Hugs on with the Parihug Bear

I hugged a teddy bear at CES, and it hugged me back

Trudging away from a particularly disappointing demo, I was feeling pretty down. The halls of CES 2016 are alive with people, but everyone’s running to their next meeting, with no time to slow down, let alone exchange a few friendly words to a momentarily disillusioned tech writer in need of some encouragement. A few minutes later, I was smiling, and happier than I had been for hours. Why? I’d just hugged a teddy bear, reason alone for my spirits being lifted, but to make matters even better, it had hugged me back.

Just to clarify here, it wasn’t a real bear, or someone dressed up in a bear suit. It was a medium sized cuddly toy, which was connected wirelessly to another bear, that was being hugged by Parihug co-founder Harshita Gupta. Parihug is the name of the startup that wants to change the way we communicate with loved ones, particularly kids, over a long distance.

While I may have exaggerated my situation when I met the Parihug team and squeezed the bear, it did cheer me up; and that’s the entire basis behind Parihug’s existence. Gupta, who is a senior at a school in California, told me she thinks modern digital communication methods lack one crucial thing — tactility. The Parihug bear solves this problem by remotely linking the two bears together, and the digitally transferring the feeling of a another person’s presence or touch in a reassuring, physical way.

Of course, it’s not really meant for temporarily saddened reporters, but for children, absent partners, the elderly, or the infirm. Modern life regularly takes us away from people that matter to us, and this is a fun, practical, and very cute solution. We know the bear isn’t really hugging us, and it’s not a real substitute for a human being’s touch, but the magic is there because someone, somewhere is making the bear happily vibrate in your arms. The idea for Parihug came when Gupta’s co-founder Xyla Foxlin, an aerospace engineering student at Case Western Reserve University, found herself in a long-distance relationship, and wanted a more personal, physical way to communicate.

The two met at a hackathon and came up with the idea and a prototype — that’s the Baymax doll covered in cables and sensors you see in the photos. The Big Hero 6 doll has been retired — They’re acutely aware Disney’s not a fan of that sort of customization — and the project has evolved to become the prototype bears shown off in January.

Connected-Bear_9965
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

You won’t find one of those big pressure-sensing boxes inside Parihug’s bear, because that would make it feel like a piece of technology, and require being squeezed in a particular way to activate. The team wanted the bear to react to a gentle hug almost anywhere on its body, and remain soft and huggable; so they used clever analog pressure sensing strips that become part of the bear’s fur. It’s a neat solution, and doesn’t create any unpleasant lumps and bumps inside the bear’s body. Theoretically, the strips can be placed elsewhere, like in the paws, to provide different reactions or feedback.

Parihug intends to sell a pair of Wi-Fi connected bears later in the year through a crowdfunding campaign, but that’s just the start. Building on the personal nature of Parihug, the company plans to sell a kit to transform any cuddly toy into a smart, connected cuddly toy, too. It’s a great idea. After all, who reading this can remember being fondly attached to a special toy when they were young? Associating it with a parent’s touch may have made it even more special, and that’s the potential of Parihug’s cool project.

Highs

  • Cute bears
  • Virtual hugs
  • Isn’t that enough?

Lows

  • How could there be a low? These are bears that send and receive virtual hugs.
Gaming

Seedling for Magic Leap is the most expensive plant you’ll ever take care of

Insomniac Games has officially launched its new game for Magic Leap One, called 'Seedling.' Throughout the game, you can nurture your very own life form wherever you are. In our demo with Seedling, we got to check out if the game is worth…
Mobile

New Galaxy S10 leaks showcase display sizes, confirm headphone jack return

While we still may be months away from an announcement, there's no doubt about it: Samsung is working hard on its successor to the Galaxy S9. Here's everything we know about the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S10.
Deals

20 holiday gift ideas for your co-workers that they’ll actually want

Your calendar is probably pretty hectic this holiday season, so it's easy to forget about your office holiday party. Given that we see our co-workers even more our own families sometimes, a gift is a very special gesture. If you really want…
Mobile

A render video gives us a 360-degree look at the midrange Pixels

The Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are considered to be two of the best Android smartphones, but it looks like Google could be prepping a midrange line. Say hello to the Pixel 3 Lite and Pixel 3 Lite XL.
Mobile

Honor to out-megapixel the competition with 48MP camera on upcoming View 20

After its phenomenal success with the View 10 in 2018, it looks like Honor is getting ready up the ante with its forthcoming Honor View 20. Here's everything we know about it so far.
Mobile

Xiaomi is preparing to set records with 48-megapixel phone camera

Bigger doesn't always mean better, but it certainly makes headlines. Chinese mobile giant Xiaomi is set to release a phone camera with a staggeringly large 48 megapixels on a single sensor.
Apple

Patent highlights Apple's sky-high ambitions for AirPower wireless charger

At its September event last year, Apple unveiled the AirPower -- its new wireless charging mat that will allow you to charge multiple devices at one time. It has not yet been released. Here's everything we know about the device so far.
Deals

Check out the best Green Monday deals for those last-minute gifts

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, but that doesn't mean you've missed your chance of finding a great deal. We're talking about Green Monday, of course, and it falls on December 10.
Mobile

Google Fit app finally gets a widget, among other new features

Google Fit hasn't received any new features since its redesign. This week, the company is rolling some new tools; users will be able to add a widget to their Android home screen, adjust the intensity of their workouts, and more.
Home Theater

Step aside set-top boxes, the best streaming sticks are tiny and just as powerful

Which streaming stick reigns supreme? We pit the Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra against the Roku Premiere, Roku Streaming Stick+, and the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K to help you decide which one will be the best fit in your living room.
Home Theater

Boy dies after being electrocuted through his headphones

A 16-year-old Malaysian boy appears to be the latest victim in a growing list of people who have been electrocuted by their smartphones via their headphones. It's believed that a faulty charging cable is the culprit.
Social Media

Walkie-talkie voice messaging finally comes to Instagram

In its latest grab from messaging apps, Instagram now lets you send walkie-talkie style voice messages. Apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and iMessage have offered the feature for some time.
Deals

Sign up for Verizon Fios Triple Play and get an Amazon Echo and Amazon Prime for a year

Verizon is now offering its Fios Gigabit Connection Custom TV and Phone service with Amazon Prime tossed in. While valid, you can sign up for the company’s Triple Play package, which includes all three Fios services, for $80 per month.
Deals

19 portable tech gadgets you’ll want to use every day

If you're looking for portable tech to keep you charged up while on the go (or for some great stocking stuffer ideas), we've rounded up 19 must-have gadgets. You'll find everything from a mini gaming controller to a folding Bluetooth…