These theses that change life: Design and appropriation of a haptic interaction device designed to detect expressions and communication attitudes

An inno­va­tion may be stu­pen­dous but, if users do not ‘accept’ it ful­ly, it will go down the drain and sim­ply dis­ap­pear. Take the case of Barthélémy Mail­let, who fol­lowed the tra­di­tion­al pat­tern as an engi­neer, learn­ing how day-to-day objects are designed, built and assem­bled. He grad­u­al­ly changed his view-point as he was doing his Master’s degree in Indus­tri­al Design, fol­lowed by a the­sis (2006–2010) that cov­ered object design and appro­pri­a­tion by users. 

“After I had met with Charles Lenay and the UTC Costech research teams, I want­ed to under­stand how users inte­grat­ed (or reject­ed) inno­va­tions in their uti­liza­tions”, explains Barthélémy Maillet. 

His choice of an object was: how tac­tile devices are intro­duced in the world of com­put­er sci­ences and their appli­ca­tions. “This fea­ture is not lim­it­ed to com­mon tac­tile prac­tice on smart­phones, but includes the pos­si­bil­i­ty of hav­ing a new device that can con­vey sense via touch”. Thanks to his engi­neer­ing train­ing skills, Barthélémy Mail­let designed a small appa­ra­tus some­what like a com­put­er mouse pointer. 

To describe it, we see a lar­gish ball with sen­sors equipped with a vibra­tor-ven­ti­la­tor and tac­tile stim­u­la­tors that resem­ble braille picots. The ball also con­tains an accelerom­e­ter and a pres­sure sen­sor. Its name? Phat­ic for Hap­tic (the adjec­tive for non-ver­bal con­no­ta­tion) Per­cep­tion of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Atti­tudes.

How­ev­er design­ing the ball is not enough: you also have to think seri­ous­ly and prac­ti­cal­ly about the lan­guage asso­ci­at­ed with this tool. By study­ing on-line mes­sage exchanges, Barthélémy Mail­let stud­ied the cas­es of twinned per­sons work­ing with 5 basic emo­tions – fear, sad­ness, joy, dis­gust, anger. “What I did was show one of the part­ners a spe­cif­ic set of images, e.g., from a hor­ror film and he /she was then asked to trans­pose his/her emo­tions in a tac­tile manner”.

Then Barthélémy Mail­let left the Hap­tic devices with his guinea pigs for between 15 days and 1 month and vis­it­ed them on a reg­u­lar basis to ques­tion them and see if the use of the devices made them feel clos­er to the part­ners. “What tran­spired from the inves­ti­ga­tions was the impor­tance of syn­chro­niz­ing inter­ac­tions. When one part­ner does some­thing else, it is per­ceived as frus­trat­ing: this can be expressed by send­ing a whiff of air from the fan”. 

This use of exper­i­men­tal psy­chol­o­gy allows the sci­en­tist to antic­i­pate oth­er uses. Today, in his capac­i­ty of ‘tele­com’ inter­ac­tion design­er, Barthélémy Mail­let, indeed uses this frame­work of thought when it comes to propos­ing new ideas. In par­al­lel, his research also relies on tech­nolo­gies already used by blind per­sons and which also serve to help imag­ine new ways for blind and non-blind per­son to com­mu­ni­cate “on a par or equal oppor­tu­ni­ty basis”.

Le magazine

Avril 2024 - N°62

Faire face aux enjeux environnementaux

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