Fast Company

Can You Feel Me Now?

As I cruise the consumer landscape looking for the handprint of innovation, there’s a lot of action aimed at engaging our primal toolkit -- touch, taste, smell, hearing, vision. Innovative products that enrapture our senses are in every aisle. It’s no news that the visual acuity of HDTV is on every guy’s wish list. And, of course, torquing taste buds with the likes of single origin chocolates or fresh-fruit cocktails is raising the bar on experiential taste. But almost as delicious as mint-laced, dark-cocoa haute truffles are products that simultaneously tickle multiple senses to heal, relieve pain, keep us alert, help us relax, or just up the ante on fun. There’s much to learn from this approach if you simply open your eyes, ears, mouth, nose, and, that largest of all sensory receptors, skin.

Consumers are craving and innovators are delivering an unprecedented multisensory barrage. Here are some products to start your creative juices flowing.

Let’s start small.
Bringing comfort to both baby and parents is the goal of One Step Ahead’s Massaging Water Teether. Anyone dealing with a screaming drooler covets this sensory magic. Soothing fussiness that comes from a pesky tooth pushing through is the goal. The teether’s multisensory approach chills the gums, plus, as the child chews, it delivers a gentle, calming vibration to rock-a-bye the ache.

Grownups with chronic pain take heart. Armed with a recent flash of FDA approval Dynatronics’ Dynatron STS, a sound vibrations and light tool, is now available with a doc’s prescription to help chronic pain sufferers get the upper hand. If this strikes you as a little woo-woo, know that sound and vibration techniques have been a staple in hospitals for years, curing ailments from mouth sores to jaundice in newborns. The do-it-yourself model brings home the science of photobiology, activating human enzymes that promote the body’s healing process by focusing high-intensity light and sound on sore spots.

Shifting from pain to pleasure.
If you haven’t noticed by now, bathrooms are a room of the past, replaced by the home spa. These sensory dens are where you head to relax and cleanse away the stress du jour. An intoxicating array of bathing fixtures -- yes bathing fixtures -- are purifying and arousing our five senses using colored light, pulsating water, and scented steam. Toto USA’s chromotherapy tubs are perfecting the art of a sensory soak with LED lights embedded in the tub’s interior. Chromotherapy uses light and rainbow colors much like aromatherapy uses fragrance to stimulate the senses to alter moods. A hot steep begins with a clarifying white followed by cool blues, balancing greens and energizing warm red, yellow, and orange rays. Float in a bar of lemon verbena glycerin soap, crank up the Yanni, and it’s a luxurious personal party.

Speaking of parties, home furnishing are where its shakin’ and shoutin’ our senses. Extreme gamers with a few bucks to invest in a full-body adrenaline blast of Halo 2 are tuning their couches with a "tactile transducer kit" from Crowson Technology. Crowson’s TES 100 kit, at $650, uses wired electronic plates that slip under couch legs to shake the entire sofa when the sound system’s bass kicks in. These shakers shift virtual play into rockin’ reality. And for those 32% of American homes tricked out with their personal surround-sound, Kong-size home theaters, there’s a new toy to try. D-Box’s Quest Integrated Motion Simulator Seating -- think leather Barca Lounger on steroids -- debuted in January at the Consumer Electronics Show and is designed to undulate in near-perfect synchronization with what’s onscreen. I can only imagine the sensory rush I could get just shifting my bum from sofa to chair. Pass the popcorn.

Look to the garage for the next multisensory barrage.
Motorheads are still drooling over the dreamy Lexus LF-A two-seater unveiled early this year at Detroit’s North American Auto Show. This car seems to signal a new direction for Toyota as they unabashedly reach out to stroke our sensual selves. Word on the street is their Japanese design team has secured U.S. patents for a car that I’m dubbing the "moodmobile." This jitney’s onboard computer mirrors a driver’s moods identified through a combo of indicators; pressure on pedal and brakes and defensive moves on the steering wheel. The hood design resembles a stylized human face that lights up as the computer senses a mood change. So when some crazy in the left lane cuts you off, the "eyebrows" blaze red for anger. Take that! Rinspeed, the famous Swiss auto and design solutions wizard, is another thought leader titillating our five senses. Their prototype car, the Senso, is focused on safety. Keeping the driver alert is the goal with shifting colors of ambient light, wafting scents of grapefruit and vanilla, sound and sporadic seat shaking all activated by a central cockpit computer reading signs of driver fatigue.

Are we overstimulated yet? Not by a long shot. In fact, consumers across the board are waking up to the idea that sensory elements aren’t just nice to have -- they’re a must-have for a fully satisfying experience. For manufacturers and marketers, the senses are a direct route to impressing deep memories and associations on even ordinary products and services. Innovation awaits. Can you feel it now?


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