I know this is kind of off topic, but I found this incredibly interesting for a few reasons. One, I'm blind, and have flown, but also, because I'm a musician, and the article touches on some musical applications of the technology. I think it would be intriguing to posit a guess about how complex textural sounds might be recreated. anyway, hope you enjoy it. Smiles, G-Girl X-Authentication-Warning: icomm.ca: Host mta03.mail.au.uu.net [18.104.22.168] claimed to be mta03.mail.mel.aone.net.au >From: "Steve Pattison" <firstname.lastname@example.org> >To: "VIP L" <email@example.com> >Date: Tue, 19 Jun 2001 23:06:02 +1000 >X-Mailer: PMMail 2000 Professional (2.20.2350) For Windows 98 (4.10.2222) >Subject: Fwd: tactile research from the New Scientist >Sender: firstname.lastname@example.org >Reply-To: email@example.com > >From: Kennedy, Bud Bud.Kennedy@ALCOA.COM >To: VICUG-L@MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU > >FEATURES: p30 02 >Jun >01 > #45 Simply sensational > Sometimes you need a push in the right direction. Mark >Schrope > tries on a second skin that tells you exactly what to do > > Mark Schrope (Mark Schrope is a science writer based in Florida) > > FOR ANGUS RUPERT, the inspiration came during an impulsive nude >skydive. 'As I was making that jump I realised that there's a lot >of information that can be conveyed through the sense of touch,' >he says. As a result, Rupert, a flight surgeon for NASA and the >US Navy, has produced the world's first tactile flight suit. He >hopes it will help avoid the myriad accidents caused by pilots >becoming disoriented. It's an astonishing innovation. Simply plug >your suit into the cockpit and you can fly a jet fighter >blindfold. > > The suit is just one of a growing number of applications being >developed to exploit our response to touch. Researchers have >shown that the skin's hotline to the brain - which is what allows >you to swat a biting mosquito without stopping to think about >your aim - can open up a range of possibilities. As well as >saving pilots and their aircraft, this instinctive reaction to >touch could soon be keeping you from crashing the family car, and >guiding you to your destination. Eventually, the skin may provide >a substitute for other, faulty senses, helping blind people to >find their way around and allowing deaf people to hear. > > Tapping the potential of the skin has taken nearly three decades >of research. The first indication that the skin had so much to >offer came in 1972 when two Princeton University psychologists >stumbled across the discovery that the sense of touch could be >tricked in the same way that an optical illusion can fool the >eyes. Frank Geldard and Carl Sherrick were trying to figure out >how the brain interprets the sensation of something tapping on >your skin. They built an armband that held three vibrators made >from headphone speakers spaced down the forearm. The vibrators >were wired up to a signal generator, which was meant to give one >tap at each vibrator. But the wiring was wrong. Instead of a >single tap at each vibrator Geldard received five quick taps at >the wrist, then five more in the middle of his forearm, then five >more on his elbow. But he felt something completely different. He >could feel taps at points between the vibrators, and reported the >sensation of a tiny rabbit hopping up his arm. The illusion >became known as the 'cutaneous rabbit'. > > Geldard and Sherrick spent years exploring this and other aspects >of touch. But they remained largely alone in the field, and >progress has been slow. Worldwide, only about 100 people are >researching touch, compared with thousands looking into sight and >hearing. Roger Cholewiak, who now leads Geldard and Sherrick's >lab at Princeton, hopes that the tactile flight suit - and the >other emerging applications of touch - will change that. > > For the past five years, Cholewiak has been helping Rupert with >the development and trials of the suit at the Naval Air Station >at Pensacola, Florida. Cholewiak's expertise has helped Rupert >understand how the vibrators - also known as tactors - should be >arranged and triggered for maximum effect. > > Initially, they experimented with headphone speakers and pager >motors, but the prototype flight suit now uses pneumatic tactors >driven by an air pulse sent down a thin tube. These give a more >powerful vibration than the electrically driven vibrators, and >are less hazardous than plugging a pilot into an electrical >source. They are also much lighter - a crucial factor in >aviation. > > The suit has 32 pneumatic tactors, each about 1.5 centimetres in >diameter and a few millimetres thick. They are arranged all >around the torso, with a couple of centimetres between each >tactor. According to Cholewiak, this is about as close as they >can usefully be. 