Sometimes, a gentle squeeze of the hand can make you feel a little better. And what if that hand was actually an electronic device? Holland Haptics, the creator of the Frebble, thinks you'll feel uplifted, even if no other human pulse is involved.
The Frebble has just arrived on Kickstarter in search of $50,000 to launch the online hand-holding market. The gadget is trying to bridge the last big gap of the Internet: touch. When you talk to people online, you can see them over video and hear their voices, but you can't touch them. (Unless you had the foresight to create a life-size replica doll, but that's a little creepy.)
It takes two Frebbles to make this online touch thing work. You hold one while the other person, far away, holds the other as you chat online through Skype, FaceTime, or the Frebble app. You squeeze your Frebble and the other Frebble responds by squeezing the other person's hand, and vice versa.
Haptic technology built into the Frebble is designed to imitate the feeling of holding someone's hand. Two pressure sensors on the front pick up on squeezing while two vibration motors and a "squeeze bar" provide the sensation of squeezing back. The bar is like a little lever that extends against the back of your hand. A package of two Frebbles is going for a $99 pledge.
Holland Haptics suggests the Frebble would be a nice way to connect young children with parents who are traveling or grandparents who live far away. While kids seem to be a focus, it could be welcomed by anyone who has a loved one separated by distance.
The Frebble is both weird and sweet at the same time. Whether or not you're into the whole Frebble concept probably depends a lot on how much comfort you think an electronic device can give. The Frebble does have the advantage of pairing up with online videoconferencing, so you can see and hear your loved one. It's not like you're just cuddling with a strange robot with no context. Not that there's anything wrong with that...