Lucy McRae creates hugging machine as an antidote to the "touch crisis"
This article originally featured in Dezeen on the 19th October, 2019
Los Angeles-based artist Lucy McRae has created a machine she calls the Compression Carpet, which offers a hug to a person craving intimacy.
Body Architect McRae imagines a future where the growing influx of technology starts to have a big impact on people's mental wellbeing. She wonders whether mechanical touch, rather than physical contact with other humans, will become the solution.
Her Compression Carpet is a machine that offers its user a full-body embrace, by sandwiching them between cushions.
"We're moving towards a touch crisis where we're inundated with technology, to the point of anxiety," said McRae. Her question is: "In the future, will technology vie for our affection because of our obsession with digital?"
The machine is coloured with pink and brown tones, reminiscent of skin tones, which emphasise the illusion of human touch.
To use the device, you simply lie down inside it. Another person – likely a stranger – will then turn a handle, which causes the machine to slowly close up around you. This other person has full control over the firmness of the hug. McRae describes the experience as being "lulled to surrender".
Compression Carpet was unveiled at Adobe’s Festival of the Impossible, a San Francisco exhibition that explored the future relationship between humans and machines. Guests were invited to try the machine out for themselves.
"Most left with a glazed look in their eyes, after a few minutes of being squeezed," McRae told Dezeen.
One user likened the experience to the "reassuring feeling" she got from hugging a friend twice her size, said McRae, while another was able to use and enjoy the device despite suffering from claustrophobia.
"During the first moments she felt the triggers of claustrophobia, but overcame them by laying there and staying calm," added the artist. "My guess is if we added sound and guided audio, the experience would expand the senses one step further."
McRae's work centres around the idea of using the body to speculate on the future. Past projects include The Institute of Isolation, which explores how humans can prepare their bodies for life in outer space.
In a recent interview with Dezeen, the designer said she was "interested in giving science fiction an overdue sex change".
In this previous iteration of the design, the hug is created by an inflatable device. Users control the intensity of their own experience with buttons.
"Both works consume the body with affection and a heavy-duty hug," added McRae.
"The big picture is to exhibit the family of hugs under the one roof, like a sort of intimacy-circuit-training for the future sensitive human."