How to communicate human emotions to a hand through air

Another "computers can't...." myth bites the dust
April 21, 2015

UltraHaptics uses pulsed air to stimulate different areas of the hand to evoke different emotions. A soft structure keeps the hand position steady. (credit: SCHI Lab, University of Sussex)

A University of Sussex-led study has shown that human emotions can be transferred to another person by stimulating different parts of the hand with short blasts of air to convey feelings such as happiness, sadness, excitement, or fear.

The “UltraHaptics” system sends air pulses to the area around the thumb, index finger and middle part of the palm to generate excitement; slow, moderate stimulation of the outer palm and the area around the little finger generates sad feelings.

The open-access findings, presented April 21 at the CHI 2015 conference in South Korea, offer “huge potential” for new innovations in human communication, according to Sussex scientist Marianna Obrist.

Sharing feelings remotely

“Imagine a couple that has just had a fight before going to work,” she said. “While she is in a meeting she receives a gentle sensation transmitted through her bracelet on the right part of her hand moving into the middle of the palm. That sensation comforts her and indicates that her partner is not angry anymore.

“A similar technology could be used between parent and baby, or to enrich audio-visual communication in long-distance relationships.”

In an idea stimulated by Korg Kaoss pads, the authors suggest how a DJ could use an UltraHaptics system in  a club (the system functions out to about 2 meters, but multiple speakers could be used) for one-to-many emotion communication:

Scenario: Imagine a high-pitched summer song in a room full of people dancing. Now they raise their hands into the air as DJ Hapster offers them some emotional stimulation in mid-air: it starts at the upper end of the palm, runs along the along the palm, then into the middle of the palm and back to the upper edges creating a predictable loop and a positive feeling of excitement and stability. The DJ is using high frequencies (128 to 256Hz) with high intensity to create emotional arousal. The DJ is creating the haptic stimulus by moving along the thumb and middle part of palm.


Korg | KORG KAOSS PAD QUAD Official Introduction Movie

Obrist has been awarded £1 million by the European Research Council for a five-year project to expand the research into taste and smell, as well as touch.

“Relatively soon, we may be able to realize truly compelling and multi-faceted media experiences, such as 9-dimensional TV, or computer games that evoke emotions through taste,” she said.

“Longer term, we will be exploring how multisensory experiences can benefit people with sensory impairments, including those that are widely neglected in human-computer interaction research, such as a taste disorder.”

Scientists at the University of Birmingham and Ultrahaptics Ltd were also involved in the research.


Marianna Obrist | Emotions Mediated Through Mid-Air Haptics (ACM CHI 2015)


Abstract of Emotions Mediated Through Mid-Air Haptics

Touch is a powerful vehicle for communication between humans. The way we touch (how) embraces and mediates certain emotions such as anger, joy, fear, or love. While this phenomenon is well explored for human interaction, HCI research is only starting to uncover the fine granularity of sensory stimulation and responses in relation to certain emotions. Within this paper we present the findings from a study exploring the communication of emotions through a haptic system that uses tactile stimulation in mid-air. Here, haptic descriptions for specific emotions (e.g., happy, sad, excited, afraid) were created by one group of users to then be reviewed and validated by two other groups of users. We demonstrate the non-arbitrary mapping between emotions and haptic descriptions across three groups. This points to the huge potential for mediating emotions through mid-air haptics. We discuss specific design implications based on the spatial, directional, and haptic parameters of the created haptic descriptions and illustrate their design potential for HCI based on two design ideas.