Mutsugoto is an intimate communication device
intended for a bedroom environment. Instead of exchanging e-mail or
SMS messages using generic interfaces in business-like venues,
Mutsugoto allows distant partners to communicate through the language
of touch as expressed on the canvas of the human body. A custom
computer vision and projection system allows users to draw on each
other's bodies while lying in bed. Drawings are transmitted "live"
between the two beds, enabling a different kind of synchronous
communication that leverages the emotional quality of physical
Human intimacy is a significant but often neglected part of modern
life. More people now than ever carry on long distance relationships
with romantic partners, sometimes for extended periods of
time. However today's communication systems are impersonal and
generic. E-mail, for example, is often read and written on the same
computer and at the same desk that one uses for any other kind of
communication. Phone calls and SMS messages are sent and received
between partners on the same devices used for work and business.
Mutsugoto is a new kind of communication device meant to be used by
romantic couples in long distance relationships. Breaking away from
traditional systems intended for operation by any pair of people in
any situation, the form and function of Mutsugoto is designed to more
strongly reflect the character of an intimate bond.
Mutsugoto is meant to be installed in the bedrooms of two distant
partners. You lay on your bed and wear a special touch-activated ring
visible to a camera mounted above. A computer vision system tracks
the movement of the ring and projects virtual pen strokes on your
body. At the same time these pen strokes are transmitted to and
projected on the body of your remote partner. If you follow your
partner's movements and your strokes cross, the lines will react with
each other and reflect your synchrony. Special bed linens, silk
curtains and other aspects of the physical context have been designed
to enhance the mood of this romantic communication environment.
Mutsugoto won a £5000 Alt-w Production Award on 13 September 2008. This award will support further development of Mutsugoto leading up to several exhibition engagements in 2009. The distribution of Alt-w awards is managed by New Media Scotland and
funded by Scottish
Screen and the Scottish Arts
Mutsugoto was featured at Science Gallery in Dublin in an exhibition entitled Love Lab, 11 - 24 February 2010. As part of the exhibition, a connection was made with a Mutsugoto installation at Inspace in Edinburgh for use by real long distance couples between the two cities. The Edinburgh side of the installation was supported by New Media Scotland.
Mutsugoto was installed in private studio spaces in London and Edinburgh in early August 2009 for use by real long distance couples. This effort was supported by an Alt-W Production award.
Mutsugoto was exhibited in the Alt-win.ning event at the CCA in Glasgow. The event was a celebration of New Media Scotland's 10th birthday and included new work created and curated by Alt-w Fund supported artists Thomson & Craighead and Sarah Kettley as well as Distance Lab, with new writing by Netwurker Mez and Hannu Rajaniemi, choreography by Sue Hawksley and music by Peter Gregson.
Tomoko Hayashi, Stefan Agamanolis, and Matthew Karau, Mutsugoto: a body-drawing communicator for distant partners (poster), SIGGRAPH 2008 International Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, Los Angeles, 11 - 15 August 2008, ACM Digital Library. (PDF)
Frequently Asked Questions
What is slow communication?
"Slow communication" is an extension of ideas from the "slow food" movement into the realm of technology and communication.
We believe mobile phones, email, chat programs and other common modes of communication are similar to "fast food"... Just like fast food can be eaten "anywhere anytime", mobile phones can be used "anywhere anytime". This results in convenience, but you may also be exposed to distractions that can interrupt your conversation. Fast food can be efficient but isn't normally high in quality, and in fact can be downright unhealthy. Similarly, mobile phones may be efficient for getting a message across but they are typically not known for their high sound quality, which may lead to misunderstandings and frustration. Fast food is often not customized to the diner or the location where it is purchased. The phone is generic as well - you use the same phone to talk to anyone from your lover to a telemarketer.
We have coined the phrase "slow communication" to represent a different approach to the design of communication. Instead of speed and efficiency, slow technology emphasizes the quality of the total experience and the elimination of distraction. Slow communication is a personalized experience, tailored to the character of the relationship of those communicating. Slow communication reflects our traditions as human beings and supports a sense of intimacy and closeness where appropriate.
Is Mutsugoto going to solve the problems of long distance relationships?
We believe that nothing is better than being in the same place, but if you have to be apart, there could be modes of communication that are more "healthy" than others to use between partners. That is why we created Mutsugoto - to offer another choice in the palette of communication available to partners.
Why is there no sound and video?
We believe the way sound and video is used in conventional communication can sometimes emphasize distance rather than break it down. In a way, sound traps your partner in a box (the phone handset) and video places them in an untouchable place behind a computer window.
In Mutsugoto the communication is projected on and can "touch" your skin. Without speech or text, the communication is based on what can be expressed through physical gesture, as manifested in the projected drawings and using the body as the canvas.
But it's only light - there's not really a touch sense is there?
That's correct, you need your imagination to complete the experience. In Mutsugoto, twinkling lights follow the path where your remote partner is drawing. Even though it is only light, some people who have used Mutsugoto have reported that they can feel something as they watch these patterns trace around their bodies. Scientists have approached us interested in studying this effect.
When can I buy Mutsugoto?
Mutsugoto is still a research project - we are exploring the effects of this kind of experience and different scenarios in which it could be offered.
In any case, Mutsugoto would never be offered as a mass-produced "product" that people would buy and install themselves. It is more than just a physical piece of technology - it is a special "designed experience" for long distance couples that unfolds in two locations simultaneously, and the technology involved is just one element of this.
We imagine Mutsugoto (or experiences like it) being offered as a service in a network of special-purpose locations in different cities. These locations could be stand-alone studios or possibly within hotels. It could also be offered as a highly customized installation within homes. There would be careful attention to every detail and a high level of customer service.