Mother’s illness led to idea based on the power of touch


When Andreas Forsland’s mother developed severe pneumonia and went into septic shock and kidney failure, communication was hard. She lay in a hospital bed in Santa Barbara, Calif., on life support and unable to move or speak.


Still, he did realize something through that experience: The squeeze of a hand alone is a powerful thing.


About a year later, Forsland attended a gathering of entrepreneurs in Santa Barbara interested in great start-up plans. He came up with an idea “in a flash” for a product that could serve people who are for various reasons unable to talk, write or type.


He imagined a way for his mother’s friends who were far away to communicate they were praying for her by simply rubbing, moving, twirling or squeezing a pebble-sized stone. He imagined a technology tool that felt as simple as a touchstone that could send basic messages like “I’m here for you” or “I love you” or “I need help” across miles.


The bearers of the stones would need to be in a Wi-Fi zone — not exactly a pure, organic experience like a rock. But still, they could get and send messages among a personal network of intimates.

In the works


Forsland has since put together a team and has created prototypes. Smartstones Inc. is based in Santa Barbara, and the fledgling start-up is coordinating design reviews through social media.


Some of the basics are still being worked out, like how the stones would be activated, by squeezing or reading the users’ body in some way, and how the messages would be communicated, by having the stones light up or vibrate, for instance.


Also being discussed is to what extent users would be left to their own devices to come up with their own language — three squeezes for “I love you,” for instance. A price has not been announced.


At the end of January, Smartstones Inc. announced that Max Burton of Matter Global will work with it to design the patent-pending stones. Burton was the creative director at Nike Tech Labs, which created the Nike+ devices.


One of the reasons I wanted to highlight this project in Design Ideas is that the team seems to be very openly engaged with potential users via social media sites including Facebook. It’s an idea with a lot of potential, but also one that the public is being invited to shape in a pretty transparent way. It’s still early.


I also like that this very technology-forward idea keeps communication exceedingly simple and rooted in touch, even if I would have to charge the thing at night. I could imagine giving my elderly mom a stone for her bedside and asking her to tap it to say “good night.” I could imagine a dad giving one to a daughter going away to college. Or what about giving one to your spouse to exchange virtual kisses during the day?

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