'The skin doesn't work well with high-density >vibrations,' he says. > > The tactors are driven by a small motor that pumps the bursts of >air according to the electronic output of the cockpit >instruments. In this way, the pilot can receive tactile >information on the aircraft's altitude, pitch, roll and airspeed. >But its main job is to tell up from down. 'Most of the pilots who >died in Desert Storm died because they didn't know which way was >up,' Cholewiak says. Thirty per cent of civil air crashes - >including, investigators believe, the one that killed John F. >Kennedy Jnr - have been attributed to spatial disorientation. > > Knowing where the ground is involves complex and, most >importantly, continuous inputs from our senses. Normally we use >our eyes and our vestibular system - the fluid-filled organs of >the inner ear that give us our sense of balance and orientation. >But in certain situations, these inputs can be misleading: pilots >can be convinced that they are level when in fact they are >plummeting towards the ground or - even more deceptive - the sea. > > Of course there are instruments in modern planes that give >information about orientation. But to read them requires >attention, something in short supply when you lose control in a >momentary burst of turbulence, or are flying a plane low over >bumpy terrain while dodging enemy fire. It doesn't even have to >be a stressful situation for things to go wrong. Hovering a >helicopter, for example, is an inherently difficult task. >Imperceptible movements that go unnoticed by the eyes, the >vestibular system and cockpit instruments can eventually lead to >disaster. When US President Jimmy Carter sent a mission in to >rescue American hostages from Iran in 1980, a hovering helicopter >scuppered the mission - and possibly Carter's chances of winning >a second term - by drifting slowly sideways into a troop carrier. > > Given a tactile suit to wear, however, even someone with no >cockpit experience can keep a hovering helicopter stock-still. >There's no need to interpret the information from cockpit >instruments: responding correctly to the suit's pulses and >vibrations is entirely natural. 'We've tried to make the tactile >display as intuitive as possible,' Cholewiak says. > > So, as the helicopter tilts forward, strong vibrations in the >front of the suit practically force you to pull the stick back. >Drifting to one side gives a vibration on one side of the suit. >Roll to the right, and the vibrations move from your waist >towards your armpit. Raise the nose too much, and there are >vibrations at the back of your neck. Your instinctive response to >each of these stimuli is the right one: every automatic response >corrects for unintentional movement. >Spine tingling > > The system is so effective at delivering information from the >cockpit's instruments that it allows military pilots to fly >blindfold after just a few minutes' training. They can even loop >the loop and know exactly when they ought to level out - during a >backward loop, the tactile suits send a quiver up a pilot's >spine, over the shoulders and then down the front to keep them >oriented. The suits can also warn pilots of approaching enemies: >a tap in the appropriate place on the body gives an instinctive >understanding of exactly which direction that enemy plane is >approaching from. > > Richard Healing, director of the US Navy's Office of Safety and >Survivability, is impressed by the suit's power. 'My sense is >that it's going to be a very valuable tool,' he says. If all goes >well, Healing believes that a tactile display could become >standard equipment in some planes within 5 years. > > Other applications of tactile suits are also on their way. >Military divers are trying out their own version of tactile >sensors that will enable them to navigate and communicate in >pitch-black seas. And tactile displays are even making their way >into space. Hong Tan, an engineering researcher at Purdue >University in Indiana, leads a research group that has already >tested tactile displays on board NASA's 'vomit comet', a plane >that flies in an arcing trajectory to give about thirty seconds >of microgravity. Eventually, Tan hopes to have tactile displays >incorporated into the suits worn by NASA astronauts. This would >help deal with the disorientation experienced on space walks. > > But Tan's other work, which she started at the Massachusetts >Institute for Technology's Media Lab, will have more >down-to-earth applications. Nissan and Honda are helping Tan's >team at Purdue to develop tactile displays for their cars and >trucks. Such displays could be connected to close-range radar >systems to give a punchy warning to drivers when something is too >close. If a child runs out in front of the car, for instance, or >you just get too close to the car in front at high speed, you >could get a sharp tap on the chest from a tactor within your >seatbelt. If something is too close to the side of the car, the >tap would be to that side, perhaps from a tactor on one side of >the lapbelt. A similar system could warn truckers reversing blind >that they are about to hit something. Tan's research has shown >that reaction times can be halved when tactile information >replaces straight visual stimuli - an improvement that could save >lives. > > Tan has also used the cutaneous rabbit to make in-car navigation >systems safer. An array of tactors - modified Walkman headphone >speakers - mounted in the seat back can create the illusion of a >line moving across the driver's back in any direction, telling >them when and which way to turn. Like the tactile flight suit, >this can be used without training: it's entirely instinctive. >'You don't have to think about left or right,' Tan says. 'The >signal is already mapped to the body's coordinate system.' > > Using the rabbit illusion also means that you need less hardware: >there are nine tactors in the seat back, yet people trying it out >report the sensation of up to four times as many taps as were >actually sent. The rabbit builds in redundancy. If one of the >tactors fails, the others can take up its job. > > Tan's research will even benefit people who don't drive. She is >linking a tactile belt to a GPS satellite navigation system, and >using the belt's vibrations to guide a blind person to their >destination. These could replace navigation systems that rely on >beeps or synthesised speech, which can be dangerous if they >divert attention from sounds such as approaching traffic. A >vibration system would also be less conspicuous. > > A further goal of tactile research is to help people with hearing >problems, especially those that develop in childhood. Kimbrough >Oller of the University of Maine in Orono believes a young >child's brain could be trained and reorganised to receive sound >through the skin. 'The neurological plan is not hard-wired and >fixed early in life,' he says. Charlotte Reed, a speech and >hearing researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology >in Cambridge believes that Oller's idea might be accomplished >using a relatively simple display with only a few tactors. >Varying types and textures of vibrations - such as changing >frequencies - might allow complex information to be transmitted >by simple equipment. This would keep the cost of tactile hearing >down, making it perhaps tens of thousands of dollars cheaper than >cochlear implants. >Touch tones > > No one has yet developed such versatile tactors, though, and the >limited market for such devices doesn't help speed research >along. However, the latest industry to seize on the potential of >touch might make a big impact on tactor technology. Jan van Erp, >an experimental psychologist working at the TNO Human Factors >Research Institute in Soesterberg, the Netherlands, wants to >develop vibrators that will put vibrating 'tunes' on mobile >phones. He and his team have been experimenting to see how easily >people recognise the rhythm of a song in tactile form. >Eventually, your phone might be programmed to rattle a tacky >tactile love song when your partner calls, and the sombre touch >of the 'Death March' for calls from the office. Stephen Furner, >senior technology manager at BtexaCT near Ipswich in Suffolk, is >excited by van Erp's trials. 'I'm deeply interested,' he says. 'I >think he's come up with a good idea.' Furner predicts that phones >with tactile display options will be available within the next >five years. > > Perhaps by that time, we'll all be wearing smart clothes studded >with built-in vibrators discreetly spread all over the body. So >there will actually be another option for programming the >personalised tones of the tactile telephone. You might decide you >want a call from the boss to tap you insistently and repeatedly >on the shoulder, for instance. Or maybe you'll reserve that >setting for when your other half calls. > >____________________________________________________________ >Copyright 2001 New Scientist, Reed Business Information > >Regards Steve, >mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org > > > --- "The only things I really think are important, are love, and eachother. -Then, anything is possible..."