Tinkering with Social Touch Technology

Angelika H. Mader*, Judith Weda, Edwin Christian Dertien, Jan B.F. van Erp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Social touch technology, haptic technology to mediate social touch interactions, potentially contributes to reducing negative effects of skin hunger and social isolation. This field is developing and while there are a number of prototypes, few became products and less persisted in the market today. Viable social touch technology is essential for research on social touch and it has an unexplored market potential. Making prototypes and evaluating them is the approach of generating knowledge in Research through Design (RtD). In RtD, researchers investigate the speculative future, probing on what the world could and should be, leaving the exact method of designing prototypes open. One possible method is tinkering, characterized by a playful and creative exploration. Tinkering environments, however, need a careful design of toolkits and setting. In this study, we report on the toolkit and setup we used for a tinkering-based teaching unit on social touch technology, held within an introductory course of an Interaction Technology master program, and describe the resulting prototypes. With a qualitative analysis of the results, we consider the teaching unit as a success, w.r.t. the diversity of the concepts developed. Tinkering is well-known as a playful method for education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths, aiming at school children and high school students. It is not yet established as a design method in itself, and not considered as element of an academic skill set. Here, we argue that tinkering is a valuable design method in the context of social touch technology, and that it has a place in the design approaches within an academic setting. In a further step, we also want to include experts from other domains in the design process, such as psychologists or fashion designers. For that end, we suggest expanding a current toolkit for wearable technology with concepts from the teaching unit, more scaffolding tools, a variety of tactile actuators, and a software tool that allow for (re)configuring designs rather than programing them.

Original languageEnglish
Article number848023
JournalFrontiers of Computer Science
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2023


  • social touch technology
  • tinkering
  • toolkit design
  • Research through design


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