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