Icons without the eyes

3 minute read

I've been keeping a few articles on my desktop that seem to follow a theme -- the notion of using technology to communicate visual signs through other senses.

For example, this AP article details military research that uses electric sensations on the tongue to navigate underwater:

The device, known as "Brain Port," was pioneered more than 30 years ago by Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita, a University of Wisconsin neuroscientist. Bach-y-Rita began routing images from a camera through electrodes taped to people's backs and later discovered the tongue was a superior transmitter.
A narrow strip of red plastic connects the Brain Port to the tongue where 144 microelectrodes transmit information through nerve fibers to the brain. Instead of holding and looking at compasses and bulky-hand-held sonar devices, the divers can processes the information through their tongues, said Dr. Anil Raj, the project's lead scientist.
In testing, blind people found doorways, noticed people walking in front of them and caught balls. A version of the device, expected to be commercially marketed soon, has restored balance to those whose vestibular systems in the inner ear were destroyed by antibiotics.

The military wants to be able to transmit nav information to divers without distracting their sight or needing additional bulky goggles.

Also, there are some articles on brain-computer interfaces. This one from Wired talks about brain-wave "pass-thoughts":

A pass-thought could be anything from a snatch of song, the memory of your last birthday or even the image of your favorite painting. A more achievable alternative might present you with predetermined pictures, music or video clips, to which you would think "yes" or "no" while the machine monitors your brain activity.
"It is known there are differences between people's brains and their signals," says Carleton researcher Julie Thorpe, who's working on the project with Anil Somayaji and Adrian Chan. "Can we observe a user-controllable signal encoding hundreds or thousands of bits of information in a repeatable fashion? That's the real question. We think it may be possible."

It depends on using EEG-like devices to measure brain activity, which some game companies are trying to apply as game controls:

San Jose's NeuroSky has been testing prototypes of its system that uses a sensor-laden headband to monitor brain waves, and then uses the signals to control the interaction in video games. They hope that such games are just the beginning of a mind-machine interface with many different applications.
"Research on brain waves is well known," said NeuroSky Chief Executive Stanley Yang. "But we have worked on a way for detecting them with a low-cost technology and then interpreting what they mean. We think this will have broad applications."
Sensors in the head gear -- whether headbands, headsets or helmets -- measure electrical activity in the brain that scientists have studied for decades. Using NeuroSky's chip technology, the system can distinguish whether a person is calm, stressed, meditative or attentive and alert. Beyond games, the system might be useful for determining whether drivers are so drowsy that they need an alarm to awaken them.

You may be wondering why this would be any fun. Well, there is this:

Aside from any medical uses, both companies hope their tools could one day be used to create true "Jedi" effects in games set in a Star Wars universe. The player could use mind control to lift objects in video games and toss them at enemies in ways that resemble the action in the George Lucas films.

This along with the effects of magnetic fields on mood would make a techno-equipped sixth sense possible, or maybe more. I don't know if I could stand it, though -- especially all the headgear. Or tongue-gear.