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Input Devices Science

Headband Gives Wearer "Sixth-Sense" 234

An anonymous reader writes "New Scientist reports on a headband developed at the University of Tokyo that allows the wearer to feel their surroundings at a distance — as if they had cats whiskers. Infrared sensors positioned around the headband vibrate to signal when and where an object is close. There are also a few great videos of people using it to dodge stuff while blindfolded."
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Headband Gives Wearer "Sixth-Sense"

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  • by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @03:33PM (#20671635) Homepage Journal
    Augmentation of existing senses has been going on for some time now. In particular, there is a very interesting project running through the Office of Naval Research using Navy Seals and a tongue prosthetic designed to impart sonar information to the tongue using electrical stimulii. Technology like this is very cool stuff that at the very least will help with mission specific tasks, but even better allows folks who have one or more senses compromised to continue to function and navigate their worlds.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by adamstew ( 909658 ) *
      This seems to make sense for those who are blind. Instead of using the walking stick/cane (not sure what it's called). Just strap one of these things to their head/chest/belt and let them walk on. It could vibrate to indicate steps, objects, drop offs, etc.

      I don't know why this hasn't been thought of before...perhaps it has been, but not that i've heard of.
      • by Xiph ( 723935 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @03:44PM (#20671785)
        Actually, one of the main features of the walking-stick/cane is that it helps detect features just above ground level, such as curbs and stairs. A band wrapped around the head would help against trees and walls, but not against the curb.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by salec ( 791463 )

          ...features just above ground level, such as curbs and stairs.

          Then this sensory aid should be mounted on the shins, set to observe forward\downward slope.

          In anecdotal evidence (as well as my own experience) contactless "feel" of objects in total darkness is most desirable in your hands and fingertips, or there goes the flask, glass, lamp, heavy loose objects leaned on the wall...with lots of noise in the middle of the night, of course. After all in the dark we do wave hands in front of us to explore surroun

        • by Satorian ( 902590 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @04:02PM (#20672005) Homepage
          Well, time for some buzzing shoes with forward looking IR then. Shouldn't be much of a problem to put the electronics and battery into the soles and attach the sensor at the front.
          • Well, time for some buzzing shoes with forward looking IR then.

            Forward looking IR, FLIR is for generating video output. I'm sure you meant infrared sensors pointing ahead.
            Otherwise you might as well be using night vision or thermal imaging goggles, and at eye level no less.
          • by Oktober Sunset ( 838224 ) <> on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @08:37PM (#20675355)
            Why do nerds insist on constantly trying to reinvent the wheel? IR shoes are a rubbish substitute for a cane. They would only indicate the presence of an obstacle, they wouldn't have any information about it, concrete block would seem the same as a piece of cardboard, you would have to make a detour for every bit of litter. And you wouldn't know what was on the other side of an obstacle, a curb could have a nice wide pavement on the other side, or there could be a brick wall, or a ditch, but you wouldn't know until you put your foot over it. Also, a came tells you what the ground is like, if it is a loose surface, or if there is a huge mud puddle in front of you, IR shoes could never tell you that stuff as easily as a cane could.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by fractoid ( 1076465 )
              Also the cane, combined with dark glasses, is a big, obvious "get the fuck outta my way I can't see you" which probably helps a good deal in navigating crowds. But still, stuff like this (IR shoes, sensor headband) is definitely hella cool, I'd want that stuff if I were blind. Who's to say blind people can't be geeks too?! :)
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            I was thinking about a whole-body suit. If blind people don't buy it, I suppose there's stil a market in the sex-industry.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            Well, time for some buzzing shoes with forward looking IR then. Shouldn't be much of a problem to put the electronics and battery into the soles and attach the sensor at the front.
            Replace the mechanical buzzer with a some kind of low voltage stimulator and you could probably even use a piezoelectric power source in the sole of the shoe to power the device. You wouldn't even need batteries.
        • I would think that this could be modified to do that...just point some more sensors down towards the walker's feet and it could detect changes in ground elevation caused by not only hills, but curbs, stairs, etc.
        • Yes, if there was only some way to place this headband around each leg...
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Flyskippy1 ( 625890 )
        It's especially helpful if you're blind and want to fight the criminal acts of the Kingpin.

        Does it come with a red suit and little horns?

