Significant Otter app.

Long-distance relationships otter be easier (sorry). Even short stays away from the ones you love can be hard. Texting and emojis have their limits.

One answer is a cute, animated otter who hugs, naps, lifts weights, high-fives and otherwise signals how you’re doing by sensing your biosignals on your smartwatch (such as heart rate).

Significant Otter (yes, the pun is intentional) is an app created by Snap Research and the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science to let your partner know how you’re feeling no matter how far apart you are.

You probably otter be paying closer attention (sorry again) to your significant other anyway.

Fannie Liu, a former CMU doctoral student, worked on the Significant Otter project.

“I was inspired by my own experience of being in a long-distance relationship with someone, and not knowing what they’re up to,” says Liu. “Our social cues are limited online. We’re exploring a new way to support digital connection through a deeper and more internal cue.”

Most of your emotions correspond to changes in heart rate, so that seemed like an obvious place to start.

Significant Otter shows a range of emotions.

The animated otter can express a variety of emotions; it gets happy, sad, excited, calm, even angry.

You can respond with preset reactions, designed to support your partner. Reactions include otters hugging, holding hands or even giving an encouraging thumbs-up. It’s a way for couples to feel closer by being emotionally present with one another, even when they’re not physically close.

Why otters though?

“I think, well, otters are cute,” explains Liu. “And we liked the pun of ‘Significant Otter’ and we knew we wanted to target romantic couples.”

The original version of the project just featured different shapes, like circles or diamonds. Test users wanted an animal that’s could be more expressive and engaging. So the app developers picked an otter and went with it.

The app is free with no plans to commercialize it. It has been on Apple’s App Store for about a year now. In January (the last time Liu checked), Significant Otter had about 60,000 downloads. In one review, user “vanessabecket” wrote, “This saved my relationship.”

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.