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Can remote co-presence keep distant human connections alive?

Arduino TeamJuly 5th, 2024

The pandemic made a lot of things obvious, not the least of which is that humans need social interaction to maintain good mental health. Sadly, many of us spend our lives physically separated from our loved ones by great distances or inopportune circumstances. That’s why a team of researchers decided to explore remote co-presence design within the category of smart home technology.

The goal of this design research, conducted by an interdisciplinary team from McMaster University and Simon Fraser University, was to experiment with technology that fosters human connection over long distances. But in contrast to typical communication, like email and video chats, this creates a sense of shared physical proximity. 

The team developed two devices to demonstrate the concept. The first is a paired chair system called There Chair, with one chair visually indicating when someone occupies the other. If one chair is in a loved one’s home and the other in your own, then you would see when they sit down — and vice-versa. The visual indicator is a “display” made up of a spiral wire covered in special fabric that changes color when current flow causes that wire to heat up. There are also heating pads in the seat to mimic the warmth of a person’s body. Those operate under the control of an Arduino UNO Rev3 board

The other device, called The Fragrance Frame, is also intended to pair with a remote equivalent. It, too, contains an UNO Rev3. The device looks like a picture frame, but with an ultrasonic sensor and a fragrance sprayer. When one unit detects someone nearby, it tells the paired unit to spray its scent. Ideally, a specific scent will trigger a memory associated with that individual. 

Both of these are an attempt at using technology to create a feeling of closeness. These specific devices may not make it onto the consumer market, but the idea behind them will inevitably catch on.

Image credit: H. Shakeri et al.