Frebble is a portable, wireless, connected device that recreates the feeling of human contact. The idea was born in 2003, thanks to Fredric Petrignani. He then started to look for collaborators to make the concept real and he addressed different possibilities. In 2013, he began a collaboration with TU Delft and more specifically with the IPD master programme of the Industrial Design Engineering faculty.
Every year the master organizes a course called Advanced Embodiment Design where students have the opportunity to optimize and improve existing concepts. In this case it was Frebble. The group received the idea of a product that must recreate the feeling of holding someone else’s hand, that has to be portable, silent and wi-fi connected.
In fact, at the beginning it was just a flat product with a servo motor as an actuator that needed a power plug and that did not represent what the designer wanted to achieve.
The group produced two prototypes and the final one was a perfectly working Frebble.
They used a solenoid instead of the servo motor in order to delete the noise. They managed to include an internal battery to make it portable, and they programmed the PCB.
It also included a formgiving study, together with the material and color palette.
They indeed gave the product a totally different shape from what the assignment was, creating a language that now is what make Frebble popular. The formgiving depended on the ergonomics of the action of holding hands. The colors are friendly, as well as the curves. The group created a totally different product and managed to embody the designer’s vision.
Basically Frebble will be used by two people who want to communicate when they are far away from each other. When, during a video call, one of them squeezes the one he/she has, the other Frebble squeezes the hand of the receiver.
Afterwards, a group of students from another master programme, named Strategic Product Design, took care of the marketing research.
They started to analyse which one can be the target user of Frebble. They found out that the need that the product eventually fulfills is the “positive loneliness”. They started user testing with frequent fliers at Schipol airport and they got several good insights. As a side result, they also found out the children were really involved with the usage of the technology and most of them stated that the feeling was very realistic. That’s why the outcome of the market research was to consider frequent flyers that have a family with children, for the marketing strategy.
Having all the requirements for launching the product, in 2014 Frederic started a Kickstarter campaign. The project eventually reached the goal and the products are now being distributed to the funders.
Thanks to this, he receives opinions by the real users and he recognized that the actual target user might be the couples that are in a long distance relationship.
Using the recent feedbacks, Frederic decided to resubmit the product to the student’s designing skills.
Another group of students is currently working on Frebble again. The assignment now is to improve the feeling of the user and make the hand squeeze more natural. It also involves building a new prototype that satisfies the suggestions of the actual buyers.
The group is now considering factors like temperature manipulation and a new material choice that could feel softer and create multiple sensing points.
The collaboration between students and entrepreneurs happens with the university surveillance. The groups that have been working with the Frebble concept, have received a very detailed assignment description, together with the opportunity to collaborate with a specialist on social touch.
They received the requirements and main constraints at the beginning of the process and then they are free to shape the project as their designing process suggests.
The approach that TU Delft uses in this case, is very concrete. In this way students feel more responsible for the project because they know that it will be probably produced and distributed if they work properly.