Android-controlled hug jacket still needs a bit of work

A Singapore startup is developing an Android-controlled jacket that gives hugs, with autistic children as the target market

The T.Jacket, which produces electric hugs controlled by an Android app, with one of its hug air bladders exposed.

The T.Jacket, which produces electric hugs controlled by an Android app, with one of its hug air bladders exposed.

The perfect hug.

A bit of pressure on your stomach, as when someone wraps you up from behind. A reassuring set of hands on your shoulders and a calming weight on your lower back.

Or that's the concept. A Singapore-based startup is trying to accurately recreate hugs with its T.Jacket device, a windbreaker with air bladders sewn in and inflated by an onboard electric pump. The company has prototypes to try on at the DEMO Asia conference in Singapore this week, and the effect is closer to that of an affectionate life vest.

The power of each hug zone can be set by an app that runs on Android smartphones and tablets. James Teh, who founded the firm T.Ware based on his Ph.D. research at the National University of Singapore, says he hopes to expand the technology to let teachers simultaneously embrace a roomful of unruly children using the jackets, or allow users to share and vote on different hug styles.

T.Ware aims to sell a finished product by the end of this year for between US$1,000 and $2,000, and will initially target autistic children, who can be easily overwhelmed by unfamiliar environments and often relax with a calming embrace. He says the device will allow counselors and teachers to preset a perfect hug for individual children, which parents can then deliver at the press of a button.

"With autistic children, parents want to do a lot. But they're not trained," said Teh.

T.Ware will soon begin testing with the Autism Association of Singapore, and hopes to also launch in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. The slightly bulky jackets on display this week still have a way to go before they can produce electric hugs on par with the real thing, but most attendees that tried one lit up with a smile anyway.

"In each of us, we have a similar need to those with autism," said Teh.

(DEMO Asia is produced in part by IDG Enterprise, a subsidiary of International Data Group (IDG), parent company of the IDG News Service.)

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