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Augmenting communication technologies with non-primary sensory modalities

Tewell, J.R. (2018). Augmenting communication technologies with non-primary sensory modalities. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Humans combine their senses to enhance the world around them. While computers have evolved to reflect these sensory demands, only the primary senses of vision and audition (and to an extent, touch) are used in modern communication. This thesis investigated how additional information, such as emotion and navigational assistance, might be communicated using technology-based implementations of sensory displays that output the non-primary modalities of smell, vibrotactile touch, and thermo-touch. This thesis explored using a portable atomiser sprayer to deliver emotional information via smell to mobile phone users, a ring-shaped device worn on the finger to display emotional information using vibration and colours, and an array of thermoelectric coolers worn on the arm to create temperature sensations. Additionally, this thesis explored two methods of signalling temperature using the thermal implementation, and finally, used it in a controlled study to augment the perceived emotion of text messages using temperature.

There were challenges with using some of these implementations to display information. Smells produced with the scent technology were ambiguous and highly cognitive, and poor delivery to the user produced undesirable cross-adaption effects when smells lingered and mixed in the environment. The device used to communicate vibrotactile and colour lighting cues neutralized emotions in text messages. Furthermore, temperature pattern discrimination using the thermal implementation was difficult due to non-linear interaction effects that occurred on the skin’s surface, as well as latency resulting from the thermal neurological pathway and the technology used to heat and cool the skin.

However, the thermal implementation enabled more accurate user discrimination between thermal signals than what a single stimulator design provided. Furthermore, the utility of continuous thermal feedback, in the context of spatial navigation, was demonstrated, which improved user performance compared to when the user was not presented with any thermal information. Finally, temperature was demonstrated to elicit arousal reactions across subjects using the thermal implementation, and could augment the arousal of text messages, especially when the content of the message was strongly neutral. However, no similar statistical significance was observed with valence, demonstrating the complex implications of using thermal cues to convey emotional information.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA75 Electronic computers. Computer science
Departments: Doctoral Theses
School of Science & Technology > School of Science & Technology Doctoral Theses
School of Science & Technology > Computer Science
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