Sending hugs long distances sounds like the sort of thing wished for in soppy songs, but Microsoft has just taken out a patent for an Internet-enabled pillow that will give you a hug sent across the Web.
US patent application number 8,332,755 filed by Zhengyon Zhang and six other inventors on behalf of Microsoft Corporation is for “Force-feedback within telepresence”, which doesn’t sound quite so cuddly, but the idea is that two people can use devices connected to the Internet to add a physical interaction such as a hug or a handshake to long-distance communications.
Who says Steve Ballmer hasn’t got a romantic side?
The patent isn’t just about hugs, though. The application discusses ways you could shake hands over the Web, and the feedback goes further than vibrations. The feedback could include “friction, haptic, tactile, electric feedback, electrical stimulation, three-dimensional feedback, vibration, shaking, physical resistance, temperature change, motion, noise, pressure, texture, a motion, a replication of touching, any combination thereof, and/or any other suitable feedback communicated via a device.”
That seems to leave quite a lot of long-distance money-making options open, but we leave the details of quite what app you might develop open.
In practical terms, Microsoft might well look to its recent acquisition Skype, and add elements of physical presence to that. The patent also talks about whiteboards and handing over documents, which suggests SharePoint might be another candidate for the technology. On the whole, internet hugs sounds a lot more fun.
The idea is an interesting one with lots of practical potential but is it unique? It reminded us of the Like-A-Hug vest invented by researchers at MIT earlier this year that delivers a hug when its wearers gets a like on Facebook.
However it seems to be yet another software/system patent that aims to grab some obvious ideas just because they can be grabbed. Does anyone really think that this patent is going to stand if another company takes it on? The problem is that it is going to put a lot of smaller companies off trying out similar ideas. This is clearly another nonsense patent in more ways than one.