This project is at the crossroad of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and programmable soft materials, with a connection to the world of interactive arts.
Its objective is to enrich user experience with the sense of touch through new tactile shape-changing interfaces, both for enabling new interactions and for conveying emotions. Touch is fundamental to human interaction, as is experienced during COVID crisis. Not only does it play a crucial role in interpersonal relations, but it can also provide information about the environment or draw the user’s attention. Touch receives a growing attention in HCI, either for emotional communication or for developing novel interactions. The rising interest in AR/VR has also fostered wearable haptic interfaces. However, current output technologies for simulating touch are unable to express the richness of human touch. Similarly, while touching is a widespread interaction, most input technologies only capture a part of what human touch can express. The primary goal of this project is to reduce these limitations by improving the input and output capabilities of touch devices. It relies on the “second skin” concept, which is the idea that users and objects can wear a skin-like input/output device. This second skin will enable novel ways of interacting and/or conveying emotional information by leveraging a new kind of shape-morphing materials called « baromorphs ». Recently introduced by one of the project partners (PMMH), baromorphs are bio-inspired inflatable elastomeric surfaces capable of changing their shape. They offer new opportunities for HCI and will become our base material for creating interactive second skin, once improved and augmented with input/output capabilities.
More precisely, the main scientific questions at the heart of this project target two different levels of touch expressivity: How to create devices and materials able to generate more realistic and versatile touch signals than the state of the art? and How to leverage this modality for enabling new forms of interactions, including emotional interactions? Using soft shape-changing materials, we will develop second skins for augmenting interacting devices, and for providing more credible touch for affective mediated communication. We will put them in practice according to two scenarios : (i) an integrative scenario combining novel interaction capabilities and interpersonal communication, and (ii) an artistic production that will further investigate second skin potentialities by exploring imaginative, and possibly unexpected, functionalities.
The main originality of the project is that it focuses on touch, a modality which potential has not yet been fully investigated, by developing a multidisciplinary approach joining material research, human sciences and HCI. While touch and shape-changing interfaces are some of the hottest topics in HCI, as said above their development is still strongly constrained by the available technology. Baromorph materials provide a unique opportunity to make a difference, not mentioning that such an association between different scientific communities is not so common in the French ecosystem. Another strength of the project is that it does not only consider HCI application scenarios, but goes beyond by also integrating an artistic scenario, which can inspire fruitful unexpected new ideas.