cLab research finds a new way to connect long-distance couples

Flex-N-Feel, Be With Me are projects that will go the distance


Long-distance relationships are about to become a lot more intimate, with the help of some new technologies coming out of SFU.

Carman Neustaedter, associate professor with the School of Interactive Art and Technology (SIAT), has been working with several graduate students at the Connections Lab (cLab) to create new technologies to connect people who are currently separated by distance. Neustaedter, along with the students he is working with, say that their research is primarily motivated by their experience of being separated from the ones they love.

“[Distance] is a universal problem,” Neustaedter told The Peak. “My family lives really far away, so this really came out of personal motivation to connect loved ones together in a better way.”

Currently, many rely on Skype or other video chatting services to allow themselves to see another person face to face. One of the technologies that the cLab has come up with is the Flex-N-Feel glove, which is a pair of gloves that allows people to experience touch, even if they are far apart. Vibrations are sent over wireless connection from the movement of the ‘flex’ glove and are then felt by the person wearing the ‘feel’ glove.

Samarth Singhal, the lead student behind the Flex-N-Feel project, echoed Neustaedter’s sentiments. Currently a Master’s student, Singhal is no stranger to separation from his loved ones. While in his native India, he worked for three years in the Indian software industry, separating him from his family. Now that he is studying in Vancouver, he is separated from his girlfriend, who currently lives in Boston.

“These gloves work to fill the void of touch,” Singhal said. “When you say something, it might not feel like very much. But when you can feel the vibrations and movements along with the words, you can feel another level of emotion.”

Beyond the Flex-N-Feel glove, which is currently in testing at the cLab, Singhal is also working on Be With Me, which he described as “the next level of Skype.” Be With Me uses virtual reality video conferencing to allow partners to see through the other person’s eyes.

“Skype is a medium of conversation, and it misses the main component of allowing couples to see what is going on. . . [Be With Me] allows the other partner to see a view of a person’s day, rather than a narrative version of it.”

Other projects that are currently being researched and worked on in the cLab include Telepresence Robots (under the research of PhD student Lillian Yang), which is a monitor strapped onto a movable robot that allows for a person to move around in the space that they are looking at. Also, My Eyes (under the research of master’s student Rui Pan), is a 360-degree camera that can be attached to a phone, allowing for video to be captured, streamed, and shared with someone else.

Regardless of what new gadget he is working on, Neustaedter considers himself to be “one small piece of a big puzzle.

“The systems that are created wouldn’t be created without the people that are currently using them,” he said. “We take knowledge from interviews that we do with people, and we work on them based on what we learned. It is a collaborative effort.”