We often do not realize how important it is to be able to touch someone. Touching someone allows us to connect with the other person emotionally, and if you’re the sort of person who travels frequently and are away from your loved ones often, then touch becomes all the more important in order to let them know how you feel.

While chatting online and video conferencing is a good way to communicate, it’s just not the same, which is why Holland Haptics, a company based in the Netherlands, has created a device called the Frebble. This allows users to hold each others hands and feel their touch, even if they are on opposite sides of the world.

According to Holland Haptics’ CEO, Frederic Petrignani, “Video calling has made the world a whole lot smaller, and now Frebble is here to add a new dimension to communicating over the internet, by helping people connect across miles in a tactile way.” How the Frebble works is that both you and the other party need to have one device each.

frebble-03When one person squeezes the Frebble, the other person holding the other device will feel it squeeze as well, simulating the feeling of people holding hands. While we expect that Frebble can be used by adults, the company has found extremely positive results when testing it with young children from the age of 5-12 years old. This could come in handy if you’re stuck in the office and want to let your kids know how much you love them, or if you’re on a trip and you couldn’t bring them along with you.

Holland Haptics is hoping to launch the Frebble by crowdfunding the project on Kickstarter. Their goal is to raise $50,000 in funding and a pledge of $99 will give backs a pair of Frebbles when the project has been successfully funded. So if this sounds like a Kickstarter you’d love to back, head on over to its Kickstarter page for the details.​

We have asked a few questions over email to Holland Haptics CEO Frederic Petrignani, see the interview below:

1. Have you tested Frebble with focus groups, and how well was it received by the testers?

We tested with and interviewed over 300 users. About half of these were children, both from primary schools and secondary schools in the Delft area. The other half were adults, mostly parents with children. We also tested with teenagers from a high school in Amsterdam. Plus we ran a full day of tests at the Delft Science Center. In addition, we recruited ten expat families for a (still to be performed) long-term international test. These families were recruited via one of the major oil companies, and we asked questions as to the reasons why they applied to participate.

Interesting results from the primary and secondary schools were that a) almost every child has a loved one at a distance, it can be a grandmother in another country, or a father who frequently travels or a friend who moved away, b) asked who they would like to frebble with, about 50% of children mentioned family members and the other 50% mentioned friends.

Communication between grandparents and their (grand)children was the primary reason why expat families applied for the international beta test.

There is one scene we shot in the Delft Science Center where a father asks his 10 year old son: ‘do you feel anything?’. The son says yes. The father asks ‘what do you feel’? The son says: ‘your hand’. That’s when we knew. This instance was replicated at other moments spontaneously with other users, including when we shot the Kickstarter video.

2. Your target audience is the family, specifically grandparents who want to stay connected with their grandchildren, is that the result of the focus groups?

The extensive tests provided the insight that our target audience is ‘the extended family, in which one or more family members are away, either for a short period or a longer period, or (semi-)permanently. The sub-segments (eg. expats, hospitalized patients, etc) are then determined by who is away, for what reason and for how long. The product appeals ‘when distance hurts’. In our case, the extended family is supplemented by ‘best friends’, because 50% of children say they would like to use it with their (best) friend.

3. What about adults?

Once they understand the importance of mediated social touch (holding hands from a distance) for their children, the vast majority of parents (over 80%) says they would buy or consider buying the product. But the product’s current only feature is not sufficient for adults to see many applications for communication between themselves (adult to adult). For adults to start using it for inter-adult communication, it must first feel more like a hand. The exception to this rule, that we found, was when we interviewed visitors of the Mysteryland festival in the Netherlands. When asked if they would like to frebble with their favorite DJ, from the crowd to the DJ booth, the reply was unanimously YES!

Squeezing the hand is the only feature of Frebble for now, do you see any other potential addition(s) to this $45 device ($99 for two)?

For now, it’s only a squeeze, where the experience is supplemented by light changes and by vibration motors. Customers have asked for the following features: a stronger squeeze, warmth mediation (you pick up your Frebble, the other Frebble warms up), the ability to sense more and different types of movement, and game controller functionality.

4. Does the name Frebble come from “febrile”? What is the story behind the name?

Originally, the product was called the iCarezz. There were three problems with that name: another company found it infringed on their trademark, you can’t easily turn it into a verb, and (for now) the product is not about caressing. We brainstormed for new names and ran a survey amongst are 100+ shareholders. Frebble was the best option that could be turned into a verb. I joke that it is a combination between Frederic and Pebble, the Kickstarter poster child, but this is not the origin at all. ;)

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