Ask engineers what the future of communication looks like and they’ll show you a fiber-optic cable. Ask artists and they’ll conjure something like the Sleeve. For the past year, engineers at Nokia Bell Labs, the famed New Jersey research facility that birthed the transistor, have been developing this wearable armband with input from artistic collaborators. “We’re reductionist in our thinking; artists are divergent,” research lead Domhnaill Hernon says. The labmates are part of a program called Experiments in Art and Technology, founded in the ’60s and newly resurrected in partnership with the design incubator New Inc. In this right-brains-meet-left coalition, engineers and artists team up to explore big questions: Can humans communicate through touch? Is it possible to transfer empathy? What’s the successor to smartphones? The Sleeve tries to answer them. This early model gathers information about the user’s physical and emotional state through gyroscopes, accelerometers, and optical sensors, then communicates that intel via haptic pulses and screen-displayed messages. The collaborators aim to inspire more engineers to consider the emotional plane. Soon you’ll be able to express your heart through your sleeve.
1. Haptic motors
These motors produce vibrational jolts to transmit emotional messages between users or provide the wearer with environmental feedback.
2. Electromyography wires
An advanced alternative to swiping and tapping, these wires measure subtle electrical signals in your forearm muscles to send messages through the Sleeve.
3. Inertial measurement unit
Accelerometers and gyroscopes recognize directional movement. The Sleeve could be used to control smart-home devices with gestures.
4. Optical coherence tomography disc
This device measures how light interacts with tissue to determine the body’s chemical makeup. It can detect biomarkers for stress and joy.
A dot matrix LED screen conveys biological signals, messages, and directions, affording richer communication between Sleeve users.
This article appears in the May issue. Subscribe now.