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OT: Fwd: tactile research from the New Scientist

  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.  



X-Authentication-Warning: icomm.ca: Host mta03.mail.au.uu.net
[] claimed to be mta03.mail.mel.aone.net.au
>From: "Steve Pattison" <pattist@ozemail.com.au>
>To: "VIP L" <vip-l@softspeak.com.au>
>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: owner-access-l@icomm.ca
>Reply-To: access-l@icomm.ca
>From: Kennedy, Bud Bud.Kennedy@ALCOA.COM
>FEATURES:                                                        p30 02
> #45  Simply sensational
>          Sometimes you need a push in the right direction. Mark
>          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
> 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
> 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
> 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,


  "The only things I really think are important, are love, and eachother.
-Then, anything is possible..."