Let phone finger touch you? It's crazy and creepy

French researcher Marc Teyssier has invented MobiLimb, a robot finger that plugs into a mobile phone and can be programmed to touch the phone's user - an idea that most people found creepy. He hopes that people can one day interact with phones throug
French researcher Marc Teyssier has invented MobiLimb, a robot finger that plugs into a mobile phone and can be programmed to touch the phone's user - an idea that most people found creepy. He hopes that people can one day interact with phones through touch, as they would with other people or pets.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS • A French researcher has invented a robot finger that attaches to your mobile phone. It can wriggle across your desk. It can stroke your hand. And guess what? It's creepy.

He wants to know why.

"My PhD subject is around touch in communications," said Mr Marc Teyssier, a researcher at Telecom Paristech engineering school.

"When we talk with people in real life, we touch each other to communicate emotions, for example a stroke on the arm, or stuff like that," he said.

"But for mobile devices and interaction in general in computers, we don't use touch at all. So my starting point was: How can we bring touch in human-computer interfaces?"

So he designed, built and patented the MobiLimb robotic finger, which plugs into a mobile phone and looks very much like a real finger. It can drag the phone across the table. Your friends can activate it and operate it remotely, to give you a comforting pat on the wrist when they talk to you.

But when people saw it, everyone had the same reaction.

 
 

"We have a tonne of reaction on the Internet, like: 'It's creepy'. Everybody tells me it's creepy. And it is, actually, in fact," Mr Teyssier said.

"We communicate with humans with touch. We use fingers. We use motion. But when we put that on a mobile device, everybody thinks it's crazy and creepy."

The creepy phone finger tells us something about who we are, and what we expect from a world where your phone listens and responds to your commands like a person, but still doesn't have a moving body, Mr Teyssier said. But he imagines a world one day where people would interact with objects the way they do with other people or pets.

"Maybe we wouldn't throw it in the trash after two years, right? Maybe we would want to build a relationship with it and keep it with us as a friend or a companion."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2018, with the headline 'Let phone finger touch you? It's crazy and creepy'. Print Edition | Subscribe