Two women hugging

Using tech to restore the ability to give someone a hug

Submitted on Thursday, 04/05/2023

Insight members were involved in a Brain Computer Interface Hackathon – last month in which they came up with an innovative solution to restore the ability to hug loved ones, to people who are unable to do so.

The title of the project was Neuro-Hug: Restoring affection to those who need it most, and the team was made up of Sandra-Carina Noble, Eva Woods, Sonal Santosh Baberwal (DCU), Hasana Bagnall Hare, Haitham Elamin(DCU, ME4) and Insight’s Dr Shirley Coyle

The purpose of the project was to enable individuals that have lost motor function to regain the ability to non-verbally communicate with loved ones through a “hug vest”.

Motor neuron disease, traumatic brain injury and many other forms of diseases can lead to the diminishment of motor function in individuals. These diseases can have highly debilitating effects for patients not only physically but also socially. The P300 speller was a tool developed to assist patients with severe motor impairments such as in the cases of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) patients to effectively communicate with others. However, verbal communication is not the only means by which people can communicate. Both verbal and nonverbal communication is equally important. Individuals with diminished motor function have needs to share affection with loved ones through simple actions such as a hug. However, due to their illness, this ability has been taken away from them.

Compression/sensory garments have widely been used therapeutically for the regulation of physiological and behavioural responses in individuals with autism. The idea of this project is to use a “hug vest” in which an individual experiencing paralysis or severe impairment of motor function can wear the EEG cap and – using solely brain signals – can trigger the compression vest, worn by a loved one, to simulate a hug.