Touchbox: Intriguing touch between strangers, CHI Conference (May 2012)

The Touchbox was an iteration of the Mediated Body that offered a play session for two novice participants. Whereas the Mediated Body required a performer to wear a suit and facilitate the interaction, the Touchbox consisted of a system encased in a box with two headphones connected to it. Two participants would put on a pair of headphones and begin to explore touch. The bareskin sensing would react to a simple touch, strokes, full contact and nearly touching.

The physical appearance of the box was designed to spark the curiosity of people observing the interaction, with the aim of them wanting to try it out. It consisted of a wooden box with a meter and a light bulb. The light would blink when a connection between the two participants was made and the meter would show the amount of connection.

It resembled a snake-oil product from the past that would measure one’s health or something equally dubious.

Through a wire in each headphone, the system was able to detect touch and the amount of touch between two participants by measuring the signal-to-noise ratio. The touch-sensing controlled an incandescent light bulb via a solid-state relay. The sounds were generated from the Arduino board through a simple four wavetable synth and modulated with an external Kaoss Pad for richer sound. Further, the old analogue meter was controlled via a pulse width modulator on the Arduino board.

The Touchbox yielded similar results as those we had observed with the Mediated Body. The primary difference was that since it consisted of pristine participants the interaction would vary. Compared to the Mediated Body with the performer, the Touchbox required the participants to find their own energy and mood in the interaction, resulting in a wider range of interactions. Some participants would be goofy, others intimate, and sometimes the connection between the participants would be what can best be described as awkward.

Although the Touchbox did not include a performer, it required a somewhat performative role

in facilitating the initial setup. It required someone to mount the headphones on the participants and calibrate the system. This was partly a consequence of the technical instability of the system, but also

a necessity for lowering the initial threshold by starting the engagement and setting the right frame of mind for the participants.


Source code:

By: Mads Hobye