Long Distance Dating Relationships

My PhD was based on the development of computer mediated communication systems specifically designed to support Long Distance Dating Relationships (LDDRs). My supervisor was Dr Leon Watts. You can find a copy of my thesis here. The audit trail for my thesis can be found here.

The first section of my thesis focussed on how Social Presence operates in the context of LDDRs, unpicking the relationship between relationship type, relationship distance, communication media and feelings of Social Presence and Closeness. Details can be found in our publications.

Developed Devices

Through my PhD work I developed 7 distinct prototypes as described here

The first device to discuss is the Magic Sock Drawer (MSD). This device took it’s design inspiration from the practice of private note-sharing, a behaviour common to many intimate couples. Love notes are a co-located form of love letter where the author constructs a relationally meaningful note, typically utilising emotions and/or personal idioms. The note can then be hidden to create a pleasant surprise for the author’s partner when the note is discovered. The MSD tries to recreate a similar form of communication for distant couples. The MSD consists of two devices where each device is made up of a tablet PC and a mini printer. Installed on each PC is some custom software which allows participants to create either free hand, typed or combined notes. The free-form interface allows notes to be created using the tablet-pen meaning that people can write and draw whatever they like on the note. The typed interface allows people to type out text which is then placed onto the note. The combined interface allows people to create notes using both text and free-form drawing. When these notes are sent, they are saved as images, sent to the other tablet where they are automatically printed out on credit-card sized glossy paper. These printed notes are also stickers.

DoodleMessenger is a further development of the note-sharing concept used within the MSD, extending the concept into sending messages whilst the author is mobile. Notes are created on an Android phone. Focussing on the free-form notes, doodleMessenger also give users the ability to draw on top of photos stored upon the users’ phone. We also wanted to explore whether other forms of sharing notes (beyond the sending of notes to a paired tablet and subsequently to a printer as in the MSD), meaning that we designed the software such that doodles can be sent privately (through MMS or email) or publicly (by being uploaded to Facebook or Flickr).

The HotHugs belt moves us on from the previous two devices in that the metaphor is significantly different, focussing on hugging rather than sharing notes. Previous work has looked at hugging as an inspiration for design, namely Mueller et al. [2005] who created a jacket which ‘hugged’ the person wearing it using compressed air. There was a substantial design change which were intended to overcome some of the trepidation of Mueller’s participants, namely changing the sensory medium. Although we wanted to retain a tactile sensation, the noise generated by the air-compressor turned a lot of people off the hug jacket idea. As such, we selected heat as the sensory medium. Heat was used for the additional consideration that minimal work has been undertaken investigating heat as an interaction medium for exchanging emotion and we wanted to explore that within the belt.

sleepyWhispers differs from the other devices by using sound as the sensory medium that it operates through. Communication systems commonly use sound as a medium – telephones and video conferencing being prime examples. By using a loose interpretation of pillow talk as the design inspiration, we were able to design a communication system using sound without replicating existing systems.

sleepyWhispers is a way of sending recorded sound messages to your partner. They are listened to through a speaker, hidden inside a pillow. Messages are played with the listener presses the button embedded into the photo frame. Messages can be recorded using any type of device (including on a PC or a mobile phone) as long as they are recorded in .mp3 format. The intended use case is that people record and send messages during the day to be listened to just before their partner goes to sleep. However, there is no technical barrier in the implementation preventing participants from developing their own usage pattern.

The final three devices were developed together with the express aim of exploring what a communication system based upon hand-holding could be like. The three prototypes we present are titled yourGlove, hotMitts and hotHands. They use different physical channels (e.g. movement or heat) to communicate intimate signals and thus present the same behavioural metaphor of hand-holding in three distinctive ways.

YourGlove is based around the movement of hand-holding. The device is made up of a robotic hand controlled by strings which, when pulled, cause the hand to contract. YourGlove is mounted onto a tube, approximating the dimensions of a human forearm, and is controlled via a Phidget interface board. The device has the appearance of a limb that can be used to reciprocate hand-holding. Hidden within the back of the glove is a switch that, when pressed, causes an additional paired hand to close. The position of the switch is such that it is activated when someone holds their YourGlove. YourGlove is used by placing the hand within the glove, pressing the aforementioned switch. This sends a signal to the partnered hand making it contract gently around the partner’s hand.

HotMitts differs in that it uses heat rather than touch as the sensory medium, driven by a Phidget-controlled Peltier pump. Instead of mimicking a moving hand, HotMitts is based around the exchange of body heat which occurs when holding hands. Two hand imprints are used as the basis for the device. The device is used by placing one’s hand into the imprint. If your partner’s hand is within their imprint, both devices warm up together.

HotHands again uses heat rather than movement as the key physical signal in the medium of the hand. The system consists of two model hands, each with containing a Peltier heat pump. Under each heat pump, a push switch is embedded into the hand. Using a Phidget control board, the heat pump can be controlled in software. When a person places their hand onto their model hand, the other person’s model hand warms up.

Details on the design considerations integrated into these devices, and their impact as evaluated through case studies in the field, can be found in our publications.