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Scientists embrace 'cyberhugs'

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Scientists say their cyber hugging device will bring families closer together.

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LIFE-CHANGING TECH

(CNN) -- A jacket that allows children to receive "cyberhugs" from parents thousands of miles away is soon to be unveiled by scientists who say the technology will bring families closer together.

Associate Professor Adrian Cheok of Singapore's Nanyang Technological University says the system should be commercially available in June 2006.

Teddy bears equipped with sensors are used to record parental hugs and transmit them wirelessly over the Internet.

The jackets convert them into embraces using mobile-phone style vibrations and heated copper threads.

"All around the world, wherever you go, there is a crisis in family life as parents are so busy they haven't got time to hug their children good night," Cheok told CNN.

"For a while technology has been driving people apart, locking them in front of computer screens, now we hope to use it to bring them together."

Cheok said the jackets could also give children a visual sense of their parents' absence by changing color depending on their distance apart.

"Using mobile phone technology to track location, we can give them a visual awareness of how far away they are," Australian-born Cheok added.

"When they are a long way away, the jackets will be brown and as their parent gets closer they will turn red or pink."

Cheok's team has already developed a prototype "poultry Internet" project that allows people to remotely stroke their chickens -- a device that can be used for other animals.

"The problem with pets is the only way of communicating with them is through touch, and owners are too busy these days.

"But if you can carry a doll that interfaces over the Internet to send strokes to your pet, then that will be a great help."

Cheok says that once the child jackets are on the market, his team will begin adapting a Valentine's Day version for couples.

But he says he has no plans to explore the more intimate possibilities for the technology.

"Ever since the printing press, all types of communication media have been used in the context of sex and I'm sure someone will take ours and develop it in that direction, but we're just focused on bringing families closer."

Cheok and his team, which specializes in using technology to mix real and virtual worlds, have also created a device that allows people to capture themselves in 3-D and interact in cyberspace in real-time.

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