• Workshop report: An exploration on designing touch interactions 

  • Be Sociable, Share:

    < Back to library

    Posted: 6 December 2017

    A critical stance at body-based sensing

    An afternoon of experimentation

    On November 24th an international group of peers from both the creative, tech and IT-industries joined an exploratory session revolving around designing prototypes for touch interaction and sensor technology. A dystopian narrative set in 2057 was the speculative framework for investigating the implications of a world in which body prostheses mediate the human senses.

    Marije Baalman is an artist and researcher/developer, working in the field of interactive sound art. She has created numerous works related to interactive compositions, which have been exhibited across Europe. In her current research she is focusing on creating multi-participatory events, such as live performances, installations and interactive environments. The Malbody Centre is the title of Baalman’s most recent project, which is set in a speculative future scenario.

    The Malbody Centre takes a critical stance at body-based sensing, the control of artificial intelligence over our experience of the world, and how our society deals with people who divert from the norm. The starting narrative of this workshop is a scenario Marije came up with: a dystopian narrative set in 2057. Within this setting, wearables have become body prostheses that will mediate our senses -so called 'ebodilies'. These prostheses are connected to networks controlled by large companies or states.

    For the workshop a group of international peers from both the creative, tech and IT-industries joined in an exploratory session revolving around designing prototypes for touch interaction and sensor technology. During the 4-hour workshop Marije’s 2057-narrative was the starting point for investigating the implications in case such a scenario would become reality. What could happen when companies control your senses? What if your senses don’t function as the norm - and your body turns into a so-called ‘malbody’?


    test lexicon


    Economia is the festival of

    In order to find out how touch interactions can be affected by technology, the workshop starts with exploring what the sense of touch is all about. What are the qualities of touch, and what meaning is ascribed to certain touch interactions? These questions led to an in-depth exploration on the different qualities of the sense of touch. The participants formed three different groups, composed of people with various cultural backgrounds. This diversity proved to be a valuable asset; one the findings was that the meaning and practice of touching is influenced by culture to a very large extent.

    One of the groups described the sense of touch as a sensor, that reacts to both internal and external influences - such as temperature or texture, or as a vehicle to communicate and express emotion. In regard to interpersonal communication, the sense of touch is very much subject to subjectivity and cultural habits. Touch interactions can be seen as a language based on culturally determined rules and habits, and, like the other senses, the interpretation of a gesture is very much affected by subjectivity and cultural background. Different ‘rules’ exist for touch interactions between groups of people and individuals, for example based on gender, social contexts, age difference or throughout cultural historic periods.

    After the initial round of brainstorming, Marije invited the groups to experiment with different haptic devices. These sensory prototypes could either emit vibrations or measure body metrics, and translate this data into graphs. The vibration-emitting haptic devices were programmed from a central computer. In this way, the user could compose a choreography of vibrations, that were emitted to multiple devices at the same time. By playing and experimenting with variables of the instruments, ideas came to mind on how such devices could be implemented in a wearable or prosthesis in the (not too distant) future.

    These experiences resulted in a thought-experiment about the potential of wearables in the future. How are bodily functions going to be enhanced or changed, and for who is this beneficial? A discussion about the downside of measuring body data and influencing the body by using wearables was the result. What are the implications of wearing body sensors; what happens with the data, and who is in control?

    Although the answers to these questions may seem daunting, they don’t necessary imply that all applications of these technologies carry out bad intentions. Imagine the potential of such devices if they could be used for something that improves the quality of living on a day to day basis. One of the implementations the participants came up with, is mimicking the comforting qualities that the petting of animals can have on humans. What if this experience could be recreated for people who can’t have a real pet, for example in places such as hospitals or elderly homes? Another idea for implementing haptic applications could be the translation of other sensory stimuli -such as vision - into haptic impulses. By integrating GPS and touch simulation in an Augmented Reality application, it would be possible for people to navigate in a ‘haptic map’ without sight. In this way the sense of touch could function complementary to the other senses.

    In the last round of the workshop participants exercised scenarios for touch and haptic feedback to prototype interactions, by picking a quality or goal, something they wanted to encourage or communicate (e.g. “stay with me”, “stay away”, “caution”). ‘Rules’ were set for how the interaction can work, and participants played out the interaction by using human actors to simulate the algorithm.

    Two groups brainstormed and prototyped possible interactions between participants utilising mediated touch, to explore what kind of relationships mediated touch can create between people in the same room. For example, by ensuring trust between participants, and by thinking about the algorithm as a non-human participant in these interactions.

    Within the further development of the project touch and haptics will form a central component for mediating the interaction between participants, resulting in a modular and scalable system for working with body worn wireless sensing and actuation. As such the workshop was an initial case study to test the flexibility and robustness needed for such a system.

    More information on Marije Baalman

    < Back to library