Looking to the Future: The interactive display you can reach through and touch

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Not since the printing press have we experienced such a revolution in communication.

We sit in the middle of a fantastic age in history. Ideas and interactions can happen across the globe in no time at all, and a potentialy endless soup of knowledge is avaliable to be filtered and delivered to you within only a few clicks. We can find social niches that never existed before and find and hone our interests within in a potential community of millions.It's not perfect, but it's era-defining and nowadays it's all available at the palm of our hands within a single touch screen.

Sean Follmer - a PHD student at the Tangible Media Group - has noticed a problem with the symptoms of this technological advancement. We are losing the tactile quality of our own machines. While we might be able to simulate the objects that perform functions - buttons,dials, wheels etc - touch screen technology means that we no longer have them.
So what, you might ask. Surely that was the point? Fluid lines and minimalism defined the appeal of touch screen phones or the earlier abilities of computers. But Follmer argues that in chasing this ideal something very important has been lost.

"As humans, we have evolved to interact physically with our environments, but in the 21st century, we're missing out on all of this tactile sensation that is meant to guide us, limit us, and make us feel more connected,"

The solution, he and his team suggest, is the InFORM.

The InFORM was created by Sean Follmer, Daniel Leithinger, Hiroshi Ishii and with academic support from Alex Olwal. They took the simple concept of the pinboard office toy and then ranked it up to 11, adding hacked Playstation KINECT technology to an ingenious setup of hardware in order to create an interactive display.

The pinboard has two main functions: one is as an interactive platform which allows users to control real life elements from far distances. For example, in the video above, two people could play catch or hold hands. The second function is as a real life display functions - a sort of reverse hologram. By using particular software, the pins can give real from of designs and allow for an interactivity and editing feature that would be at home in any boardroom meeting.

Of course there is still a lot of work to do, and any technology of this nature is currently a rather massive piece of hardware. But imagine the same creation made of thousands of pins, or something even smaller and more tactile. It's an exciting possibility for how we interact across long distance in the future.

But what about the Average Joe right here right now? How can they make their long-distance relationships more tactile?

Long distance relationships are tough and so many companies have already taken the initiative to try to provide some of the interactivity that they lack. Of course, there are plenty of NSFW options. But here are a few more of the squeaky-clean offers available right now which will have to do until the InFORM really takes off.

The Tactilu
The Tactilu uses the same theory as the InFORM to transfer touch between partners via a wristband. Each bracelet both receives and transmits. On the top it can be stroked and touched to send signals to the partner bracelet. Underneath the receiver uses Arduino-controlled pistons to replicate the touch that was transferred. The pistons do this by gently pushing against the leather strap that touches your skin.
It's a sweet understated way of interacting wordlessly, though I can't help but think how much you'd jump and at sudden ghostlike tickle of the wrist when you don't expect it.

The HugShirt
The HugShirt was created by the London based design company CuteCircuit. They created a top that has embedded sensors in it that allow you to hug someone wearing the same shirt from afar. The sensors have the ability to sesnse the strengths of touch, warmth and even the heartbeat rate of the sesnor so that it can more accurately transmit the emotion of the hug. The hugshirt then recreates the hug via bluetooth to its partner.
Ideally both parties would wear a HugShirt, but it can alternatively be transmitted to one party via a HugMe phone app.
It also has the advantage of making you look like a power ranger.

Kissinger is an odd looking interactive pig that, when you kiss it, senses the kiss and buzzes into the partner's mouth in an attempt to replicate it. There's a lot of kissing replicators out there, but this is perhaps the cutest one for the moment. The alternatives are either what looks like a breathaliser for creepy french kissing or an eldrich horror.

Segnali de Luce (Light Signals)
If you never want your long distance partner to get a good night's sleep again, there are also a variety of different interactive lights which light up whenever the partner touches them. Through this, little passive messages can be sent which is sure to comfort the receiver...provided they weren't trying to sleep at the time.

Technology is a strange thing that can push us farther away or push us together. These tactile inventions and their cousins are all set to keep us very much routed in the sensory, no matter where technology takes us.

-MIT invents a shape-shifting display you can reach through and touch
-20 long distance relationship aiding inventions
-All the tech you need for a successful long distance relationship
-36 digital tools to make a long distance relationship easier
-Sean Follmer
-Tangible Media: InFORM
-The Hug Shirt
-Weird but possibly helpful gadgets for long distance relationships
-Light Hearts: Interactive lamp connects distant loved ones
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