Switching gears: hugs

This past week a lot of changes have occurred. Lindsey and I spent all of Friday and Sunday fabricating and building a circuit for our idea to have a jacket that produces sounds based on movement. It was possibly after having a physical form of the idea that I felt personally underwhelmed with the overall concept. The moment I began thinking about this I talked to Lindsey who understood my concern. This led to us thinking about other project ideas and contemplating the idea of going our separate ways with the project.

I spent the past few days thinking about what I want to get of wearables, who I want to design for, and trying to free myself from feeling creatively blocked. After speaking with Despina on Monday I started thinking about what I believe to be one of my strengths, the ability to make people feel comfortable. As a teacher this was something that allowed me to connect with many students from various cultural backgrounds and ages, and ultimately allowed them to trust me. Having my students trust me meant that they felt safe to try new things, make mistakes, and boost their academic self-esteem. This got me thinking, how can I create a wearable that did something similar.

This led to paths of many different ideas. I thought about Temple Grandin, one of the most famous autistic women of the 20th century, who not only revolutionized how cattle were slaughtered, but also invented her personal “hug box”. This idea for her invention was triggered after she saw that when cattle were frightened, they would be put inside of a type of machine that would squeeze them to calm them down. This resonated with Temple, as an autistic person who couldn’t be physically touched, but felt the human need to be hugged in moments of panic, anxiety, and fear. This led me to research about wearables related to hugs, and boy are there a lot. Here are a few:

The jacket that inflates upon Facebook likes

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T Jacket: the jacket that calms and comforts kids

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The Hug Shirt: the shirt that sends hugs

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These leads to me to the direction I want to go in in this crazy hugging world. An aspect I am very interested in is why we need hugs and the cultural differences of hugs. This personal interest stems from my own experience:

As an American I grew up in a family that was loving, but not very affectionate. We hugged to say bye, sometimes, and kissed rarely. This was not rare among my friends and their families and growing up I thought it was strange to see “overly-affectionate” people in movies displaying their affection. As someone with some degree of anxiety being touched had become not just something I disliked, but something I anticipated in fear. However, two years my perspective of this changed drastically and after doing some hugging research I believe there could be some scientific proof as to why–

I began dating a Brazilian two years ago. Brazilian culture is very, very affectionate. Friends are like family. And people you meet once are even treated in a loving way. Everyone hugs. So many hugs. And you know what I learned rather quickly, it feels good! I can’t help but crack a huge smile when I get an unexpected hug, I even find something hugging in the middle of conversation. I believe it has a part of me allowing myself to be more vulnerable and open to new things. I want to explore this in my wearable project.

I began thinking about what I want my wearable to be and what I don’t want it to be. In order to do this I decided to go around and hug people. I chose 5 random people to hug and asked them how they felt before and after the hug.

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Interesting things I found: there were some cultural differences brought up in hugging that I am going to explore a bit deeper. This won’t be a main focus of my project, but something that’s helping to drive research and understand people’s responses to hugs. One of the main points I will focus on is the power of vulnerability in hugs, in that hugs make us feel more vulnerable, yet also make us feel safe and in turn refill confidence. It’s a moment between two people where one or both let each other be weak, while they trust the other will give them the strength they need. What I found interesting is that the more I went around and hugged people, the more excited I felt, and at the same time the more nervous I felt. By the last hug, I felt like I had a  lot of energy, and I was more enthusiastic sounding, yet while I was speaking to the huggee, my voice was shaking a bit.

Another experiment I did was ask someone to go around and hug other people. Renata was nice enough to be my hug model and she went around and gave people hugs.




I began building an initial prototype to understand the placement on the body and get a better sense of how this wearable would work. Something I considered was using a proximity sensor that when someone came closer, a part of the garment would inflate, or there would be some kind of soft and comfortable reaction in order to encourage someone to hug the other person.

I connected a proximity sensor to an Arduino Uno, then I found a black piece of fabric, which I cut and folded to make an enclosure. I sewed sections on it to play with the placement. Then I put the proximity sensor inside and read the values of when it go closer. To give the feeling I’m interested in giving, I took a memory foam pillow and cut it into squares then put that inside of the black fabric. To test this, I wore it over my shoulder and asked people to hug me to see how it felt.

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In thinking about how to explore an exchange of energy between two people I thought about using vibration. I made a soft pressure sensor with a vibration motor.