One of the inventions that made the recent New York Times Magazine list of “innovations that will change your tomorrow” is called “smart fur.” Developed by researchers at the University of British Columbia, smart fur looks like nothing more than an odd little scrap of faux fur or maybe a misplaced toupee. Built into the fur, though, is a sensor made of conductive threads. When you touch it, it actually feels like a real animal. What is even more interesting is that the smart fur can “read” human emotion through the way it is touched and researchers say that it can differentiate nine unique emotional gestures. Smart fur is part of the latest trend in “haptic creatures” (haptic refers to our sense of touch; haptic designs incorporate tactile feedback in user interface).
Smart fur isn’t just for fun. The basic idea behind smart fur is that (many) people love to pet animals, and petting animals has been shown to have various therapeutic benefits. For example, stroking an animal has been found to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and create a feeling of calm. Unfortunately, there are many instances in which pet therapy might be beneficial but where interacting with a real dog or cat might is not feasible. For example, smart fur could be used with hospitalized patients or elderly people in nursing homes. It could also be used by animal lovers with severe allergies. And it could be used by ordinary people like me. I could keep a smart fur in my purse and stroke it when stuck in traffic or in a long grocery store line or other stressful situations. I definitely want a smart fur.