Professor working on programming pyjamas to give out hugs

No child’s play: Cheok and his daughter Kotoko showing off rings which can remotely send a gentle squeeze to the other user.

KUALA LUMPUR: In the world envisioned by Prof Adrian David Cheok, computing wouldn’t just be something you see or hear. It would be experienced with all the senses.

Cheok, a professor of pervasive computing at the City University London, has been researching ways to incorporate touch, sight, sound, smell and taste into computing for many years.

He calls it the world of “mixed reality”, where one will be able to use special pyjamas to give each other hugs even when miles apart.

Such pyjamas may seem trivial but it has a real-world application.

“Some autistic children can only be calmed by hugs,” Cheok said at the KL Converge! 2015 annual conference and exhibition held here from Thursday to Saturday.

The event was organised to advance the digital lifestyles of all Malaysians through converged communications. This year’s theme was Convergence and Digital Inclusion.

Cheok showed a pair of couple rings – when one user activates the ring, the other receives a “squeeze”.

Also in the works is a kissing robot that allows two users in different locations to “kiss” each other.

The robot, shaped like a rabbit, has lips with sensors to detect and measure the pressure of a kiss. When two users put their lips to the robots, they will transmit the “kiss” to each other in real time.

“You’re probably wondering why we made the robot look like a cute rabbit. We originally made it look like a human head and everyone said it looked and felt creepy,” said the Australian-born Cheok.

Research in pervasive computing doesn’t stop at that – scientists are also working on making glasses that can produce scent.

This can help improve the mood between two users by releasing pleasant scents as they chat, Cheok revealed.

He showed a demo with several funny scenarios where the product could be used – for instance, a poor student could make it release the aroma of a steak dinner to augment a plate of rice.

The device has already been used for marketing purposes in some countries, he added.

To introduce the sense of taste into the world of computing, scientists are working on a device that can be placed on the tongue – it will produce electricity to stimulate the taste receptors to have the user experience different flavours.

Cheok showed a demo at KL converge where he placed the gadget on a user’s tongue and made it produce a lemon-like flavour.

Cheok said the product could be used by children who could virtually cook a dish and then taste and smell it without having to use fire which could be dangerous.

“In the future, two friends can have dinner together even if they are worlds apart,” he quipped.