Advanced haptics advancing behavioral mHealth

Haptics is the feedback you receive through a sense of touch–think of the slight vibration you receive on a mobile touchscreen when you touch a ‘button’. Marry haptics to behavioral health and remote monitoring, and you have some interesting devices from MIT’s Touch Lab (formally the Laboratory for Human and Machine Haptics) which have reached clinical testing stage. The four are Touch Me, Squeeze Me, Hurt Me, and Cool Me Down. Touch Me is an array of sensors that vibrate at the caregiver’s remote command to simulate touch. The related Squeeze Me is a vest that inflates, also remotely controlled, to simulate holding, similar to the T.Ware T-Jacket vest [TTA 22 Mar]. Both are for autistic children or those with sensory processing disorders. The touch is to calm and reassure them. Hurt Me is not for the local “dungeon” or Client #9–it’s to assist in the therapy of those who deliberately harm themselves such as ‘cutters’ by simulating the feeling of being bitten on the arm. The pins against the skin deliver controlled pain without breaking the skin. Cool Me Down is a cold vest to calm psychiatric patients, particularly schizophrenics who respond to this. While the mHealth News article which brought this to your Editor’s attention is comprehensive (and moves on to other haptic research), it lacks supporting/originating links. Additional digging led to the original research, performed by an MIT team in 2006, namely Leonardo Bonanni and Cati Vaucelle of what was then the Tangible Media Group in the MIT Media Lab. Their blog posting from that year on Haptic Psychotherapy also contains a link to their interesting PowerPoint delivered at the IEEE International Conference of Pervasive Services 2006. It certainly gives you an idea of the long tail of development, but happily it continues to be developed at MIT. More on the Touch Lab in this video.

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