Students at the MIT Media Lab have crafted a “wearable social media vest” that inflates or “hugs” the wearer every time someone "likes" a video, photo, or status update on his or her Facebook wall.
The “Like-A-Hug” vest, which was created for a class project by students at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has gone viral in the past few days, being picked up by major media outlets including ABC, Forbes, and The Guardian.
Melissa Kit Chow, who recently graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, said she had no idea her class project had gone viral until she was contacted by a reporter. She and her classmates are now discussing plans to finish constructing the vest.
“We weren’t planning on pushing it further but just because of the response we’ve gotten we might push the project to make it fully realized,” Chow said.
Chow said she invented the “Like-A-Hug” vest along with fellow Harvard student Andy Payne and then-MIT student Phil Seaton during a course led by Professor Hiroshi Ishii at the MIT Media Lab last fall. Chow said the assignment was “to use shape change to convey information,” and the three came up with the idea for “Like-A-Hug” while chatting about the limitations of Skype and G-chat.
“It’s frustrating to not be able to move past a screen. It gets really dull,” she said.
Chow said they attached a fan to the back of a vest, and then wirelessly connected the fan to a computer controller. The final step would involve programming the wireless connection into Facebook, she said.
“It’s similar when you receive a phone message [from Facebook] and your phone might vibrate,” she said. “Instead of sending a signal to get a phone to vibrate, you get a fan to inflate.”
Phil Seaton said he thinks people are attracted to the vest because it’s a different type of wearable technology.
“There’s already lots of products in terms of wear technology,” he said. “I think the charm of this is relative to its shape and bizarreness and that it puffs up.”
Seaton said the recent fascination with “Like-A-Hug” has been mind-boggling.
“It’s very strange,” he said. “We are getting calls from Ellen DeGeneres, Anderson Cooper and the Today Show. Everyone wants to get a chunk of it somehow.”
Chow said she thinks people have reacted strongly to “Like-A-Hug” because they are unaware that the technology to make it work is already in place.
“We are already introduced to this type of technology without even realizing it,” Chow said. “It just kind of creeps up on us.”
The vest would be impractical because of how bulky it is, Chow said, but she could see similar technologies being developed in the future.
“[The vest] is definitely out of reach,” she said. “But in a more subtle way we will definitely see more tangible interactions which will be connected to our body through clothes.”
But Chow said that besides the recent media frenzy, not too much has changed.
“I’ve been getting a lot of friend requests,” she said with a laugh. “I didn’t realize there was so much buzz about it.”
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