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‘Emotional’ phones simulate hand holding, breathing and kissing

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The next generation of phones could hold your hand, breathe on your neck and maybe even kiss your cheek.

In pursuit of more ‘emotional’ and ‘sensory’ phones, a designer at the Berlin University of the Arts showed off three prototypes at the TEDxBerlin conference last year that can recreate those sensations.

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One phone includes force sensors and a strap that goes around a hand that can tighten, simulating a squeeze, when a friend grips their own phone. Similarly, the breathing prototype picks up air movements on one phone and translates that into a jet of air on the other (not so good for heavy breathers).

The most alarming (and creepy) prototype is the kissing simulator, which involves a moisture sensor on the smoocher’s phone and a motorized ‘wet sponge pushing against a membrane’ on the receiver’s phone, according to Fabian Hemmert, the designer. The sensor can differentiate between a peck on the cheek and a full on sloppy kiss -- moving the wet sponge to simulate accordingly.

‘Very intense, huh?’ Hemmert teasingly asks the cringing crowd at TED. ‘Intimate?’

Before you automatically recoil, listen to Hemmert’s thought process behind the phones:

How do we make telecommunication more emotional, and why do we want to do that? Because there are two big reasons for telecommunications. One reason is information exchange, and for that speech is really good. The other reason is because we want to be in touch, because the other person is not there. And that’s an emotional need and not so much of a rational need.

So how do we communicate emotion over mobile phones? Well, we can put a text message in mobile phones, put a smiley face in, or we can blow a kiss over video call. But if you think about being in touch, maybe text, video, speech are not all we can do. Maybe we can enable people to be in touch physically.

At the end of the day, Hemmert said, the prototypes are meant to spark debate on what the future of telecommunications will be.

‘You get the question that arises: Do we want that?’ he said. ‘How much nearness do we want?’

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-- Shan Li

Video: Hemmert speaking at the TEDxBerlin conference. Credit: TED via Youtube


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