Telepresence for Couples
My final project first asked: What are couples in long distance relationships missing out on? Among other things it is company. This project seeks to change the nature of long distance communication with a loved one into something more passive and ambient. As if the two of them happen to be in the same room.
Not everyone gets to see their significant other on a daily or even weekly basis. More and more people have found a match who doesn’t share the same city or even country.
Long distance relationships are hard. Even with advances in technology and reduced costs of long distance communication they can be painful and frustrating. However, as populations become more mobile they are increasingly common. Over my time at CIID I often noticed friends taking on great hardship to keep a worth while relationship alive. But even with improvements in video calling and social networks they still seemed to be having a rough time to say the least. I became adamant that telepresence developments had become stale and unimaginative. Long distance couples are some the most enthusiastic consumers of the technology and yet they had never been explicitly designed for. I eventually dedicated the end of my masters towards taking one step in a dramatically different direction using present day technology.
The result is what may be the first attempt at simulating the sensory effects of merging two rooms into the same space so that people have the experience of truly spending time together. The final concept utilizes surround sound speakers, 3D camera’s (Microsoft Kinect) and an articulating light on the ceiling of each persons room. With ambi-presence, users can hear their significant other as if they were moving around their own living room in 3D space. A beam of light indicates the other persons corresponding position. Research on virtual reality as well as my own tests showed that even though the resolution is much lower than a hologram, users mental models of the significant other fill in the gaps surprisingly well. The system is mapped to one object in the room (the bed, couch, kitchen counter) so that the couple can sit together in spite of architectural differences in their respective rooms.
This proposed change in direction is based on how people in long distance relationships consume telepresence. After the first few days, they don’t want to be forced into hour long face to face agenda style meetings. They miss out on the experience of having someone else in the room to share thoughts with or purely to experience their company. However, this insight took a great deal of research and prototyping to reveal itself.
While initially conducting research on couples using telepresence I noticed them carrying laptops around apartments and adjusting webcams while cooking. We discussed how quality sound was the most emotionally dynamic form of communication and that they felt the significant other was infuriatingly trapped behind a piece of glass on video calls. beyond this they have to act as their own cinematographers if they have any desire to do anything other than sit still.
This lead to the problem statement: How might we allow couples in long distance relationships to spend time together by augmenting their living space? Ambi-presence is the result of a series of iterative prototypes in sound and spacial movement.