"AN ALL-SUPER-SINGING, SYNTHETIC-TALKING, COLOURED, STEROSCOPIC FEELY." In Brave New World, the "talkies" have morphed into the "feelies". Plot is an afterthought and what matters is feeling the action (mostly sex) taking place hither and thither on-screen. To feel everything, one grasps a metal knob on the arms of the chair. In the synthetic-talkin' feelie "Three Weeks in a Helicopter", a blonde is kidnapped in said helicopter and ravished, while hovering for three weeks; however, what mattered most to audiences was all the love-making that took place on a bearskin rug and the fact that every hair could be "separately and distinctly felt." (pp.170-171) (image)
Feely technology now goes by the fancier name of "haptic." Sensors measure the amount of pressure someone puts on them and sends this info to another location where the technology worn by the receiver re-creates the pressure. Disney's research wing recently announced technology that lets you feel textures on a touchscreen, paving the way for your smartphone device du jour to send and recieve touch. "Everything will be touch-sensitive in the future," notes Ivan Poupyrev, the Principle Research Scientist at the Walt Disney Interaction Group, including "touch screens on mobile devices, tablets, laptops, tables and walls." Disney Research is also developing tactile tech for games that let you touch things around you that are in thin air. "Aireal" as it's cleverly called works by "blowing" rings of air at the user; these small rings simulate everything from gentle touch to movement to a collision with an object. At the University of Bristol in England, they are developing a variation that simulates touch with sound waves instead of pulses of air.
Touch makes technology that much more human-scale. Take the charming "Lullaby" quilt (above) designed by graduate students at the University of Venice's Visual and Multimedia Communication Program. The quilt is actually two quilts. When one person touches one of the quilts, whoever has its twin can enjoy a virtual embrace via the embedded LEDs which reproduce the touch with patterns of light on the quilt-mate. The idea is that family members separated by distance can enjoy a form of loving touch. The kwamecorp BOND (left) has also integrated touch into pendants and bracelets that come in pairs: one for you and one for a friend. Whenever one of you touches it, the other feels it, no matter where they happen to be are on the planet. "We don’t do tweets," they observe, "we do tickles."
Tickles, it appears, are the future. At least according to futurist Gray Scott, the editorial director of Serious Wonder. "Imagine wearing your future SmartSuit (yes you will…and you’ll wait in line for it) embedded with a very thin membrane of haptic micro skin stretch “nerves” and digital muscles," he writes in an interesting piece in H+ magazine. "This “haptic skin” will not only sense and report stimuli, it will actually move! It could hug, squeeze and tickle the user. This would allow a connected remote friend or lover to send out a touch, and you would feel that touch in the suit...From smart screens to wearable smart suits, haptic wearables will introduce a new form of intimacy in the digital realm...Imagine sending your friends, parents or lovers haptic hugs on birthdays and anniversaries. What a beautiful future!"
(Tesla Touch image via Disney Research)
Here is the podcast I recorded about this...I hope it "moves" you! :)
Music: Kevin MacLeod, Incompetech.com
- Lesley Scott