BT has developed new technology that takes mobile messaging from the arena of 2D photo messages and voice clips to another level where "actual emotions can be conveyed between family and friends in a physical and tactile way".
The research by BT Exact, BT's research business, allows interactive toys to be linked to mobile phones so that SMS communication can be displayed through the toys' actions. This enables the texting experience to become more personable and fun, according to BT Exact.
The team is currently collaborating with a number of leading toy manufacturers to produce interactive SMS prototypes of some of their most popular toys. A receiver device embedded in the toy would activate an action on receipt of a message relayed to it over a short range wireless link by an associated mobile phone.
The researchers say these prototypes will "create a more natural and tangible mode of communicating for adults and children, which will encourage more imaginative text messaging". The interactive toys are tuned in to their owners' mobile phone so that, whenever an emotional graphic symbol (or emoticon) is sent, the toy displays the emotion that has been communicated.
Wag the dog
For example, if a happy symbol was sent to a toy dog it would come to life and start barking. Alternatively a love message could be sent to a teddy bear, which would trigger its heart to glow and become warm to the touch.
The idea is that a recipient of the emoticon can sense the actual meaning of the message that has been sent from their friend or partner. In this way it's hoped the technology could be applied to make the messaging experience more fun and tangible.
This exploration into SMS and interactive toys can also be applied to other areas such as clothing and jewellery.
Emoticons could also be sent to wearable computers embedded in jewellery. These could then change the colour of the jewellery to show the mood of the sender.
When messages are sent to people's phones and they are wearing emoticon-enabled clothing the recipients could actually receive a hug as the vest would grow warm and constrict, reproducing the physical sensations of a real hug.
Boffins at BT Exact foresee endless applications for the technology: anything from a new breed of executive toys that give out physical reminders to pet substitutes for the elderly, which could "remind them to take their medication at specific times or let them know that someone is thinking about them".
These pets could also be linked to a phone's caller ID so that a person's toy dog would have different barks depending on who was calling.
The toys would be sophisticated enough to develop their own personalities based on the type of messages that they received.
Rebecca Capper, new concepts designer in BT Exact's emerging technologies lab, said: "Interactive messaging and SMS toys can not only give people a real sense and feel of how their friends and relatives are feeling but will also demonstrate how they are feeling about you. The first range of SMS toys won't just be about fun but will bring emotional messaging to the fore and ultimately it will become a more multi-sensory way of staying in touch. These devices will enable you to feel closer to those you care about.
"It takes SMS messaging into a new and exciting realm," she added. ®