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          I had to wear one of these until I was hit on the face by a radioactive cylinder from a truck when I was a kid. Now I don't need one. Unfortunately it still doesn't prevent me from making bad movies.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
        Well since it is at head level I don't know how effective it would be for a blind person. I can see it being put into things like hard hats. Anything that can help avoid a head injury is a good thing.
      • With this, someone could be Daredevil in real life.

        Here's a kid who does it without any technological aids! []
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Aha... but it was invented by the Japanese... and I know why: Takeshi's Castle
    • by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 ) * on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @03:45PM (#20671799) Journal
      Not to mention, that thing seems like a barrel of fun :-) I want one.

      It would also go a long way to debunking the claims of the so-called "Jedi Knights", whose powers on closer inspection, always turn out to be parlor tricks. For example, the captain of a small, private interstellar cruiser has been circulating a video where some kids puts on a blast shield helmet -- the kind that makes it so you can't see anything, and he's none the less able to block a few randomly fired shots from a floating probe.

      Now, it's not very impressive to begin with (he fails to block the first two shots!), but this device can help explain why he was able to sense the shots even while he was blinded.
    • by Jabbrwokk ( 1015725 ) <> on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @03:48PM (#20671839) Homepage Journal
      Does it let you see dead people?
    • by Raindance ( 680694 ) * <johnsonmx&gmail,com> on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @04:53PM (#20672581) Homepage Journal
      It's amazing that even "tacked-on", purely mechanical senses such as this headband, or this direction-sensing belt [] will actually re-wire one's brain (more in the linked article). It may be a mechanical hack, but to your brain, it functions as a sixth sense.

      Wild. :)

      • by TheCarp ( 96830 ) * <sjc@carpanet.PERIODnet minus punct> on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @07:07PM (#20674397) Homepage
        Heh, but we have been doing this for years. What is my car but an augmentation to my ability to move?

        It took moments to begin, but nearly 10 years or so to rewire my brain, but its pretty good at both cars and motorcycles now. Whens the last time you really had to think about it? I don't think "Ok 4k RPMs, lets toss it into the next gear". No, I press the gas, the car speeds up and I just do it.... information comes in via my senses (vibration being a real key, more than most) and I do the right thing, the same thing, over and over.

        Even if I spin out, its not like I think "ok, I am sliding, what do I do in a slide, steer into it..." no. the car starts to slide, and I just react, do the right thing, and continue on my way. The adrenalin doesn't even hit anymore. My brain has done it, learned it, and is ready to do it again as needed.

        Its no different from mastering any skill. Think how well your brain is wired to use a mouse, a keyboard. Ever seen someone sit down for the first time and see how unskilled they are with the mouse?

        I am not really surprized, but I do think that realizing this explicitly and looking at how we can use these aspects of our minds is quite a neat area of research. I hope we see a lot more of this sort of thing.

        how about heat vision? sensor to track where the eyes are focused, take a surface temp reading, and use some sort of vibrational or sensational output so you can feel the temperature. No longer would hot glass look like cold glass, you would cast your eyes upon them and know. Could be useful with peoples body heat too. Liars? Sexual arousal? Illness? so many uses!

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by dintech ( 998802 )
          Sexual arousal?

          Yes great! I can use one on my girlfriend to find out if it's worth going to bed or instead stay up playing xbox. :)
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by alcmaeon ( 684971 )

      Actually, this reminds me of a system I have seen construction workers use. But they went the Japanese one better by transferring the senses of one person to another person. For instance, the construction workers, without mechanical aids, were able to transfer the visual sense of one worker to the auditory sense of another worker who was effectively blinded.

      One day, I saw this truck driver trying to back a truck through a very narrow garage door. This other worker would stand there and yell things lik

  • by colourmyeyes ( 1028804 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @03:35PM (#20671651)

    "There are also a few great videos of people using it to [] stuff while blindfolded."

    How do I go about [] stuff?
  • Fixed link (Score:5, Informative)

    by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @03:36PM (#20671667) Homepage Journal
    Oh and since Daddypants did not read emails prior to hitting publish here is the fixed link [] for TFA.

  • Already have that (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    A sixth sense, that is. It's called the sense of balance. Why is this never included in the senses list?
    • by User 956 ( 568564 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @03:57PM (#20671941) Homepage
      A sixth sense, that is. It's called the sense of balance.

      No, the sixth sense is when you think you're alive, but you've really been dead the whole time.
    • I'm not sure, but it might be because schools suck [].
    • Becasue Fox News has it patented and copywriten and trademarks.
    • "Because it doesn't sense the outside world" is the obvious answer, but of course, the sense of balance does sense something in the outside world--namely the gravitational field. The other big "internal" sense is proprioception, which is your intuitive sense of how your body parts are positioned relative to each other. You know that test where you stand up straight and bring your fingertip to your nose with your eyes closed to prove you're not drunk? You do that through proprioception. Another tip--bringing

      • Evidently, it's also useful to narrow down "touch" to the sense of pressure in the skin, so things like pain, temperature, nausea, the gag reflex, and the sense of having to go to the bathroom are separate senses entirely.

        Actually, the gag reflex and the full bladder signal aren't senses, they're sensory reflexes/responses, triggered by the pressure sense. As the GP noted, "touch" is actually a collection of pressure and pain senses. Nausea is more interesting, as it is caused by a combination of a memo

        • Actually, the gag reflex and the full bladder signal aren't senses, they're sensory reflexes/responses, triggered by the pressure sense.

          There's no skin there, though. Where you draw the distinction depends on what you're trying to do anyway.

    • And more (Score:5, Interesting)

      by spun ( 1352 ) <loverevolutionar ... m ['oo.' in gap]> on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @04:45PM (#20672491) Journal
      Touch isn't one sense. Temperature, surface detail, and pressure are separate parts of it. Besides balance, there's also proprioception, which lets you know where your body parts are. Then there's the sense of thoughtforms, the ability to know one's own thoughts and feelings, and the sense of self, which is the only thing that lets us do anything useful with our mental models of the world we build out of all the other senses by relating the model of the world to the model of the individual.

      You may be surprised to learn there are more than four tastes, too. Besides the sour, salty, sweet, and bitter we're all familiar with, there's a fifth type of taste bud that detects glutamate, a flavor known as'umami' [] and characterized as 'savory' or 'meaty.'
  • This looks promising for people who are blind. IF they can increase the resolution of it would be wonderful.
    • This looks promising for people who are blind. IF they can increase the resolution of it would be wonderful.

      Absolutely. But don't forget.. for a "spider-sense" like this, with great power comes great responsibility.
  • I have a sixth sense--the ability to detect unlinked URLs in summaries. Too bad ScuttleMonkey doesn't seem to have this one...
  • by Guido del Confuso ( 80037 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @03:40PM (#20671731)
    This will prove invaluable on construction sites. I can't count the number of times I've had to duck a board being swung wildly by my co-worker Curly, only to have the board hit me on the back of the head on the return trip when he turns to face the other direction. This device would completely prevent this type of common construction accident.
    • Nyuk nyuk nyuk...
    • Who are you? Shemp Howard?

      • QUIET, numbskulls. Curly and Shemp only worked together in one Stooges short. That was after Curly had his stroke. It was not a construction scene. It was on a train.

        Check out my user id for proof that I know what I'm talking about. Then, pick two...
    • However, you would most likely remove the device, along with your hard hat, after having successfully ducked the first two swings so that you could tap on Curly's shoulder to let him know how insenstive he was being only to have him turn around wildly again and bash you brains in with that same board.
  • by MooseMuffin ( 799896 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @03:43PM (#20671773)
    I once thought I had a sixth sense while wearing a headband. It turns out it was just on too tight.
  • Wonderful! (Score:5, Funny)

    by SpectreBlofeld ( 886224 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @03:44PM (#20671791)
    Now shrink it, and implant it in my cranium. I'll also take my embedded GPS and compass, accelerometer, laser rangefinder, light spectrometer, infrared/thermal vision, visual magnification, cochlear implant that records everything I hear/say, wireless Internet connection, and optical nerve tie-in for the interface. And hardened ceramic teeth that can be polished clean with fine-grit polishing compound. You have your mission, scientists. Go.
    • You want to be a Borg?
    • by Spy der Mann ( 805235 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `todhsals.nnamredyps'> on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @04:49PM (#20672535) Homepage Journal
      I'll also take my embedded GPS and compass, accelerometer, laser rangefinder, light spectrometer, infrared/thermal vision, visual magnification, cochlear implant that records everything I hear/say, wireless Internet connection, and optical nerve tie-in for the interface.

      *grabs calculator*
      That'll be... six million dollars, sir.
    • "And hardened ceramic teeth that can be polished clean with fine-grit polishing compound"

      They already have these: standard gold crowns with a porcelain veneer. They cost about $500-800 each (installed). They are much harder than your real teeth, so much so that to make fine occlusion adjustments, the dentist needs to grind away the enamel on the opposing tooth.
      And for God's sake, use a toothbrush and toothpaste. Fine grit polishing compound? What about your horrible halitosis? (is there any other kind
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        Well, if I don't have to worry about cavities anymore, the fine grit can be sweet, sweet sugar! I do exercise regular tooth-brushing... I just wish my teeth cleaning appointment could be substituted with a DIY dremel job. And the accelerometer's not for me, it's so my other gadgets know which way is up!
        • Don't stop there. Make the teeth self cleaning. using a dremel is going to be close to just using a soniccare. It takes time and effort. Sure I do it everyday, but think of what I could do If I didn't have to spend all of that time. I think I might have to wait for nano-bots to continuously clean my teeth, powering themselves from the sugar I intake( while depriving any pathogens of that resource).
  • by punxking ( 721508 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @03:45PM (#20671801)
    OK cool, but... how fashionable a headband are we talking?
    • I heard they're the same kind worn by ninjas!

      Not to be outdone, I heard that a bandanna version will be produced by a company based in the Carribean very shortly.
    • The article states that one use of the headband could "augmentation of spatial awareness in hazardous working environments." Then they have a nice diagram of a man wearing a hardhat and a large iron beam swinging towards his back.

      That's all well and good, though using one of these might result in increased carelessness about one's working environment. Then there are other issues...

      Boss: How are those new headbands working out?
      Foreman: Pretty good! Watch this...
      (Foreman picks up bottle and throws it at a

  • by IceCreamGuy ( 904648 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @03:46PM (#20671811) Homepage
    I made almost exactly the same thing at Towson University last semester with a research grant. I have a Daventech SRF04 ultrasonic rangefinder mounted on a baseball cap which is polled by an Acroname Brainstem PIC module. That data is averaged over a short time and sent out to a servo that is strapped to the user's palm. The end result is that the servo presses against the user's palm with a pressure inversely proportional to the distance read by the rangefinder. It really does work very well, it's very responsive and it's not too dificult to at least avoid bumping into things. The only problem is that it's not in stereo; I would eventually like to add more rangefinders and more servos. The other problem is that the user has to move their head around constantly to get distance information; I talked this over with a blind friend of mine and he suggested that the sensor be mounted on the hand or wrist along with the servo, this way it's a little more intuitive and less cumbersome/dorky-looking/tiresome. I really wish I'd published at least something somewhere; when my advisor was talking about it (it wasn't my idea, I just designed and built it) I remember thinking "I can't believe nobody else has made something like this before." Ah well.
  • Youtube Link (Score:5, Informative)

    by hey0you0guy ( 1003040 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @03:47PM (#20671829) [] Haptic Radar Video on Youtube. Since the linked site seems to be down.
  • by Loadmaster ( 720754 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @03:49PM (#20671843)
    This device doesn't allow you to see any dead people. Not even a little bit.

  • Insert obligatory, "Spidey Sense Made In Japan", joke here...
  • Seriously though how cool would it be to have spider sense.

    Damn handicap people take all the good parking spots & the super powers & don't even use them.

  • I really like this 'extra sense' research. It makes me look forward to the future when we're all cyborgs with superpowers!

    Ever since reading the wired article about the guy with the vibrating compass belt( [] ) I've always wanted to build one. Now it looks like I'll have to add infra red vision too...

    • I've had an "internal compass" most of my life- as has my father and brother. I think some people are just born with it. But I still prefer a GPS unit....and riding the MAX train I completely missed the turn west then the U-Turn East just before the Sunset Transit Center (but then again, I think my internal compass is based on a strong internal clock and the sun- and the U-Turn happens underground).
    • Man, I'd love to have a vibrating compass belt. Actually, you can keep the compass.
  • I feel a disturbance in the force; oh.. it's you!
  • I prefer the darpa one sometime ago. []
    X's and O's for all my foes.
  • Someone call me when they actually manage to give someone new senses, instead of overlaying a new sense on top of an existing one. It's all well and good to do something like this as an experiment, but it's just a stepping stone. The real progress will come when they can do a direct neural hookup without having to come up with some way of translating incoming data into some format that can be expressed using an existing sense.
    • by realthing02 ( 1084767 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @04:20PM (#20672175)
      XML is the answer.
    • by Improv ( 2467 )
      It's much more challenging to decide to either recruit an existing brain area or decide there "should be" another one suited for your purpose. Brodmann areas 1-3 are admirably suitable for sensory/motor areas, and we have a visual cortex for vision. Call me when you've grown special brain areas for your new senses :)
      • Yeah that is a problem. Although some evidence suggests that if new sense were wired into an existing area it would compensate. You'd have reduced capacity in whatever sense you took over, but it would allow for a whole new sense. Of course I'd expect that if we're at the stage of direct neural interfaces, then adding a new hunk of brain to handle the input shouldn't be terribly hard.
    • Nature can already do this. (so can drugs...)

      Synesthesia [] is one of the most fascinating subjects I have ever read about. Basically, it's a neuro condition where your senses get cross-wired. For example, you would "taste" words (taste and hearing are cross-wired). Every word you hear would have a distinctive taste on your tongue. Or, you would "hear" in color (hearing and vision are cross-wired). Everything you hear produces different colors in your brain.

      Yes, I know. It sound like BS. But i
      • I'm aware of synesthesia, but that's not the same thing. All synesthesia is doing is sending signals from one sense to the area of the brain that processes another. Your brain attempts to process the signals as best it can, but it's really overlaying one sense on another again, just with existing senses instead of new ones.
    • The real progress will come when they can do a direct neural hookup without having to come up with some way of translating incoming data into some format that can be expressed using an existing sense.

      But, your brain only understands how to process he senses you currently have.

      What you're talking about would require new structures in the brain, wouldn't it? I mean, the nerves are hooked up to structures that can process their inputs. It's not like a PCI bus that you can hook arbitrary components into it.


      • Yes, as someone else already pointed out this would require new structures. Either that or the repurposing of existing structures, although that would lead to a reduced capacity in the repurposed sense.
    • by CopaceticOpus ( 965603 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @05:24PM (#20672987)
      I won't call you when this is ready, I'll wurzle you. You don't know what that means yet, but you will, trust me.
  • ...but I didn't see my surroundings. All I saw was dead people.
  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @04:32PM (#20672333) Journal
    If your hearing in both ears is good and the environment isn't too noisy, you don't need a headband full of electronics and sensors for this.

    With practice you can "image" enough of your environment to get around just from echoes of your own body's sounds or other ambient noises of suitable waveshape. (This is how you get the "closing in" feeling in tight spaces.)

    There are reports of a totally blind kid using this effect to ride a bicycle and avoid obstacles. (He made clicking sounds with his mouth to provide a controlled, sharp (low-distance-error) sound, effectively emulating one mode of a bat's sonar.)

    "Chirps" (single tones rapidly "swept" at a constant change of frequency per unit time) are potentially far better for imaging and ranging than "clicks" (impulses or short sound bursts that approximate them). But it's not clear that the human brain and vocal system has the necessary structures for generating and processing them correctly.

    = = = =

    Of course the headband might be much more effective than training up your own sound-generating and sensory systems - which (unlike a bat's or a cetacean's) aren't optimized for this service.
    • by IdahoEv ( 195056 )
      This headband using IR radar would probably be much more socially acceptable and less discomfort-inducing than walking around clicking your tongue incessantly.
  • One young test subject, upon wearing the headband, reported that he could "see dead people"...

    The researchers, upon having been thus reminded of an M Night Shyamalan movie, threw themselves out the nearest window to end their grief.
  • Having tried this sort of thing before, I think that the old saying rings true:

    "If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball."
  • I spend a lot of time in caves. Ya wear a helmet. Despite that, you hit your head. *Astoundingly* hard, even with a helmet. All the time. Because you forget there's a huge irregular rock right beside your head, and you turn, and *whang* you hit your head so hard your olfactory nerves distort and you smell/taste copper the way you do when you've been punched.

    Or, even, when exploring steam tunnels in the dark and there are cross-pipes in the way. And you have to run through the tunnels in darkness, with
  • Being a techie/engineer I often end up with screwdrivers, pens etc in my pockets and sometimes one of these gets used as an ear scratcher - yes, I know; bad, risky habit.

    Quite some time ago, I realised that when I approach my ear 'hole' with a pointed object I get a perceptible rumble in that ear (especially the right side) when the tip is around 1-1.5 inches from the opening - there's no physical contact at that time and so I have often wondered whether this is down to subtle changes in air pressure, magne
  • Personaly, I'm looking forward to smision.

All science is either physics or stamp collecting. -- Ernest Rutherford