In an attempt to make hitting a poke button convey as much emotion as actually jabbing someone with your finger, researchers at Osaka University have developed a smart balloon interface that knows when it's being touched or squeezed.

The system uses a standard birthday party issue balloon that's been packed with pressure sensors and microphones. So it's able to detect physical interactions like strokes, pokes and even how strongly it's been squeezed, translating them into messages that convey emotion to someone you're online with. At the moment the system only works in one direction, so your poke, or a heartfelt hug, isn't actually felt by a person with a balloon on the other end. But the researchers hope to eventually improve the technology so the other user gets some level of physical feedback as their balloon inflates or moves around in response to your actions.

They've also thrown around the idea of incorporating balloon animals into its functionality, because nothing truly says "I love you" like a lopsided poodle. At the very least, I'm sure the technology would be readily embraced by those with a balloon fetish, as well as the clowning community, who have yet to perfect their own seltzer bottle interface. [DigInfo]