Re-form : Morphable Technology to Transform Interactions

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Engineering Mathematics


Social touch (also described as affective or emotive touch) plays an important role in our health and well-being. It is necessary for our healthy development as children and has a significant, yet often unconscious, impact on our physiology, behaviour and perception. With modern lifestyles increasingly involving long distance interactions between people using communication methods such as messaging, email and video calls, we experience many interactions where the communication channel of physical touch is not available. Research has shown that simulated natural touch can elicit the same emotional and physiological responses as real social touch interactions. This supports the emerging concept that this communication channel of social touch could be mediated by haptic (touch) interfaces to enhance long distance interactions. Such interfaces can also create more engaging and emotive interactions with our technology and are being explored for use in applications such as virtual reality, sensory augmentation and feedback for remotely operating robots.

Existing haptic devices frequently use vibration-based stimulation of the skin since vibration motors are cheap and discreet, but this is a limited modality that does not provide the range of affective touch sensations our bodies respond to. This PhD thesis looks to support the emerging field of simulated natural/social touch by presenting a 'Sensation toolkit'; a library of different forms of natural touch, such as squeezing, stroking and tapping, including methods for simulating these forms via haptic stimulation and analysis of our emotive responses to such sensations. The Sensation Toolkit is a collection of wearable tactile interfaces that utilise novel actuation methods to generate haptic sensations. The hardware of each interface is described and characterised so that the interfaces are replicable. The performance of each interface is investigated by conducting psychometric tests to understand the emotive responses of participants to the sensations generated by the interfaces.

To demonstrate how the Sensation Toolkit can be used, the final chapter of this thesis presents a use-case scenario: a wearable haptic device developed using the knowledge collected and presented in the Sensation Toolkit. This device is prototyped and tested with participants in real-life scenarios to explore and assess the interactions that unfold. It is also an opportunity to investigate how combining elements of the Sensation Toolkit can create more diverse and meaningful interactions.


10 25 50

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509619/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021
1953736 Studentship EP/N509619/1 01/10/2017 30/06/2021 Alice Haynes
EP/R51245X/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2021
1953736 Studentship EP/R51245X/1 01/10/2017 30/06/2021 Alice Haynes
Description Futures 2018 European Researcher's Night 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact European Researchers' Night project is funded by the European Commission under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions as part of the Futures festival. In Bristol and Bath it is an annual event where researchers and academics present their work to the public. We (myself and colleagues from the Soft Robotics Group) had a stand presenting and demonstrating our research. The event is typically split into school visits and time open to the general public. It is a great way to get to talk one-to-one with members of the public about our research which sparks questions and discussion. In 2018 our stall was voted for the popular award.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019