Touchless AI technology to take mid-air haptics to the next level

Developing touchless technologies to enhance virtual social interactions to deliver digital touch sensations evoking both functional and experiential response


The Covid-19 pandemic has suppressed our sense of touch more than any other. On the one hand, social touch such as holding hands and hugging has been forbidden, causing our society to resemble that described in the 90s sci-fi movie “Demolition Man”, where physical contact is heavily sanctioned. On the other hand, video teleconferencing has become the new norm, reducing most of our social interactions to just audio and visual streams, increasing even more our hunger for touch.


The FET/EIC Pathfinder project TOUCHLESS, a team of six organizations, is developing touchless technologies that will enhance virtual social interactions by using novel mid-air haptic technologies like focused ultrasound, Artificial Intelligence, and neurocognitive science. When combined in the right way, the consortium aims to enable novel human machine interfaces to deliver digital touch sensations that evoke not only a functional response (i.e., receptor response), but also an experiential one (i.e., affective, social and cognitive).


Prof Patrick Haggard from UCL said: “How novel stimulation methods affect the human sensory systems will be studied using simple stimulus designs, and low-level psychophysical methods to measure the quality, intensity and location of basic skin sensations. Next, these simple sensations will be combined to produce high-level experiences such as agency, or particular emotions linked to haptic interactions.”


Dr Asier Marzo from the public university of Navarra said: “While inducing tactile sensations from a distance is a challenging technological achievement, it is even more challenging to tune the technology to evoke affective responses. Our unique combination between physics, psychophysics, AI and phycology will help make this happen.”


Dr Mykola Maksymenko from SoftServe said: “AI will enable our applications to seamlessly understand and affect human experiences via the right touch stimuli. Here we have an exciting overlap of neurocognitive science, ambient sensing and the latest approaches in machine learning to design robust and interpretable AI models for touch.”


Prof Kasper Hornbæk from the University of Copenhagen said: “What is particularly exciting is that it bridges two worlds. We will advance the world of technology by bringing together some of the best companies and researchers that work on technologies for creating touchless touch. We will also advance the world of people by focusing on understanding and recreating the experience of touching things, hugging people, and bonding physically.”


Background information

FET-Open and FET Proactive are now part of the Enhanced European Innovation Council (EIC) Pilot (specifically the Pathfinder), the new home for deep-tech research and innovation in Horizon 2020, the EU funding programme for research and innovation

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash