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Touchless Haptic Experiences with Neurocognitive AI

Project description

Feeding the hunger for physical contact

The social distancing measures introduced to restrict the spread of coronavirus and help halt the COVID-19 pandemic have made us realise just how important interpersonal physical contact is to our overall well-being, and which we are currently missing. Even though there are many advanced haptic technologies, they cannot replace tactile interaction that enables bonding physical sensation of care through the stimulation of skin receptors during touching. The EU-funded TOUCHLESS project aims to overcome that challenge through development of a next-generation touchless haptic technology. It will construct neurocognitive models and a novel AI framework to enable touchless digital inducement of the sensation of touch through the receptor response. It will also enable a soothing, affective, social and cognitive experience.


Our society is experiencing an increasing lack of social tactile interactions, due in part to increased virtualisation and the growth of digital networks, and recently magnified by social distancing measures. Sadly, many people now feel like the society described in the 1990s science fiction movie Demolition Man, where physical contact was prevented and heavily sanctioned. The increased virtualisation of our social interactions feeds our hunger for touch, the lack of which can lead to profoundly negative consequences. Interpersonal touch grounds social relations between people, with distinct patterns of tactile interaction between parent-infant dyads, adult life-partners, friends, teachers and professional colleagues and acquaintances.
Although touch is vital for how we feel and interact with our environments and is foundational for our emotional well-being, most haptic technologies have focused on functional aspects. All major haptics companies use touch to help users improve task completion, discriminate among shapes or textures, and grasp virtual objects. In contrast, social touch typically involves the stimulation of non-glabrous (hairy) parts of the skin while also affecting nociceptors (pain) and thermoreceptors (temperature). These C-tactile (CT) afferents underpin the experience of affective touch, and the pleasant sensations associated with social interactions such as caresses. Thus, current technology neither satisfy our need for touch, nor draw on recent progress in understanding social touch.
Our ambition is to go beyond functional haptic technology and enable computer systems to intelligently create the experiences lost in the virtual transition. Those experiences include agency, bonding, and attachment.
We will develop the next generation of touchless haptic technologies using neurocognitive models and a novel artificial intelligence (AI) framework. Without having physical contact, users will receive affective, social and cognitive touch sensations.

Call for proposal


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Net EU contribution
€ 1 334 118,75
WC1E 6BT London
United Kingdom

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London Inner London — West Camden and City of London
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 334 118,75

Participants (6)