July 15, 2021
CuteCircuit is restoring the human touch to loved ones who can't be together.
The explosion of wearable technology has been nothing short of amazing. There are medical wearables that monitor and provide treatment, ones that serve as pet trackers, smart jewelry that can detect wellness trends and even authentication wearables that let users check out of a store without having to stop at the cash register.
In the category of truly breathtaking, there is even a wearable that can replicate a loved one's hug.
Thanks to CuteCircuit, a pioneer in the wearable-technology fashion category, the HugShirt™ provides the equivalent of a loved one's embrace. The product leverages the power of haptic technology, which can create an experience of touch by applying forces, vibrations or motions to the user.
When the HugShirt™ connects to a Bluetooth-enabled phone running the HugShirt™ app, a connection forms, allowing users to send custom-made or preset hugs in real-time from anywhere in the world.
As part of The Connections Project, Cox teamed up with CuteCircuit to help three families with immunocompromised loved ones embrace in a way they never could have imagined when they had to stay apart. The Hug Project is another way Cox is helping bring people closer to those who matter most.
"Technologies will often take on a life of their own as people find new and surprising ways of using them," says CuteCircuit co-founder Francesca Rosella. “The HugShirt™ was designed to bring people together over distance through touch, and during the pandemic this was even more important."
The power of a hug
Thanks to The Hug Project, three immunocompromised individuals — Gary, Stacey, and Tom — got to experience the power of touch after months of isolation. More than 10 million immune-comprised Americans must remain quarantined even as most of us have started reconnecting with friends and family.
For this collaboration, CuteCircuit developed the HugVest with features like front ties for accessibility and fabric that can be sanitized — allowing The Hug Project participants and their families to send and experience the sensations of a warm hug.
“I definitely believe technology can bring people closer together," explains iAsia, who had not been able to visit her father, Gary, since he received a terminal cancer diagnosis right before the pandemic. “I wanted to be there and to see him, but the more responsible thing to do was to stay away."
Benefits of hugging
CuteCircuit co-founders Francesca Rosella and Ryan Genz devised the HugShirt™ two decades ago as part of a challenge at a prestigious graduate design program in Italy. The pair's fact-finding mission led them to interview dozens of their international peers. While hailing from different areas of the world and pursuing varied goals, all shared one commonality: the desire to be hugged.
“The benefits of sharing a hug are well-known in the medical field," explains Rosella. “Hugging increases oxytocin and endorphins levels in our brain, which means it makes one happy by improving overall well-being."
When the tech duo invented the HugShirt™, they knew it represented a unique form of telecommunication, but they could hardly imagine how important their challenge entry would eventually become.
For The Hug Project, being able to bring back that sense of connectedness by sharing a physical experience with a loved one proved very emotional for all involved.
“Having the ability to improve people's lives really makes our work worth doing," Rosella says. "Seeing the joy on people's faces when they use our products and hearing them talk about how their experience made them happy is absolutely fantastic."
It's all about connections
Driven by the usefulness and success of the HugShirt™, the London-based company is continuing to create practical and valuable applications. Their SoundShirt™, designed for those who are audio- and visually-impaired, delivers vibrations activated by sound.
“Often, people think that technology is something that disconnects us from others, but in this case we have shown that through technology we can make the impossible possible — and bring joy and happiness to people," says Rosella.