Physical contact via internet?

Scientists in Singapore at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have developped a kind of vibrating jacket that children could wear to receive ‘hugs’ from their parents that are away via the Internet. The jacket is already being tested on chicken. The wireless jacket is controlled with a computer and gives the feeling of being touched. The jacket could be used to transmit feeling over the internet.

This development touches upon issues like:

  • the role of the body in an online environment
  • the importance of physical contact in developing identity
  • the ‘multimedialisation’ of the internet and its experiences

From the Reuters article:

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore scientists looking for ways to transmit the sense of touch over the Internet have devised a vibration jacket for chickens and are thinking about electronic children’s pyjamas for cyberspace hugs.

A wireless jacket for chickens or other pets can be controlled with a computer and gives the animal the feeling of being touched by its owner, researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) told Monday’s edition of The Straits Times.

The next step would be to use the same concept to transmit hugs over the Internet, it said.

“These days, parents go on a lot of business trips, but with children, hugging and touching are very important,” the paper quoted NTU Associate Professor Adrian David Cheok as saying.

NTU is thinking of a pyjama suit for children, which would use the Internet to adjust changes in pressure and temperature to simulate the feeling of being hugged. Parents wearing a similar suit could be “hugged” back by their children, the paper said.

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